As Year 6 pupils in England will emerge from the long tunnel of SATs, and have two more months to enjoy their primary schools without that pressure. This week, a few story-based “Community Builders” that encourage listening and collaboration. Because story-based talk is especially powerful for younger children, you will find these approaches as enjoyable for the youngest children as they are for stressed-out Year 6s. Along with solving riddles, they are also an effective way of establishing talk routines with lower secondary age children.
This is technique adapted from a solo show by NZ improviser Clare Kerrison. The conceit is that you tell the story and then hesitate, leaving the children to fill in the gaps, so that between you are improvising the story. Don’t explain the format in advance, just gesture to them and they’ll soon get the idea. For example:
Teacher: I want to tell you a story. It’s about a time before I was a teacher, when I had a completely different job as a… as a…
Teacher: Yes, a firefighter. One day we got a call that someone’s pet was stuck up a tree, but it was a very unusual pet. It was a…
Teacher: Yes, a lion. So because it was a lion we were, we were…
Teacher: Yes, scared. Absolutely terrified. So we decided we ought to take a…
Teacher: Exactly, a zookeeper.
As they get used to it, they will supply more and more of the story and you just keep it coherent, if bizarre, by choosing the first suggestion that is made each time so that just one story is being told. Once the story has run its course, you can get a child to take your place or split into three groups, each with its own forgetful storyteller.
What would happen then?
This activity emerged in a discussion with reception children at Normanton All Saints school. Their topic was Superheroes. I asked if there would be anything bad about being super-strong.
“You might pull off the door of your house.”
“What would happen then, if you pulled off the door of your house?”
“It might squash you.”
“What would happen then, if you pulled off the door of your house, and it squashed you?”
“You might die.”
On this occasion, the story went round in a circle, with the protagonist going to hospital, then to heaven, coming back to life, going to his house again, and opening the door. Of course, it could have gone anywhere, and all you need to get started is a single event.
Both storytelling approaches tease out a chain of consequences and provide practice in following the thread of an emerging conversation, as things mentioned early often come back. Children are on their home ground with story-based talk, so such skills can sometimes be better practiced through narrative, ready for use in philosophising.
Year 6 Thinking on Your Feet Workshops
SATs can knock the confidence of many Year 6s. This workshop, mixing philosophy, puzzle-solving and teamwork, will help your Year 6s to surprise themselves with the challenges they can overcome and boost their confidence ahead of the transition to secondary school.