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Weaving Fantastic Stories

Carol Younger

Storytelling tips for the novice and the expert.

It can happen in almost any class. Kids are engaged in learning through hands-on experiences, and then it hits. The class forms a circle for story time and the mood sours. Active learning turns into glazed looks and restlessness. The teacher reads through the story in a flat monotone voice. And kids endure one more boring story from the Bible.

Christianity is a story-based faith. The stories of the Bible are crucial to our children's growth, but we teachers often spend an abysmally short amount of time preparing to teach it. And it shows. If we want kids to grow, we must reform our Bible story preparation and delivery.

Meaning
Read the story for yourself. What does it say to you? Do you find it interesting? What could it say to your children? What questions would they ask about it? How can you make it interesting to them? How can you help them understand what it's saying?

Look for ways to connect with kids' everyday experiences by emphasizing certain aspects of a story. A pastor once told the story of the prodigal son to an urban Bible club. He explained that the boy wasted all his money on things like video games and candy. Another teacher who told this story in a rural setting emphasized how the son ate pig food.

As you prepare to tell any Bible story, work on the elements of good storytelling-characters, point of view, conflict, involvement, and style and delivery.

Characters
Dust off the people in the Bible that you discuss in your story and make them real. One man described Goliath as someone more than 2 feet taller than Michael Jordan. He got everyone's attention. When telling the story of Sarah and Isaac, a teacher dressed as Sarah and borrowed a 6-week-old for his acting debut as Isaac.

One adventurous teacher, let the 5-year-olds act out a series of Bible stories. They wore biblical garb and went outside where a teacher read the Scripture and the children acted it out. An unexpected line came from the 5-year-old Zacchaeus who had climbed a tree. When Jesus said, "Zacchaeus, you come down," he replied, "I can't. I'm stuck!"

Point Of View
Decide who could best tell the story: you as teacher, a person in the story, or a person outside the story. Dialogues often work well with children, especially when people from the Bible converse with kids in their own language. Costumes help and may be as simple as a bathrobe and a head covering.

Sometimes a person or even a character outside the story may supply the point of view for telling it. When the fifth- and sixth-grade material focused on Jeremiah and Baruch (Jeremiah), I invited Cinderella (a senior higher) to class.

I told the story and "Cindy" stopped me with questions. As she scrubbed floors and felt sorry for herself, I told her about someone else who had every reason to feel sorry for himself. We discussed the trials and troubles of Jeremiah. We talked about the princes in the story because Cinderella had a great interest in princes. Later, the class remembered all the information from the story.

Conflict
Good stories have suspense and movement to hold the listener's interest. Sometimes we take out the conflict in Bible stories because we assume everyone knows the ending. But the tension is what makes the stories real.

When you let kids experience the conflict that the people in the Bible felt or faced, your children are more likely to learn. During a story, ask questions such as: What do you think Noah thought about while he built the ark and it wasn't even cloudy? What do you think James and John's dad thought when they left their fishing boats and followed Jesus? How do you think it feels to be on the sea during a storm?

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