I want to tell you a story

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Tom Deveson reviews resources which encourage pupils to write and respond to narrative

Interactive Storytelling

By Keith Hart

Speechmark Publishing, pound;29.95

Therapeutic Storywriting

By Trisha Waters

David Fulton, pound;18

In his inspiring guide, Interactive Storytelling, Keith Park approaches language with proper care and thoughtfulness - weighing up the cadence and rhythm of sentences, using the ear as well as the eye, giving scope for metaphor and simile, realising that words used imaginatively can communicate powerfully before they are fully understood.

Working initially with children with severe learning difficulties, Keith shows how all kinds of stories can be grasped and enjoyed by all kinds of participants - whatever their lack of formal qualifications - if they are involved in the telling by echoing phrases or calling out responses. He also shows how these principles can be realised in the classroom, offering detailed advice that is both flexible and practical.

The repertoire of examples is generous. Some are folk tales and fairy stories, many of which are already full of familiar opportunities for listeners to join in. Others recast old narratives into new linguistic moulds, such as a rhyming slang version of David and Goliath.

More ambitiously - but entirely convincingly - Park offers excellent retellings of Shakespeare and Dickens. We have Caliban confronting Prospero, or Fagin tempting Oliver, with the original sprit of the great works from which they come transformed into something simple but authentic, easily learned but entirely memorable. This is a book to use and use again.

Therapeutic Storywriting by Trisha Waters deals very sensibly with the hot topic of "emotional literacy" in primary schools. She shows how making up stories can be a highly effective way of exploring who we are, and how the combination within a narrative of playfulness and control allows us to use the medium to visit areas of the self that might otherwise be inaccessible. Our personalities and "subpersonalities" - for example, rescuer and victim, baby and hero - can all take fictional form, while their adventures say something eloquent about what we are and would like to be.

Waters develops these principles with substantial theoretical underpinning but with the minimum of jargon. Part of the book is devoted to case studies which convincingly demonstrate how disturbed children can come to recognise their troubles more clearly by writing scenes in which they take symbolic or metaphorical form. Trisha Waters emphasises that it is not for adults to force interpretations on to children.

Rather, she offers level-headed suggestions for training sessions in which teachers and therapists can themselves learn to participate in writing groups, developing characters and taking on roles in settings where reality and fantasy can meet. This book is not about lifting key stage 2 averages, but about reminding us of our common humanity.

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