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Storytelling and Adult Literacy:
GED, ABE and ESL Lesson Plans
There is a growing body of research that documents the effectiveness of storytelling as a tool for language acquisition. Oral language development is the first step towards better reading and writing. (Please see the article, "Why Tell Stories.") But storytelling can also motivate people to want to know more about their family histories. It empowers them to be proactive players in history, not passive observers. Storytelling builds community and cultural tolerance by giving us an insider's view on other cultures. Storytelling can teach problem solving and be a balm for the bumps and bruises we all encounter. The primary goal of the Literacy Project was to improve literacy, but storytelling was chosen as the primary strategy because of the power of stories to empower people.
From 1999 through 2001, we worked with dozens of adult literacy educators in the Peoria area to help them improve their storytelling skills and give them the tools they needed to teach storytelling and creative writing. As a result of that project they wrote the following lesson plans. Each lesson was classroom tested and edited. Though they all share the common feature of using storytelling, each teacher developed a different twist or focus. These lessons use family stories and personal narratives as a focus to give students a bigger sense of who they are.
Simply scroll down to read all of the lesson plans.
For more information on basic storytelling skills you can click here to read a series of articles on using your voice, body, and imagination to bring a story to life.
All that we ask is for a little feedback. If you use these plans please send us an e-mail. Let us know how it worked, offer suggestions, or better yet use this simple submit form to contribute a lesson of your own. If we each add one lesson a year we will soon have hundreds of lessons to share! What are some of your favorite stories to tell and how do you use storytelling in your classroom? Please submit a lesson.
• Home is Where the Stories Are: Floor Plans Tell Stories
• A Pocket Full of Stories: A picture is worth a thousand words!
• Special Mementos: Precious Trivia
• Kitchen Table Tales: Share a memory of a cooking experience
• Pet Tales
• Puppy Poems
• Liars' Contest: Telling Tall Tales and Learning Discernment
• I'm Telling it Like It Is! The Power of Persuasive Writing
• A Shoebox Full of Memories - Toys and Junk Drawer Items as Story Starters
• Stories are about People, Places, and Events
• The List Poem

THEME: Home is Where the Stories Are: Floor Plans Tell Stories
CLASS: Adult Literacy Instructors at Illinois Central College
GOALS: Each participant will have a story they can tell at the end of the lesson. Each participant will write one complete story while developing ideas for several others. Instructors will walk through basic writing processes using storytelling to help with prewriting and rewriting.
Instructors will have a model lesson plan to help their students write autobiographical stories.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper and Pencil
INTRODUCTION: I would introduce this lesson with a brief discussion of the importance of family stories as a way of connecting with our past, improving our communication skills, and learning the writing process.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: With a marker and chart paper I would draw the floor plan of my childhood home and see what stories come to mind, modeling that this is a free flowing process with few expectations. I would draw my house, my yard and some of my neighborhood. I might add furniture to a room and discuss what happened here. I would probably tell them about the tree I planted in the front yard that is now taller than the house. I would show them the little knothole in the closet and how this hole was the repository of many small toys and coins. I might talk about the back window as a view of the playground so we knew if anyone was playing baseball. My hope is that the variety of stories would inspire stories from their floor plan.
METHODS: First I would introduce the unit and give students the example of my floor plan. I would then ask each student to choose a partner and take turns sharing the floor plan of his or her childhood home. Allowing about fifteen minutes for this process, I would encourage them to spend time with an idea rather than race around to fifteen ideas. After they have each had a turn I would give them about five minutes to write a few notes based on their discussion. These notes could be the basis of several stories and should be stored in a file for future reference.
Next, I would choose one story from the several ideas I uncovered in my floor plan and tell it as a single short story. Usually I tell "The Gift." One of my favorite stories contributed by a student is "The Monster in the Closet." In the telling I will model the important details of a good short story, namely: character development, a dynamic setting and the problem/solution of plot. Students should then choose a new partner and take turns telling one story in detail.
After retelling the story, students should make a rough draft of their story. Allow 15-20 minutes for students to write their rough draft. Whereas the emphasis of this lesson is on oral language development the end goal is to use oral language skill development to improve writing skills.
From here the instructor has two choices. The students' papers could be collected and edited to be passed back and discussed on another day. Or students could trade papers for peer editing. After editing, students could be asked to retell their stories, not read aloud. This retelling would help them to rethink their stories for rewriting. Students could then rewrite their stories using the editing marks to help with grammar and using the retelling to help with the restructuring of their story.
As a final project, student papers could be collected into an anthology AND students could be asked to perform their stories for the class.
EVALUATION: Student stories could be collected and graded based on standard marks, with an emphasis put on the flow and sequence of events, character development, and clarity of the setting. Student performances could also be graded based on articulation, sequence and audience repartee.
SUGGESTIONS OR COMMENTS: Probably the most important factor in a successful lesson is that the teacher presents a clear model of the process in the beginning. It should be made clear that the diagram is simply a way of opening doors to long lost memories, a way of exploring our past and looking for stories. One potential hazard is that this type of lesson could open some closets we might not want to explore in class. This is not necessarily bad, but it should be made clear that we are looking for pleasant memories and that dark secrets should be discussed with a therapist or minister.
IDEAS CONTRIBUTED BY: Brian "Fox" Ellis, Fox Tales International

THEME: A Pocket Full of Stories: A picture is worth a thousand words!
CLASS: G.E.D. Students
GOALS: To use a wallet of pictures to teach storytelling, writing, and rewriting skills.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S) Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper, pencil or pen, computer with word processing software and a pocket or wallet full of pictures. (Index cards could be used as substitute pictures. Simply ask students to draw stick people of their favorite pictures from memory. As they tell and retell their stories the pictures could be redrawn with more detail.)
INTRODUCTION: How many of you have heard of the old cliché that says "a picture is worth a thousand words"? Well it is true. And if you are like most folks, with a wallet or purse filled with favorite snapshots, then you have a pocket full of stories. With very little fanfare I would pull out my wallet and begin telling stories based on the pictures in my wallet. These would be informal stories some with more detail than others.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: Please see the story, "My Little Angels"
METHODS: As you may notice, I begin every lesson with a brief introduction and then tell a story to model the process. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of telling stories to your students. The more good stories they hear from average people the more ideas they have for stories of their own; your stories not only model all the characteristics of good literature, but it shows them that anyone and everyone can tell good stories.
After telling them stories about the people and places in my wallet I would ask students to get the two or three most important pictures from their wallet that they are willing to share. If a student has no pictures give them two or three index cards and ask them to draw stick people representations of their favorite pictures.
Next, students should pair up and take turns telling the stories of their pictures. If students tell their stories first, writing becomes a lot easier. Remember: Tell it then write it. Allow 10-20 minutes for this story sharing. While the stories are still fresh in their minds and hearts ask them to jot down a few notes with an emphasis on these questions: Who was there? Where was the picture taken? What happened just before, during or after the picture? (Character, setting, plot: beginning, middle, end.)
Using a picture from your purse or wallet, a story you may have outlined or discussed earlier, now it is time to tell a more polished, rehearsed story. In your story emphasize the elements of a good telling, drama, pacing, tone, etc. as well as the elements of good literature, suspense, irony, humor, multi-sensory details, word play, etc. Again, your model sets the tone and raises expectations, while also instructing your students in the elements of good literature.
Ask your students to choose one picture, one story that they would like to write up as short story or feature article for publication. (Please see the enclosed example, "My Little Angels".) While looking carefully at this picture, ask students to look "into and through" this picture, to use the picture as a lens for looking back into time. Remind them of the basic elements of a story: character, setting and plot. Who was there? Where were you? What happened before, during and after this picture was taken, (beginning, middle, end). Ask students to close their eyes for a moment and travel back in time, to re-live this event and shape it into a story they could tell.
Ask students to choose a new partner and retell their story this time with more detail. In this way they are using a second telling to begin rewriting and re-shaping before they ever make a rough draft. When they are finished telling, their partner should offer one compliment and one question: My favorite part was _________________ because ________________. I would like to know more about _____________________. You may want to write these sentences on the board to help students formulate their responses. Discuss as a class how retelling the story helped them to re-think, re-work, and rewrite their story. Discuss how the feedback from their partner might help them to rework their story. Since our emphasis is on rewriting, this conversation can introduce the idea that rewriting is simply retelling. It is more than copying over. Rewriting means rethinking, reshaping, reworking, recreating, which sounds complex, but you do this every time you retell a story.
After telling the tale twice they are ready to write a rather polished first draft of their story. Give the students sufficient time to write an elaborate piece. Clearly, some will need more time than others. If they finish early, challenge them to reread their story and look for places where they can add more information, add drama or dialogue, add color or action.
Collect their papers when they are complete. Without a lot of commentary, other than the occasional exuberant outburst of compliments, read students' papers between sessions and place a star in the margins where their ideas are clear and a question mark in the margin where you would like more information or their ideas are not clear. Please refrain from too many question marks and be generous with your stars! The point here is for the students to rewrite or rethink their stories not for them to get hung up on the teacher's comments. (As a professional writer it has taken years of therapy for me to get over the excessive bleeding that teachers poured onto my papers; hemorrhaging with red ink is helpful only when students have the self-confidence and complex understanding of editor's marks.)
As a second lesson pass out their papers and explain that the stars are for clear ideas and an excellent use of language. The question marks are there to ask you to rethink that sentence or paragraph. How could you make that part of the story clearer, add information or rewrite the sentence. Discuss rewriting. On one level rewriting is like math, you add ideas, words, sentences or paragraphs and you take away or rework the things you don't like.
At this point you may want to put a paragraph of your writing on the board and ask students to help you rethink it. Use their comments and questions to help you rewrite your paragraph. Model the process.
In response to the stars and question marks instruct students to write on these papers, in the margin or between lines, comments to themselves that improve the story.
Ask them to choose a new partner who has not heard this story. Ask the students not to read it out loud. Put the paper down and retell it. Challenge them to take risks, try a new angle. Allow themselves a chance to be surprised with new information they did not include in their rough draft, maybe they will remember something else about this story.
After they have retold it give the students sufficient time to rewrite their stories. The editing process can be done individually, in pairs, or in cooperative groups. It is usually best to get at least one other person to proof read a piece of writing.
If done with a partner, they should simply trade papers, look over their partner's paper and circle each mistake. If the students have been taught proofreaders' symbols, they should be encouraged to use them. Or they could make notes in the margins on recommendations for corrections. It should be left up to the writer to actually correct the mistakes so they learn not to repeat them. Editors should focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation.
If done in small cooperative groups, the papers could be passed to the left three separate times with each round of editing given a certain focus: the first paper received should be checked for spelling (with plenty of dictionaries available); the second paper received should be checked for errors in punctuation; and the third paper received should be checked for grammatical errors with emphasis on run-ons, fragments, verb tense, and other common mistakes. This way three people review each paper and each student checks three different papers each time focusing on a different element. It also helps students learn what kinds of mistakes to look for in their own work.
Allow students one last chance to make any revisions in their story, before making a final draft. Ask them to check and double check their paper one last time before turning it in for a grade.
With access to computers and word processing software, students could type their stories and use spell check for a final edit. With a good scanner the pictures could be scanned and the stories could be formatted into a class book, web page, or newspaper.
Actually, these stories could be submitted to a suitable magazine for professional publication. If someone writes an outdoor adventure send it to an adventure magazine. Make-up and hair care adventures could go to women's magazines. Stories of children could be sent to parenting magazines. (I plan to submit my story to TWINS magazine where I have published two other stories.)
This lesson could be an introduction to a literature unit on autobiographies and biographies or introduce a unit on family stories and oral histories.
EVALUATION: There are two chances to evaluate their writing. The rough draft should receive few direct comments, but the instructor could comment on a separate sheet focusing on the areas of the story that need improvement. This sheet could then be compared to the final draft to see if these changes were made. A compare and contrast of the first and second draft could also be used. This could be used prescriptively to re-teach any elements of style that are still lacking in the final draft.
The final draft could be graded as a standard writing assignment. I would recommend that it receive two grades: one for the mechanics of grammar and spelling and one for style and content.
SUGGESTIONS OR COMMENTS: Admittedly, I am reluctant to say this, but people who teach adults need to draw a line with the self-disclosure these types of stories could bring up. Some instructors may be justifiably uncomfortable showing pictures of their family members or intimate moments. Use pictures that you are comfortable sharing. It should go without saying, except that this discomfort can lead to a teachable moment. Where do you draw the line for yourself? How do you draw a line, not for, but with your students?
Also, rewriting can be seen as drudgery. "I already wrote that story, why should I write it again?" By using storytelling to help them rethink their story and retelling to a new partner they get to see their story again through new eyes. It refreshes interest. By adding the goal of a class publication the hope is that this adds a layer of intrinsic motivation, challenging students to produce their best work.
IDEAS CONTRIBUTED BY: Brian "Fox" Ellis, Fox Tales International

THEME: Special Mementos: Precious Trivia
CLASS: GED Communication
GOALS: Each student will have a story they can tell at the end of the lesson. Each student will write a descriptive paragraph of a personal memento.
STATE LEARNING STANDARDS(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Overhead of poem "The Sunday News"; paper and pencil; teacher's memento
INTRODUCTION: We begin by reading the short poem "Sunday News" from the overhead.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: The poem tells us that a man is reading his Sunday newspaper and he accidentally catches the name of his lost love in a headline in the recently married section. It then describes his personal reaction - anger and jealousy. He clips the article to put away - acknowledging its uselessness, but also its sentimental value to him!
METHODS: We read the poem aloud twice - first to listen to the words and secondly for understanding. Then we open up the conversation to the definition of a memento. I share the story with the class of my duck cookie made in 1962. I pass it around for all to touch and see. Next I ask the students to recall and describe a memento they have saved. I prompt them to tell who, where, why, how, when and encourage them to take notes. From those notes we begin our writing paragraph exercise. After editing and evaluating, we publish these on our classroom computers. (2 copies)
EVALUATION: The students' final copies are collected and turned into the office for placement in their files. I keep the other copy and use them in class for positive grammar lessons.

THEME: Kitchen Table Tales: Share a memory of a cooking experience
CLASS: Title I - Sophomores/Speech class
GOALS: Listen and speak effectively
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Chalkboard, chalk, house diagram ending up in kitchen
INTRODUCTION: So you think you have nothing to talk about? You have a wealth of experiences to share, just think about cooking and eating. This is something we all do.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: I gave personal example of making pecan pie with girlfriend. We used canning salt instead of sugar.
METHODS: I had students think of a "kitchen experience" they could share. I asked them to jot down a few notes in order to remember all of the "parts" of the experience. Include where you were - whose kitchen, your age, who was there with you, what you did. I then had them share stories one-on-one.
EVALUATION: After a slow start (sophomores begin anything slowly and with complaints) they "got into it." I intend to do this again using other rooms and have them tell the story to the entire class.
SUGGESTIONS OR COMMENTS: This was a great teaching suggestion!

THEME: Pet Tales
CLASS: Brimfield G.E.D.
GOALS To use family pets as a means for teaching storytelling and creative writing.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S) Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper, pencils and photos of family pets.
INTRODUCTION: I will begin by telling two family stories, one about my great uncle Johnny and his pet fox and one about my pet fox, Foxy. (Please see the story "Seeing the World with Wild Eyes.")
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: My Uncle Johnny was well known as a foxhunter in the Tennessee hills at the turn of the century. He took great pride in his hound dogs and never killed the fox. Hunting fox was a great sport for him and the hounds. He believed that it kept the fox in good shape and was a game of wits.
I also had a pet fox when I was a kid. My father found him while he was out coon hunting. We raised him as a pet, took him to school for show and tell, he used to nibble on toes, it was fun watching him catch birds, he was stolen by a neighbor, escaped and eventually returned to the wild in our neighborhood.
METHODS: I always begin by telling a short story or two to model the process. The story about my pet fox always elicits a few similar stories because it is an unusual pet, yet I also talk about dogs, cats and fish in the story so that people can relate to it.
After listening to my story, we briefly discuss some of their pet tales. I then have them choose a partner a take turns telling a more elaborate story about one of their favorite pets. In the context of this discussion I challenge them to talk bout several events in the life of this pet but to look for one defining moment to build a story around.
We then have a few moments of silence to embark on a deep memory. I ask them to close their eyes, travel back in time and remember in as much detail as possible the setting, characters and the main events:
"Where were you? Imagine slowly turning around notice the details of the place, smells sounds, sensations. Who was there? Carefully look over each of the characters. Imagine them talking; what do you think they may have said? What happened? Where does this story begin? And then what happened, and then what happened? What was the exciting middle? How does this scene or story end? Remember the details of your daydream…but come back to this room and this time. Open your eyes."
Remember: Tell it then write it. I ask them to turn to a new partner and this time tell it as a complete story with a clear beginning, middle and end. After they take turns telling and listening I ask them to write the story.
They can then share their story with the class or share a few in small groups. This lesson plan is a natural lead into the next lesson plan, Puppy Poems
EVALUATION: Straightforward.
SUGGESTIONS OR COMMENTS: Everyone loves to talk about their pets or friend's pets if they did not have any!
IDEAS CONTRIBUTED BY: Brian "Fox" Ellis, Fox Tales International

THEME: Puppy Poems
CLASS: Brimfield G.E.D.
GOALS: Explore information in different format. This lesson is a great follow-up to Pet Tales.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper, pencil
INTRODUCTION: I would begin by introducing the poem. Our dog sleeps in our bed. There are nights when I can not sleep because Dalai is whining, kicking me, wagging her tail, and talking in her sleep. She has these incredible adventures in her sleep. I often wonder what she is dreaming about. One night when she woke me up I wrote this first poem. The second poem was written after a long walk with my dogs on the longest night, the winter solstice.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: See enclosed poems: Doggy Dreams and Winter Solstice Poem.
METHODS: If they have recently finished the Pet Tales lesson I would discuss the idea that the same information can be written in a variety of forms or styles. Some ideas can be best expressed in a poem, essay, work of fiction, how-to article or personal narrative. Some ideas can be well expressed in several forms. (This lesson plan can also be done on its own.)
With a favorite pet in mind ask students to brainstorm a list of adjectives and descriptive phrases. Take a few moments and make a list of words and phrases to describe your pet. Next, challenge them to compare their pet to unusual items, to create similies and metaphores. Describe the color, shape, energy, and demeanor of the pet. This is phase one. Give students just a few moments to jot down a few ideas.
In phase two ask students to write a few phrases about what makes their animal unique. What unusual behavior or funny incidents or intelligent activities can or has your pet performed? A few examples from a recent class: Boo-boo, their dog, is the doorbell. He barks every time someone is at the door. Reckless knew the square root of two, he barked twice whenever you said, "What is the square root of two?" One student said, "My dog was so cute he helped me meet chicks!"
In phase three look for insight into mind of the animal. Take the animal's point of view. How does your pet view you? What are the highlights and low points of his or her world? Remember that for many animals their sense of smell or hearing may be stronger than sight.
Now juggle these lines, reorder and rewrite them to create a poem.
Read it out loud to yourself and fine-tune it. Rewrite it.
Share these poems with the group.
As a follow-up lessons ask students if some of these lines could be woven into their short stories about their pet written in Pet Tales. Good essays often contain the clear metaphors and colorful phrases that also make a good poem.
EVALUATION: These poems can be evaluated by standard measures of word use and creativity, but the more important proof will be the increased complexity of word use in their other forms of writing.
SUGGESTIONS OR COMMENTS Admittedly, writing poetry on demand is not easy or the most inspired literature, but this simple technique can produce good poems. Also the process of writing poetry is a good experience to help students learn the craft of writing, which will help with their essays and other forms of writing.
IDEAS CONTRIBUTED BY: Brian "Fox" Ellis, Fox Tales International

THEME: Liars' Contest: Telling Tall Tales and Learning Discernment
GOALS: To use personal narrative stories to teach creative writing, the subtlety of language, science process skills and discernment.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper, pencil, chalkboard or chart paper.
INTRODUCTION: I tell this story straight up as a true story, often playing with their disbelieve with phrases like I also found this hard to believe, or you can look this up in the encyclopedia. With very little fan fare or introduction I just plunge into telling this story.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: Please see the story, "The Walking Catfish."
METHOD: The most important point underlying this tale is the ability to discern the facts from the myths. If you comb through the story carefully, you will find a lot of useful information about the environment in general and about fish in particular. After telling the story or a similar tall tale from your life experience you could initiate a discussion of "the truth" within the tale. As outlined in the worksheet below, you could discern the truth from the lies. You could focus on the facts about fish versus the myths in the story, or you could open the discussion to cover many points about my childhood, the river, and fishing. Make three columns on the board. Label them The Truth, The Lies, & I Do Not Know. Brainstorm "facts" that fit each category. Once you initiate the discussion students could work with a partner, work in small cooperative groups, or work together with the entire class to comb through the rest of the story.
The items that you are not sure of could be discussed, researched and then placed in one of the other columns. If you are not able to conduct the research in that moment, you could discuss the question of "How could we find out more information?," and brainstorm possibilities.
Underlying these discussions are a number of higher level thinking skills, namely, discernment, comparing and contrasting facts and fiction, what is known and what is imagined. Students are also challenged to evaluate the character and reliability of the source. Deductive thinking is involved. Honesty and integrity are called into question.
In light of several infamous court cases in recent history, these are healthy intellectual pursuits. One point I like to emphasize in these discussions is that opinions are valid only if they are based on facts, not on hearsay or circumstantial evidence. I often ask students to defend their point with simple question like "Why do you think this is true?" Or "How do you know?"
Tales Tall and True: A Game
A popular game from the folklore tradition is to ask each student to come up with three "facts" about their life. Two are to be true and one a lie. Students then read their "facts" out loud and students try to discern which is a lie. The student who guesses correctly gets to read her or his "facts" next. This is a good warm-up exercise for the liars contest outlined in the worksheet. Read the following examples aloud to the class and see if they can guess correctly. Here are three facts about my life from the story:
I grew up in Peoria, Illinois. (False)
I spent a lot of my childhood fishing. (True)
The state record for the largest catfish in Illinois is 79lbs. (True!)
To give the game a more scientific twist you could ask students to come up with three facts about a specific classification of plants or animals. You could limit their choices to give the game an emphasis that correlates with your curriculum. If you are studying a certain ecosystem you could say that the plants and animals have to be residents of that environment. If you are studying a certain phylum or class of plants or animals you could limit their choices to include species from that class. Two examples: will students could choose only reptiles or they could choose any plant or animal that is native to their home state. Following are three facts about rattlesnakes. Read them aloud to students to see if they can guess correctly.
Rattlesnakes lay eggs. (False)
You can estimate their age by counting their rattles. (True, though not exact.)
Rattlers hibernate in the winter. (True)
Another possibility is to branch out into other myths about science. The teacher could model several examples and then ask students to ask their parents and grandparents to help them to come up with myths and facts that have been proven or disproven in their life time. Since one of the goals is to fool the listener, trick questions can be encouraged. Two examples are given below:
The moon is made of green cheese. (True!)
There are little green men who live on the dark side of the moon. (False)
The moon can not sustain life as we know it because it lacks water. (True.)
AIDS is a disease that we believe originated with chimps or monkeys. (True)
You can get AIDS if you come near someone with the disease. (False.)
Only homosexuals can get AIDS. (False.)
Following is a worksheet that I developed for this lesson. Feel encouraged to copy this and give one to each student:
One of my mottoes is that there is truth in every story, though not every story is true. Decide which parts of "The Walking Catfish" are true and not true. Make a chart. Make three columns: one for the truth, one for the lies, and one for the parts that you do not know. Later, you could research the parts you do not know and add them to one of the other columns.
Retell a story you heard today, but change some of the names and places so it sounds like it really happened to you!
There are two kinds of tall tales: some begin with a lie and only get bigger; others start with the truth and slowly stretch it until it breaks.
The tall tales that start with a lie are often stories about people like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, John Henry and Annie Oakley. Check your library for more stories about these characters. These may be real people, but that is where the truth ends. To write a story like this you start by describing a superhuman character who can perform amazing feats of strength and agility. Write two or three sentences about your character. Describe both his or her physical appearance and what kind of person they are. Write two sentences describing the setting for your story. Write one sentence describing some fantastic problem. Write two sentences describing how ordinary people try to solve the problem and why they fail. Write two sentences describing how the hero saves the day using his or her special powers. These sentences together add up to an outline of your story. Reshape these sentences into a story. Rewrite, revise and edit these stories then collect them into a class book. Take turns telling these stories to your class.
Tall tales that start with the truth are my favorite stories to tell because it is a lot of fun to watch the audience get tangled into the net of lies but still believe the story. These are the hardest stories to write because it is difficult to get the listener to believe you and then maintain that trust as you stretch the truth to its breaking point. It helps if you start with a true event from your life that is very believable yet somewhat unusual. Think back to some amazing thing that really did happen to you. Close your eyes and relive it in your memory. Use all of your senses to make the memory come to life. Write several sentences describing the event, the people and the setting. How can you stretch it into a tall tale? Start with little facts: exaggerate the numbers, talk about believable things that could, but did not happen. Pull on it a little more. Add information that is barely possible but could still happen. Finally, wrap it up with things that are impossible. I like to end with a line like: "It was just lying there like I have been lying to you the whole time." or "She was yanking on my leg just like I am pulling your leg now." If you gently bring the listener along they will take it hook, line and sinker!
For added fun you could have a tall tale contest to see how many people you could fool. Tell your story to your class and see if they believe you.
Type your story and send it to me. I may use it in on my web page! foxtalesint.com
Brian "Fox" Ellis *** Fox Tales International *** P.O. Box 10800 *** Peoria, IL 61612
EVALUATION: Their three short sentences could be collected and graded for basic grammar and spelling. Their longer stories could be collected and graded for both mechanics and style.
SUGGESIONS OR COMMENTS: I try to emphasize that my goal is not to teach them how to lie, but how to listen for the truth. I don't like to admit it but there are charlatans out their willing to take you to the cleaners, but if you listen with a discerning ear you can learn to hear the truth, read between the lines, and notice what is not being said.
IDEAS CONTRIBUTED BY: Brian "Fox" Ellis, Fox Tales International

THEME: I'm Telling it Like It Is! The Power of Persuasive Writing
GOALS: To help students articulate their point of view and write a persuasive essay.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper and Pencil
INTRODUCTION: Talk about a hot topic, an issue ripped from today's headlines, or choose an eternal issue that your students should have strong opinions about. Without overtly stating your opinion, introduce the issue. Be careful not to tell them an opinion; use a number of questions that hint at both sides of the issue.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: Several years ago we talked about Anita Hill and Judge Clarence Thomas. On another occasion we discussed the innocence of OJ Simpson. Bill Clinton's impeachment was another timely topic. You could also discuss adult responsibility for their children's behavior, as we did at ICC.
METHOD: Through Socratic questioning introduce the topic. Ask students to keep their opinions to themselves as you dance around the issue. Draw a number line on the board. One end of the scale is 100% for the issue. The other end of the scale is 100% against the issue. Without talking about it ask students to put a number on the top of their page: 50/50 or 75/25 or 5/95.
For example, at ICC we talked about a parent's responsibility for their child's crimes. I asked a series of questions: If your child breaks the law, are you responsible or should the child go to jail? If there is property damage should the parents pay for the damage or should the child repay the victim? Should parents know what their children are up to? When should children be tried as adults? Where and for what crimes do we draw the line? Now draw a number line. If you think a child is 100% responsible put a mark at the right end. If you think a parent is 100% responsible put a mark at the left end. I f you think a child is 75% responsible and the parent is 25% responsible your mark is ¾ towards the right.
Without discussing their answer with their neighbors ask students to line up against the wall where they think they fit in. No talking. 100% for to this end. 100% against towards that end. If you are somewhere in the middle move to the place along the line that best represents your opinion. The only talking should be the trading of numbers so they are lined up in order.
Next, ask students to count off A, B, A, B. A is B's partner on down the line. Give them three to five minutes to talk to someone they agree with, someone next to them in line. Allow them a chance to trade ideas and discuss why they hold this opinion. The emphasis should be on discussing the reasons they hold this opinion. What are the facts, or statistics, or life experiences that lead them to this opinion? Come up with a least three reasons why you choose this position.
After they have had a chance to affirm their beliefs, you have two choices: fold the line in half or cut it in two and slid the line so the middles meet their opposite end. Which way depends on the issue and opinions.
Now lay down the ground rules for a civil debate. The ones facing south, for example, have to be silent listeners, while the ones facing north have two minutes to expound on their point of view without interruption. Then they switch roles. The ones facing south have two minute to express their opinion while the ones facing north are quiet. After they have expressed their opinions they trade questions. Each can ask the other two questions. Then give them two minutes to politely exchange ideas.
At this point I always ask: How many of you changed your point of view even a little? Give yourselves a round of applause for having an open mind! How many of you now understand your opinion and this issue more clearly? Now it is time to put your opinion on paper.
If necessary spend a few minutes reviewing what makes a good persuasive essay. Basically, you start with an opening statement that clarifies your point of view on the issue. In three paragraphs or more give three or more reasons why you believe this, give facts, evidence, statistics, and life experience to support your point of view. Then close with a statement that expresses your point of view with a different vocabulary.
With paper and pencil ask students to put on paper what they just discussed with their first partner. What is your point of view? Give at least three reasons why you believe this. As you write keep in mind the arguments of your second partner. A good editorial takes into account the counter point.
When they are finished with their rough draft they can trade papers and critic each other's essay before they rewrite and edit their final drafts.
EVALUATION: With an emphasis on clear opening and closing statements and well thought out and articulated reasons, these papers can be reviewed by the same standards used to assess the GED writing sample.
SUGGESIONS OR COMMENTS: By giving students a chance to discuss their ideas before they write their essay I have found that I always get better essays. Though this is not the standard personal narrative that I teach when teaching storytelling, a lot of the same rules apply. Namely, tell it then write it. By telling our story, or point of view first the writing becomes the easy part because we have had a chance to articulate our ideas.
Remind students that they can not have an open debate while taking the GED, but if they keep this process in mind while writing their persuasive essay they will write better essays. Ask them to put a gauge on where they stand, think through their opinion, come up with three reasons, make an outline, and then write their essay keeping in mind the opposite point of view and how they might respond to their essay.
IDEAS CONTRIBUTED BY: Brian "Fox" Ellis, Fox Tales International

THEME: A Shoebox Full of Memories - Toys and Junk Drawer Items as Story Starters
CLASS: ICC Staff Training
GOALS: This game is a great icebreaker that gets participants to begin thinking about personal stories and what makes a good story. It will warm-up students to the idea that their lives are full of stories and introduce the elements of storytelling, story development and story writing.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper, pencil, and a basket or shoebox filled with crayons, a whistle, a small toy car, a doll's shoe, a seashell, an acorn, a plastic flower, a battery, an old coin, a Popsicle stick, a few beads, a shoelace, jacks, a coupon, and any other small objects from your junk drawer or toy box that might elicit a story. You need to have at least one object per student.
INTRODUCTION: This lesson needs little introduction. Plunging right in and laying the ground rules will give them more time to reminisce. We keep these things around because they remind us of who we are and where we have been. These keepsakes are our collected memories. One object brings back a wealth of memories: smells and sounds, people and places, the stories of our lives. The people, places, and events of your life are your character, setting and plot. IN just a moment I am going to give you an object from my shoebox. When you get it do not think too long and hard, just start talking until you get a story. What ever comes to mind share it. Eventually you will find a story.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: This is the one lesson where I do not tell a story first.
METHODS: Tell them you have a basket of memories. In just a moment you will give two people an object and one will tell a story while the other is thinking. When the first person is done you will give someone else an object and they will be the third storyteller. When the second person is done you will give someone else an object and they will be the fourth storyteller. This way they have just a moment to think before it is their turn. After everyone has had a turn you could ask them to write their stories, but I usually skip this. This lesson is a good icebreaker and sometimes simply telling stories is all the instruction they need. Sometimes it is fun and inspiring to just tell stories.
EVALUATION: After everyone has had turn discuss some of their favorite stories and how one story may have reminded you of others. You could also introduce concepts like character setting and plot by using specific examples from their stories.
IDEAS CONTRIBUTED BY: Brian "Fox" Ellis, Fox Tales International

THEME: Stories are about People, Places, and Events
CLASS: Introductory Level GED, ABE and ESL
GOALS: Warm-up Students to the idea that their lives are full of stories. Introduce the elements of Character, Setting and Plot.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper and Pencil
INTRODUCTION: This lesson needs very little introduction. I usually say something like: "Our lives are filled with stories. Have you ever met someone? These are the characters of your life story. Have you ever been somewhere? That is the setting of your life story. Have you ever done something? That is the plot of your life story? The people, places, and events of your life are the character, setting and plot of you life story!"
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: Because this is an ice-breaker, this is one lesson plan where I do not tell a story to start it off. After the brief introduction we plunge in and go.
METHODS: After the aforementioned introduction, I point at people and ask who was someone important in your life? At first I am interested in names and relationships. Who are the people on your life and how do you know them? We then go around the room and talk about places in our lives. Again I simply wander around the room and ask people: What is one of your favorite places? After everyone has had a turn with places I then ask: What has been one of the most important events of your life?
If you would like to extend this activity you could ask each person to make a list of important people, places and events. They could then discuss their list with a partner and begin to tell stories about the things on their lists. Of course these oral stories could be turned into writing exercises following some of the other lessons in this handout.
EVALUATION: Participation is key

THEME: The List Poem
CLASS: Introductory Level GED, ABE and ESL
GOALS: Warm-up Students to the idea that poetry is fun and easy. Introduce the elements of metaphor, analogy and simile.
STATE LEARNING STANDARD(S): Goal 3, 4, & 5: Write to communicate for a variety of purposes. Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. Use the language arts to acquire, assess and communicate information.
MATERIALS: Paper and Pencil
INTRODUCTION: We all have a junk drawer, a closet, an attic or car trunk that is full of old stuff we rarely use or even look at. But we know it is there and we often know what is in there because we rummage through it looking for the other things we want. Make a list of all the things in your collection.
SYNOPSIS OF STORY: After they have made their list I will read my list poem as an example. (Please see the poem about "My Car.")
METHODS: After the aforementioned introduction, I read my poem as an example and discuss what is and isn't a poem. I introduce the idea of a list poem citing examples from classic literature. We talk about symbols and similes, metaphors and analogies. I introduce the idea of alliteration, rhythm and rhyme. I ask students to review their lists and play with these ideas. I give them just five or ten minutes to do a little editing and rewriting and then we share our poems aloud.
EVALUATION: Participation is key. The poems could be collected and graded.

HISTORY... In Person

Invite history's greatest minds to your school or conference, Chautauqua or museum.

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