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Hosting a Family Literacy Night

PRESENTING A FAMILY STORY TELLING EVENING
 
The Goal of the evening is encourage families to celebrate literacy and family heritage through the telling of family stories.
 
The Plan:
 
I always start with a brief welcome that includes:
A sincere thank you and praise to the parents who came, because action speaks louder than words and their presence says loud and clear that they value their children and their children's education. I ask students to turn to their parents and say thanks for coming!
 
A brief (2 min.) lecture on the importance of reading aloud and telling family stories. Research will bear this out; parents who read to their children are giving their children the tools they need to succeed in school and those who succeed in school succeed in life.
 
The emphasis is that family stories give us a bigger sense of who we are!
Then I outline the evening warning them that they will get a chance to tell a few stories later.
 
Then I tell a family story. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to tell a story to model the process, inspire ideas, and give everyone that good feeling that a heartwarming, funny family story can create. (To see a few examples please link to Fox's Family Stories.)
 
We then play a few basic storytelling games to warm them up to the idea that they already know how to tell stories. I lead the games but ask them to turn to their family members to play, making sure that everyone gets a turn working in small groups. The games include:

Counting to five with feeling.
Counting to five changing your voice to become different characters.
Imitating animals, the phone, the wind, and practicing sound effects.
The magic something, a pantomime game.
And an imaginary journey into a favorite picture book.
 
For more about these games please link to Storytelling Basics. Throughout this process I keep emphasizing the idea that they already know how to tell stories by asking questions like: How many of you raise your voice when you are excited? Parents, have you ever given your child the look? Raise your hand if you talk with your hands moving?
 
At this point I either tell another very short family story, joke or tall tale OR I invite up a few students to tell a traditional folktale.
 
Next, I tease the parents that now it is their turn. The way it works is this: Ask the students to be the listeners and the parents to be the speakers. Ask the students to repeat after you when you read the prompt. This way the parent hears the prompt twice and has more time to formulate a response. Ask the parents to respond to the prompt with whatever comes to mind. They should simply begin speaking, telling their children any tidbit of information or story that comes to mind. Give them only one or two minutes to respond then ask for silence (or ring a bell or clap twice, somehow signal the end.) The idea here is to simple open the floodgates of vivid memory. Read three to five prompts in this manner.
 
Following is a set of prompts, but feel free to write your own. Make sure they are general enough to elicit a response from everyone, yet specific enough to create vivid images. Knowing your families and their common experiences, create prompts that will elicit a variety of responses.

1. Tell me about your grandma, grandpa or some other older person you have known.
2. Tell me about a family vacation, where you went and what you did.
3. Tell me about your first day of school or some early school memory.
4. Tell me about a family holiday (x-mas, hanukah, etc.) and what you do that is special.
5. Tell me about your favorite childhood game, how to play it, and the last time you played.
6. Tell me about __________ (fill in the blank).
 
I always end with a brief family story that is my response to one of the prompts. This models a more complete story. I then thank them for coming and encourage them to keep the stories alive. Some of the handouts I give them to encourage more stories can be found in the book Family Stories.