Saturday, March 16, 2013

Inspire Creativity in Kids with Collective Story Telling

Looking for a way to spark creativity in children?  The good news is that it's in there waiting to come out.  All you need to do is provide the catalyst.

So What is Collective Story Telling?

It requires a little thought on your end, but all you need is a quick set up to a story and the kids will take it from there.  To get started, you need provide a group of kids (typically a group of 5 to 25 kids) with a setting, a couple of characters, and a unique event.  Then ask this question:  "What happens next?"

From that point, the kids' imaginations will take you down some interesting paths.  You then become the facilitator, guiding them through the story that they create.  Your main role will be to ask questions, encouraging them to expand on the description of a character or a particular setting.  And most likely, you'll start getting excited about the story, so feel free to add your ideas from time to time, especially when things slow down.  As you get further into the story, you will need to recap what's happened up to that point, particularly in larger groups.  This will help the kids stay on track as to where the story is heading.

Limit the time for each session to about 45 minutes.  Beyond that, everyone's brains will get tired from all of the creative energy they're expending.  Believe me, I've had sessions that passed an hour and by that time, only a few kids were left in the game (probably future authors).

How Do I Get the Kids to Participate?

The biggest problem you'll have will not be getting the kids to come up with ideas, but rather which ideas you choose to move the story along.  I've been doing this for schools now for a few months and I'm amazed that the collective stories go down different paths every time.  And I'm only using a couple of story starters.

To get maximum participation, you need to remember a few things:

1. Make it fun.  Your story starter and your interjected ideas really help.  You also have to show excitement for the ideas that the kids come up with.  (This usually isn't too hard - they tend to surprise you)

2. Organize chaos.  You have to let the group run for a bit.  Everyone wants to talk over each other with ideas that just can't wait to be expressed.  Chaos is OK in the creative process.  Give them time to get it out, then praise the ideas and ask the group to vote on a particular direction.

3. Encourage the quiet ones.  With every group of kids (and adults), there are always folks who'd rather not speak up.  Find ways to involve those kids as well.  When you get to a turning point in the story, move closer to the quiet kid and ask him/her what they think?  Remind them that being creative means not being afraid to be judged.  The quiet ones typically have good ideas, they're just afraid of what people will think.

Story Starters

Here are a couple of story starters I use.  Hopefully these examples will help you get started.

Idea One - for middle school age and older
A group of young teenagers are out for a joy ride.  One of them just got his license.  While they're out goofing around like most teenagers do, they get pulled over by a policeman.  The driver is freaking out and the other kids in the car are reacting in different ways (use this as a point to have the kids describe the driver and the other characters).  The policeman gives the driver two options:  Get a ticket or help him with an interstellar mission.  Stop here and look at the kids in the room.  It usually takes them some time to soak in what you just said.  Then ask, "What happens next?"

As they come up with ideas, be ready for some potentially dark ones from this age group.  Don't be too concerned.  This age group is exposed to video games, action movies and actually might pay attention when the news is reporting crimes.  I usually steer them away from things that get too far out of my comfort zone.  You can do this by reminding them that this isn't a horror novel, it's an adventure novel.

Idea Two - for elementary age kids
A girl and her mother are heading out of the neighborhood on a Saturday to go to the store.  As they drive down the cul-de-sac street, talking to each other about [insert topic], mom abruptly slams on the brakes.  They get out to see a giant footprint-shaped hole in the middle of the street.  What happens next?  Be sure to get the kids to name the girl and describe her.  Is she tall or short?  How old is she?  Does she have any siblings?  How does she react?  Is she scared?  Or is she excited to figure out what made the footprint?  How does mom react?

The last time I used this story, we ended up having two giants that came from a world in the sky.  One was a good giant and the other was an evil giant that wanted to mine the earth for rare gems that were too deep for humans to reach.  The good giant was captured by the military and had to convince the people of earth that he was there to help.  The bad giant was taking kids back to his world so he could lure all of the adults there and capture them.  This came from a group of kids ranging in age from 9 to 11.  And it all happend in the course of 45 minutes!

Get Started Now!

All it takes is an idea and a group of kids.  Once you try this exercise, you'll be hooked.  I could do this every day.  Not only is it exciting to see the kids light up with creativity, but it is also a great way for you to enhance your own creativity.

Happy story telling!