Storytelling with a twist (or many twists)

This week we have a post from long term Hands Up Project volunteer, Filip Rakocevic. Filip is an English teacher in Belgrade, Serbia and for a while now he’s been working collaboratively through HUP with Ashraf Kuheil in a boys elementary school in Gaza city. I love the way this activity involves everyone in the storytelling process.

In the world of storytelling it is important to use a range of techniques and approaches. I I’ve just recently entered this world of teaching English through stories but I would like to share an idea which I think might be an excellent tool to further improve the quality of the content we give to our young learners.

It has been a while since I was in touch with my inner child and I guess that all of us stop using our imagination so much as we grow older. One day while I was daydreaming it came to me that our students would also like to tell stories to us, but sadly some of them don’t quite have enough language to be able to do this. Luckily I’ve found  a way to include them even more and give them more and more power over the stories we tell them.

Instead of just me speaking and then them doing some activities I realised that I could create something where they would have complete control over the story. I decided to create an interactive story where they would be given options with carefully planned consequences which could give them valuable lessons.

I am fortunate enough to be teaching a group of 20 boys in a school in Gaza, together with the amazing and helpful Ashraf Kuhail.

filip post 3

I wrote a story from scratch with many various plot twists and options to choose from.
The outline of the story talked about a group of 20 brave warriors who have undertaken an important mission to carry an important religious book to Jerusalem. On their way they were faced with many challenges.

The first one was the giant magical snake that stood in their path. They were given the option to sacrifice their horses and run or stay and fight the snake. They decided to fight the snake and almost managed to kill it. Then the snake offered them three gifts to choose from and in turn they would spare the snake’s life. It offered them a map, water or food. The boys decided to take the map because they believed it would tell them where the nearest water source is, as well as helping them on their journey. I asked them to explain every decision they made to make them aware of the seriousness of their choices. They continued with their journey and managed to find a lake using the map they had previously attained, but unfortunately the lake was guarded by a wizard. He told them that the water inside the lake is poisonous and that it would surely kill them. He offered to help them if they answered one of his riddles. The boys successfully answered the riddle, drank and continued. Next, they stumbled across an army of scorpions and were given the option of again fleeing and sacrificing their horses or fight. They used fire to break through the scorpions surrounding them. In the last desert challenge, they were faced with a relentless sandstorm threatening to blow them away. I asked them to come up with a way to overcome this difficulty and their solution was to tie themselves to one another and use shields to face the wind and move as one so that none of them would be swept by the wind. After several days of a difficult journey, they finally reached the city of Jerusalem where they faced an even greater difficulty, one in the form of a man. The king was dying and his evil son was in charge of the city, a son who had no respect of any tradition. He wanted to take the book from these young 20 warriors but they fought bravely and now controlled the evil prince. They were given the option of killing him but they decided to spare his life and send him from the city. The king learned of this and sent for them. He asked them to let him see the book which they finally did only after checking whether he was a good man. In return he gave them the keys to the city, now they were the ones who would rule. Their first task was to choose a king which they did, while others were appointed as his advisors. The king’s first decision was to banish all the bad people from the city and create a peaceful environment where there would be no judgment, war or cruelty.

Filip post 1

At the end of the class I asked the students to tell me what they learned from this story. They stated: ‘’It is better to use your mind than your muscles’’, ‘’We must be united’’, ‘’We must think before we do something’’ etc. Their classroom teacher, Ashraf was guiding their choices all the way and together we made them aware of how important their actions and decisions are.

They had complete control of the story and I had to change much of my original plan because their creativity and sharpness required more detailed and greater challenges. They challenged my imagination and in turn I fed theirs. I think that this type of storytelling really makes them feel in control, gives them a sense of ownership and therefore engages them much more than during conventional storytelling.

filip post 2

4 thoughts on “Storytelling with a twist (or many twists)

  1. Cheers Michael. As a professional storyteller I’m sure you’ve got your own ways of building audience participation into your storytelling sessions. Have you got any ways that you can share here which teachers in Palestine might be able to use in their English classes?


  2. That was really smart Filip Rakocevic…involving students to be part of the story broke the ice and encouraged lots of them to practise using English…Such experience helped me to discover new brilliant students who were afraid of speaking using their English knowledge. …Yazan Sha’at, for instance, kept silent for a long time and I didn’t know that he could speak English.. but after being engaged in one of your stories, I discovered that he can speak really really well. And for luck he then became a part of our (hands up) play.
    In the coming sessions, I’d like to provide my students opportunities to tell stories for you 🙂
    God bless your efforts friend.


  3. Wow! That’s such a cool idea Filip. It’s like the Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read when I was little. I wonder if higher level students could then try making their own stories with choices and twists!


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