play · storytelling · writing workshop

It’s Time for Play and Fun!: Storytelling in Writing Workshop

It’s March. If your schools are anything like mine, you are slogging through the remnants of a long winter, all while gearing up for a season of standardized testing. Throughout schools, there’s pressure for accountability: so many are expected to follow a planned curriculum and meet learning targets, often in lockstep. The struggle is REAL.

And yet.

Kids of all ages still need play and fun. I don’t know about you, but my kids always seem to do a bit better when some of each is incorporated into my lessons. Right now, especially when the winter feels long and the stakes feel high, I feel a deeper obligation to incorporate activities that lighten the load for my students.

Today, I’ll share some ways to bring joy into writing workshop. One of the places where I’ve seen the most excitement is with oral language, particularly with storytelling. It’s a way for students of all ages and readiness to express themselves without the cumbersome physical tasks of writing or typing. 

Note: If you’d like to learn some of the basics about storytelling in classrooms of all ages, along with some starter activities, you can read my post from earlier this school year.

Now, I realize that some have more flexibility to add or change lessons than others. So, this time around, I’m giving you ideas and ways to incorporate storytelling and play in just ten minutes a pop.

Activity: Story Ball

Why it’s great: The cooperative and spontaneous nature of this game assures that there will be unexpected surprises around the corner. Some stories will be gems, and others will be “klunkers.” It’s perfect practice for the mindset that authors don’t have to love everything they compose.

How it’s done: Sit or stand the students in a circle. Roll or throw a ball back and forth. Whoever catches the ball tells the next sentence of the story. Throw the ball to continue the story until the group has finished. You can start the class off with a prompt, or you can just let things go as they will.  

Activity: Anecdotal Storytelling

Why it’s great: Telling anecdotes reinforces the idea that people are better at crafting stories than they think. It also creates a space for personal narrative and makes it easier for those who are uncomfortable with the genre.

How it’s done: Choose a prompt that kids can talk about. I’m providing several for you here, and you’re welcome to use any of them! Keep in mind that I choose my prompts with trauma-informed teaching in place. If I know that there are some of these questions that are emotionally difficult for my students, I will choose another topic.

  • What was something fun you did this weekend?
  • Tell about a time you were really proud of yourself.
  • What’s a time you’ve been disappointed?
  • Tell something funny a pet or sibling did.
  • Talk about a recent trip to the dentist.
  • Talk about a scar you got.
  • Tell about a time you lost something important to you.
  • What’s a birthday you remember?
  • What happened the first time you rode a bicycle?
  • What’s the best gift you ever received?

Once you pick a topic, you can choose how to structure the activity. I like to use my timer, having students tell stories to their partners or groups. During the time my stopwatch is going (usually about two or three minutes), the group is only permitted to focus on that one person’s story. If the telling of the story is short, students can ask questions, but they have to keep their comments about the person and the story itself. When the timer buzzes, we move on to the next teller.

Activity: Dialogue Puppet Show

Why it’s great: This activity lets students practice character dialogue in a way that feels smooth and natural. Private rehearsal is a low-risk way to try out different ideas.

How it’s done: Kids choose a part of any story they wish they had more dialogue in. (Alternative: choose a scene from a shared text that you’d like kids to develop a dialogue for.) Students make easy “puppets” out of the characters by drawing a quick sketch of each character on an index card and taping them to a pencil. Voilá! Then, students can separate themselves into corners of the room and perform puppet shows for themselves. There’s room for kids to practice more than once, changing the conversation as they see fit. Watch the video below to see an example. You’re welcome to use it with your students as you like!

Want a video demonstration? Click this link to watch and use.

Want more resources? These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Comprehensive list of story types and links
Aaron Shephard’s resources for oral storytelling and reader’s theater

Looking for more ideas, resources, or ways to use storytelling in your classroom? Drop a comment below!

“Storytelling is humanity’s oldest form of literacy.” – Kate Mitchoff

6 thoughts on “It’s Time for Play and Fun!: Storytelling in Writing Workshop

    1. Thank you! The videos (I made about 6 or 7 in this series) were really fun for me to make. I’m glad you enjoyed this one!


  1. These ideas are such fun! How could they not bring joy to a writing classroom!?!?
    BTW: I appreciate that you’re thinking about trauma before choosing to do one of the anecdotal storytelling prompts. I think it’s a great reminder — for anyone who reads this post in the future — to be cognizant of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I appreciate that. I know I’ve had enough experience with difficult subjects and triggers in my own life; I figure it hits for children as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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