With the basics of storytelling in place, it’s time to look at how you would use these techniques effectively to help your kids enter and live into God’s big story as it’s presented in Dwell.
In Step 2 of each session (Entering the Story) you’ll generally be preparing to tell the story yourself or present it as a drama. Here’s some advice that will make this important step a bit easier for you:
- Be sure to get drama scripts to other presenters as early as possible, preferably a week or more in advance so participants can prepare. Make it easy for readers by highlighting each part in a bright color.
- If you’re inviting a guest storyteller to present the Bible story to the group, offer a brief summary of the unit theme and content, explain what’s come before and will come after this particular story, and mention any situations or issues the storyteller should be aware of (for example, your group uses a ritual chant for quieting down just before the story).
- The more your guest storyteller knows, the easier it will be to establish rapport with the kids.
- Often scripts call for audience volunteers. Keep a list of good readers and natural actors to call on when there are substantive roles. Offer less gifted readers and younger participants roles that involve pantomime, sound effects, or moving props around. In this way you’ll use everyone’s gifts while ensuring the best story presentation possible.
- Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So be prepared and remain flexible. When the flashlight you’re using as a key prop runs out of juice at just the wrong time, what will you do? If a key participant doesn’t make it to church, is there someone to pinch hit?
- The details count—big time. Can everybody see the storyteller(s)? (If there’s a window behind them, kids may only be seeing their silhouettes!) Can everyone hear the story? (Perhaps you need to present the story in a smaller space or invest in a sound system.) Are kids seated comfortably? Is there enough space so they can stretch out their arms for motions? Is the room temperature comfortable? (A room that’s too warm will make children restless; too cold and they’ll be distracted from listening.) Would the group benefit from a ritual to settle them down for listening?
- If you’re not a part of the story presentation yourself, be sure to take your place in the audience along with the kids. By doing so, you are modeling good story-listening behavior. The kids are watching you—if you are at the back of the room doing other things, they’ll notice. Be an eager and involved listener!
Even if you’re not a direct participant in the story presentation, it’s important to ground yourself in the goals and central truth of the session and how the story fits into the theme of the unit you’re teaching. Preparing gives you the confidence to focus the children’s learning on the story and your goals for the session.
Steps 3 and 4 of each session (Living into the Story and Living Out of the Story) invite children to make each story their own. Here are some ways to help kids interact with the story effectively:
- Make connections. Each session presents only a part of God’s whole story. How does this story fit into God’s big story? How does it flow with the theme of your unit? As you live into the story for the day, remind children of the stories they’ve been listening to in past weeks and help them find the links.
- Take time to review. The story presented in Step 2 is just that—a presentation. What follows in Steps 3 and 4 is an opportunity to make sure that kids caught the details and understood the action (especially God’s action!). Take time to ask factual and wondering questions, and if need be, to revisit story details.
- Invite participation. Make sure the children have ample time to process the story they’ve reenacted. Give them opportunities to ask questions, to ponder, to wonder. Remember the people who first listened to Jesus’ stories; though often they did not understand what Jesus was telling them, they carried his parables away and pondered them. Perhaps later in the day it dawned on them—“Aha! So that’s what he meant!” That’s the kind of wondering you’ll want to encourage.
- Encourage commitment too! That’s what “Living Out of the Story” is all about. Jesus said that bearing fruit is the natural outcome of being connected to him. Nudge children to go beyond pondering and reflecting to acting and living out of God’s story.
“There’s a saying in the Jewish tradition that the shortest distance between [a hu]man and God is through a story. So if storytelling is a journey, sacred storytelling is a pilgrimage—a pilgrimage to a place called Hope.” —Andy Fraenkel