Bringing the Bible to Life Using Storytelling, Puppetry, and Drama
This manual is an expanded version of workshop guidelines written by storyteller Amy Crane for Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church in Tampa, Florida. It is a supplement to the lessons posted by Amy at this site.
Copyright Amy Crane. Permission granted to freely distribute and use for non-commercial purposes, provided this copyright message is included.
The Goal of Storytelling with Puppets and Drama
The goal of storytelling, puppet, and drama activities is to encourage the students to creatively interpret a Bible story or theme through performance. As educators, we recognize that performing engages multiple learning intelligences in a way that simply reading and talking do not. Dramatizing a story, including getting our body to move with the content, helps students focus and terrific aids to content retention.
In a one hour session, the end product is not a polished performance, but a creative interpretation and understanding of a story that allows all present to participate equally. Emphasis is not on the facts, but on understanding the feelings, thoughts, and motivation of Bible characters and also on the sequence of events. Talent or a flawless production is not necessary for a quality learning experience, and sometimes can actually get in the way!
Most of the lessons I have written here at Rotation.org (search for "Amy Crane") do not contain scripted skits with lines to memorize. Pre-made Scripts can get in the way of both learning and performing. The purpose of the puppet and drama lessons is to allow the students to really think about the story at hand, about the characters and their feelings and motivations. The teacher acts as a guide and questioner as the students outline and then dramatize the story. They may be aided by creating an outline of the story and "things they want to remember to say." In this way, the students are not acting so much as interacting and interpreting. (Some lesson plans do include a script skeleton to help the teacher direct the class's thoughts creatively.)
Keeping the performance informal will reduce problems with stage fright and shyness. It allows the energy to be focused on creatively interpreting the story, not impressing parents and others. That said, ideally, you have enough students so you can split into groups and the kids can watch each other perform the story. This often leads to enhanced discussion opportunity and improved performances as the kids learn from watching others.
And there's never such as thing as "one performance." For indeed, "doing it again only this time emphasizing _____, and not fogetting to _________," can be very creative ways to explore insights into the story and enhance retention of the content. Repetition is our friend
Let the Word of God come alive in your listeners/learners' hearts and minds. To become mature Christians, the stories of the Bible must be internalized. Stories are the basic language of faith.
Preparing your space
The lessons I have written are designed for use with minimal scenery and props. You do not need a stage with curtains and lights and microphones. In fact, those things can sometimes distract from the real objective: having the students learn a story. However, a creative and attractive classroom will enhance the experience.
Create a unique Puppet Space
The more special and unique your meeting environment is, the more your students will feel that something special is taking place. Even if you are using space that is shared with other groups, you can add a few touches to make it into a Storytelling, Puppet and Drama Workshop.
Consider creating a special seating area where the class gathers to hear the story and plan the day's drama. This allows the children to escape the everyday world when they enter the room. The group could be like Moses and the Israelites, wandering in the desert and gathering around a fire in front of a tent to hear stories. Maybe you are gathering in a synagogue sometime after the death and resurrection of Jesus to hear stories from both the Old and New Testaments. Maybe you are Christians gathered in the catacombs to hear stories of the faith. Try decorating the doorway like a time-machine and have the students put on Bible-time costumes when they enter the room (of course, you are already wearing your costume) and everyone is ready to explore a different time and place.
You will need open floor space so that there is room to move and create dramatic scenes. Use words to set the scene: "Come, let us sit here around our campfire (a few small logs) on this starry evening. See how the stars twinkle? That reminds me of the story of Abram." A few trees made from carpet tubes "planted" in five gallon plant containers with plaster and decorated with construction paper leaves or palm fronds don't take up much space and can be pushed out of the way when other groups are in the room.
Use the furniture that is already in the room. Your set could be a simple tent or cave defined by a blanket over some chairs or a table. Chairs can be arranged in a circle for a sheep pen or a boat.
If you have a space where you can leave your set up during the week, try building a more elaborate set. Use PVC piping (see Resource suggestions) to create a frame for a tent and drape fabric over it. To create a synagogue, have the students sit on benches facing a shelf holding your Ark (a box, cupboard or niche where the Torah is kept); use a higher shelf with brackets to attach a triangular shaped piece of wood and hang fabric as a curtain to enclose the Torah shelf. If you are meeting in a church basement or other room with annoying support columns, turn them into scenery! Cover them with papier-mâche and paint the room to look like caves or catacombs.
If you share space, make a tent or stable that folds up against the wall when not in use. Tack a large sheet of paper to the wall or hang a piece of fabric with a curtain rod. The other edge is supported by two poles in buckets of plaster. Pull the poles out for a lean-to type tent and push the poles against the wall when you don't need the tent.
Many stories have boats (for example: Noah, Jonah, Jesus calls the disciples, Jesus walking on water, Jesus calms the storm). If you have space, have a handy member of your congregation build one out of wood. Use an appliance box for a boat that can be folded or discarded when you are done.
Flattened appliance boxes can be easily stored and brought out when you need them. A refrigerator box can be a backdrop or a building. A stove or washer box can be a boat or can be turned on its side to be a cave. Behind a piano is a great hiding place for a folded box.
However you choose to decorate your gathering area, make sure that there is sufficient space for all the children to sit comfortably. They should be able to see the teacher clearly, and if possible, be in a circle or semi-circle so they can see each other.
This site has pictures that will spark your creativity.
Room Furnishings and Equipment:
The group gathering area seating should be comfortable and flexible. Folding aluminum chairs are fine if that is all that is available, but they are uncomfortable for small children whose legs dangle. A handy volunteer could make benches. Or have a pile of carpet squares or inexpensive bathmats.
A table is useful as a puppet stage and as a workplace for making scenery and puppets. Try to have several lightweight folding tables that you can move out of the way when you need more space for a drama. Tables can also be turned on their side so that the kids can sit behind the top of the table.
Furnish your tent with an inexpensive straw mat or pillows. If you do not have a tent, you may want a mat or pillows in a corner of the room for a comfortable reading corner.
A full-length mirror is a good thing to have in the room: it allows the students to see how they look in costume. It is also useful for exercises that involve showing emotion -- the students can practice making faces at themselves. If the mirror is in front of the puppet stage, it also allows the students to see how their puppets look when they are on-stage.
A flipchart or chalkboard is useful in many lessons for outlining scenes or listing characters. It may also be used for the students to draw some simple scenery. An extra flip-chart for the puppeteers to see is helpful. Have them create an outline and key words/lines on it to reference.
If you have a bulletin board, remember to change your display periodically. Stimulate imaginations with some old Sunday School posters illustrating the story or series of stories you are working on. Several artists' depictions of the same scene will show that there is more than one way to interpret and visualize characters and actions. Bulletin boards may also be decorated for use as scenery.
Have enough Bibles for everyone to use. The Good News Bible/Today's English Version is a good one to use because of its readability. By the end of the school year, even first graders should be able to read a good bit of it by themselves.
For lessons involving photo tableaus, it is good to have a Polaroid or other instant camera so that the students can see the story immediately. If your church does not own one, Polaroid makes a disposable instant camera that works well. If you have access to a computer and printer, a digital camera is a good thing to have (or borrow) because you can add captions and print a copy for everyone in the class. Consider also printing a copy for the church library.
If the church does not own a video camera recorder, borrow one -- many families have them. Consider borrowing the owner to operate the camera, too. They will be more familiar with how to use it, and you may have found a new volunteer to teach when they see how much fun everyone is having!
Tape recorders can be purchased inexpensively or borrowed. CD players can also be purchased inexpensively, and are great for playing sound effects CDs borrowed from the library or purchased (available many places, including One Way Street which is included in the Resources, Supplies and Props list).
Your puppet stage need not be elaborate, but you do not want it to be too small (as some of the store-bought stages often are).
- Turn a six or eight-foot table on its side or cover it with a tablecloth or sheet.
- Make a frame with PVC pipe and cover it with fabric.
- Use cardboard from an appliance or refrigerator box.
- If you have space and handy volunteers, build something more solid and permanent out of wood. Check the public library: there are many books with simple and elaborate plans.
- Have a "spotlight" (clamp light) or two you can focus on the stage if you can turn down or off the classroom lights.
The most important thing to remember is that the stage should be big enough for your students to fit behind it. If you have large classes, you may have to:
* divide them into smaller groups and do a production twice.
* have only those currently "on stage" immediately behind the stage.
* have some students be in charge of props and narration.
For simple backdrops for puppet shows: use plain white twin-size bed sheets. Outline a simple scene with black permanent marker and have the children color it with fabric crayons. The hem of the sheet fits over a curtain rod on the wall behind the stage.
Evaluate your budget, class time, and frequency of use when making a decision on whether to buy or make puppets.
The simplest and most basic kind of puppets to make is stick puppets. They are simple, flat, cut- out pictures on some sort of stick. Attach old flannel board figures to a craft stick. Cut out pictures from old Sunday School flyers and tape them to a straw. Draw a picture on cardboard and cut it out and glue it on a paint stirrer stick. These puppets can be used in a stage made from a small box with a simple background taped to the back of the box. Although these puppets are simple to make, they are not very interesting to use and should be used only occasionally.
If your sessions are long enough, students will enjoy making simple puppets to use and then take home. Puppets and Masks: Stagecraft and Storytelling by Nan Rump and Puppet Projects for Scripture Stories by Phyllis Vos Wezeman include many suggestions for puppets children can make themselves from inexpensive materials. Children's magazines and craft magazines often have creative suggestions that can be adapted for Bible stories. Puppets can be made out of almost anything, including craft sticks, paper bags, socks, fabric scraps, wooden spoons, and paper cups. The Bibliography lists other guidebooks, and your public library will have many other books on puppet making.
To make something sturdy and interesting for the classroom, e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for instructions for a stick puppet and a hand puppet. These can also be made by the students, or if time is short, put the puppets together before class and allow the students to add the faces.
If you decide to purchase puppets, One Way Street has all sorts of puppets and puppet supplies, including Bible-Time Puppets. The catalog states, "These Bible-time puppets are 14" - 16" tall and are very colorful and attractive. They are just right for acting out Bible stories or for any play calling for Bible characters. They are large enough for an adult hand, yet easily manipulated by children." See the Resource, Supplies, and Props section in the Appendix for contact information for this company and others.
Check catalogs and stores at Christmastime for sets of puppets for the Christmas story and for creche scenes designed to be played with and manipulated. Sometimes these puppets are generic enough in appearance to be used in other stories.
Finally, for more help with puppetry, contact Puppeteers of America, an organization that supports puppetry and has a Puppetry Store for books and puppet items. There also are local guilds around the country that offer excellent workshops. See the Resource, Supplies, and Props section in the Appendix for contact information.
Puppets can also be made with something as simple as felt tied around a hand, a decorated lunch bag, even a "prop" like a spoon with two googly-eye stickers stuck to it. In the Rotation Model's Story Table Workshop, they often use posable figures (Bible characters, Super-heroes, even Legos). These can be used as puppets -either manipulated by hand or stuck to a dowel rod to make it more like a puppet.
Even the kids themselves can be "puppets." You could play a game where a couple of kids are "posed and moved" by the puppeteers as the story is read. Moving in Blacklight or as a Shadow Puppet is a form of puppeteering yourself. The basic difference between puppets and drama being that the puppet is an EXTENSION of the actor, not the actor him or herself. The puppet being an object, or your shadow, for example.
Costumes need not be elaborate. A simple long vest-type tunic with a belt will take a child out of the everyday and allow him or her to imagine herself in Bible Times. Consider your climate before layering too many warm costumes and bathrobes over your students' Sunday clothes.
Most major pattern companies have Nativity/Bible era costumes in adult and child sizes. Recruit volunteers to help sew -- it is a good project for helpful people whose talents do not include working directly with children. Don't forget a basket with ropes, ties, belts and scarves for accessorizing! Masking tape and safety pins are good to have on hand for quick adjustments and repairs.
A good source for do-it yourself costumes and props (many of which the children can make themselves if your class time permits) is Bible Times Crafts for Kids: Experience Ancient Life- Styles and Customs with Kids from Preschool to Sixth Grade (Gospel Light, 1993).
For simple headgear to suggest a costume, look for the Paper Hat Tricks books. Several books have patterns for making "hats" out of paper specifically for Bible stories (including some great helmets for soldiers and guards). See the Resource, Supplies, and Props section in the Appendix for contact information.
Check costume and party stores around Halloween and Christmas (especially during the after- holiday sales). You might find inexpensive angel wings, helmets and shields, shepherds' crooks, wigs and beards and other useful costume items.
If you need something special, especially for an adult guest storyteller, costume rental shops carry all sorts of elaborate costumes for reasonable prices.
The performances are meant to be done with minimal equipment. However, if you have storage space you may want to collect some things to have on hand for when the need arises.
The following list is some "Good Stuff" to have on hand in your "magic" closet (you never know when something might come in handy!):
* musical instruments and noisemakers (including bells, whistles, kazoos, party noisemakers, harps, toy drums and xylophones)
* sound effect junk (cookie tins, sticks, plastic jars or boxes with sand or rocks inside, pieces of PVC pipe, sandpaper and pieces of wood, aluminum pie plates, large pieces of posterboard, . . .)
* bead necklaces
* logs for a campfire (no matches!)
* brown paper grocery bags and newspaper (Stuff the newspaper in the bags for a lumpy sort of rock and staple them shut. Use paint to cover the advertisements if you want something that looks nicer and is more permanent.)
* large building blocks, Chubs Wipes stackable boxes (they are shaped like giant Lego -- ask the people in the congregation with babies to use that kind of wipes and save the boxes for you), or small boxes (which can be painted to cover up the writing)
* walking sticks
* a doll for stories with babies (or two dolls -- one "people-sized" for drama and one "puppet- sized" for puppetry)
* tinsel garland for angel halos
* a baton or decorated stick for a king's scepter
* inexpensive crowns for stories with kings and queen
* small treasure boxes and brass bowls or vases (especially for the three magi in the Christmas story)
* swords (can be found at costume and party stores, especially around Halloween, or cover cardboard with foil)
* play money or doubloons
* a fishing net
Also keep construction paper, cardboard, markers, tape, glue, staplers, and scissors handy for when inspiration strikes.
If you have open or easily accessible shelves and if time permits, you may let the children "shop for ideas" before a performance. They may find a creative use for an odd item that you are not sure why you have.
The Nuts and Bolts of Bringing the Bible to Life in the Puppet "Workshop"
Structuring Your Time with your Class:
My lesson plans here at Rotation.org are written using the following meeting time schedule. Adapt this schedule as needed to fit the needs and time constraints of your group. The critical events that should take place for a successful lesson are presenting the story, considering the story, retelling the story, and reflecting on the story.
In some churches, the arrival time and hearing of the story take place in a larger group assembly. That arrangement will work with these lesson plans, but the following principles still apply.
* Greet the children warmly and quickly check in (how is school, new baby sister, etc.).
* If necessary, distribute nametags as the students arrive; mark the attendance sheet.
* Children put on costumes if it is a drama unit
* If not all the students arrive at once, have the early arrivals help set up for the current day's activities and help make costume elements, props, and scenery for the current or next month's unit. If there are picture book versions of the week's lesson, children may sit in a tent or other quiet space to look at them (see Chapter 3). If it is a puppet unit, children can practice manipulating puppets.
* Gather in the seating area of the room for the lesson. You should be able to make eye contact with each child. If possible, have them sit in a circle so they can see each other as well.
* Welcome everyone, especially visitors. Introduce yourself and your helper(s) by name.
* Pray for illumination (ask for a volunteer, but don't push). The prayer should be a simple opening to set the tone for the discussion and activity to follow. For example: "Thank you Lord for bringing us together today to receive Your word. Help us to hear Your word, keep Your word, and take Your word to share with others. Amen."
* Share background or clarifying information for the lesson, if necessary. For example, in the story from Acts about Peter's vision, children will understand the story more fully if they know that there are certain foods Jews were forbidden to eat.
* Have everyone open a Bible to the scripture for the lesson. The Good News Bible/Today's English Version is very readable for elementary aged students (even first graders can read much of it by the end of the school year). Make sure you teach students to use the table of contents as well as indicating approximately where in the Bible to look for certain books.
* Present the story: Read the scripture out loud: the teacher reads to first graders at the beginning of the year; in older grades volunteers read a verse or a paragraph at a time. Do not force anyone to read (they get that enough in school). Do not stop the reading to ask questions or explain things (other than name pronunciation or to help with an unfamiliar word); the Bible reading should be uninterrupted.
Note: Puppetry isn't just the activity you do "after" the study! It could also be what you do to introduce the topic, and conduct the scripture reading through puppets as the puppeteer speaks. Our goal again isn't "performance" but engagement, attention, and retention. You can even close the lesson with puppets offering the prayer.
* Sometimes additional storytelling is necessary to put the scripture into context, especially if the scripture is too long to read in its entirety (i.e. the story of the Israelites' exile and Moses' trips to Mount Sinai to go with the Ten Commandments lesson). See the chapter on storytelling in this book for further guidance.
* Consider the story: Talk about the story: initial reactions, characters, feelings, actions, motivation.
* Do some group warm-up exercises (how would Moses stand when he sees the golden calf?; how would Mary, Joseph, and others hold baby Jesus?; how would David stand and how would Goliath stand?). Warm-up exercises are important to help with the transition from ourselves into our imagination/other people. They help overcome self-consciousness and encourage teamwork. Allow the children to respond imaginatively and creatively. There are no wrong answers in these exercises. Understanding feelings is more important than acting skill. Suggested warm-up exercises are included in each lesson plan.
* Outline the story for performance either verbally or on a flipchart or chalkboard (list key events or phrases).
* Review the principles of the performance type to be used (see following). Make sure that your instructions are clear and that everyone understands before you begin.
* Assign parts for the first run-through and distribute puppets and props. If time permits, the story can be done again with different parts assigned. If more than one person wants a part, draw names or lots.
* Retell the story: Dramatize the story (several times, if time permits).
* After each performance, ask for suggestions for improvements and revisions. What was left out? How can we better express a character's feelings? This discussion should focus more on content than on performance skills, but it should also be noted if a character's voice could not be heard or a puppet could not be seen. Remember, the goal is not a polished performance.
Pulling it all together:
* Reflect on the story: Gather again for discussion of the story, debriefing, and reactions. After you ask a question, wait. The silence may seem painfully endless, but often a moment is required for the students to think and collect their thoughts. Start with a few simple, fact- based questions before getting to more philosophical discussion.
* Make sure you allow adequate time to answer the children's questions as well as go through the closing discussion questions. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. Often, "I'm not sure, what do you think?" is a good start to answering a child's question. And then make sure you listen to their answer.
* Close with prayer. Allow for participation when appropriate ("Dear Lord, thank you for creating ____.")
* Costumes or puppets must be put away before anyone is allowed to leave the room (an important lesson in responsibility).
* For those waiting for parents to pick them up: put away chairs, rugs, props, etc.; continue working on costume elements, props, or scenery; look at books. Take this opportunity to chat with the children about what is going on in their lives, trying to relate the discussion to the lesson, if possible.
Helpful Hints for (Almost) Effortless Performances:
* If you are excited about the project, the students will catch your enthusiasm. Keep the activity fun.
* Use plenty of positive reinforcement. Congratulate everyone who tries.
* When asking for volunteers for parts, ask "Who would like to be David?," not "Who would like to play David?"
* If necessary, choose characters by drawing names or some other impartial method. Don't let the children argue.
* If a girl wants to take a male part, or vice-versa, no problem. For minor parts, you can change the character a bit - a traveler can be a woman instead of a man. (Remember that in Shakespeare's time, all the characters were played by men.)
* If the story has a crowd scene, everyone can participate. Otherwise, those without parts will be a very important part - the audience. Make sure those children have first chance at parts for the second run-through.
* Do not force anyone to perform. Find reluctant participants a non-speaking part or let them manage props. It is also good to have an audience to react to the performance, even if it is only one person. Do encourage reluctant participants to take part in the group warm-up activities.
* Do warm-up exercises in front of the mirror so children can get instant feedback and adjust their facial expressions or the way they are using a puppet.
* Keep the story moving without obviously directing the actors. It may be necessary to create enthusiasm by playing a small part or by asking leading questions: "What do you usually do at parades?", "Are you worried?", "I'm hungry. What should we do?" Prompt entrances when necessary: "I think I see someone coming down the road."
* Encourage other students to suggest possible dialog and reactions when someone is at a loss for words.
* Never correct a child while the story is in progress; do not permit another child to do so.
* When working with older students, allow them to have more leadership and direction. Allow one of the students (or a team) to do the narration and to ask the prompting questions. (You may want to select a leader a week in advance so she or he can study the story and prepare.)
* Add sound effects: children can use their voices and bodies, noisemakers, musical instruments, and junk.
* If a child is mishandling puppets or props, give him or her one warning, then have him sit in the audience. Explain that it is important to keep our equipment in good shape so that others can use it for a number of years.
* When videotaping, unless the camera operator is experienced, it is best to have a stationary camera and have the children orient their performance toward the camera. Include time to play back the video so the students can see the results
BASIC PERFORMANCE POINTERS
Review these pointers with the students (as necessary) before beginning the performance part of the session
* Never laugh at anyone; laugh with them. And be sure children understand the difference (some do not).
* Listen considerately when others are speaking; when it is your turn, you will want the same courteous listening.
* We are all individuals and interpret stories and characters differently. Remind the students that there is no right or wrong answer, and if they feel there is a different way to act out a part or to respond, they will have a chance in the next run-through of the story.
* If they saw the story on video, the way things happened in the movie is not necessarily the only version. For example, a video of the Good Samaritan may show the priest hurrying by because he is late for lunch. Jesus did not say why the priest did not stop, so in the drama the student can determine his or her own reason.
* Try not to turn your back (or your puppet's back) to the listeners when you're speaking.
* Speak slowly, loudly, and clearly.
* These are informal productions. Not all props and scenery elements mentioned in the story will be on hand. Encourage the students to use their imaginations and think of ways to help the audience see these things.
* Generally, a teacher will serve as narrator to keep the story moving along.
* Freeze rule: Establish a signal for "freeze" before beginning (e.g. leader claps twice and yells "Freeze!" or blows a whistle). This is necessary when drama activities have gotten out of control (too noisy or off track) or when time is up. Practice freezing during the warm-up exercises.
* If more than one person volunteers for a part, let the others know that if everyone cooperates, there will be time to do it more than once. Try to remember who was promised a part for the second run-through. Or draw names, or reward students who were sitting attentively by selecting them for choice parts (and let the others know why you selected the polite listener).
* Everyone must participate in some way. Not everyone has "lines" to speak: some stories have crowds of people shouting "Hosanna!" or sheep baaing. Some stories need people to manipulate props: the tree growing to shade Jonah and then dying, the Red Sea parting. The audience is an important part, too, both for interaction and reaction during the performance and feedback afterwards
Puppets act out the story.
* Methods: (Method used will depend in part on the length of the story and the age of the group.)
- Students improvise dialog and movements.
- Students improvise dialog, and record it on the tape. The puppets are then used to act out the story as the tape is played.
- The leader is the narrator and the children manipulate the puppets to coordinate with the narration. The students have opportunities to improvise and fill in dialog.
- Someone reads the story from the Bible and puppets follow and fill in the dialog.
- Students read lines from a script as they manipulate the puppets. (Manipulating a puppet while reading a script loudly enough to be heard is difficult, and this method is not recommended unless you spend a great deal of time learning the script.)
* Care of puppets (they are an investment and must be treated with respect):
- Treat puppets gently; they are fragile.
- Do not leave puppets lieing on the floor where people can step on them.
- Do not bite anything with the mouth of a talking-mouth puppet - that will break the cardboard stiffener.
- Do not bang the puppets together. There should be no contact between puppets. Respect personal space.
* Do not turn your puppet's back to the audience unless the story line requires it.
* Exiting and entering the stage - do not pop the puppet straight up. It should move onto the stage as if it were climbing stairs, and exit by turning and going down the stairs.
* Hold puppet high enough so that it can be seen, but not so high that your arm shows. (Depending on the stage and the height of the performers, a bench or chairs or stools may be necessary behind the stage.)
* Only the puppet that is talking should be moving. Others should be listening politely (or behaving as appropriate in the story).
* If you are using moving mouth puppets, review mouth manipulation techniques. Open the mouth for each syllable, and close the mouth when the puppet is not saying anything. The mouth does not always open all the way (whispers are partly open, yawns and shouts are full open). When the puppets are not talking, their mouths should be closed.
* With mouth puppets, your extra hand moves one of the puppet's hands.
* If story scripts are recorded in advance, there should be time on the tape for movement, changing scenes, entering and exiting the stage, etc.
* Movement should be exaggerated so it can be interpreted by the audience. But the movement should not be so exaggerated that it detracts from the story.
* Warm up/manipulation practice: play "Simon Says:" jump, shake and nod head, hug, cry, look happy or surprised, sleep, get sick, climb stairs, pray, run . . .
* Special care is needed when introducing puppet activities to older children; they sometimes feel puppets are for babies. Consider inviting a Preschool or Kindergarten class to see the performance at the end of the session. (They will enjoy it, even if it is a rough performance -- particularly if they are studying the same story.)
* Because this is not intended to be a polished performance, it is okay if the puppeteers' heads show. We are more concerned with conveying the Bible story than having a "pretty" presentation.
There are many books available on puppetry techniques (most public libraries have a shelf-full). Storytelling with Puppets by Connie Champlin is particularly helpful. See the Bibliography for more suggestions, or visit your public library.
Children act out the story using their own words. The teacher may prompt or ask questions to move the action along. "Then Joseph's brothers saw some traders and Judah had an idea." "David, why do you think you can fight this giant?" You can use this method with puppets as well as with kids in costumes.
* Review with the children where in the room each scene takes place. For example, show them where Mount Sinai is, where the desert is, and where the camp with the people is.
* Encourage the students to think about why a character did or said something.
* The action should follow the Bible story, but everyone should use his own words.
* If there are no volunteers for a part, the leader can be a main character for a warm-up type exercise. For example, "I am Goliath. How would you all stand and what would you say to me if you were David?"
Reader's Theater is an interpretive reading. Children sit and read a prepared script out loud, with plenty of voice expression, but no movement or props. This type of performance works best with a story with a variety of well defined characters, and a plot too involved for simple acting out. This technique is most appropriate for third grade and older -- that is, confident readers.
* Costumes are minimal - just a hat or scarf or nametags to identify the character.
* It is possible for one person to read more than one part.
* Any action that takes place is done symbolically. For example, sleep may be suggested with the reader's head lowered, resting on his chest. The man walking from Jericho to Jerusalem may be presented by walking in place.
* Characters think out loud. The narrator(s) describes the movement.
* At the beginning of the reading, the narrator introduces the characters.
* Readers focus their attention on the audience, not on the other readers. This helps the audience focus on the text rather than the performers.
* Consider saving the performance on audiotape for playback or use as puppet soundtrack for younger classes.
* Adapt drama scripts from books of plays. (You may need to add narration to take the place of action.)
Choral reading is similar to Readers' Theater. Groups and individuals read from a script. Choral readings are usually less plot directed; for example, poetry and catechism work well. A choral reading is almost musical in its weaving of voices.
* Readers should read clearly with plenty of expression.
* Review the script and decide which parts should be loud, slow, fast, quiet, excited, sad, etc. Experiment and have fun!
Storytelling is an old art form that is very different from story reading. The teller looks at the audience, makes eye contact, interacts with the audience, and tells the story in her own words. The audience response dictates the pace, style, and even content [detail may be left out or added based on audience restlessness] of the story.
* It is sometimes necessary for the leader to tell the story when the scripture is too long to read the entire story in detail. See more information on this process in another topic posted by Amy Crane at the IDEA AND LESSON EXCHANGE.
* Learning a story involves visualization, memorization, and rehearsal. It takes several weeks of living with and working with a story before it is ready for an audience. However, in one class period, students can learn a story well enough to share it with family and friends in a more informal setting. The goal of the lesson is not to learn to retell the story word for word from the Bible. Rather, the students should be able to retell the story with 90% content accuracy and 75% verbal accuracy. The students are retelling the Bible story in their own words.
* The Key Word method of teaching students to tell a story (adapted from Tracy Radosevic's process outlined in the Journal of Biblical Storytelling -- see Bibliography):
- Before class, make a list of key words. Write the keyword list on a flipchart in two different colors (alternating).
- The teacher tells the story to the class with minimal introduction.
- The teacher tells the story again with listeners following the key word list (point out the list to the students, but do not tell them its purpose)
- Ask if anyone knows what the list represents (key words).
- Tell the story a third time. Ask the listeners to visualize the key words.
- Divide into two groups, each responsible for half of the story. Each group is assigned one color of key words, and is to remember/determine the sentence or phrase from the story that goes with each of their words.
- Have the two groups tell the story, each telling the phrase or sentence relating to their color words, in order. (It will be a back and forth telling, like a ping pong match.)
- Switch colors so each group can learn the other half of the story.
- Ask a few volunteers to tell the complete story (it is okay for them to look at the key word list).
- If time permits, give each student a copy of the story and divide into pairs. Each partner takes a turn telling the story. The listener coaches the teller, trying not to peek at the printed story.
- Ask for volunteers to try telling the story to the class without looking at the key word list.
* Echo method of learning a story:
- Before class, write out the story the way you tell it. Decide where breaking points should be for manageable sentences or phrases for the students to repeat (echo) back.
- Tell the story to the class.
- Tell the story to the class sentence by sentence (or phrase by phrase), asking them to repeat what you say in unison.
- Repeat this echoing of the story several times.
- Ask a volunteer to tell the story to the class. Allow the class to prompt him or her when he gets stuck.
- If time permits, give each student a copy of the story and divide into pairs. Each partner takes a turn telling the story. The listener coaches the teller, trying not to peek at the printed story.
- Ask for volunteers to try telling the story to the class without help.
* Congratulate all on a job well done! Encourage everyone to tell the story to at least one other person. Then it will truly be their own.
Most of these books should be available at your favorite library. If not, your public library can borrow them inter-library loan from another library; see your librarian for details. Most are also still in print and available at your favorite neighborhood or online bookstore and also from the Network of Biblical Storytellers Int'l (http://www.nbsint.org/)
Every attempt has been made to have Internet address information correct at the time of publication. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the World Wide Web, some URL's may have changed.
Develop Your Storytelling Technique: (many of these books relate to telling folktales, but techniques can be adapted for telling Bible stories)
Bauer, Caroline Feller. New Handbook for Storytellers: with stories, poems, magic and more. Chicago: American Library Association, 1993.
Boomershine, Thomas. Story Journey: An Invitation to the Gospel as Storytelling. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988.
Cooper, Amelia and Boomershine, T.E. The Storykeepers Teacher's Guide. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000.
Dubrovin, Vivian. Storytelling for the Fun of It: a handbook for children (revised edition). Storycraft Publications, 1999.
Goforth, Frances. Using Folk Literature in the Classroom: encouraging children to read and write. Oryx, 1994.
Greene, Ellin. Storytelling: Art and Technique (third edition). Bowker, 1996.
Griggs, Patricia. Using Storytelling in Christian Education. (out of print)
Hamilton, Martha and Mitch Weiss. Children Tell Stories: a teaching guide. Richard C. Owen Publ., 1990.
Litherland, Janet. Storytelling from the Bible: Make Scripture Live for All Ages through the Art of Storytelling. Meriwether, 1991.
MacDonald, Margaret Read. Storytelling Start-Up Book: finding, learning, performing, and using folktales including 12 tellable tales. Little Rock, Arkansas: August House, 1993. If you only read one resource book, this should be the one!
Network of Biblical Storytellers. How To Tell and Learn a Bible Story: Step by Step Instructions. NOBS Productions, undated. (video tape)
Pellowski, Anne. The Family Storytelling Handbook: how to use stories, anecdotes, rhymes, handkerchiefs, paper, and other objects. Macmillan, 1987.
Pellowski, Anne. The Story Vine: a source book of unusual and easy-to-tell stories from around the world. Macmillan, 1984.
Radosevic, Tracy. "Enabling Children to Tell Bible Stories," The Journal of Biblical Storytelling, 2000. Network of Biblical Storytellers Int'l, http://www.nbsint.org/
Schimmel, Nancy. Just Enough to Make a Story: A Sourcebook for Storytelling. Sisters Choice Press, 1992.
Sierra, Judy and Kaminski, Robert. Twice upon a Time. H.W. Wilson, 1989.
Stewart, Sonja M. Following Jesus: More about Young Children and Worship. Louisville: Geneva Press, 2000.
Stewart, Sonja M. and Jerome W. Berryman. Young Children and Worship. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.
White, William R. Speaking in Stories: Resources for Christian Storytellers. Augsburg, 1982.
Internet storytelling resources:
Network of Biblical Storytellers Int'l: http://www.nbsint.org/.
National Storytelling Network: https://storynet.org/ 800-525-4514.
Effective storytelling in church settings: https://www.eldrbarry.net/mous/strytl/st.htm
Tampa-Hillsborough Storytelling Festival (includes a manual on teaching children to tell stories): www.tampastory.org
Folklore, Myth and Legend: www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~dkbrown/rstory.html
Storyteller Heather Forest's site with curriculum ideas and links: http://www.storyarts.org/heather.html
Using puppets and drama creatively with children: (a number of these books are designed for a secular classroom setting, but techniques can be adapted for use in Church)
Carlson, Bernice Wells. Let's Pretend it Happened to You. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973.
Champlin, Connie. Storytelling with Puppets (second edition). Chicago: American Library Association, 1998. (Includes excellent sections on making puppets, manipulation techniques, and warm-up activities.)
Irving, Lynn. Pocketfull of Puppets: Poems for Church School. Austin, Texas: Nancy Renfro Studios, 1982. (Especially good for working with preschoolers.)
Kinghorn, Harriet and Pelton, Mary Helen. Every Child a Storyteller: A Handbook of Ideas. Teacher Ideas Press, 1991.
Lee, Cathy and Chris Uhlman. Worship Dramas for Children and Adults. Resource Publications, 1988.
Rump, Nan. Puppets and Masks: Stagecraft and Storytelling. Worcester, Massachusetts: Davis Publications, 1996.
Smith, Judy Gattis. 26 Ways to Use Drama in Teaching the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988. (An excellent resource!)
Stavish, Corinne. "Questions — the Foundation of Retelling Biblical Stories." Storytelling Magazine, May/June 2001, pp. 30-31. (National Storytelling Network Int'l (http://www.nbsint.org/)
Thomas, Virginia Coffin and Betty Davis Miller. Children's Literature for All God's Children. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986.
VonSeggen, Dale and Liz. Puppets: Ministry Magic. Group Books, 1990.
Wezeman, Phyllis Vos. Puppet Projects for Scripture Stories. Prescott, Arizona: Eductational Ministries, Inc., 1995.
Old Testament stories often have colorful legends about them found in Jewish Midrash -a collection of stories created by Rabbis to "fill in the gaps" in Bible stories. The following are just a few of the better collections.
Chaikin, Miriam. Clouds of Glory: Jewish Legends and Stories about Bible Times. Clarion, 1998.
Frankel, Ellen. The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore. Jason Aronson Inc., 1989.
Hartman, Bob. The Lion Storyteller Bible: a New Retelling Especially for Reading Aloud. Colorado Springs: Lion, 1995.
Keefer, Mikal and John Cutshall. Surprising Stories from People Jesus Met. Loveland, Colorado: Group, 1998.
Kimmel, Eric. Be Not Far From Me: The Oldest Love Story: Legends from the Bible. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Mark, Jan. God's Story. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick, 1998.
McKissack, Patricia and Frederick. Let My People Go: Bible Stories Told by a Freeman of Color. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.