On this crisp autumnal Sunday morning, I am at the National Storytelling Festival in the mountains of Tennessee. I will bring back new stories to spark the imagination of my own young tellers.

In a bag of teaching tricks, there is nothing more powerful than the ability to tell a story. “Once upon a time” stirs metaphor, word, and image into meaning. Most importantly, when I tell a story, I am teaching children about reading and writing in their native language.

Have you ever listened closely to children tell stories? They often begin with a question–or words and commands that end with a question mark. I think eight year olds invented up-speak. “Know what?” they will ask. Or “Guess what?” More often than not, they simply begin with, “Once?” They are joining the oldest storytelling tradition in the world: Call and Response. What they are really asking is, “Are you listening?” And we, fixing our eyes on the teller, lean forward, “We are listening.” This week I will be working with young writers on seeing story in the “small moment.” This is challenging work, but it is very rewarding. As we talk it through, I will hear it over and over: “Once?”

I am listening.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified third grade teacher and loves her work. She especially enjoys teaching children how to be enthusiastic readers, writers, and problem solvers. Every year, she hopes to inspire her students to be committed citizens who know they can make a difference in the world around them. When she is not teaching, Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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3 Responses to Once.

  1. Wendy Martin says:

    I build in questions whenever I talk — much to the annoyance of my husband (“I’m listening!”). Now I can tell him that it’s just part of my storytelling tradition. 🙂

  2. Jay Parker says:

    Once, when I was learning to be a teacher I had this mentor who asked me to learn a story to tell to the class I was working with. The story was called the Storytelling Stone, but I have since read it in similar versions with different names such as Grandfather Rock. Many different cultures have such a story. It is the story of the importance of storytelling and oral history to civilization.
    I read and re-read the story, telling it aloud to my family for practice. When the time came to tell it to the class I was still nervous. It was one of the first times I can remember having the complete attention of every student in the room. There is such power in a story, told in simple yet elaborate conversational prose. It was a turning point for me in my teaching. I realized then that my teaching needed to be an ongoing story developed with my class. They need to feel included, and yet be anxious to hear how it develops.
    I still tell that story to my classes when we study Native Americans. I still get their undivided attention every time.
    (Yes, that mentor was, and still is, Mrs. Campbell)

  3. Stacey says:

    That’s a gorgeous photograph!

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