Friday, February 17, 2006

They dont want to hear us: Telling with Teens

I had a great day today working with kids in an elementary school- took a road trip across the state of Arizona on Wednesday. Covered the 3-5 grades first, that’s about 8-11 years of age. They were followed by the 6-8 grades, commonly called Junior High, which is around 11-14 years of age. Noted to myself that the middle grades ( the younger set) are more and more like the junior high kids used to be 10+ years ago. They’re much more media savvy than kids of the same age 10 years ago. Not sure if that’s good or bad, but I think it just “is.”

I truly enjoy the junior-high range. They come in so on the edge, many of them thinking that the “storyteller is for babies.” There’s kind of a “make me listen” thing going on. The night before at a class some people were asking about how to handle teens. I thought about that conversation and my school-show Wednesday. We started wild and by the time I had finished the final piece of “Iron John” they were deep in the storytelling trance, not even moving or making a sound.

...With adolescents, all adults have to earn the right to be heard by them. It takes time. And, for the most part, we the storytellers have to do that in the first minute or two.

...We need to grab their attention from the start, actually as they arrive in the room. Don’t hide behind the set pieces until you are introduced. As a matter of fact, skip the intro- they don’t care about our CV’s, our experience or our history...unless maybe we are going to tell them that our storytelling isn’t for babies. And at that, they probably won’t believe it.

We need to start strong with something a bit wild, maybe even a little edgy. Work down this funnel >: strong and noisy > interactive and maybe a bit calmer > something that they think would make their parents wonder if they can “handle” the type of story you’re telling > something deep that makes them drift into their own deep imaginations.

So, my program for these junior high kids looked like this:

1. A game I play with repeating sounds>
2. An interactive Prodigal Daughter
3. Creation Myth (playful and fun)
4. Two Farthings
5. Seven Ravens
6. Iron John

A great time was had by all...especially me.


  1. You... play... a repeat after me game... with junior high kids?

    I might do that on my turf (i.e. if they were coming to a summer camp and were on unfamiliar territory)... but visiting their school?

    How's that work out for you?

  2. I totally agree with you Sean. You just storm their bastion, so to speak. Make a Grand entry. I recently lead a summer workshop for 5 days with 13 - 19. It's like... the leaders before me were all introduced and their was this "make me interested" look about it. Of course, Indian teens are still avid listeners and participants. So it kind of settled down. I decided to skip the intro and told the coords, just leave it to me. Entered the hall and started clapping and in about 5 secs, there was clapping in the round and all had settled down. Then some trying kinaesthetics to get them moving before they realised... and they were with me for 5 days, not a whimper.