Tag Archives: teaching

Teachers Can and Do

I always hated, and never believed,  that old chestnut that teachers are people who cannot actually do what they teach–nonsense! Teachers are those who share with us the technology (so to speak) of the art or craft  they have fallen in love with. They want to share with us what they love, share the how-to and the mystery of it.

They become educators when they draw out of us our desires to pursue a field to the limit of our ability, usually thanks to their support, inspiration, and ministrations of technique and method.

As a working journalist, story performer and more I want to share with others what I have learned and to inspire others to follow their dreams in whatever field they desire–esp in

writing and story performance. Yep, I talk and write for audiences. It’s that simple!

This month I have had the opportunity to be a teacher and to share my love of these two modes of communication on Donna Washington’s Blog, in Ruby for Women Magazine (writing only in that one. March starts a three-part series for those who want to get started in writing) and here, on this blog by reminding you that I have two new publications out this month–My children’s book, Rosa’s Shell and my book of poems, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon.

PS Today the literative.com site has one of my writings up as the prose winner of their winter contest!


Do check it out!

I’m happy to come and and talk to your school or group about writing (for adults, for children, poetry) story performance (or to give a story performance!)

Please do contact me and let me know if you would like me to come! Those who do, if they are fortunate enough also share what they know by teaching!


What a Day!

It’s not even ten am yet and already I have been hard at work on the computer, but am not yet dressed!

First thing–saw that Silver Birch has posted my poem What we took with us when we moved, as a part of their moving day series–warning, this one is sad.

Then, I opened my gmail account and there were the page proofs for Summer in a Bowl!!!!
Amazing work by the artist Rebecca Zeissler.
Countdown to publication day of September 30!!!!!!
You can order the book now , pre-order on THEAQLLC, Amazon and BN
Those who pre-order before the launch date of September 30 can email me a copy of the receipt and be in a drawing to win a copy (signed) of the first book in the series, WHOOSH!
There is a recipe in the back of this one and gardening tips

Worth repeating


My review of the book, Teaching with Story is worth repeating–so I will, this time with a view to being read by parents, not just those who are homeschooling!

adding the cover photo too–

Friday’s Presentation

On Friday I was privileged to give a seminar at the North Carolina School Library Media Association Conference in Winston Salem. Saturday morning I performed by Belle Boyd show for them. Pictures are coming in ! But I thought I’d share my handout from that conference with all of my blog followers . The seminar was on using storytelling to support common core teaching in social studies.

Tips for Using Stories in Social Studies Teaching

And Session Outline for October, 2013

By Joan Leotta


“Story interprets Life” Diane Wolkenstein


Presentation to the Group on October 4

1.Sign in of class and request of how they use story

2.Intro and I will Tell a story

3.The why of using story: Social Studies are a perfect blend with story. Even better when they mix story with language arts. Also spills into science.  Makes it come more alive to them, but even so they will be doing some non-fun (unless like me they love research) work to get fun and good results

4. Finding and shaping stories–your work will model this.

5. Technique and Follow-up

6. Imitation and Extension–storytelling by students and forming story clubs


Tips and Bibliography

Find and Shape Stories

-When selecting each story, carefully consider the source. Many stories translated into English in the years before 1960 or 70 were translated without respect to the origins of the tale


-When you find a story you like (and always tell stories you like if you can) then check out the sources. Find at least three sources, compare them.


-Research the author of the tale you choose for his/her qualifications as a cultural representative


-Research the culture of the land yourself with respect to folklore and traditions as well as history if you can. The 970s are just as important as the 398s in storytelling


-Establish a small cultural context for the tale when you tell it, use this as the intro or end point, or part as intro and part as end point–also a good source for follow up crafts and questions!

    Geography Describe the country in setting the scene for the story. If you can, make allusions to parallel places in their own geography

–History–set this story in that country’s history or at least the time period.

      A point of time–time difference is even more foreign than another culture–be sure to explain the role of the festival or the need for an object or custom that is no longer used even in that country in modern times–for instance, cooking over a fire

–learn how to say a word or two in that language

–today’s allergies prevent sharing foods in many cases, but you can share recipes with them and tell them about things you have tasted in that other cuisine

–Describe a point of similarity and a point of difference between the culture to be explicated and our own–for instance, the French kiss on both cheeks when they say hello (point of difference).


Look at topical collections of stories and tell several –sue this as a starting point for comparing and contrasting cultures.


–single culture volumes–what do these tales tell us about the culture–use this with short pieces about the culture of the country garnered from single book sources, the US government’s sources on other countries and more


-Don’t violate cultural taboos ( if you can help it). Do not tell tales women can’t tell or as with Native American tales, don’t tell when corn is growing. If, for some reason, you choose to tell a tale that is not appropriate for you to tell for some reason, then explain that to the audience


Learn the correct pronunciation of names–places and people. If there are names you cannot simply wrap your tongue around, then use other names and tell the students you have changed them


“Staging” Consider carefully the space where you will perform, it’s advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps a timeline showing where your character fits in history can be in background or be made as a craft afterwards.


Map showing where the stories come from and other countries where similar stories are told or where the story may have traveled on trade routes (gets them into geography and even economics)


Trade me a story. Specific emphasis on those trade routes–good for older students. Look at how stories show the economy of a nation, Golden pear and others, as well as teach its values.


Narrative Poetry in story–also a good use for social studies, poems like the Highwayman can enchant–look for other times when “bad men” are made into folk heroes–what was the economy of the time? Robin Hood, Jesse James, Pirates are now looked at with benign eye (old ones!) but what does such glorification say about history?


Dramatizing a Single Person from History–see my performance on Saturday. Works in facts and fiction and history thread. Students find this a fun project  too. Can make transition as a project you do to a follow up by them, assigning them figures, no mandates on costume. Encourage less emphasis there–perhaps some simple props or story hats. It’s the research skills you want to build in a fun way!


Technique and  Follow Up


Your voice, hands, face, gestures. These are the prime tools


Use props (music, costumes, masks, art,) to enhance the environment of the story even if you just show them. Some people do not like to use props in telling—not necessary, that is a personal style matter but the props to be explained afterwards can help the students put the story in cultural context


If you are comfortable moving and with music, add some music and dance from the culture if it will help you get them in the mood–put major movement at the end of your program so you don’t have to deal with quieting them down again. If you can contrast dance or music with our own –all the better


Participation Use participation as much as possible without violating the elements of the story or the story flow. Where participation is not part of the flow, be sure to have follow-up activities to help fix the story in the child’s mind.



Craft, map of country, other things

Imagine a trip to that country

   What do they need to get there—can teach research skills–shots, passports, flight,

    How will they get around

—What will they see–major sights and why important–history and culture

    Who are the leaders—will you meet them–who might you meet?

    What would it be like to go to school there?

   Who were the important people in their history—who would George Washington Have met? Lincoln, other leaders of ours in major time periods that coincide with the subject country’s historic leader moments

     Draw a map

–Puppet retelling–especially good with areas of the world where other types of puppets were used often in telling–such as shadow puppets. Tell a bit about puppet traditions in those countries and make that type of puppet if possible

—Craft is very dependent on each country and different –you will need to research but there are many different types of books that offer craft of these other countries

    Food is great but again, with so many allergies!!! Ask students to describe food from that country if they have tried it or get a recipe and talk about the spices and ask if the students know what that spice is and if so, how they use it at home. Bring examples of the spices if you can just to show them what these look like.


Imitation and Extension

Story Clubs

The student storytelling



Bibliography specific to Multi-cultural telling

World Tales: The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places (Hardcover) by Idries Shah  shows how stories pass from one culture to another

Teaching with Story: Classroom Connections to Storytelling by Margaret Read MacDonald, Jennifer MacDonald Whitman and Nathaniel Forrest Whitman (Oct 7, 2013) (Brand new update of her old one– deals with common core. My review of it will be coming in my blog http://www.joanleotta.wordpress.com)

Three-Minute Tales by Margaret Read MacDonald (Dec 15, 2005) great for source for student telling

Thirty Three Multi-Cultural Stories to Tell by Pleasant DeSpain , great for student telling resource

Cinderella Tales, —multi-cultural versions of many stories can be found on: http://www.ala.org/offices/resources/multicultural

Same can be done to find Rumplestiltskin, Beauties and the Beast, Tom Thumb and others. Oryx Press used to publish volumes on these. Can be found online in used books

Favorite Folktales from Around the World edited by Jane Yolen

Animal Folktales from Around the World Kathleen Arnott (out of print, but you can find it on Amazon)

Aesop–Many Versions–ancient Greek wisdom in our culture today. Short versions are great for student telling. Nice to see how ancient Greek ideas flow into ours. Have some students tell from other wisdom traditions-Nasreddin Hodja Tales are good for this as well.

World Folktales by Clarkson and Cross

Improving Your Storytelling by Doug Lipman

Past into Present by Stacy Roth (best book I’ve found on creating a costumed character)

Fair is Fair by Sharon Creedon–an excellent collection of stories on the theme of justice. I find this a great one for conversation starting–can easily flow  into anti-bullying exercises and conversations

Of course, the entire 398 section is a gold mine of story!





How to Create in Writing–Hearing lessons we need

Holly Lisle is a writing teacher I found online. She has wonderful Ideas. I recently received an email from her listing four things to consider when writing. I’m sharing these with you, but advise that for full effect, impact and help for your own writing you visit her website, the how to think sideways writing courses.http://howtothinksideways.com/writing-courses/
This is some advice I got in her free emails–Keep these questions from Holly Lisle in
   * What am I writing?
Whatever it is, keep
your focus on THAT story, and don’t wander
off your theme.
   * Why am I writing it?
The big answer here MUST be “because it matters to me,” but
beyond that, WHY does it matter to you?  Knowing the answer to
this will help you keep writing even when the going gets
   * What effect do I want to create?
This will change from scene to scene.  What emotion do you want
to evoke in your reader in THIS scene.  You have to
first evoke it in yourself.
 * How do I intend to create this effect?
This is the art part of writing.  What structure will you
use,what sorts of words will evoke the emotions you’re working
toward, what will you show about your characters, and what
will you hide?

Writing can be  a lot like acting, like story performance on stage. When I teach storytelling, this is almost the same thing I tell my students–good to recall that I need it too–It’s important in life to always be a student.


Friday–Late Post

OK, so it is not Friday. But I am posting anyway. I missed Friday because I was so caught up in my last-minute preparations for Saturday’s performance at El Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Chapin museum in Myrtle Beach.

Though of course, my preparations actually began weeks before, I spent Friday dong the final selection on my costume(see what was appropriate and what still fit! Sigh!)

Also, making sure I had all the props I wanted in one place

Finally, dong rehearsal of all of the stories, preparing for participation and for crowds that would not participate.

Prepped enough stories for double the amount of time i was expected to perform and for a wide variety of ages.


Since I am posting ex post facto, I can tell you how it went.

One of the best festivals I have been in there–was outside and DJ Charlie had the mic for me as he always does–but it didn’t work! SO, we adapted the situation on a short notice and used a standing mic instead.

I faced the crowd at an angle allowing me to serve both those seated and the ones in line waiting at the crafts tables. Also acknowledged those at the craft tables, told them to just pretend I was  a TV show and go ahead and do their craft and wait in line while listening.

Usually the crowd sits still for up to three stories at one time–this day they went for four! I was soooo excited. One darling little boy came up and participated every time. So wonderful–can’t wait to see him onstage sometime soon. He was so good and had great ideas for story questions too. Will post a photo of the event later.