Two questions that come up every time I teach a class are “How can I memorize that story? Can’t I just read it?” These are good questions since we want the storyteller to tell the story and not read it. Let’s take a look at the answers to each of these questions in turn.
Reading vs. Telling
When telling the story, you will want to focus on the story and materials more than anything else. When focusing on the story, you are able to really enter into it and bring the children along with you. When you read the story, it divides your attention between the basket materials and the words. By changing your focus, the children also will shift their focus away from the objects and onto you or the paper you’re reading from. You want to make the story your own and remembering it is the best way to do this.
The other part of the question is how to memorize the story. I usually start my answer to this by saying that when it comes to memorizing them, there are two types of stories – those that you really should memorize at least parts of and those that you just need the general idea of. Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
Stories to Get the General Idea of
Most stories are those that you don’t need to memorize but rather get the primary essence of the story. For example, in the story The Wise People and the Elephant, you need to remember that the monarch wanted to know what truth was, he had five wise (or blind in some stories) people each feel one part of an elephant and tell what an elephant is. They then argue. And then the monarch related their experience to what truth is.
To remember a story like this, I read through the story and write three to four key words on a 3×5 index card for each part of the story. I’ll indicate which parts have an object to go along with them with an asterisk or highlight. Here’s the card I used when I was learning the Parable of the Pearl I tell when conducting trainings:
It’s not pretty or fancy, but it was enough to help me remember the story. Let’s take a look at how I’d do this for The Wise People and the Elephant story.
Monarch*, wondered, questions, elephant
5 wise people*, city gate
Blind, different part
Ear, Tail, Trunk, Tusk, Leg
What elephant like?
Argue, fool, crazy
Stop, how know right?
Only touched 1 part
Combined = truth
Now, I will practice the story using the key word outline. I find that sometimes just by writing it, I tend to remember the general idea of the story. And often after practicing once or twice I have the idea of the story memorized. However, if I need a reminder, I put the card next to the basket and unobtrusively reference it during the retelling as I remove objects from the basket.
Using the basket objects can also prompt your memory. When preparing to tell the story, place the items in the basket in the order you’ll need them. Then, the next object in the basket will correspond to the next part of the story. Paying attention to the order can also help with the flow of the story keeping you from having to dig through the basket to find what you’re looking for.
Stories to Memorize
In a few stories or parts of stories the exact wording is an important part of the story. For example, in the General Promises lesson you will want to memorize the wording of what each triangle represents. It’s important to say that the red triangle means to respect all people, the orange triangle means to offer fair and kind treatment to all, and so on.
In these situations, everyone will have their own method of memorizing. For me, I read through the part to memorize several times, say it out loud while reading, and then practice memorizing a section at a time. You might like to make a recording of you reading the story and then listen to that several times a day the week prior to telling the story. Or you might make the story into a song, or any other myriad of ways people have to remember.
Don’t let memorizing stories scare you away from trying new ones. Get the idea of what the story is trying to tell you and then tell it in your own words. What methods have you used to remember stories? Let us know in the comments below.
Once you finish training, you’ll have access to hundreds of stories to use in your Spirit Play program. On our website we also have some additional stories for sale on specific topics such as promise stories for older children or stories about Neo-Pagan Sabbats and the wheel of the year. Find out more information about those here.