The Art and Craft of the Well-Told Story

Eighth graders at New Canaan Country School really know how to tell a story.

They also know how to tell fables, legends and tales. This is because they are a part of a long-standing school tradition of learning the art and craft of the well-told story. It’s not a skill left to chance; it’s taught, and practiced, and fine-tuned, and practiced some more, and perfected.

“Public speaking is something they have to do throughout their careers,” said eighth grade teacher Bart Fredo. “The work they are doing now will help prepare them for not only their ninth grade ‘This I Believe Speeches,’ but for all future speaking opportunities.”

Eighth graders begin their storytelling unit by reading 20 folktales from a variety of world cultures. They then select one to memorize, animate with hand and facial gestures and practice telling. During a series of workshops, Laconia Therrio, a professional storyteller who has been assisting NCCS students in this regard for the past 18 years, provides strategies and techniques used in effective storytelling.

The stories, which connect to the students’ World Cultures curriculum, come from a variety of differing time periods and origins including Asian, African and Native American cultures, but tend to have a common thread.

“Students learn about the value of the human experience,” said eighth grade teacher Will McDonough. “They develop an appreciation for the wisdom of elders and the oral tradition. It reminds them that there are generations who have come before them who have something valuable to share.”

The final challenge involves developing the skills to present the selected story to an actual audience. With each of the stories averaging 5 minutes in length, students tell and retell their stories to classes of all ages.

There exists a palpable sense of satisfaction among the eighth graders after telling their stories to younger students. They know how good it feels to have shared a story with others, and to have told it well. What they don't realize yet, however, is the value of storytelling in nearly every life path they will someday pursue. Whether they aim to be a politician, a poet, an advertising executive, lawyer, or pediatrician, humans are drawn to stories and to those who tell them well,” said Mr. McDonough.