Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Helicopter Stories That Help Students' Imaginations to Fly

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Helicopter Stories That Help Students' Imaginations to Fly

Article excerpt

This dramatic approach to early years storytelling emphasises creativity over getting the grammar right

IT'S A GREY midweek morning and there's a visitor to Corsham Regis Primary Academy's reception class. The children watch with wide-eyed fascination as she tapes off a staging area and explains that within this space, all manner of tales will come to life.

Trisha Lee, artistic director at charity Make Believe Arts, is in school to deliver a session of helicopter stories - a learning strategy in which the children will have the chance to tell stories of their own. These stories are scribed word for word for them by a facilitating adult and then acted out by the group.

According to schools that have tried the approach, it can assist in anything from developing emotional intelligence and empathy skills to assisting creativity and emergent writing.

The idea for helicopter stories has its roots in the work of US kindergarten teacher Vivian Gussin Paley back in the 1960s. At Corsham Regis, I see the method in action.

How does it work?

Lee helps the children to prepare for their own experience by reading some of the stories that have been told by children in the past. The students are in a circle and she asks each one in turn to perform some small role in the story, taking their place on the masking-tape stage. (The first tale is about a group of five spiders and the children love imagining how such spindly creatures might move.)

Everyone is given the chance to have a turn and no one is left out. Lee is keen to stress that this inclusivity is key.

"What has always excited me is that it has something for everyone, regardless of gender, or EAL, or specific needs," she explains.

Next, it is time to tell their own stories. While it's a confident and articulate little girl who volunteers to tell her own story to the group first of all (in which a family are forced to move house by "wood men", who come and chop down their trees), later on, less likely children come forward to share their ideas, sometimes to the surprise of the adults who work with them.

"We were surprised by the lack of prompting to challenge and encourage some of the quieter children but as the session continued, many of them suddenly became more animated and willing to join in anyway and in the end, all of the children seemed to thoroughly enjoy the whole experience," says Ceri Stone, FS2 teacher at Corsham Regis.

That's not to say children are pushed into taking part. When an initially willing volunteer changes his mind about sharing his story, Lee is keen that he should not be forced, emphasising the importance of being a story listener as well as a storyteller. …

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