By Arianna Ross
Embodied Storytelling is an art form utilizing the body and voice to tell, analyze, and create a “story.” Its process directly leads participants into comprehension of the material they have embodied. In its presentation in the classroom, a teacher will use a combination of dance, storytelling, drama, and visual art elements to teach various subject matters.
Having students move and speak in front of their peers builds self-confidence, body awareness, and vocal strength. The tips in this article, originally developed in collaboration with Suzanne Richard, Open Circle Theater, and Story Tapestries, provide effective tools for increasing a student’s ability to comprehend and effectively use vocabulary through arts-integrated instruction.
The strategies listed below are inherently accessible to multiple types of learners and are consciously inclusive, regardless of students’ developmental or physical abilities. These educational tools, geared at students in preschool through 8th grade, can also be used to tie into STEM, language arts, writing, and socio-emotional learning. A teacher can utilize these tips in various subjects, using a combination of dance, storytelling, drama, and visual art elements. The tips also serve to allow teachers to assess knowledge and students to demonstrate their ability to communicate clear, creative ideas both verbally and non-verbally.
- Act out everyday words to jump start learning. We encourage students to focus on increasing their “Power Words,” which are any words that empower students to feel more confident about their vocabulary. They can do this by acting out, vocalizing, and visualizing vocabulary they see and experience on a daily basis. Additionally, the meanings of simpler words are reinforced as they are being physically and mentally learned.
- Utilize partners to explore words and ideas. For students who find it difficult to move, we have found it valuable to employ a “Gesture Partner” who models and speaks to their partner about how to move to reflect the meaning of a word; if this student is comfortable with being touched, the partner can move the student’s arms for them. Likewise, students with difficulties in speaking can use a “Voice Partner” to verbalize ideas. This partnership can be employed in games that provide exercises in mirror imaging, body or voice sculpting, and puppet play (in which one person is the marionette and the other is the puppeteer).
- Consider introducing one step or one exercise per day. For example, spend a day using your voice to play with a word. The next day, ask students to turn off their voices and show the word, and on the third day, practice putting word and gesture or movement together. Once students have broken it down into pieces multiple times, they will be able to do all three activities at once. Also, it is helpful to draw a picture of the word so diverse types of learners have a visual, kinesthetic, and audio demonstration of the meaning of the word.
- Physicalize words. Model and use tableau (a grouping of motionless figures, representing a scene from a story, painting, or from history; also, known as a tableau vivant) to teach a specific concept, in this case, vocabulary. It is important to model one word before you have students create their tableaus alone. Tell them that although a tableau is a frozen picture, they will be moving into their tableau from a neutral position. Their movement should not be robotic, but should illustrate the meaning of the word just as the tableau does. Once they do freeze, their tableau should clearly demonstrate the meaning of the word.
- Connect words and story one section at a time. It is important that when you apply the acting out of words to develop students’ understanding of a story, you read through the story one section at a time, repeating it using multiple strategies. This is especially useful for students with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities. Just as it takes time to explore words with voice and gesture before putting them together (see tip 3), it is important to break stories into a beginning, middle and end. Also, it is helpful to draw out a story with students so they have a visual, kinesthetic, and audio demonstration of the meaning of the words.
Story Tapestries and Arianna Ross create international, dynamic programs that weave the power of dance, music, theatre, and spoken word. For 20 years, Arianna has performed and taught students and teachers across the United States and Asia at festivals, concert halls, colleges, libraries, and schools and for organizations such as the National Writing Project @ West Virginia University, East Tennessee State University, Hillwood Museum, and Washington Performing Arts. She is also a contributor to the book Storytelling Strategies for Reaching and Teaching Students with Special Needs.
For more information on Embodied Storytelling, check out our 2015 interview with Arianna Ross and Suzanne Richard.