Everything I learned about storytelling came from my Mom

I grew up learning the art of storytelling from the center of my living room floor. While the TV played cartoons, the volume of my mother’s phone conversations blared a little louder. And while I tried not to listen to the contents of the conversations, I couldn’t help it. From my mother, I picked up the building blocks of writing.

The Hook
My mom knew how to hook her girlfriends’ into a story. The growl of her elongated “Gurrrllllll”, let them know that the story had details that we were worth buckling up their seat belt for. Her, “Let me tell you this”, was the perfect transitional phrase that followed a thesis that kept the listener engaged.

The Climax
My mom sometimes led her stories with the climax. There was no build up. “Gurl, they was up at the park fighting**.” The opening climax hooked the reader and made them want to know the details. In rare cases, she pushed the climax of the story to the end. She knew the listener was on the edge of their seat when she said, “but hol’ up. Let me tell you this.” to transition them from one event to another. The climax was soon coming.

The Ending
The ending of the story usually followed with a summary and critical analysis. Together her and her girlfriends provided predictions for what might happen next and how she felt about the situation now. They discussed why these events occurred and what it meant for people involved. The higher order thinking was shown here.

Events (Plot)
The events of the story was the bulk of the conversation. Weaved into the hook, climax and the ending were the who, what, when, where, why and how. You knew every character that appeared, their appearance and contribution. You knew the setting that set the scene. Occasionally, there would be a flashback in the story to provide context of character actions. There wasn’t a detail missed.

My mom could be on the phone for hours with her friends telling stories back and forth. As a child, the high-pitched screams and squeals, the intense responses and analysis, and the inflection of the tone of her voice taught me everything I know about storytelling and analysis.

However, how I grew up listening and dissecting to stories was not taken into consideration in my college courses or PD sessions on teaching writing. There’s a formulaic way that we’re taught to teach writing, specifically narrative writing. We start with a hook, followed by events written in beginning, middle and end. And the truth of the matter is that it’s just not accurate for how I, and many other black kids, grew up listening to story structure.

When my students write narrative stories, starting with the climax, I honor that. When their structure is a bit all over the place, but complete, I honor that. When certain details are present, while other details are absent, I ask questions.

If we’re truly centering student voice, I want students to use their own voices, experiences, and history to write their own stories their way. Our job is to help them strengthen their voice. We should continue to provide different examples of storytelling and structure to help students become more versatile in their writing.

Always remember, our students are always coming to the table with strengths. It’s up to us to see them as such.

*fake example

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