Telling Bee

Telling Bee Guide

Dan Yashinsky

“First you listen, then you talk.” Portuguese saying

Teachers Guide

During a Telling Bee you lead your students through a process of story collecting, storytelling, writing, and book publishing. Students gain an appreciation for the spoken word, skills as listeners and tellers, and the inter-cultural understanding that comes when people share their stories. Although the Bee is focused on the spoken word, writing and book-publishing are also an important part of the project. The Telling Bee was created by Toronto storyteller Dan Yashinsky. He is the author of Suddenly They Heard Footsteps – Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century. The Telling Bee has been done in more than 40 schools and community settings.

1) Let the parents know: Teachers (or the Planning Committee) should notify their parents that students will be doing a Telling Bee in the school. Reassure families that PRIVACY WILL BE RESPECTED AT ALL TIMES. No story will be retold or published without parental/guardian consent. The Telling Bee is a celebration of storytelling, from folktales to family lore. It is a chance for children to develop their listening, memory, and speaking skills.

2) Create a Talking Stick: This is an ancient storytelling custom found around the world where an object is used to honour the storyteller and the listeners. In Canadian parliamentary tradition, for example, the Speaker of the House holds a mace. The students can decorate the classroom stick with beads, feathers, ribbons, paint, special objects, writing, images, etc. The custom is that whoever holds the Talking Stick has the power to speak to the community. It is a symbol of the respect the listeners have for the storyteller, and of the respect the teller has for the community. It also helps the shy kids take the risk of telling their stories.

3) Finding your stories: Brainstorm a list of questions the students can use for collecting stories. Telling Bee stories come from word-of-mouth sources: family tellers, friends, neighbours, camp counsellors. Students must have permission to retell a story in class. Here are twelve questions for starting the story quest. – Have you ever known a true-life hero? – Did you ever get in trouble as a kid? – Did you ever eat something weird? What food(s) or eating occasions were special to the family? – Did you ever move to a new home? What surprised you there? What did you miss most from your old home? – Did you ever know an unusual animal? – Did our family survive war or other disasters? How? – Have you ever had a supernatural or ghostly experience? – What was I famous for as a baby? – Did you (or I) ever get stitches? – Were you (or I) ever lost? How did you get found? – Which ancestor do you think of when you need help with a big decision? Why? – Is there a story behind the names in our family? Can you think of more questions to add to the list? SPECIAL NOTE FOR KINDERGARTEN TEACHERS: Students in junior and senior kindergarten can and will tell whatever story they want. They bring their own imagination to the Telling Bee instead of stories they’ve heard. You may suggest themes – e.g favourite foods, special gifts, losing teeth, holidays, trips – to focus the youngest tellers.

4) Make a time and place for storytelling: Set up a schedule of regular storytelling sessions. Students should know what day they’ll be expected to tell their tale(s). Give students more than one chance – they get better the more they try! Arrange the chairs and lights to make a special place in class for the storytelling to happen.

5) Storytelling is fun: It may be hard and challenging, but it should also be fun for the students. Make the Telling Bee a positive, “no-fail” experience. The focus isn’t on performance but on the stories themselves. Storytelling is an ancient art, and even very shy people have excelled at it. After a child tells his/her story, other students may have questions about the five “W’s” – who, what, where, why, when – of the tale. You can model this questioning. Children’s stories are often brief, especially in the beginning of a Telling Bee. You can draw out some of the story’s details with your questions.

6) Write it down: Students pick a story from the ones they’ve told. They write a first draft. This can be edited by you and their classmates. When they’re ready to write a final draft, they should use the Telling Bee Story Sheet. Edit for punctuation and spelling. Students bring their stories home for a parental/guardian OK.

7) A chapter of stories: Your students will each have a story in the classroom chapter of the Telling Bee Book. Please put in one your own stories too! Hand over the chapter to the Planning Committee in the form they require (disk or manuscript). Have the kids illustrate the chapter if there’s room in the book for graphics. Those are the basics for a successful Telling Bee. If the Planning Committee does a book launch/storytelling event to celebrate the publication of the Telling Bee book, you may want to –

 Prepare a display where the students honour the people they have collected their stories from;

 Choose some students for a storytelling concert;

 Ensure that the students come to the launch feeling and acting like authors (they should bring pens to sign copies for each other and their parents).

Telling Bee Planning Committee Guide

The Planning Committee oversees the Telling Bee. You are responsible for scheduling, deadlines, special support for teachers and students, troubleshooting, parent communications, book preparation, and the book launch. Here are the steps to running a successful Telling Bee. 1) Scheduling: You need to have deadlines for the following parts of the Telling Bee –

– Storytelling by students, teachers, and other staff members (4-6 weeks).

– Writing, editing, preparing final drafts. Each class submits a chapter of stories.

– Inputting stories, designing the book, preparing the camera-ready manuscript. – Printing the book.

– Planning and celebrating the book launch.

2) Communicate with the parents: Send a letter home explaining that the school is launching a Telling Bee. (See sample below).

3) Special support: There will probably be a few students who find it hard to tell in class. They might have trouble with English, or be severely shy. The Planning Committee should ensure that teachers and students get extra help if needed. EVERYONE should have the opportunity to participate in the storytelling!

4) Principals, caretakers, secretaries: For people who are not part of a class the committee should provide a special opportunity for them to tell their stories to a listener or group of listeners. These tellers should write their stories down so they can be included in the book.

5) Desktop publishing: After collecting the edited chapters, the committee inputs them with a standard word processing program (whichever the Telling Bee Book designer prefers). The copy should be carefully proofread, with special attention given to names and story titles. After a final proofread, the designer can create acamera-ready manuscript. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS PROOFREAD ONE EXTRA TIME!

6) Extra money: If the committee chooses, you can seek paid acknowledgments from local businesses. These are usually congratulatory notices, not commercial ads. The monies raised from these “ads” can defray the cost of printing. They should run at the back of the book.

7) Making a book: For printing/copying you can take the manuscript to a local copy shop, or try your Board of Education’s printing department. Try to keep printing costs as low as possible, while still getting a nicely printed and bound book. You should decide if you’re going to sell the book at cost, or include a mark-up to help pay for the costs of the project.

8) Celebration: Plan and carry out a celebration of this extraordinary book! Children can tell their stories in the various classrooms, books can be sold and autographed by the students, you can have a ceremony where people thank the grandparents, parents, and friends who told them stories in the first place. Please feel free to contact Telling Beekeeper Dan Yashinsky at any time. E:


Sample letter to parents

Dear Parent/Guardian, We have just started a project called a Telling Bee. Over the next few weeks our students will be collecting stories from friends, family, neighbours. With the permission of these tellers, the students will re-tell their stories in class, write them down (or dictate them) and contribute them to a book that will be published. This wonderful book will contain a story from everybody at our school, from children to teachers to caretakers to Principal. The motto for The Telling Bee comes from a Portuguese proverb: First you listen, then you talk. The Telling Bee invites students to be good listeners. You can help them excel by answering their Telling Bee questions. No story will be published without the written permission of a parent or guardian. When the stories are published, we hope you’ll come and celebrate your children’s great achievement by joining us at the Festival and Book Launch. The Telling Bee program was started by storyteller Dan Yashinsky. He is the author of Suddenly They Heard Footsteps – Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century (Knopf Canada). We’re looking forward to hearing and reading the stories our students bring in, the stories of our community!


Telling Bee Story Sheet Title: __________________________________________ Author: _________________________________________

Collected From: __________________________________

Class/School: ____________________________________

Parent/Guardian Permission (please initial): ___________ _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


The Telling Bee Schedule

1) First Week Storyteller introduces the students to the Telling Bee. The storyteller will share a number of folk and personal stories to get the students warmed up for their own storytelling. The storyteller will model the “talking stick” and initiate each classroom’s creation of their own, and also will introduce interview questions students can use to discover their family storytelling traditions.

2) Weeks 2-6 Students tell the stories they’ve collected. Kindergarten students tell at the level they are able. Teachers share their own stories as well. Others who aren’t in a classroom – administrators, caretakers, support staff, special teachers – should also tell or write their stories. Students who need special support (e.g. with translating) should be helped by the teacher and the Telling Bee Planning Comittee.

3) Week 7 Stories are written down. Teachers and peers edit for punctuation and spelling. Final drafts are written on The Telling Bee Story Sheets. These sheets are taken home for approval by parents/guardians.

4) Week 8-10 Stories are input using the school’s desktop publishing program. The Planning Committee proofreads the stories, ads, and congratulatory notices (pay special attention to names and story titles!). The book is designed and laid out as camera-ready copy. 5) Last Week The book is printed and bound. Now you’re ready for a book launch and storytelling celebration! Bring in the community to help celebrate the publication of this remarkable collection of stories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s