Storyteller Jay O'Callahan - Home Page

by Jay O'Callahan




Grades K-6


After students listen to a story, they should make drawings of some character or scene in the story that they really liked. It's important for students to be able to spend more time, after the story is over, with an image from the story that struck them. It's helpful to tell the students the drawing doesn't have to be perfect. Ask them: "If you were to make a CD cover for this story, what would you put on the cover?" Sometimes that question gets them to focus very quickly.


It's helpful to put these drawings up so students get a sense of the different scenes that struck the imaginations of their classmates.


Exploring Place

Grades K-3


"Orange Cheeks" (Little Dragon)


"Orange Cheeks" can be used to explore visits to a special place. What makes special places special?


Have the students make a drawing of their grandparents, or other special people in their lives. Have the students describe, either in a drawing or a very brief story where these grandparents or special people live. What's fun about their houses? What's special about their houses? Is there a special smell or sound? What's different about the people who live there?


Kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms of grandparents take on a special feel. What objects are interesting in these rooms? What do the grandparents or special people have or use that's different from home?


Have the students draw themselves in their favorite part of their grandparent's house. What makes that part of the house such a nice place to be?


Science and Ecology

Grades K-5


"Herman and Marguerite" (Earth Stories)


This is a wonderful introduction to ecology and to the extraordinary moment of chrysalis. Herman the worm and Marguerite the caterpillar depend on each other as friends in much the same way that plants, animals and their environments interact and depend on each other in nature. Herman and Marguerite's seemingly small contribution makes a big change in their meadow home.


Herman the worm needs his grandfather to tell him he's doing something important. Herman is keeping the earth loose so the air and the water can feed the plants. The students could draw a garden and make a list of what plants need (including worms!) to grow. They could draw an underground of a garden showing all the tunnels where Herman and his grandfather live. It's important for students to get a sense of what is underneath the earth and of what makes food and a sense of how worms help us all to live.


Making A Story

Grades K-6


"Michael the Grasshopper" (Little Heroes)


Have the students make up a one-minute story using a character or event in the story they just heard.


In "Michael the Grasshopper", Michael is one of 24 eggs. What happens to the other eggs? Do they hatch? What are their names? What are their adventures?


The teacher could help by leading the students a bit. One might find itself in a barn where it meets a horse and has a wonderful conversation. One grasshopper might catch the wind and fly for miles and miles and come down in a field of the thickest grass in the world . . . and so on. Or perhaps the student could very briefly tell about a real person, animal or place that the story has reminded him or her of.



Grades K-6


"Michael the Grasshopper" (Little Heroes)


Rhythms are important in storytelling and writing. The teacher and students should identify the different rhythms in a story and then make up their own rhythms. In "Michael the Grasshopper" Wiggums and Woggums have a song they love to sing together. What other animals have special rhythms in "Michael the Grasshopper?"


Have the students add new words to Wiggums and Woggums song or have Wiggums and Woggums meet another animal and hear its rhythms.


Ask the students what rhythms and songs are part of their family life. Do they sing any songs on vacations? Do their parents have favorite sayings? Have the children observe the rituals and rhythms of home. Calls to dinner? Doorbells? Rhythms for baby brothers or sisters? Chants or rhymes to say while working or playing?



Grades K-6


"The Little Dragon", "Vargo" (Mostly Scary), "Golden Drum"


Prejudice means pre-judging. In "The Little Dragon," "Vargo" and "Golden Drum" there are characters who have been pre-judged by others. Who are they, and what mistakes were made in judging them?


Why was Vargo scorned? In "The Golden Drum" why does Ororingy's brother die? Why is Ororingy not allowed to participate in the athletic contests? Why is the little dragon laughed at? The teacher might ask the students if they have ever been hurt the way the little dragon was. Have they ever been laughed at, and what did it feel like?


Did the little dragon "pre-judge" himself? Why was Elizabeth able to help him?



Grades 4-7


Choose a scene from one of the stores to re-enact. How does the storyteller use his voice to make a character in the story come alive? Encourage the students to make up a special voice and movement for the part they are playing.


Symbolic Images

Grades 6-9




What is the central image in "Raspberries"? Have the students listen and then discuss which images come alive for them.


Talk about Simon's hat. Simon uses the hat to hide from the world He's been hurt and unable to come to terms with the hurt. He's a kind man and he's full of life and in time that life bubbles up. At the end, the baker helps Simon and his hat disappears. That single image carries a tremendous emotional weight. Why? Discuss the dream-like quality of images.


What are some other images that have symbolic meaning in "Raspberries?" Some to consider: raspberries, Simon's hair, the girl with the patchwork dress, the basketball hoop.


If you had to rename the story, what would you call it?


When Simon closes the bakery, he leaves town to become a farmer. What kind of symbolic meaning does that have? Why wouldn't it work for Simon to leave the bakery and become a politician or a bank teller? Why does Simon want to work close to the earth and animals? In what ways are baking and farming similar?



Grades 7-12


"The Golden Drum"


According to Joseph Campbell, noted scholar of mythology, mythical heroes usually follow a standard routine in their adventures. From Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."


How does Ororingy fit this description of a mythical hero? What kinds of "boons" does she bestow on her fellow man? On herself?


In trying to understand myth the teacher might have the students explore a moment of extraordinary adventure in their lives. For instance for me, running the 880 in High School seemed an incredible adventure. I was so nervous before the race I could think of nothing but the race. The race itself became larger than life. But after the race, particularly if I won, the earth took on a poetic sweetness.


The supernatural and fantastic proportions in myth help us see possibilities in life. Myths often define social values and outline acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Ororingy gains heroic stature by overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. How are her three tests like tests in life? Think of three less fantastic tests that you might undergo in your own non-supernatural life.


What is the importance of the story within the story? Does Ororingy's personal life story show elements of a heroic adventure on a less fantastic level? How?


What is the main image in the story? Why is Ororingy able to see the weakness of the barbarians? What has happened in her life that makes her able to see what others miss? What did her father see? How does Ororingy use her special talents to defeat the barbarians?


In every culture certain real and imaginary figures attain mythic proportions - e.g. Babe Ruth and Wonder Woman. Can you list ten mythic American figures?



Grades 7-12


"The Island"


"The Island" is told through dialogue and monologue instead of narration. How does the storyteller advance the story without narration? Each character has his or her own voice and style of speaking. How does that add to the story?


Have the students write a short story that is told through two people having a telephone conversation. What do you learn about those two characters from what they say?


Have the students each choose a character from literature or popular culture or fairy tales. Now have them imagine their character has been stopped by a policeman for speeding. Without taking too much preparation time, go around the classroom and let each student respond to the situation with their character's voice and words. How does tone and delivery add to the meaning of the words?


Creative Writing

Grades 9-12


"Edna Robinson" (Village Heroes)


Have the students walk like the characters in a story walk. Posture teaches us a great deal about people. Even in the spoken story "Edna Robinson" we have a clear picture of how Edna, Filberbrown and Blueberry Jack walk. Think of words and phrases that describe how each of those characters move. Edna Robinson holds her head high and "her elbows bruise the air." How does the way she walks change by the end of the story? What does that say about Edna Robinson?


In writing, sometimes if the student would get up and walk around like the character he or she is writing about, then the character will become much clearer. Does the character have a special pose or gesture or nervous habit? Does the way the character moves seem contradictory to the things he or she says?


Have the students write an additional scene between Edna, Filberbrown, and Blueberry Jack. Have them pay special attention to how they move, where they stand and sit, and what they do as well as what they say.

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