Digital Storytelling: 5.3


5.3 The Storytelling Circle

An important part of any workshop is ensuring all participants are happy to share stories with others. The Storytelling Circle introduces story games which help break the ice for any new group and allow people to get to know each other. Some people come to a workshop with no real idea of the story they may tell, or perhaps feel they have nothing of interest to say. The Storytelling Circle and games are not only a fun way start to a workshop but also boost participants’ confidence and may provide them with an idea for their own story. For those participants who already have an idea for their own story, the storytelling circle gives them an opportunity not only to share their idea with the group, but also to pick up ideas from other people’s methods of communication, thereby improving their own story. The key focus of this session is to arrive at a place where all the participants are able to finalise their scripts, ready to record their voices. So, the clock is ticking and the Trainer must be aware of this throughout.

Setting the Scene

It is important that the room used is fairly quiet and private, so that the participants can feel isolated from interruption. The Trainer should arrange the seating in a circle in the room so that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. The Trainer leads and takes part in the story games, helps boost individual confidence and provides feedback at the end of the session. Everyone should be made to feel at ease and the atmosphere should not be pressurised. There should be no technology visible around the table; no computers, mobile phones (switched off), or digital recording devices of any kind.

Props for the Storytelling Circle

The Trainer should provide

  • Pens and paper
  • A Flipchart (game 3)
  • A bag containing household objects (game 4)
  • A box of matches and a glass of water (game 9)

The Storyteller should provide

  • An object of significance to them – this may be a photograph, which could possibly be used to tell a story
  • A printed draft of a script for their own story

The Games

The word ‘game’ should be used with caution at the start of the storytelling circle, as some participants can feel intimidated, threatened or just turned off by the idea of playing games. Once the confidence of the group has developed, the word can be introduced. The first three activities listed below are ice breakers and a way for the group to start to get to know one another. They help to conquer nerves and make people aware that everyone has a story to tell. All the games should be fun and not competitive. There are far more games below than are needed for a single storytelling circle, so pick a collection and give it a go! For example, the author recently ran a short storytelling circle for the Detales project and chose numbers 3, 6 and 10 from the list below. The activity had 13 participants and took 2 hours.

1. Interview the person next to you (ice breaker)
This is a useful way of getting to know people within the group and helps to provide more information about them than would normally be gleaned, if people introduced themselves. It is easier to share information about someone else than it is to talk about yourself. This interview is a good way for the group to relax and feel confident enough to tell their story.

2. Remembering Names (ice breaker)
This game is particularly well suited for a younger age range workshop. One member of the group introduces him- or herself and provides one fact of interest they wish to share. The person sitting next to them then repeats this information and adds their own introduction and shared item. By the time the last person is reached there will be a lot to remember –Trainers may choose this role for themselves.

John says “your name is Mary and you like golfing, you’re Pete and play the drums, you’re Janet and you make fancy dress outfits and my name is John and I don’t like spiders”.

3. Nonsense Word Game (ice breaker)
This is a useful game for teaching people the art of creating a story out of a selection of non connected words. Each member of the group is asked to write a word onto a piece of paper – nouns or ‘naming’ words work very well. For those who struggle with writing words, drawing a picture is equally effective. The Trainer then collects the paper and transfers all the words and pictures onto a flipchart. Each participant then creates a story using all the words on the chart, which they then read out to the group. There will hardly be any repetitions. The quality of the stories is irrelevant, in fact, the more off the wall the better! This game is good for loosening up the participants and making them all feel that they can make a valued contribution.

Words: Apple, glasses, clock, long, car, pink, wood, shoe.
Mrs Wood glanced at the clock and was relieved to see that she only had another ten minutes before the school bell rang. She was eager to eat the pink lady apple that she had found rolling around in the back of her car along with the shoe she’d lost earlier in the week and her purse that unfortunately had no money in it. She looked at the apple and wondered how long it had been there for. She was starving and with no money had little choice but to eat it. “Perhaps the time has come for a trip to the opticians” she said to herself, “maybe I need glasses”.

4. Mystery Objects
Each member of the group is asked to randomly choose an item from the memory bag provided by the Trainer. They are then asked to share the memories or feelings the object conjures up. If a member of the group cannot think of anything to say, choosing something different may make things easier for them. The Trainer should provide help and encouragement when needed so that everyone is able to connect with the item. Objects may include: a toy car, a remote control, a watering can, a tin of soup, a train ticket, anything that may evoke memories.

The Trainer should point out which parts of the story work well and asking questions may help to reveal themes of interest that the Storyteller may wish to explore. Careful questioning by the Trainer reveals a more interesting aspect to the story.

The storyteller chooses the train ticket from the bag.
This reminds me of a trip I made to Edinburgh when I was little. I was excited about going because I’d never been to Scotland before. We spent a lovely day visiting the Castle and watching tartan cloth being made. My Dad ordered Haggis at lunchtime because it was a Scottish delicacy but he didn’t like it”.
The Trainer asks questions about the visit and how they got home.
The Storyteller is able to add:
We got the train home but it was much delayed because the man in the seat opposite became ill and had to be taken to hospital. My Dad and I stayed with him on the journey because he was travelling alone. Our trip to Scotland lasted longer than we thought”.

5.  A childhood toy or game
This can reveal a lot about the storyteller. Allowing them to dwell on childhood helps expand the memories and emotions that were important in shaping the way their lives have become. It may show a rebellious streak, a passive nature, the adventurer, the leader of the pack or perhaps illustrate that for the older generation toys were not that easy to come by and thus were very precious.

My most precious possession as a child was my bike. It was my means of transport, my ability to escape and explore and it represented freedom for me. It wasn’t new when I first had it, my Mum and Dad bought it at an auction and it had been well used. It didn’t have gears and the chain was a bit loose but it didn’t matter; I loved it because it was mine. I would spend hours fiddling with it, adjusting the brakes and pumping up the tyres, and it was cleaned very regularly. I remember spending the whole of one day repainting it dark blue, and it looked fantastic. I was only eight when I had that bike but we had some brilliant adventures together. A bottle of water and a bag of crisps, my friend Clare and I regularly used to ride twenty miles to town.  If my Mum had known she would have had a fit. But like Clare, my bike, was a good friend, it never shared my secrets.”

6. Personal Photographs
Photographs are very personal items and for an individual and tell a story of their own. It is useful if storytellers bring significant photographs to the workshop, and swap with another person in the group so that they have an image that is new to them. The Trainer should encourage everyone to write a story relating to the photograph in their hand. When everyone has made up and narrated their fictitious stories, the owner of the photograph then tells their own story. It is an interesting exercise that highlights different perceptions of certain images and allows storytellers the freedom to explore a world they are unfamiliar with.

7. Make Your Mind Up
Participants are asked to write about a time in their lives when they made an important decision. They are free to describe it as they wish, but they are limited to exactly 50 words. This game fulfils two purposes. Primarily it looks at the theme of making important decisions in life and the resulting feelings that were created. Secondly, it attempts to instil in them the value of tightly edited text.

8. The First Time
The storyteller spends 10 minutes writing about an occasion when they did something for the first time and how it made them feel and the impact it possibly had on others. The story is then shared with the rest of the group.

9. The Match Game
This game is good for focus, clarity of speech and the ability to say what matters within a very short period of time. The Trainer should ensure that the use of matches in the room will not trigger the fire alarms and that each storyteller holds a glass of water for the match to drop into before it burns fingers! Give the storytellers 10 minutes to prepare a story about passion. This could be about a person, an issue, a place or anything that they feel passionate about. Each storyteller then strikes a match to tell their story but they only have as long as it takes the match to burn to the end before they have to stop. The burning match helps concentrate the mind on getting to the heart of the story straight away.

10. Love/Hate
Each participant creates a list of 10 things they love and 10 things they hate. They then they read these out to the others in the group. This is useful as the list may produce a topic for a potential story and allows the Trainer to explore the themes more fully. The Trainer then encourages them to re-read the list with emotion and feeling assisting with the range of tones and inflections in their speech which will be useful when it comes to recording their story.

11. Three Objects
The Trainer asks each participant to list three objects that sum up what is important to them. The storyteller is then asked to choose the object that means the most to them and write a story around that theme.

A car, a kite and a handbag (the storyteller is a car mad kiting enthusiast who collects designer handbags)

And Then

With the assistance of the Trainer one of the themes is explored. The results of playing about three of the above games can be expanded to become the basis of their own personal story.


The participants are invited to read out their first drafts to the rest of the group. Feedback is given by the Trainer and supporting comments given by the other participants. The storytelling circle can catapult the quality of the final stories to a new level, emphasizing the need to incorporate a few simple tricks and techniques to produce a strong final script.


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