Story Lovers World


Stories, Folktales, Folklore, Fairy Tales, Legends,
Myths, History, Nursery Rhymes, Fantasy & Facts

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Photo courtesy of Ricky Magic

For a complete, searchable list of Audience Participation
stories and activities for all ages, click on this link:
Audience Participation Stories and Activities


Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians

Book titles and online links are in dark blue and underlined. Click on them to find get more information.
Story titles are in quotation marks or italics.
To retell any stories, get permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
In performance, always credit your sources.
Posts are listed chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.
No attributions or entry dates are incuded for posts received prior to 2005.

(Added November 2010)

• "The Queen with the Cold Cold Heart" (video at (text in Naomi Baltuck's Crazy Gibberish: And Other Story Hour Stretches.
Sody Sallyratus
The King's Ears (Stories from Wales) (several versions include Goat Ears, Horse's Ears, Donkey Ears, etc.)
The Enormous Turnip
The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse stories
Karen C. 11/10/10

The Roly-Poly Rice Ball (Read-It! Readers Series)
Conejito: A Folktale from Panama
"The Little Old Woman Who Hated Housework" from Margaret Read MacDonald's Too Many Fairies: A Celtic Tale
Traveling to Tondo, a Tale of the Nkundo of Zaire
Cheese, Peas, and Chocolate Pudding
The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from TizapŮAn, Mexico
Judy S. 11/10/10

The Gingerbread Man
Too Much Noise†[Paperback] (and all the seasonal variations)
Any of Margaret R. MacD's Twenty Tellable Tales: Audience Participation Folktales for the Beginning Storyteller
The Squeaky Door
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything
"The Little Old Woman Who Couldn't Get to Sleep" from Travelin' Down the Road: Sing Along Stories.
Any story in which you can introduce a repeated refrain.
Carol C. 11/10/10

• "Mr Wiggle/Waggle" from Handmade Tales: Stories to Make and Take
Traveling to Tondo, a Tale of the Nkundo of Zaire
Ina V.D. 11/10/10

Little Rooster's Diamond Button (thank you MRM!)
Megan H. 11/10/10

• "Fiona & the Pooka": adaptation of Tipangee with credit & monetary donation to Haitian Dept. Of Culture.
"Oddawa Woodpecker": adapted by permission from Simon Otto, elder - accepting whenever audience joins in, though not premeditated on my part. ("Oddawa" is the contemporary spelling of "Ottawa.")
Yvonne H. 11/10/10

• "Man who saw a crocodile"
"2 goats on a Bridge"
The Bremen Town Musicians
Kiran S. 11/11/10

For a complete, searchable list of Dance and Movement
stories and activities for children, click on this link:

Dance and Movement Stories for Young Children


1) When I tell sody sallyratus, it's often with kids acting out the roles. When the bear eats them, i tell them, "okay, you're dead, go over there." and add, "but don't worry, you'll come back to life soon." Kids and adults all love it because it's said playfully and they know this is "just a story." It hearkens back to childhood games, at least for me, when we'd be "killed" in western gunfights, etc.

Mary Grace, your new ending is graceful :)
Granny Sue 11/11/10

2) Wow, Granny Sue, you just nailed and summarized something had been a mystery for me for a long time! It's the dead animal!

I tell the Tinker and the Ghost to 3rd & 4th grade, and I use a Spanish folk song, El Burro de Villarena, with it. In the song, the burro carries vinegar, and I have her also carry Esteban's tools and the vinegar he uses to polish up the pots after he repairs them. In the song, the burro dies, so at the end of the story, I say "And Esteban lived a long and happy life of ease and comfort, but the burro?...she died!" (Kids sigh wistfully) "All the neighbors came to her burial, even her Aunt Maria, who sounded the bell," and then I sing the last verse, which translates as that. The reason I added the song is that it has a refrain which goes: Que too-roo-roo-roo-roo..." 4X. (I sing the Spanish verses, but the kids join in on the refrain.) Those vocables can sound frustrated, angry, frightening, or like a lullabye, all of which I put into the story, some with verses that fit and, while Esteban is wondering if another body part is going to fall out of the chimney, the kids and I just repeat the refrain; it sounds spooky and builds suspense.

Sometimes after this story, a child would come up and ask me why or how the donkey died. Heartless soul that I am, I would just think "I don't know, Kid; she just died! It's just a story!" but I would say something more sympathetic, like "Nobody really knows; the story doesn't say." Now after that happened four or five times, I started thinking that it must really matter to kids, and maybe I should take the song out, too dreary. On the other hand, it also added a lot to the story, such as participation and a spooky song, for I would cue the kids to sing the too-roo-roo-roo-roo with me while Esteban was cooking between ghost parts, looking around bravely but fearfully.

I told it just last week, and THIS time, kind of on the spur of the moment, I changed the ending to "And Esteban and his little burro lived a long and happy life of ease and comfort. When the burro at last died of old age, all the neighbors came to her burial...." then closed with the last verse and the too-roo-roo, and no one seemed quite so distressed!
Mary Grace K. 11/11/10

3) Well done, looking out for your audience! In a workshop here Naomi Baltuck said her "Bear Hunt" features a camera, not a gun, because she was uncomfortable with guns. She recommended changing to make stories and such work better for us, and you and Granny Sue have done that well. . . a much better choice than just dropping a story we like (even though there are many more).

I think that workshop was also where we discussed children playing with (or pretending to have) guns. After a discussion of what their relatives would actually do with a gun, the children stopped pointing the pretend guns at each other, because no responsible hunter would do that. Instead, they hunted or defended against dangers, monsters, whatever . . . okay, still guns, but a better focus.
Mary G. 11/11/10

4) When we act out Sody, Bear's stomach is located in back: first swallowing victim holds onto Bear's shoulders or waist; second holds onto first; etc. They create an amusingly awkward conga line that definitely slows Bear's attack on each subsequent victim. Some improv groups cheerfully welcome each new arrival to the "stomach". It's all so silly that thoughts of toothmarks or digestive juices don't arise.
Fran S. 11/11/10

5) A digestive conga line! Something to contemplate! I like it.
Granny Sue 11/11/10

6) I'm so glad the students enjoyed playing "Sody"--but not surprised! It's a fun way to recapitulate a story, but few tales can be adapted so fast.

In fact I have seldom used it in performance, but uncountable times in school teaching residencies and adult workshops. The experience beautifully demonstrates that you can tell a story without memorizing narrative or dialogue. The formulaic format makes it very easy to learn, typically from one hearing and a review of bones. There's lots of leeway for characterization. Everybody wants to be Bear or Squirrel, so we need to play the story many times taking turns. It's fun to see clever improv bits reappearing in other groups' stories. That's how storytellers do.

I did it once at a huge (>100) teacher workshop in Chicago. It was after school; everyone was tired and (I learned later) in a sour mood due to tense negotiations between the system and the teachers' union. They needed to breathe, get up and move, and do something SILLY. I divided all of them into groups of 8 (characters plus a narraator to move things along) and we all played Sody simultaneously. It was chaotic, but quickly laughter overtook grumbles. I don't know if anybody took storytelling back to his/her classroom, but at least they went home that day feeling more positive!
Fran S. 11/13/10


1) "Paper Flower," an original story by Fran Stallings in Joining In: An Anthology of Audience Participation Stories and How to Tell Them by Teresa Miller, Norma J. Livo, Anne Pellowski. The ethnic base is Chinese and Korean. It's not a folktale, it's an original concoction.
Fran's website is at:

2) Juba This and Juba That and With a Deep Sea Smile: Story Hour Stretches for Large or Small Groups by Virginia Tashjian. Crazy Gibberish and Other Story Hour Stretches: From a Storyteller's Bag to Tricks (From a Storyteller's Bag of Tricks) by Naomi Baltuck.

3) Anne Pellowski's Story Vine (The).

4) Storytelling: Process and Practice by Norma Livo and Sandra Reitz. Also has some good material on the method.

5) For environmental participation tales: Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope: Stories, Storytelling and Activities for Peace, Justice and the Environment, 1992. There are several stories in that volume that might work and each story includes follow-up activities.

Or for more environmental tales that could include participation: Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac's series, including Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children (Keepers of the Earth), which is aimed at kids aged 5-12. Audience participation story Talk. Tale from Guinea called Talk has repetition. Found in book by Harold Courlander and George Herzog

My favorites have been "Poccamandus" from Papa Joe, from his mother, from another storyteller she heard on the library lawn, that is a family variant of "Epimandus." "Poule and Roach," found in Margaret Read MacDonald's book Celebrate the World: Twenty Tellable Folktales for Multicultural Festivals. And I couldn't leave off "The Ghost with One Black Eye" by Priscilla Howe.
Priscilla's website is at:

8) Here are some favorites:
"Tipingee" from Diane Wolkstein's The Magic Orange Tree: and Other Haitian Folktales
The Banza: A Haitian Story (Reading Rainbow Book) picture book, Diane Wolkstein
Lizard's Song, George Shannon picture book
"The Freedom Bird" by David Holt
"Mr. Wiggle & Mr. Waggle" (Hard to give source for this one. I learned it over 25 years ago from a librarian in upstate New York but can't remember her name.)
I first learned this story from Hiroko Fujita (who had learned it from a German student in Japan!), who put it with illustrations into her first how-to book, which has been translated into English as: Stories To Play With.
Margaret Read MacDonald's books are a treasure trove of participation sources.

9) My two sure-fire, never-fail favorites are The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Mexico and Traveling to Tondo (Scholastic Audio), both folktales adapted from Vera Aardema's books of the same titles. Then, of course, there's the one that Hope Baugh introduced to the list, Cheese, Peas, and Chocolate Pudding.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt Present Pack by Michael Rosen.
The Squeaky Door-Glb by Laura Simms.
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by L. Williams..
"Why Bear Has a Stubby Tail" (I ask the kids which animal Bear meets next -- if they look game for it, I have the person who suggested the animal speak for the animal) (If Fox is guessed early, I say, "You're right, Bear does meet Fox, a little later. I'll get back to you.").
The Enormous Turnip (kids suggest who comes next to help, they repeat with me, "They pulled, ugh, and they pulled, ugh, and they pulled, ugh, but that turnip wouldn't budge").
I like to use the movements and song Heather Forest taught us at a workshop in Florida.

11) One of my favorite participation tales is Sody Sallyratus. Children love to help the folks down the trail and I also get to use my puppet, Roscoe the Squirrel. Roscoe has a great time 'cause he's usually freaking out on a chocolate high!

12) Another 'story' is How to Make a Thunderstorm (How 2) - no words involved just sounds (snapping fingers, clapping hands, etc).

13) We're tandem tellers so we participate with each other--ah but audience involvement...
There are various levels of involvement.
Repeat some words, clap or do motions

Traveling to Tondo (Scholastic Audio) - They do motions and words
The Story Snail by Anne Rockwell. They remember the pass word, but sometimes we ask for interaction
"Yucatan Sunrise" adapted from Taffy Thomas. They name the characters in the return down the chain of events and then explain why they can't bring the sun to the chief.
Jerome by Phillip Ressner. We go out into the audience to get them to be the villagers and we interact with them in that role.
The Mouse God by Richard Kennedy] We teach them some mouse hymns to sing "He's Got the Whole World in His Paws." The hymn in the story we've set to the tune of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." It goes:
We all love you, if you plea-ease,
Give to us our daily cheese
We all sing and praise you tha-at
You will save us from the cat.

And sometimes we arrange for peole to play roles in a story-theatre
"Giant Who is More Than a Match" [anon] We ask each half of the group to send up two champions to fight the giant and be slain.
The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt. We get even very young children to come sit on stage as the animals in the mitten.
Rooster Brother by Nonnie Hogrogian. We sit four people on chairs on stage to play the baker, the tailor, the watch-maker and the bathhouse attendant, while two join one of us to come in at appointed times as the thieves. This becomes a half-hour event.

14) I have been having a lot of fun lately with "The Princess & the Ogre," originally written by Natalie Babbitt, adapted for telling by Kaye Lindauer, which is included in Joining In: An Anthology of Audience Participation Stories and How to Tell Them. The participatory part of the story includes a series of word games - rebuses, anagrams, etc. and also a certain amount of brainstorming - "What do you think she will try to do next?" and it is great for older elementary-aged kids. I have used it with a kindergarten to sixth grade audience, and I didn't notice the youngest kids acting as if they felt out of it, although I had worried about using a story that relies so much on an ability to read when there were a few non-readers in the audience. I think the story and the guessing carried them, even if they weren't the ones who solved the puzzle. But I think it works best for 3rd through 6th grade, and I think it is ideal for library telling, where the audience usually sits close to the teller.

15) I love so many that have been listed - and think it was Crazy Gibberish: And Other Story Hour Stretches where I found "Queen with The Cold, Cold Heart," where every time a character is named there is a motion and sound to go with it. Queen - shiver, brr: Wicked Wizard- rub hands, heh,heh, heh, etc. From using Queen, I've built other stories with kids making up their own sounds and actions to tell a story.

16) "Tiki-Piki Boom-Boom," a Jamaican folktale (I don't have a primary source for this story).
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock - I base my version on Eric Kimmel's book.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (I got the publisher's permission)
"Anansi and the Hat-Shaking Dance" - I believe it's in The Cow-Tail Switch: And Other West African Stories by Courlander.
Lazy Jack - Appalacian Folktale.
The Gunniwolf, a folktale retold by Wilhelmina Harper.
"Darby the Tailor" - my Irish version of the tailor story (coat - vest - hat...)
There is a delightful little book by Bethany Roberts called Waiting-for-spring stories. The stories are short and you can holidize them and add lots of fun participation.

"Turtle of Koka" in Storyteller's Start-Up Book by M.R .MacDonald--it was one of the first stories I learned, and is still one of my favorites.

18) Sonny Boy (I think that's the title) in Crazy Gibberish: And Other Story Hour Stretches by Baltuck. It's my newest and the kids really like it! The kids all act out the various parts in the story.

19) The Story Coat (what I call it), the folktale about the man who keeps cutting off his coat til there's only a thread left.

20) Mud, a story learned from a Florida teller, in which I use my raccoon puppet.

21) Sody Sallyratus, also already mentioned. I tell it with the kids as actors, and include the little song too.

22) The Wide Mouth Frog a Tale Retold, with the big puppet. He asks audience members what they like to eat (when he's not flirting and generally raising hell).

23) Uwungalema, with the turtle puppet and a small drum. Kids act out the various parts and playing the drum. This one is a real favorite too.

24) Old Woman Who Lived In a Vinegar Bottle is a favorite with my granddaughters. "she went here, she went there, she went everywhere." The children chime right in.

25) Turn Me Over, a good story for Halloween, is wonderful for lots of audiences. I believe there's a version by Doug Lipman in The Ghost & I: Scary Stories for Participatory Telling (or maybe it's in Joining In: An Anthology of Audience Participation Stories and How to Tell Them--I can't remember).

Another one I used this year is The Magic Fish: The Fisherman and His Wife, also known as The Fisherman and His Wife. The children chant, "Magic Fish, Magic Fish, we have a wish."

27) Hunny Bunny by Ed Stivender found in Ready-To-Tell Tales (American Storytelling) by Holt and Mooney"...and me, I just lay low."

28) Annette Harrison's Easy-To-Tell Stories for Young Children has some of my favorites: Little Red House -- I have the children play the boy and mom and the people he visits, and we sing the song about the house -- and Butterfly Brothers -- children play the flowers and the butterfly brothers (and sisters). Annette has a song for that one, but I don't know it. I also love The Noisy House, especially as the first story if the group is a bit noisy to start out. I remember one time when a boy (whose desk had held a "daily behavior report form" so I really wanted him to have a good day) wanted to be the monkey, so of course he was. You know, that family liked the monkey so well that when they put the other animals back in the barn, they kept the monkey with them.

29) My style of performance is mainly having audience participation with both songs and stories. Here's a partial list of the tales or song/story combinations I use:
The Foolish Frog (my adaption of Pete Seeger's version)
Sody Sallyratus
How Br'er Rabbit Helped Br'er Coon Outwit Them Frogs
How Br'er Rabbit Got Sis Bear's Turkeys

The Talented Tailor (
Just Enough to Make a Story: A Sourcebook for Storytelling)/What'll I Do? (song by Paul Kaplan)
Not Our Problem from Peace Tales by Margaret Read MacDonald.
Horton Hatches the Egg (Classic Seuss)
Peace Tales by Margaret Read MacDonald.
Far Too Much Noise
(my adaption completely in rhyme of The Crowded House which has been published in an anthology - The Care Treasury of Children's Folklore (Care), Brian Sockin, ed. Berkley Press, c.1995)

30) There are 75 group participation stories listed at this website, including the text of the stories:

31) Listen ! and Help Tell the Story by Bernice Wells Carlson, Abingdon Press NY, 1965. This title is probably out of print. It has a section called Stories With Sound Effects that includes the group participation stories.

32) Sound and Action Stories by Jerry Mallet, Hagerstown, MD, 1992. It's a collection of 20 audience-participation stories with sound effects.

Shake-It-Up Tales! by Margaret Read MacDonald. Special Distinction Pegasus Award winner.

34) Yellow Moon's Joining In: An Anthology of Audience Participation Stories and How to Tell Them (ed Norma Livo) and The Ghost & I: Scary Stories for Participatory Telling (ed Jennifer Justice), which pioneered dividing the page into a column for story text and a column of advice for the teller on how to elicit and model the audience's participation. The stories come from a wide range of tellers and include everything from pK silly stuff to some things which work well with adults and even stodgy middleschoolers.

Christmas stories for 6th graders: Santa Visits the Moes, from Ready-To-Tell Tales (American Storytelling) to a wide variety of audiences, from very young to senior citizens. It runs about 6 minutes and a candle stick and candle can be used as props, also some jingle bells for when Santa approaches. Listeners love trying to blow out the candle as the story moves along. It is also known as The Twist Mouth Family but this version has Santa come to the rescue instead of a policeman.

36) Voice Game: Ask for volunteers: Say "I lost my homework" with the following emotion/tone of voice.

37) Gestures: Pantomime - volunteers
Pick cards and have children/adults act out what it says. It can be anything from washing windows, planting a garden, driving a car, etc.

38) Have children/adults make a circle. They walk around in the circle as you call out suggestions. They must then use their bodies to act out the emotions in these or other sentences.
o Walking home from school knowing chores are waiting
o Across the school yard after a foot of snow has fallen
o Barefoot through a very thick and squishy swamp
o Through a blistering hot desert
o With your right foot in a cast
o Walking through honey
Pass the Face

39) Have adults/children sit in a circle. You begin by making a face at the person to your right. They mimic it back to you, turn to the next person and make a new face who mimics it back, turns and makes another face to the person next to them...and so on until the circle is complete. I did this at a workshop and everyone was cracking up. A good way to show how to use facial gestures.

Fantasy Trunk
Pretend to place a huge trunk in the middle of the floor. The volunteers walk around the imaginary trunk chanting "Fantasy trunk, fantasy trunk, spark my imagination but please no junk." (I changed the words of the original a bit.) One person reaches in, pulls something out (which is of course invisible) and with no words mimes to the audience what it is. The audience tries to guess what the object is.

41) Story Bag
Fill a bag, any kind, with objects of various shapes, sizes and uses. The audience decides:
Where to set the story? i.e. place
Who is in the story?
Time of story: past, present, future
Season of story: spring/summer/winter fall
Place: castle, forest, ocean, beach etc.
What is the problem that needs to be solved?
Will there be magic in the story?
You begin the story then have an audience member come up and pick out an object from the bag. They must then incorporate the object into the story. At some point you can decide when the story needs to be ending and let the last person know that they have to finish the tale. I only have one rule when doing this with children, no violence. This game is a favorite with my afte- school kids.

First have the audience practice " Ooooo ooooo "
Also have the audience go " Ooooo ooooo " After each line.
"There was an old woman, all skin and bones. " Ooooo ooooo
"She went to the graveyard, all alone. " Ooooo ooooo
"She looked up and she looked down. " Ooooo ooooo
"Rotting corpses all around. " Ooooo ooooo
"The worms crawled here the worms crawled there. " Ooooo ooooo
"Putrid, stinky smells filled the air. " Ooooo ooooo
"She went to the Sexton and to the Sexton said, " Ooooo ooooo
"Will I look like that when I am dead?" " Ooooo ooooo
"The Sexton to the woman said, " Ooooo ooooo
"Yes, you will look like that when you are dead." Ooooo ooooo
"The woman to the Sexton said,"
[JUMP AND SHOUT] "Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!"

43) One more word about audience participation. I have found that once I have invited the audience to participate, they do NOT give up that right. During the next story, I hear comments and suggestions from the audience because they have received permission to be part of the story. I love this. However, a word of caution, if I have included a story that I want young listeners to participate internally and simply listen and experience it, I put that story first in my program BEFORE the audience participation story because once kids start participating, they don't stop!

44) Though I'm a relatively new teller (and mind you the following is from my experience; I'm sure others will have different opinions). Some of this will alert you to the fact that I'm definitely *not* a saint, at least in my thoughts, when it comes to dealing with kids :-). Here are some thoughts about participation stories in general, and about Rose's questions. I learned pretty quickly that:

Once you welcome kids into telling a story(ies), they may not abdicate all that gracefully. They (most) love being part of the 'show' and respond to having a chance to speak, especially when they don't have to worry about getting it 'wrong'. I've had the experience where I've thought that some kid would *never* shut up, and if I thought it would help, would have put a bucket over his head, and yet there were other kids who wouldn't say a word (especially if their parents or teacher were in the room).

Teens (most) *do* worry about getting it wrong, and about looking foolish to their peers. But participation is a wonderful way to bond an audience, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a 'story' that does it. An activity, exercise, music (that *they* relate to), or listening; an opportunity to be heard, *really* heard, can open the way to creating a safe and free space, and can lead to participation. Obviously this doesn't happen in one shot. But I think the 'caveat here is: "What's the point? What's the point of participation? How blankety-blank *cute* and pointless does it have to be? And why do we have to do this anyway?" Well, you get the point. Carolyn Myss tells a story about discussing body-piercing with some rather insolent, totally pierced teens, who opened up to her completely when they realized she was genuinely interested in their motives and agendas. As they talked, she realized they had no concept of the cultural or spiritual significance of piercing, or of spirituality in general; she was willing to spend time with them talking about it, and they so craved the non-judgmental contact, they were willing to listen and to talk about what it meant to them. I'm sure they shared some great stories. Ironic, that with everything else being so fast in their lives, learning and gaining trust and elevating esteem can be a slow process.

Adults (most), on the other hand, have forgotten how wonderfully freeing it is to be foolish in public, and all's fair in inviting them to participate, as long as it's good-natured and doesn't 'single out' or embarass (we got enough of that in school, and no matter our ages, some of those 'wounds' still feel fresh and have affected us all our lives): prodding, cajoling, 'do-over's', "aw, come on"'s, even begging (I'm not proud :-) ), and being willing to go on and look foolish all by myself if no one else will play. If I'm (as a 'fellow adult') willing to be silly and vulnerable, maybe it's ok. Even with the most reluctant adult audience, once they hear the participation part a second tme, the sympathy vote will kick in, and when that happens, by the third time, they begin to enjoy themselves and even anticipate the next time their part appears in the story. So, with adult audiences, I usually give them more opportunities in one story to join in because it takes them longer to feel comfortable, and I don't want the story to end before they've had a full experience; I don't want to cut short the process of reluctance, embarassed sympathy ("poor thing; she's doing it all alone"), "well, maybe this one time", "that wasn't so bad and everyone else is starting to do it", "this is kinda fun", "ok, here comes the part again", "hey, I can do this", "this is fun; I'm having a good time", "that was really fun", and everyone chatters for a while afterwards .... just checking in to make sure they weren't the only one who actually *liked* it. With adults, I actually like beginning a program with a participation story. Maybe not the first story (that might be a very short humorous story) but at least early on in the program. They 'bond' as a group, and after that will follow me down some more 'touchy' paths.

With kids, I may not tell a participation story until a little later, before the 'wiggles' set in. I try to get them at their peak listening time early on. I've found with kids, that if I say something like: "this is a story you can help me tell" or "that has a part for you" and "this story is a 'listening story' and you can help by listening so everyone can hear", they usually get it.
Again, I've said "most" and "usually" because it all depends on the audience. I try to tune in, put up the 'antenna' and get a feeling for what the energy in the space is like. I usually know beforehand what I'd like to tell, but sometimes that has to change if it doesn't 'feel' right. Sometimes people just don't *feel* like participating; they just want to sit back and listen, and that's ok too.

45) When I start my program, I inform the children that I will have some stories that I want them to join in and participate. I tell them that when I want them to join in, I will (then I demonstrate hand signals like a beckoning motion or putting my hand cupped to my ear to gear them). I say when you see me do this, do what I do and say what I say. Then I cup my hand to my ear and say OK? The children then mimic "OK."

When I get to the reptile portion of the story where I want them to participate, I give the hand signal and they join in. About the 3rd repetition, they are already joining in with out the need of the signal. I have never had difficulty with them stopping participation because once the repetition is over, they want to hear the rest of the story. UNTIL I tried my latest participation story. A lion goes for a walk and as he walks, I have the children move their arms and sing, "He walked and he walked and he walked and he walked:" When I went to continue the story, they were still singing "And he walked, and he walked , etc" I didn't know what to do. Then with my hand, I made a "cut motion" and they stopped immediately.

So I have added that into my hand motion bag of tricks. When the participation gets away from me, I just give the "cut" signal and it stops. I don't divide my stories into participation and non-participation. I just know which of my stories are and are not. As I do allot of day care and wee ones, my children's story repertoire is predominately participation stories. Also when performing for lower grades in schools, I always put in at least one participation story towards the end of the program. It lets the kids move and keeps their attention.

46) When Itold to 3rd and 4th graders, my friend told a story with no audience participation, then Itold a story where i invited them to suggest ideas at one point near the end, and then we finished with Dame Ragnell, and had a handful of kids come up and put on crowns and masks and swords and act out the story. When King Arthur and his knight ask at different towns what women want, we asked the audience what they thought. (Best answer: "Beer and pantyhose" giggle...)

So we kind of worked up to it. (And if there was an extra five minutes, and the kids wanted to-- and they always wanted to-- we quick did a version where king arthur was away and the queen had to find out "What do teachers want" with her lady in waiting. meant more ofthe kids got to participate, too, and they thought it was hilarious because they already knew the structure of the story, and so we could do it at double speed...)

Which meant they were all worked up for the next period. heh heh heh.

47) One has to set up the rules in advance, but by demonstration and game-playing rather than trying to tell rules to anyone. I was given such a beautiful demonstration of this that I wrote about it, in response to a similar question, back in the early days of Storytell - in 1995. And if you think you've got it hard shutting kids up, imagine having to achieve that without saying a word! Here's how...


a) Stefani K. wrote:
I was putting myself in the postion of parent or teacher, giving my storytelling rules of conduct. Then switching to this fun story lady who wanted them to participate and make noises when called for and feel comfortable playing with me in my telling.

b) I'd like to tell you all about someone I saw who did something related to this, and it worked so well it was stunning. I can't say it was exactly storytelling, although it was in its way. Even if you don't do exactly what he did, you can be sure that the principle works.

His name is Kevin Brooking, that's it. Anyway he is an excellent clown, a Fool. I don't want you to get the idea of a guy in big boots and a red nose doing stupid embarrassing things. He does simple things in simple dress, and in silence - not a word, and you can see straight into his mind as if it were a fishbowl. He just plays, and discovers beauty in everything. I can't describe it of course, but his attitude of discovery and joy is important - his audience shares in his discoveries, and therefore stay in the palm of his hand.

To get to the point: He pulled out of his pocket a smallish brown paper bag, and held it up, open. Then he pursed his lips and made a whistle sound at us. He gestured to make it obvious he wanted us to do the same. Cautiously some people whistled, quite softly like him, until lots of us joined in. Then he started making grabbing motions at the air towards us, grabbing the sounds, and putting them into his bag. He grabbed lots of these invisible whistle sounds, from all parts of the audience, putting each one in the bag.

Then came the magic. He held the bag up, looked at it, looked at us, looked at it again, and began to slowly close the neck of the bag, looking again at us to check what we would do. Without any instruction whatsoever our whistles began to get softer as the bag closed. It was so clear that our whistles were in the bag, that closing the bag meant we couldn't hear them. He played a bit, opening it again, and our whistles got louder, then finally closed it. Then he put up his finger for us to stay silent (you could hear a pin drop, there was no way anyone could have carried on making a noise), while he opened the bag and looked in. Then he drew out....a whistle, a Penny whistle! He then discovered that it made whistling noises - all our whistles had condensed by magic into a solid whistle. What joy!

That was just one little sequence in his show. But having got us to make noises, some people felt like making some later on as well. He couldn't tell anyone to be quiet since he was a mime. All he had to do, was to whip out his paper bag from his pocket, make grabs toward the person being noisy, put all the noises in the bag and put it away. It worked every time, and was so simple and fun that everyone wanted to play his game - nobody wanted to go against it.

The point for me to learn from was that he encouraged noisy participation, but on his own terms. And then had a way of turning the volume to whatever he wanted, including off. Because this was so delightfully silly, but magical too (everyone was amazed at what he had achieved without any verbal instructions or even hints), his control lasted the whole performance. He made the act of keeping quiet into an exquisite game. Who could resist?
Tim S. England

One way to make participation stories out of regular stories is to have something the audience does/says/noise when a character is mentioned. Having several of these in a story makes for some fun.

49) Several years ago when I did a school residency I began by asking each child to get up in front of the rest and tell a knock-knock joke or ask the audience of the other kids a riddle without any practice before-hand.
For example:
CHILD: Knock-knock.
GROUP: Who's there?
CHILD: Boo hoo!
GROUP: Boo hoo who?
CHILD: Why are you all crying?
CHILD: What cereal to ghosts eat?
GROUP: We don't know. What?
CHILD: Ghost Toasties!
After that we discussed what made a good telling and how they could have made their jokes and riddles better. We discussed diction, posture, confidence, expression, gestures, etc. Then, after everyone had a turn, I had them work with a partner on walking up confidently, pausing to get themselves and the audience ready, introducing themselves and announcing their piece ("I'm Nicole and here is my knock-knock joke"), speaking with good diction and expression, putting in relevant gestures and facial expressions, waiting for the audience's reaction, taking a small bow, and confidently walking off. After this rehearsal the whole group took turns repeating their knock-knock or riddle. In both cases I had the audience learn the polite way of applauding each colleague's efforts, no matter how lame the presentation. You might even use a video camera and tape befores and afters. I will tell you that these were 1st and 2nd graders so this may or may not be too simple an approach for your group, but maybe not. This may be a good way to start before they get into longer, more complicated pieces.

I often ask workshop participants (kids or adults) to pretend they are one of the characters in the story (works best if the characters are animals). Then I ask them to walk around the room moving like the character. Next I ask them to roar, chirp, or do whatever the animal would do. Participants usually really get into the exercise and it gets them into assuming the characteristics of the character!

For those interested in participation stories, especially within foreign language teaching, I have just uploaded an article from "Primary English", a new magazine here in Germany for teaching English to 6- to 10-year-olds.

52) I would suggest Queen with a Cold Cold Heart from Crazy Gibberish: And Other Story Hour Stretches for one of the stories. It's about 7-8 minutes easy to learn and full of audience participation.

53) Caps for Sale Book and CD: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business (Share a Story) (I had half the kids be townsfolk who first eagerly bought caps, but then another day gave excuses for why they couldn't or didn't want to; other half, of course, are monkeys)


Since we only used imaginary hats, we were troubled only by imaginary lice -- which always vanish at the first scratch. Monkeys, of course, scratch as part of their characterization. But they usually scratch their ribs while saying Oo oo oo.
The Story of a Pumpkin
(in The Ghost & I, The Ghost & I: Scary Stories for Participatory Telling) has two individual characters -- can be adults or your two best talkers -- and four groups.
Sody Sallyratus is formulaic enough for 1st graders to act out in individual roles. Let them practice by taking turns being the Bear, Squirrel etc.
Any other tale with repeated formulaic encounters (3 Billy/Nanny Goats Gruff), The Wide Mouth Frog a Tale Retold, The King's Extraordinary Cat, etc.
Another ritual they enjoy is Mr Wiggle & Mr Waggle (I say Joe & Jane, you can invert your own version). They want to do it again each time you visit the classroom!

54) The Enormous Turnip (which is probably the same story as the Great Pumpkin suggested by Faye) I print out pictures using Printshop of a farmer, cow, dog, pig and mouse. Laminate them, punch holes in the top and string yarn so they can slip over the children's neck. I call them up as I need them and we all help pull up the turnip. I actually use Dianne de Las Casas' version called Pulling Up The Sweet Potato. The children love this story.
Also, Stone Soup (Stories to Go!) or Nail Soup. I bring in a big pot with plastic veggies and spices. (you can find these at toy stores or craft stores.) I let the children be the townspeople and come up as I call them to add their items to the pot.
Mabela the Clever - the children sing the chant with me but if this is a skit they could be the mice following Mabela and one could be the cat. This folktale is now in book from by Margaret Read MacDonald.
Response: ...that was Fran who suggested the Pumpkin Story. I'm not sure that it's the same as the The Enormous Turnip. There's another Pumpkin story about Feegbah, the enormous pumpkin--not sure if that's the one Fran's in Pleasant DeSpain's Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell (American Storytelling) collection. I have a little chant and hand jive I do when I tell that one--fun for joining in. For those of you doing Caps for Sale Book and CD: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business (Share a Story), check out The Hatseller And The Monkeys by Diakite...same story set in Africa. Variations include the making of the hats and the reason the hatseller fell asleep (didn't eat breakfast).

55) There's a picture book called The Happy Hedgehog Band by Martin Waddell that I used once in a similar situation.

56) Who Is In Rabbit's House?
Fat Cat: A Danish Folktale - revise it to include large groups of children
I use refrain: Where are you going my little cat? And why are you so fat? so fat? and have children say it.
The Little Red Hen (Little Golden Book)

57) All year I've been working with the Title I teacher at my local school and a group of first graders. After I told them The Little Old Woman Who Hated Housework from Margaret Read MacDonald's Shake-It-Up Tales! we acted it out. We had a great time! We had about ten kids in the group that day so we just doubled up the number of fairies for each task. Lots of great repetitive phrases in this story and the kids took great glee in pushing the little old woman back in her chair and shouting, "Sit down! Sit down! You'll work no more!" We just had to caution them not to push too hard!

58) Rabbit and the Wolves (A Grandmother's Story) works well. It's found in Margaret Read MacDonald and in Pleasant DeSpain.
Rabbit tricks wolves by telling them he's so small, there'd only be one bite apiece for so many wolves, so they should have a dancing contest to see who gets to eat rabbit. You can have students be the wolves with audience members coming up with what simple gestures should be in the "dance." By the end of the "contest" rabbit has worked his way to the safety of his friend groundhog's den.

59) I have got two surefire stories for the youngest listeners, that are 3-5 year old. The first one is any kind of version of The Enormous Turnip. My "original" version is about a farmer planting tiny carrot seeds. He waters and cares for them. Doesn't know when they are ready, as they grow inside the dirt. Finally tries to pull up one, tastes it - it's great! Wants another, pulls it up, tastes - it's gorgeous. Wants a third, pulls ... and pulls ... and puuuuulls. But he can't get it up, because it has grown waaaay to big for a single man to get out from the ground. (Then I've got a 'nah-nah-nah'-rhyme the carrot sings about itself). So the farmer needs a helping hand - "who shall he ask?" - "his wife? - okay" - "Wi-ife, come and help me!". And the woman comes and puts her arms around the farmers belly, the farmer grabs the tops - and now they are "how many? - TWO!". And they pull, and the puullll, and they puuuuullll - but they can't get the carrot up the ground... (nah-nah-nah). They need more help. "who?" "Pippi Longstocking - the strongest girl in the world" "Okey" "how many?"... and so on... [The children start pulling even without asking them to do so!] [Everyone needs to grab the person in front of him in his own way - "a magic mirror" - ... "and the magic mirror had two magic hands that reached out, the mirror put his hands around the tractor's back tires, and the tractor had his steering wheel around the chairs back, and the chair stretched two legs around... (been there, done that!!)] Finally a tiny ant comes by, wants to help - and they get the carrot from the earth. And they eat and eat and eat... Priscilla Howe has got her Bulgarian version of this story on her tape "The Ghost with One Black Eye".
I use that story in any kind of settings. One is at Christmas time. And the heavy thing is Father Christmas, who has sneaked down the cellar to eat all the Christmas food and goodies, and Mother Christmas tries to PULL him up.

60) Go for songs and fingerplays.
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed, five little monkeys in a tree, etc.
Caps for Sale Book and CD: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business (Share a Story) - picture book
The Grouchy Ladybug - picture book by Eric Caryle
Curious Furious Lion - story in a book called Talking Time Second Edition
Jump and Jiggle - a poem by Dorothy Aldis.
Frogs jump, Caterpillars Hump, Worms Wiggle, Bugs jiggle.
Mice creep, deer leap, snakes slide, swans (or snakes) glide.
Puppies bounce, kittens pounce, lions stalk, but I walk.
I tell it as a flannel story. It could also be told by giving students pictures of the various animals and having them hold them up at the appropriate time. Not time to find pictures? Ask teacher ahead of time to have students draw pictures and make stick puppets or draw them on paper plates.

Grandma's Cookies
A Lion came to supper, a stout red lion, mind
And a green and red striped tiger came very close behind
A blue and silver rabbit and a yellow spotted bear.
But nobody spilled their milk or tumbled off a chair
And no one screamed or made a fuss
Because they were animal cookies
That Grandma made for us!

I use individual participation in some of my stories. This is how I introduce it. I tell the students that I will need some help. (Every hand goes up.) I tell them not yet, put their hands down, this is the kind of help I need. "I need helpers who raise their hands quietly. I need helpers who can listen carefully and follow directions. I need helps who won't giggle, laugh or poke their neighbor. And if they feel they can't be that kind of a helper, please just keep your hands in your lap." It works. Sometimes I ask one of the teachers to select a helper for me and tell her what kind of a helper I need.
Rose O.

62) Query: Like many of you I use audience participation in some of my stories. In some cases actually calling the children up from the audience to be part of the story. Here is my question. When you choose to do so do you:
a) Invite the volunteers up as you tell the story, selecting them at the proper time?
b) Gather the volunteers all together before you begin the story so they are already with you when you need them to jump in?

I have always used the first example but find that it can sometimes disrupt the flow of the story. Anyone ever tried the second example? If so, how did it work? Were the children a bit antsy as they waited for their cue?
Karen C. 12/11/05


a) I've also only used method a). My fears with the other method (admittedly unjustified as I've not tried it) are that the kids selected would be hanging around waiting at the front and be more of a potential disturbance.
Moreover, with the first method, all kids know that they still have a chance of being selected - i.e. no one is already disappointed at the beginning of the story. However, it might have advantages, too.
Richard M. 12/11/05

b)I ask the school sectretary, to pick average kids, who would do well, and enjoy the experience..that includes special education. I don't ask the teachers, I give me the names of the gifted kids, no complaint about gifted kids, but they usually get enough praise. I then make a big deal of getting the kids names thru mind reading,

Before the story, I tell them quickly my signal. If it is spur of the moment it has been my experiences kids do better than thinking about it. The stories I use the kids for they have little repetitive parts. If a kid balks, I keep them up there by me and usually they say things with me. If a kid does not wish to come up, I never force them, I just say "OK thanks, anyway! Afterwards, I give them a pencil and thank them again when they leave the gym.
Jim F. 12/11/05

Response to above: I like the way you think. The secretary often knows who needs perking up. I'm sure the story also helps determine whether you need everyone at once or one by one.
Mary G. 12/11/05

c) I always gather the participators ahead of time; when I do family venues, that could even be an adult or two. Ex: "This is the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants. Who could be Father Ant?" up he comes. "I need a Grasshopper...", and on and on until I have all the characters needed. Then I quickly put them in place and give any instructions needed: "you little ants will be marching. Can you all march in place without going anywhere?" The participants are usally so engaged in listening and watching as their story comes alive, that they don't get 'antsy' (ha!) at all.
Linda K.P. 12/11/05

d) I've usually done the latter - but I've only done this in a classroom setting. Never had a problem with them getting antsy - seems to me they were usually busy listening to the story so they could come in at the appropriate time. (Keep in mind that these classses were usually drama-oriented, and a certain amount of controlled chaos was the order of the day) In a bigger venue, I'd definitely get them all up there first - otherwise it slows the story down too much.
Kimberley K. 12/12/05

63) NEW QUERY 7/2/06:
I always try to include some participation for audience members in my performances. When doing Mother Goose, I invite the audience to say the rhymes along with me, and I teach them some of the songs, and we sing together. Other programs always include some well known songs, which the audience readily joins in on. I also "converse" some with the audience--asking them questions and requesting a show of hands or a vocal response. On some stories, there is a refrain that the children participate in. If I feel the children have been sitting too long, we do a physically active song together. After my performances, I get out the puppets I have used, and the children are invited up to pet them.

On some of my feedback sheets, I ask the question: "Was there anything you wish I had included in the program?" I've gotten some very useful answers to this question, which have helped me make my programs better. I've received several responses that say "more audience participation" in answer to this question. I always feel puzzled by this suggestion, because I DO have audience participation in all my programs, and if the audience members are listening well (and usually they are) I consider listening a form of participation.

I've watched other storytellers and performers who get the children up in front to "perform" some of the story, and while I enjoy watching this sort of participation, it really isn't my style. But after receiving this suggestion on several feedback sheets, I'm wondering if I should change my style? I actually feel that the rapt attention I get (listening intently) is the BEST kind of participation a storyteller can ask for. Especially if I'm telling to pre-K or Kindergarten children, I feel group participation is better than singling out a few children to act in my story.

I'm throwing this out to you, dear colleagues. What do you think?
Judith W. 7/2/06


a) Yes, I agree, listening is participation. However, I have found that one or two stories in a program that allows some of the audience members to "be part of the story," as in come up and take a role in the tale, works well. Usually, in stories of that nature, I also have something that the remaining audience members can help out with, such as a specific song, rhyme or chant in various parts of the story, that way no one feels left out.

I always preface it by telling the children that although everyone can't be on stage with me, they are all very important to the story because they have a job to do as well. Then I teach the song/chant, etc., and have them repeat it before I begin.

If you are receiving that suggestion a lot on your evaluation forms I might consider adding one or two to your repertoire, especially for those times when the audience might seem to have a lot of unexpended energy. Even those who remain sitting seem to use a lot of their pent up energy because they are listening intently for their turn to chime in.

I didn't always use this kind of participation but now that I am comfortable with it I rarely plan a program where it doesn't include at least one story of that nature.
Karen C. 7/2/06

b) I would agree with this as far as I go as a storyteller. I don't do much in the way of "active participation" stories with audiences. I do participation with Caps for Sale (I use teachers instead of kids) and my many versions of The Enormous Turnip, but that it about it. But I think that it depends on the style of the storyteller and how comfortable they are with "herding cookie crumblers". Usually I tell students in my classes that THEY are the determining factor on what type of teller they become. If you want to use puppets, use puppets, if you love to get the kids up front, do it! After twenty some years of telling I have tried many different approaches and have attempted to find the "Mode" that I feel most comfortable. . . That allows me to communicate best with the audience.
Steve O. 7/3/06

c) My experience has been very different from that of most responders to this thread. I use a wide variety of participation styles, and find good response to them. I agree that much depends on the teller and his/her degree of comfort, and with audience control techniques.

I often get gigs because I use puppets and other props in storytelling with children. There are groups who want that interactive experience for their audiences, and/or are looking for something different. I also use many songs with parts for audience participation. And I use group and individual participation. All can and do work, depending on the story, the setting, the planning and practice, and my willingness to expend the energy it takes for this kind of storytelling.

Of course, there are those kids who are shy and mum when they are up front. There are ways to handle this gracefully while still allowing them to be "stars." And there are the ones disappointed if they are chosen to come up front.

I, like many other tellers, make sure the audience has a part in these stories. I think there are valid arguments both ways, but there is validity to choosing to have only a few children participate out of a group. Children need to know that they will not always be chosen but can enjoy seeing their classmates shine. If I use individual participation, I also include songs and stories that include group participation. It's a balancing act, no doubt, but in the end everyone has a great time. And kids love to see their classmates acting out a part. Who doesn't enjoy watching a play? Not everyone can participate, but everyone can enjoy the action!

The value of this is that the stimulus is varied enough to keep lively attention from the entire group. Questions, songs, movement, deep listening, chants, etc can combine to make a strong performance that keeps all in the group engaged and involving a multitude of learning styles.

Adults too.This summer in the parks I have a display that feeds into my stories--items that add to audience understanding or appreciation of the stories I'm telling. I ask questions of the audience about their experience or knowledge of the items as I tell the stories. For example, a butter churn, or my infamous bottle of turpentine, the skinning board, a coal miner's hat, carbide lamp and scrip, family photos, quilts, etc. It's a conversational, informal performance, more like the front porch conversations that are still common in the mountains.

And ballads--I use several, and folks love to join in on refrains. It's how the songs were sung in the mountains for years past, still as enjoyable today as it was 50 years ago. These events have been very successful, and often it's an hour after the show before my husband and I can pack up and leave because people want to talk, telling their stories, sharing their longing to live in the mountains, asking questions, etc. We don't mind at all because we often learn much and meet such good people after the shows. It's all part of the experience, and I'm honored that folks want to talk.

I've often wondered if perhaps the reason I use so much participation is my background as one in a very large family, and as a librarian. And that I have no theatre background, so I look at the word "performance" differently--it's not an individual activity in my mind, but something that involves everyone in the audience. It's not about my personal perfection, but about the total involvement and satisfaction of the entire group. I'm not sure if I'm saying this right, but maybe it makes some sense?
Granny Sue 7/3/06

d) I totalling agree about the group participation. The teller is opening his/herself open to all kinds of situations by asking individuals to help with a story. Yes, I've seen it done and done well, but that's not my style, either. The other consideration is in picking certain children, others feel left out. I just prefer the group.

I've worked on certain cues with my body and voice that let's them know that is okay to join in. Othertimes, I practice a refrain ahead of time. I often say that there will parts in the story that they will want to join in on and to feel free to do so.

I had a problem with one group participation...I had them make a popping noise with me...problem...they wouldn't stop making the popping noise. So I practiced ahead of time. "When the door opens, make the popping noise (all popping) but when the door closes we all stop," I practice once, and ,when I close the door, I put my finger to my lips. It seems to work. The same with thunder claps...they kept on clapping. So it became the thunder clapped...with one clap. In one story I have the children scream. Whoa! They can pierce your ears. So, I put my hand over my mouth to muffle the scream and that works beautifully.

I think the biggest problem I've seen in group participation is when the teller changes the refrain. The kids are expecting to say one thing and the teller says something else. It all kind of falls apart. I have a story where the end word changes each time. I tell them that ahead of time and when the time comes, my body language tells them what the word is. It's kind of hard to explain in words. Also, tellers need to practice the pause-gesture that you give the audience right before participation. I've seen some tellers rush right into the participation and the audience just is not ready...again it falls apart. If a refrain is long, I break it up into two or three parts when I'm practicing ahead of time and then say it together. Also, a snapping or clapping along helps them to remember it.

Okay, can we all say, "Time for another cup of coffee,"
Marilyn K. 7/3/06

e) I understand your concerns, which is why when I use a participation story, where the children volunteer to help (I would never select a child who hasn't raised their hand), I preface it by stressing that they are all a part of the story. That is where a chant, song, etc., they can all join in on, alleviates that "left out" feeling. I also make sure to thank the audience members for their help at the end of the story.

As for signals to start or stop, yes, I agree wholeheartedly about using very specific cues, it helps the teller, and the audience!
Karen C. 7/3/06

f) I know that lots of storytellers bring kids up front to be part of the story. I don't, and I have a very specific personal reason why not. I was a very shy kid (and often can be a shy adult, though some of you won't believe that). The few times we had performers in school, I was afraid I'd get picked. Then I was afraid I wouldn't. Then I was afraid that whoever got picked would be embarrassed in front of the group and I would feel that embarrassment. Because of this, I only do audience participation from the safety of the group--kids raise their hands to make suggestions, or we do something all together, probably much as you describe about your own work. Only in workshops or if we're playing story games do I bring kids up in front.

A few years ago, I had inner confirmation about this. I was at a workshop given by the amazing Ella Jenkins, the children's musician who has been recording since 1956. She had people come up on stage to count to ten in another language. I put my hand up. Once on the stage I felt exactly as I did when I was a kid, completely terrified. Then she had us do another activity up there. Yikes! It was so weird! I have been storytelling living full-time since 1993, and for 5 years before that as a librarian, and I very rarely have stage fright. I've been on the Exchange Place stage at Jonesborough (the estimate was 1700 listeners in that tent), and I regularly have audiences of 250-300. Ella Jenkins' audience was made up mostly of child-care professionals, people who come to my workshops, people I"m comfortable with. Yet my knees were shaking, my face was red, and if I could have, I would have bolted. As I stood there, I remembered that this is why I don't bring kids up in front of the group--just for the few who were like me.

I really don't mind if other performers bring kids up in front of the group. This is only to give another perspective.
Priscilla H. 6/3/06

64) NEW QUERY 7/11/08:
I drove three hours and told at two libraries (morning and afternoon) then drove back. I'm tired, but happy. Had a small very young group this morning, and large mixed group in the afternoon. Both groups were great audiences!

The Reading Bug programs are going well, but I'm frustrated by suggestions that I need to put MORE audience participation in my program. As it is, the program is 45 minutes long (and that is shortened from what I originally created--it was too long). In this program the children join me in singing two songs that they already know, dance with me to an upbeat piece I composed called "The Buggy Ball" and respond to four direct questions in three different stories. Still, my feedback sheets mention that I need "more audience participation." This is so frustrating for me: I find I cannot ask for the children to say things that I need to play off of, because I can't understand what most of them say (even with hearing aids, I still have difficulty understanding). I also don't want to take any of the stories OUT of my program or shorten it any more, and if I add more participation, the program would be way too long! I've asked Storytell members about this before, and tried out a participation story in which I selected some children to "help" me tell the story by acting it out, but I felt so uncomfortable doing it that I only performed it once.

I'm ending my program with a 7-minute story that I tell in my "Waldorf" voice, and usually the children are very quiet and attentive for this story. It does not have any audience participation except for their listening (which I consider "participation"). Maybe adults who are listening don't appreciate this kind of story--they want glitz and silliness?
Any thoughts?
Judith W. 7/11/08


a) In my participation stories, I give the repeated lines to the audience.
For example, in Three Billy Goats Gruff, first I say the troll's line (Who's that trip-tripping on MY bridge?), in a troll voice, then I say in my own voice, prompting the audience: "That's your line. Let's do it again." This doesn't take much time and the kids are not coming up with things you need to hear, nor do they leave their places.

I also get the kids to do sound effects -- animal noises, or clapping or slapping their thighs for drumming. I used to bring a drum, but now I prefer just to slap my thighs and the kids join in, or if they don't, I give them the you-can-do-this-too face with some hand gestures towards them to encourage them to start.

If I use hand motions in a story, such as accompanying "The wind whooshed them out the door", again I encourage the listeners to do the hand motions also -- think Itsy Bitsy Spider, only it doesn't have to be continuous as in IBS.

Have you ever seen Priscilla Howe tell The Ghost with the One Black Eye? That's jam-packed with participation, between the baby holding out her sippy cup, to slapping on thighs for footsteps going down and up the basement stairs, to being The Ghost with the One Black Eye with its creepy voice and hand forming an O representing the black eye.
Kate D. 7/11/08

b) I use a technique that is hard to explain. I'll try though. It doesn't work with all stories but enough. I reach points in the story where I ask or can ask a question. This is a rhetorical question that doesn't really require an answer. For example. "Wouldn't you think he would have seen that?" But instead of just asking to the audience I'll move close to one child and ask directly of him/her, then move back. The child doesn't have to answer but does feel involved in the story and others nearby feel one of them was involved. It's more a psychological thing but it works. I hope you get the idea.

Another trick I use is to have a sound the audience makes whenever I mention that character. For example I do a story around Christmas about how Drango saved Christmas. Whenever I mention Drango the audience say "My hero!" with feeling. Santa is "Ho ho ho" and Professor Rattoff (the villain) is "Boo hiss". If I or they mess up it adds to the humor. Probably not good for a serious story because of that but great for a light or funny one. Don't have too many sounds, around 3 is best.....
Bob S. 7/12/08

c) Another great story to use AP with, much like you do above, is The Queen With the Cold Cold Heart. I teach the children the movements before we begin and they come in at the appropriate times in the story. The tale still flows, it doesn't cut into the time too much and the children feel involved.

Last Saturday I was telling The Paper Bag Princess. (yes, I have permission from Robert Munsch :) and as I began on young lady said, I know that story! So I asked her to help me along as I told. When I came to the part where the dragon first appears I asked, "And who came stomping through the forest?" pointing directly at her and she responded, "the dragon!" I did the same thing throughout the story, cuing her for one or two word answers and getting the entire audience to blow fire along with the dragon.
Karen C. 7/12/08

d) I've been reading Judith program notes and then great responses, and I keep thinking "WHO said you're not doing enough participation?" It sounds as if you ARE doing participation... and how are you getting this feedback? It doesn't sound like a typical audience response... are audience members just saying they want MORE because that's the part they LOVE the most? Is it an ORAL or a WRITTEN response? Is it from a questionnaire... and if it is how is that questionnaire worded? Just a wondering here... I always think your shows sounds so great.
Ina V.D. 7/12/08

e) I agree that the people who are booking you may not realize that listening IS participation! Can you, in your PR, stress listening as participation ... priming the pump so to speak. Make listening ... something that is a good thing ... work for you. You might even mention it an easy, fun way at the beginning so parents and the people that hire you will realize.

With regard to participation and not understanding children's voices ... consider:
* participation can be just movement (s) - movements can work like a chant or response line.
* try group participation sounds (animals, rain (slapping thighs, rubbing your hands together ...), whatever make sense in your stories, etc.)
* have a call and response .... that you teach at the beginning .... "Are you listening?" "Yes, I'm listening!" and use it and/or similar throughout the program .... this can be done through movement and/or sound. For ex: you - clap in a certain beat) to say "Are you listening?" and the children respond in "claps"
* invite and re-invite all adults to participate
Mary K.C. 7/12/08

f) First of all, it sounds as if the natural feedback you're getting from the kids is good. Be sure to consider all kinds of feedback. Second of all, and this is probably not what you want to hear, but you can learn a lot from feedback. It can be our best friend, if we can get past the fact, that like a true friend, it sometimes hurts our feelings and tells us the hard honest truths that we don't want to look at. Sometimes we'd rather hide from a friend like that, but if we can look at feedback as a true teacher and one of our best tools for improvement, we will find something of great value.

I've been frustrated by feedback. I've had to re-tool programs which was inconvenient, but it was worth it when those programs then went on to consistent success. It was worth it when I looked back and saw how much I learned. When the feedback forms come back uniformly positive, that's when I feel great and am so glad that I really listened to my feedback. I still don't like getting negative feedback, it stings, it's disappointing, but I'm always grateful for it.
Wendy G. 7/12/08

g) I'm wondering if even though you have participation during the program, when you end with a 7 minute quiet attentive listening piece, you are leaving that impression to linger in the minds of the audience. The listening trance is very critical to us as storytellers, yet audiences don't always comprehend that.

Maybe you could slip in a more participatory piece right at the very end, to leave the audience with the sense of "Wow, that was great fun and look how the kids helped with the story."
Batsy B. 7/12/08

h) As someone else mentioned, it might help to move one of the highly participatory stories/songs to the end of the program, rather than finishing with the quieter story. I have found that people's memories tend to linger on the beginning and ends of performances, which is why I always have an "everybody stand up" song and dance at the beginning and end of my weekly storytimes.

I also mix a lot of quick little questions to the audience in with my stories that relate to the characters - things that only take a few seconds to ask and hear the answer. For example:

"Do you think he'll do that?" (noooo!) "Well, let's see..."
"How many people in here have dogs at home? Raise you hands!"
"Did anyone eat a dinosaur for breakfast?" (nooooo!) "Nobody? But it's so nutritious and delicious!"

If a character is walking heavily, I sometimes have them slap the ground in front of them. If I introduce a character that is an animal, I have them make the animal noise. Etc. etc. I just inject tiny, simple things like that throughout the stories, every minute or two. It helps the kids with short attention spans stay focused, and introduces an element of play into the stories that make them more enjoyable for younger kids.
Jesse E. 7/12/08

i) What wonderful suggestions everyone has made! A few years ago during our summer reading tours, don and I developed what we call "One from column A, one from Column B." We have a set list of stories and songs (Column A). BUT, if we see that the 2-4 set is heavily represented in the audience, we just choose from Column B. This is a collection of shorter songs and stories with plenty of participation, including finger plays. In other words we may swap a longer story for 2 shorter selections in which they can actively participate. In fact, just this week we had to choose from column B.

And Judith, our shows are wildly participatory an we sometimes get comments about "needing more participation." I agree, though with Wendy that these comments are for our own good. Just look at the wonderful discussion this has sparked! Storytell rules!
Carol C. 7/12/08

Response to post directly above: Doesn't this make you wonder what "participation" MEANS to the evaluator? Sheesh. Maybe they think it's not participation unless you use a particular subtype?
Fran S. 7/13/08

I think that it is interesting that you get those kind of contacts from staff that may put a tape in the VCR next week and walk out of the room and call it "Story time . . ."
Steve O. 7/12/08

k) There's also research by Linda Marchisio demonstrating that physical participation during the story (she calls it "movement assisted storytelling") led to better story recall and HIGHER READING MOTIVATION with the students she studied (4th grade I believe).
Fran S. 7/13/08

Response to above: That doesn't surprise me! I don't have the reference in front of me, but several months ago I read about a teacher who was given a class of boys (6th grade, I think) who were really struggling in school. He changed the rules of the classroom to allow them to move around as they pleased, drink water, eat fruit, lie on the floor, etc., as long as they didn't talk to each other or bug each other (pushing and such). The boys test scores skyrocketed after that - they had better retention of facts, and were able to stay focused for longer periods of time.

I'm a very visual learner. If I am reading information, I retain it very well. Anything that is TOLD to me, though, is unlikely to stick in my long-term memory. Throughout school I would just write down everything the teacher said - the real learning came from re-reading my notes at home. Same information, same words (often), but different route to memory.

I rarely sit down to tell stories to kids - I always stand, and move around a lot as I talk. I make big gestures and funny faces, and get the kids to participate as much as possible. I try to maintain a vaudeville atmosphere, which helps the kids to focus and stay with me, because I remember how mind-numbing it can be (as a child) to sit still for a long period of time and listen to someone talk.
Jesse E. 7/14/08

l) Maybe we should all place ourselves in a Wii program,
walk in, hand the remotes to the children, click on the TV and leave. ( sarcastic side is showing. LOL)
Karen C. 7/13/08

m) It's been interesting to read the responses to your question about audience participation. I find the more I tell a particular tale, the more audience participation naturally creeps into it.

Do you know the collections of Margaret Read MacDonald? Her books Storyteller's Start-Up Book and Twenty Tellable Tales: Audience Participation Folktales for the Beginning Storyteller are very helpful with audience participation, as are many of her other collections. She uses lots of participation. Another book I have found helpful is MultiCultural Folktales: Stories to tell Young Children by Judy Sierra & Robert Kaminski. There are flannel board patterns incluced, which I never use, but also good ideas for including participation.
Yvonne Y. 7/13/08

n) Thank you for these suggestions. I have three more Reading Bug programs to do (after I return from taking my daughter to South Bend, Indiana for the national twirling competition), and I think I'll rework the program to add some kind of call and response for one of the stories.

The participation I have in the program now is only singing along and dancing along. One thing I find curious--the dance has a fun beat and recorded music (first time I've ever used recorded music--I created it on an electronic piano, and put it on a "jam-man" device that you only need tap with your foot to get it start and stop), and while I always get a big cheer and clapping when the dance is over, I'm having trouble getting the audience to join in the movements with me! I get them all up ("Come on! Let's go to the Buggy Ball!") and get them clapping along with the beat, then I do the movements, which are very simple but get the body moving. Some kids really get into it, but there are always a bunch who only stand and stare! Is this a TV generation that is not used to joining in? Do they feel self-conscious? Am I expecting too much of them? (The movements are REALLY simple--fingers wiggling like bug legs, crawling up and down, step in place with the feet, turning around õne direction then the other for one verse of the song.) I have the song there to get them MOVING so they can settle down for the last story, but they don't want to move! Maybe I should prime them by saying something like: "move your arms up, wiggle your fingers like this, move your arms down, now you are ready to dance the buggy crawl. Do what I do!"
Judith W. 7/13/08

o) I understand your frustration. Last week I did two shows at a Summerfest, basically the same show with a few changes. The first audience was amazing, even the adults joined in. The second session...the children stared at me blankly when asked to join in. I found I was so much more exhausted after the second set, trying to share my "energy" with the audience and getting nothing in return. Of course, that was the show my client observed. Arrrghhh :)

I think you are right, it has a lot to do with the "sit them in front of a TV, computer or video game and leave the room" style of parenting.

Like you, many of my shows are participatory. Interestingly, I have had the same comments, not enough participation, when the children were clearly engaged, either dancing, singing, clapping, call and response, etc. I often wonder if we are at the same show! :) Hang in there and don't let the turkeys get you down.
Karen C. 7/13/08

p) I'm not sure of the age of the children you are talking about here, but assuming little ones ... if they all don't join in that's ok ... if they are attending they are participating.

It's fun when the children (and sometimes adults) all join in but, for me, I would be putting too much on myself if I presumed everyone was going to jump right in. Every child and group is different. No doubt the children that are standing there or sitting there are enjoying themselves. This is, in my book okay and developmentally appropriate. Even when the children do not look like they are attending often times they are.

You know for me it is like telling to adult audiences. The adults in the audience sometimes look fascinated ... tired .... bored ... and time and time again, I have found they really are enjoying themselves.

So, yes, you might be expecting too much of the children ... but sing the song, have some fun ... those that join in overtly or covertly will be having fun too.

In some of my longer term residencies with younger children I have had children who seldom overtly participated in the beginning but a few WEEKS later ... they are into it.
Mary K.C. 7/13/08

q) A quick suggestion, Judith: You may need to say directly to the audience: this next story/song has a part for you. This is your part. Demonstrate what you want them to do. Then ask, can you do that for me? Practice it more than once if necessary.

If the audience senses that you are doing a "show" that they are watching, they are more reluctant to join in, feeling that they are interrupting the performance. ( A show to me is very practiced, with choreographed movements, words that don't change or don't change much from telling to telling, a sense that the teller is acting rather than telling me a story, and few opportunities or places for the audience to interact).

If the program is interactive from the start (with transition exchanges, questions to them as the stories progress, etc, the audence will understand that they are supposed to be join in the fun.
Granny Sue 7/13/08

r) I used to joke about putting my lessons on video, especially since with six classes a day, I did many repetitions. My students did like watching my iguana story on video from the Carnival talent show. . .

I do wonder about the increased stress on "participation." Is it story time or recess? Isn't there a time and place for contemplation and thought? I once told a student that I wished I were more like the very animated teacher whose class he had right before mine. He responded that the "couldn't take that two hours in a row" -- it was ok with him that my class was a bit more "sedate." He participated in discussions, wrote good papers, was very engaged. Life can't be a roller coaster every minute.

That said, I do have participation, chanting, wiggle breaks . . .but I also see children settle in and just listen, and they need that, too.
Mary G. 7/13/08


65) I noticed there was no reference for Ticky-Picky Boom Boom. There is an on-line version of the story on my website at

Sources for Jamaican Annancy stories:
Annancy stories (The Beacon library ; book four stage) by A.J. Newman and P.M. Sherlock with Rhoda Jackson (illus). (1936)

Anansi, the Spider Man by Philip Manderson Sherlock. (1954)

Jamaican Song and Story: Annancy Stories, Digging Sings, Ring Tunes, and Dancing Tunes by Walter Jekyll, with introductions by Philip Sherlock, Louise Bennett, Rex Nettleford and Alice Werner. (2005)
Book Description
This collection of authentic stories about Annancy — the trickster spider and Jamaican folk hero — features the best-known, most-loved tales, plus work songs and dance tunes. Extensive editorial apparatus makes it an invaluable resource for anthropologists as well as a treat for anyone interested in Jamaican cultural history.
Marilyn K. 7/25/08

66) Holiday Stories All Year Round: Audience Participation Stories and More
by Violet Terest deBaraba Miller. (out October 2008)
Book Description
Share stories about popular holidays, from New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day, and President's Day, to Indian Heritage Month, Christmas, and Kwanzaa with stories from some of our most renowned and beloved storytellers--Laura Simms, Diane Wolkstein, Ruth Stotter, Joseph Bruchac, Heather Forest, Margaret Read MacDonald, and many others. These stories, presented chronologically according to the holidays, come with instructions for how to get your audience involved, plus reading connections, activity ideas and holiday background information. This collection will help educators, librarians, and storytellers create holiday-based story programs from January to December; and it is a wonderful resource for enhancing learning units, filling in empty moments, and loosening up an audience. Most of all, it gives you some great ways to share important times together.

67) Itchy the Witch by Denise Adams with O (illus). (2007)
Itchy the Witch is an audience participation story that invites listeners to recite the list of all the things that are dreadfully wrong in Scarytown. Whether an audience of one or many, children enjoy the repetition, especially if they can hold up the stick puppets that go along with the story. Patterns and directions for the simple stick puppets are included, making this book a must have for teachers and group leaders.

68) The Big Book of Presentation Games: Wake-Em-Up Tricks, Icebreakers, and Other Fun Stuff by John W. Newstrom and Edward E. Scannell. (1997)
Don't let the audience snooze through any of your presentations! How do you keep an audience from becoming bored or restless during a presentation? Find out with The Big Book of Presentation Games.Stop relying on tired jokes and use these fun-filled, interactive games and activities specifically designed to:

~ Build rapport and warm up the audience
~ Provide refreshing "breathers" from the monotony of a speech
~ Get people's blood flowing with physical activity
~ Generate lively discussions
~ Reinforce the key points of your message in an enjoyable way
~ And win back an audience that has tuned out

Each game in this book is fast, fun, creative, and easy-to-read, and easy-to-lead, and costs little or nothing. Categories also include: great session-openers; icebreakers; climate-setting games; practical jokes and tricks; audience brainteasers; motivation activities; memorable closing activities; and much more!

69) Audience Participation: Theatre for Young People by Brian Way. (1981)

70) The Clumsy Custard Horror Show (A Full Length Comedy)
by Dramatic Publishing Company. (1979)
Cast: 6m., 8w. (1 Worfle.) Your audience will get into the act (as they do in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) in this comedy. King Dumb is ready for his daughter to select a husband and all the Knights of the Realm are anxious to claim her hand. But the sweet Princess Prince has fallen for a gentle yet courageous lad she assumes to be a pauper. Little does she know that this scruffy stranger is Swashbuck Valpariso, bearer of the magic sword and Master of Fast Feet. Audience participation throughout. One int. set.

(Created 2005; last update 11/10/10)

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