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(excerpts from posts)

1) Query: Speaking of listening....does anyone have any "listening" exercises to do with a group? I'd kind of like to make it fun. But any suggestions are welcome. I'm (ahem) listening.
Marilyn K. 9/19/05
Response: I love doing the old "gossip" exercise... you write down and whisper a phrase to the first person, they whisper it to the next , etc till the last person writes down what was said, you can just have them repeat it also. It is great and
reminds us that we don't really listen much.

Another one is to have someone who seems to be an authority figure come in, get up and make some kind of announcement. Later you ask the audience about the announcement - individually and call on people without asking for someone to volunteer, no group comments. It is great to see what people remember/ You then ask the group to help out. As a group they come to an agreement and get the parts pretty much right. Individually they forget a lot.

I use both when I do sales training. The most important part of selling is listening... not talking.
Stephen H. 9/19/05
Response: With kids, I usually pair up two kids together and have them tell about themselves. I tell them that they have to look the partner in the eye and listen because they will have to tell the partners history back to him. When they get a little more confidence, I have them tell the entire group about their partner.
Steve O. 9/19/05
Response: a fellow teacher and I acted out an argument about noise levels in our respective classrooms, and then she had her students write out the dialogue -- it was fun!

Also, a thought from Nancy Polette's ed. class this evening (I went in as her sub for the second half of the evening and gave a mini-workshop on storytelling in the classroom) -- she presented stanzas of poetry with the last word missing. It would take listening to provide a rhyming final word.
Mary G. 9/19/05
Response: Another listening game is one Tim S. taught us in Denver a few years ago at the National Conference. You make up a story going around the circle. One person begins, then at ANY point (a few words to a paragraph) stops in the middle of a sentence, and the next person must pick up and continue the story. It's always funny at that pause between speakers; it feels so sudden! Still, you have to be listening in order to pick up and finish a proper sentence, even if it is a ridiculous proper sentence.
Mary Grace K. 9/20/05
Response: Here's an improv exercise: and your group doesn't know how to have to do improv. But it does illustrate the importance of listening. Best for adults or high school age, but it might work with middle school kids.

1. Get three or four volunteers.
2. Each volunteer should ask for a word from the audience. Tell them they have to remember their word. (It can be any word).
3. The four volunteers will then act out an improv scenario. You can make one up... but here is an easy one for non-actors or folks who have never improvised: tell them they will be planning a party. There's no limit on what the group can spend, so tell them to plan a fabulous party (for whatever occasion). Everyone in the group should contribute ideas. Set up some chairs to create a "room."
4. Here's the listening part: whenever someone in the group says their word, the person who "owns" that word has to leave the room if they are in it. If they are offstage, they must enter if their word is said again. They should state a reason why they have to leave ("Oh, I left the iron on..." "I have to move my car..." etc.)

Hilarity ensues, provided they are listening to each other.

(Strangely enough, even though you only have to listen for one word, it is very difficult to hear your own word once you are given the task of planning a party (or doing whatever improv scene)

Tim E. 9/20/05
Response: back in my classroom teaching days, I used to tell little mini-mysteries that the kids would have to solve by asking questions that could be answered by yes, no, and immaterial. There are books of these things. As they learned the process, I would set a quota for the questions; for example, solve this one in 100 questions. As they became good listeners and good questioners, they got to the point where they could often solve in two or three questions. They had to listen to one another's question, the answers, and the inflections/body language of the What fun that was!

Here's an example:
A man walked into a restaurant and asked the head waiter for a glass of water. The waiter pulled out a gun and pointed it at the man.
"Thank you," said the man, turning and leaving the restaurant.
Solve. (i.e., what just happened?)
The kids begin by asking all sorts of questions.
Finally, someone is wise enough to ask, "Would it help for us to know why the man wanted the water?" Then it's solved quickly.
Don't expect them to listen well in the beginning, but when they see that repeated questions are eating up their quota, they get it.
Sharon-in-th'-fun 10/10/05
Response: While reading the various recent threads on listening . . . I've been pondering about the skill of listening. It's such an important skill.

Some ruminations:
Perhaps a lot of us believe people "should" listen more, better or even "at all". Listening is not something that human beings are necessarily innately skilled at doing. It is though perhaps one of the most important skills that a person learns. Sometimes people are listening but they don't communicate it in a way the "teller" (professional or nonprofessional) is used to. There are many reasons people don't listen.

While I am not responsible for another's listening ... I know I can help others listen better when I listen to them "not listening" and listen for needs (theirs and mine), check for understanding. Contrary to popular cultural myth there really is time to listen to each other if we wish to make the time.

Also, I have occasionally run into people that interrupt and time and after time simply appear to have the greatest of difficulty of time listening ... sometimes that situation needs a bit of reflection. Sometimes the person is clearly communicating something ... perhaps manipulation ... perhaps true disinterest in the topic or the person at hand ... or something else. I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes people don't want to listen - and, maybe that's okay too. Relationship often suffers, or ends sometimes in situations that continue like this.
Mary K.C. 9/22/05
Response: I never chimed in on the "listening" thread, but something happened this week that made me understand the importance of listening to all of a conversation in depth. A patron came in complaining about having been "run out" of California. Now, that peaked my interest immediately because I lived there for two years and I personally know folks that might should have been run out of that state years ago, but they are still there. Californians are very tolerant, open, and accepting of everybody and their particular interests, cultures, and lifestyle. This patron had a running list of those who she'd had run-ins with, some I knew to be pretty open minded. Her complaints went on and on........

After listening attentively for about 30 minutes (the library was pretty slow except for computer users) I came to realize that this patron had issues with every single authority on the planet. I was sympathetic at first, but then began to recognize the symptoms of paranoia and a chronic whining habit. I began to distance myself, politely feigning more work at my desk. Had I not stopped and taken time to listen, I might have wasted energy contributing much more time and attention to a problem that I could do absolutely nothing about. This patron seemed almost insulted that I asked her to pay for a huge stack of copies that she'd printed out and then left in a huff without paying for them.

She came back today and began to tell those around her that same story of "everybody hates me, I'm gonna eat a worm." Folks started distancing themselves from her computer. The mayor popped in and asked me if I knew who was parked in the handicapped zone in a white car. When we discovered it was hers, the Mayor asked her in a very nice voice to move the car. She stood and began to berate him, saying that she'd forgotten her tag. I told him that I would take care of it and he left. Confrontation with women is not his bag....

After he left, she began a tirade about what a poor mayor and hateful person he was. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. That gentleman has our town's entire welfare firmly squared upon his shoulders and handles his mantle of responsibility quite seriously and with great concern. I stopped her in mid sentence to remind her that he had no way of knowing that she had a tag at home and that he was only concerned that the truly handicapped of our city would have a place to park (our spaces are few) She left shortly and did not appear to be happy with me, but I listened to all the negativity that I could stand in the last two days and just didn't much care whether she liked me or not. I'm a pretty good listener, but if she comes in again, I think I will poke my fingers in my ears and encourage others to do the same.

Some listening can be downright depressing.....hope I haven't done that to you, but I just had to vent!
Mel D. 9/22/05
Response: Mel, your story about your patron really points out how we "create the world we live in." That poor woman creates negativity in otherwise positive people because she thinks they are negative. If she comes in again, maybe you could somehow get her to check out a book called "Loving What Is" written by Byron Katie (a woman--she goes by "Katie"). In the book Katie tells how she was filled with so much anger, rage, and despair that no one could stand to be around her. She was depressed and at the end of her rope. Then one morning she woke up in a state of absolute joy, realizing how she was creating her own suffering by her thinking, and she knew how to change. Out of her experience, she developed what she calls "The Work," which consists of basically four questions that can be applied to any problem in life. In the process of answering the questions honestly, you can see what is troubling you in a new light, and come to accept what IS. I find her approach very much like the "EST" work, (which is now called "The Landmark Forum).

Of course I know that no one can "save" anyone else, but sometimes a nudge in the right direction is all they need. I highly recommend this book.
Judith W. 9/22/05

Response: I'm glad you had some place to vent; that sort of person can be pretty toxic (My friend Mary advised finding a good students to wash away the effects of the problems, so find some good patrons to commiserate with) -- and I'm glad you confronted her, though politely, as I know you would. A former neighbor worked in the TWA special lounge, and would come home sometimes in tears because of the way some travelers would treat her (as if she caused the weather delays) -- she wasn't allowed to do or say anything in defense against these jerks. We decided that they were their own worst punishment because they had to live the life they were creating. It sounds like this woman is living proof of that theory.
Mary G. 9/22/05
Response: "The Work" is excellent and is also on tapes (I love tapes for trips). I know a young woman who helps people apply the work - it makes a lot of sense!
Chris K. 9/22/05

2) We often speak about listening but what does it mean to listen? Is the way a storyteller listen different then a therapist or a friend, etc...?

In my work with individuals with chronic and acute illness and with individuals in crisis; and also with the Center for Victims of Torture my role is to be both a professional caregiver and a storyteller. As caregiver my listening is about creating a container that allows the individual to freely express themselves, to sense that they are being heard, and to experience an empathetic responsiveness. As a caregiver it is my hope that this creates the conditions for the person's ability to heal to be actualized.

As a storyteller the above qualities are important but I sense that the storyteller brings another gift in their listening.
The storyteller brings a narrative consciousness that allows the storyteller to see the person's and their community's life in the light of a narrative structure. The storyteller is able to listen in such a way as to not only see the narrative structure of the individual and community but to relate these narrative to their own life narrative and to the narratives and stories found within their community and traditions.

In the book "The Spell of the Sensuous" Abram states that the purpose of the Shaman's rituals and stories is to bring back into harmony that which has fallen apart and is causing suffering and distress for the individual and/or the community. The storyteller helps create the possibilities for healing by using story to bring into alignment often in new ways that which has fallen apart. The storyteller and shaman can do this only when he/she is listening deeply to all the stories that are being told and lived. The storyteller's challenge is to weave together the various stories and story lines of the individual and the community into a coherent story line that helps create within the listener the possibility of healing. (a note: The recognition of the importance of the narrative as in the story of a individual/community is increasingly being embraced in both psychotherapy and medicine. However the storytellers focus is the use of story as the main vehicle towards supporting healing where as story is usually only one part of the therapeutic process in medicine and psychotherapy.)

In a recent trip to Alaska I had the privilege of talking with several ingenious healers and storytellers. In their traditions oral stories are shared within the context of a relationship. They felt that to tell a story that will heal it must be congruent with the need of the person and/or community and the individual's story. The healer's stories help create the conditions for healing and can only create this possibility when the story is specifically adapted to the need of the individual and/or the community. They told me that the idea of preparing and performing a healing story for a public performance is quite alien and antithetical to the essentials of healing in their tradition. In fact the idea of performing a oral story in public is frowned upon in general in their culture. The above experience and insights from these indigenous healers is in essence what I am also hearing from Tomi's message:

To paraphrase:

Do not tell me stories to make me feel or be the way you want me to be or what you think is healing. Listen to my story and hear the story that I am telling. If you are to share a story then respond with a story that speaks to me and my story not yours. Share the stories that will support me in living out my story, my hopes-- not your story , or your hopes, or your hope for me. Share the stories that are meaningful to my traditions and needs.

This is why stories that are prepared and performed can be healing but are not storytelling in its most powerful form. A storyteller is most effective in helping to create the conditions for healing when the story is not a prepared performance but is in response to the individual's and the community's story and their need. Healing happens when the storyteller has deeply listened to the story of the people they are telling stories. To be able to share story at this level a storyteller must be conscious of their own narrative and story; and committed to living out and being their story. This ability and skill to use story and to become one's story takes preparation and study and is probably gained over a life time.

To this last point of being our story I would like to share an experience I had in Alaska:

Rita, a tribal doctor in her seventies at the Traditional Healing Center in Anchorage, told me about her visions and dreams as she was growing up. When I asked her if she still had dreams and visions she said "No." At first I didn't get it. Then I said, "Is it because you are living your dreams and visions?" She smiled, sat up straight, and touched her heart and said, "I am my dream. I am my vision."

I hope some day that I can say that not only am I living my story but that I am my story. A storyteller becomes an effective instrument of healing not only when they tell stories but when they truly live their stories and are the stories that they tell. My greatest challenge in becoming my story is my continuing struggle to listen deeply.
Just some thoughts,
Andre H. 10/20/05

Stories to develop Listening Skills:

• Try these links:

• I suggest The Wise Woman, a tale from Algeria in Jane Yolan's book Gray Heroes : Elder Tales from Around the World, pg. 15-17, where a village is being besieged and the people listen to the old woman, whose bizarre actions save them.

Jane's source: Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from Around the World, retold and edited by Suzanne I. Barchers, Libraries Unlimited, 1990.
Kate D. 4/6/06

• You have probably already thought of this story already but the first one that came to mind is The Debate In Sign Language. A different spin but it might work.
Karen C. 4/6/06

The Burning Fields (a story about a tsunami)
[by Anu D. Along the sea coast in Japan the earthquakes are sometimes followed by terrible tidal waves, that do more damage even than the earthquakes. This wonderful story tells of such a tidal wave.]
Long ago in Japan there lived an old man named Hamaguchi. His farmhouse sat high up on a plateau with a lofty wooded mountain behind it. His land sloped far down to the sea where a little village of about a hundred thatched houses and a temple stood on the shoreline.

One afternoon Hamaguchi sat with his young grandson on the balcony of his house, watching the people in the village below. The rice crop had been good; the villagers were holding their harvest festival. Shops were closed; streets were gaily decorated; villagers were about to join in the harvest dance.

Hamaguchi could see the vast blue sea in the distance. He suddenly felt a mild shock and his house rocked three or four times, then stood still. Hamaguchi had felt many earthquakes before. He was not at all frightened until he looked toward the sea.

The water was dark green and very rough. The tide had suddenly changed --- the sea was running swiftly away from the land! The puzzled villagers stopped their dancing and ran to the shore to watch. But Hamaguchi had seen one such sight as a little child. He knew what the sea was about to do. No time to send a message to the village, no time to ring the big temple bell, yet people must be warned.

"Yone!" he called to his little grandson. "Light a torch! Quick!"

The boy was puzzled, but he lit the torch immediately. The old man ran to the fields, where hundreds of rice stacks stood awaiting sale. It was everything he owned. He ran from one stack to another, applying the torch to each. The dry stalks caught fire quickly, and soon the red flames were shooting upward, and the smoke was rising in great columns.

Yone ran after his grandfather, shouting and crying, "Grandfather! Why are you setting fire to the rice?"

The old man had no time to answer, but ran on, firing stack after stack. The high wind caught the sparks and carried them farther, until all the fields were ablaze.

The watcher in the temple saw the fire and rang the bell; people turned to look. In Japan everyone in the village must give help in time of fire. The people began to run. They climbed the mountain --- young men, boys, women, girls, old folk, mothers with babies on their backs, even little children joined in the race to put out the fires. But when they reached the plateau, it was too late. All the rice was completely burned.

"It is too bad," the people exclaimed. "How did it happen?"
"Grandfather did it," cried Yone. "With a torch he set fire to the rice. He is mad."
"You did this thing !" they cried out in anger to Hamaguchi. "You set fire to your own rice fields! "
"Look toward the sea," said the old man, "and know my purpose."

The people looked, and far out at sea they saw a great wall of water swiftly sweeping toward them. It was the returning sea! The people shrieked, but their voices were lost in the thunderous sound, as the wall of water struck the mountainside below them. The hills were drenched in a great burst of foam.

When the cloud of spray disappeared, the people saw a wild sea raging over their village. Great angry waves seethed and tumbled above the house-tops. They rolled away roaring, tearing out houses and trees and great rocks, and bearing them off. Again the wall of water struck, and again and again, with less force each time. At last it fell back once more to its former bed.

The people were speechless. Their village was gone; their temple; their fields. Nothing was left but a few straw roofs floating on the water. But every man and woman and child was safe high up on the mountain.

Now the people understood why old Hamaguchi had set fire to his rice. There he stood among them. He had lost everything. And they fell on their knees to thank him.
Full text available at:
Ongoing Tales Old Time Fairy Tales

• The story of Epaminondas or the Jack tale in which the main character follows his mother's advice too literally could also be construed as a listening story - maybe for comic relief in your program.
Judy S. 4/7/06
Epaminondas may be found at:
Jack Tales may be found at:

• Bob's suggestion gave me another thought: How about A Blind Man Catches a Bird from Margaret Read MacDonald's Peace Tales? This thoughtful story from Zimbabwe involves listening on a number of levels.

This is the story of the two brothers-in-law who go hunting. One man is blind man and the other, a newly married younger man, can see. As they move through the brush the sighted man is impressed at how his blind brother-in-law can interpret the sounds they hear.

They set traps for birds and return to their village. When they come back the next day to check the traps, the the sighted brother-in-law sees that the other man has caught a most beautiful bird with brightly colored feathers. He wants that bird as a present for his new wife, so he exchanges the birds, thinking the blind man won't know. Later, on their way back from the hunt, the two are resting under

On the return trip they rest under a tree. The younger man asks his blind brother-in-law why men fight with one another. The blind man answers, "Men fight because they do to one another what you have just done to me." Ashamed, the younger man takes the colorful bird from his own pouch and puts it in his brother-in-law's pouch. Then he asks, "How can men become friends again?" Again, the blind man answers, "Men become friends again when they do what you have just done to me."
Judy S. 4/7/06

• In Naomi Baltuck's book Apples from Heaven, there's a story called The Princes Who Were Blockheads. You might find this works for you.
Yvonne Y. 4/7/06

• In that case has anyone ever told the Amelia Bedelia sotries where she misunderstands EVERYTHING?
Dvora S. 4/7/06

• I can be simple-minded sometime, but what I thought of was stories in which a magical friend has the gift of listening such as in "The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship." That special gift , together with the abilities of several other strangely gifted friends, always saves the day.
Mary Grace K. 4/9/06

• A while back we had a discussion about the cultural differences in listening--my friend from Zimbabwe says that there, it is considered impolite to look at the speaker (storyteller) when they are listening--they sit with their heads down and eyes averted--then the speaker knows they are listening!
Judith W. 7/19/06

• I encountered the same thing when student teaching. Native American children would listen politely without making eye contact (Johnny Moses once said that the only reasons for looking into someone's eyes would be hostility and . . . Um, extremely personal interest . . .). Some would also work on their beadwork, to which, as a classroom knitter, I could hardly object. In fact, I've occasionally knitted while teaching -- In Cortazar's "House Taken Over" the sister's knitting is important to the plot, so I pulled out mine and knitted while the students read -- for atmosphere. Hmmm, would have been interesting explaining that to the Martinet.
Mary G. 7/19/06

• Yes, that's true in other cultures too. Many differences in how we listen, and what we're comfortable with.

I'm an eye contact person, and I find it uncomfortable and difficult to communicate without that. I remember an employee I had once who would not make eye contact when speaking or listening. I found myself striving to make that contact, working harder than usual to communicate. But for me, the connection with her never happened. It felt like she was shutting me--and patrons--out of her world, keeping herself very private.

A good employee in other respects, but I found this very difficult to work with. Her body language told me that she was not hearing me, and I strove harder to make my message clear, but was never entirely sure she heard and understood it. (And no, she was not from another culture, she was born and raised here)

Communications experts tell us that we only remember 7% of what we hear, and that the rest of what we learn comes from body language (55%) and tone (38%).

So it would seem to follow that in order to gain the most benefit from listening to a teller, we would watch as well as listen to the words

I've found this an interesting discussion, and went surfing on the web formore information. Here are some website with a lot of information about listening that I thought were particularly good:

Granny Sue 7/19/06

• We have to remember that our modern storytelling revival is a 'blended family'. Some of our traditions come from the 'folkloric' side of the family and some come from the 'theatrical' side of the family. Perhaps our expectations of how people are going to participate (sitting in neat rows and being quietly attentive until the end when we give appreciative applause) come from the theatre tradition? The great thing about a blended family is that the traditional foundation is deep, rich and varied. We need to rejoice in our diversity.
Meryl A 7/19/06

• Does this kind of not-watching behavior also lend to the development of call-and-response things like "Cric!"/"Crac!" where the storyteller checks in with the audience to make sure they're still with him?
Skip M. 7/19/06

• But if that were REALLY the case, then novels and recorded stories would be ineffective means of transmitting stories. Everything would have to have a visual component. All novels would need to be 'illustrated' and all recordings would have to be video.

I wonder if 'communications experts' have overrated the influence body language. If that were the case, talking on the telephone would be a frustrating experience. (I remember the last telephone conversation I had despite being unable to see the person on the other end.)It is like saying that punctuation carries the message in a sentence. It doesn't but punctuation can provide some clarification in ambiguous situation. Similarly, a gesture (body language) can be used as a determinative (a clarifier) for a verbal message but the real information is always carried in the 'words'.
Meryl A. 7/19/06

• As a kinetic learner and a chronically fidget-y person, I find that crocheting allows me to retain my focus in situations where my main physical directive as a member of the audience is to be quiet and sit still.

The motion of my hands is enough movement to satisfy the "must wiggle" directive screaming from my brain. It also allows me to link a rhythmic movement to the sounds and motion of others, and I find that I learn faster and retain much more of a spoken performance when I crochet than when I am dividing my attention between the story and my own efforts not to tap feet, drum fingers, twirl hair, etc.

In classrooms, I talk about this with students, especially with the kids who are in remedial reading/etc. classes. Most of them are also chronic wigglers, and have spent YEARS being told to "sit down and shut up for two seconds can't you please?!?!!!" Actually, I'm saying it to the students so that the teachers will hear it: For about 1/3 of the general population, associating some sort of movement with a learning activity will enhance learning. It doesn't have to be huge: one of my favorite tricks (which I share with kids) is to chew the heck out of pencil before class, and then spend the hour running my thumb back-and-forth over the ridges.

I once had a kid in preschool storytime who seemed to have his attention everywhere but on the story. He jumped around, punched his buddy in the arm, tied his shoes together, made bizarre was a teller's nightmare, really. Then I walked out to the parking lot after the program and heard him telling his mom the stories I had just shared--almost word-for-word! Reed was listening, but he needed his entire body involved to do it.

So if you see me in the audience with my yarn ball and a crochet needle--be flattered. I think so highly of your program that I've brought all my tools with me so I can pay attention and not miss a thing
Aarene S. 7/19/06

• In our culture (and probably most but not all) it would be impolite not to look at the Teller. Plus it is discouraging to a Teller to see people doing that.

I am a terrible audience member. It is hard for me to sit through a performance of anything. A good teller comes close to holding me. However I know what it is like to see audience members that appear not to be paying attention so I make a strong effort to be a good audience member. It shows support for the Teller, and that helps them to be at their best.
Added Comment: We're not talking about those. And yes Movies are probably a better way for retention. But not always practical. We're talking classic bardic Storytelling which has oral and visual components. It is one of many forms of communication, some better and some worse than others. Novels with illustrations are very nice. Not many have them though although often historical books do. Storytelling with out the visual component is like recorded stories and talking books and radio drama. Maybe not quite because those had other audio components, eg sound effects, that are not normally part of Storytelling.
Bob S. 7/19/06

• Possibly, but I am not talking about 'bardic storytelling'.

The bards were travelling professionals and are perhaps the traditional foundation of our professional theatre professionals. They performed for the aristocracy and had a body of material that was based on written 'romances' rather than oral tradition. There was a difference between the early formal presentations by professional bards (Look at the way that the Icelandic sagas were delivered) and the less formal storytelling of the folk. The person in the village who was known for being a good storyteller was probably also a farmer or fisherman. They made their living in other ways than storytelling...they were not the 'professional storytellers'.

The professionals became separate from the common people; the storytellers remained a part of the community. The professionals cultivated a flamboyant style while the traditional village storyteller avoided 'showing off' so as not to appear proud and 'better' than their neighbours.

As the gap between the early 'professionals' and the village storytellers widened, their traditions also diverged. The often uneducated and illiterate 'folk' relied on oral transmission and they took their style of telling from what had been common in their communities. The professionals learned from standard texts and a set body of order to reach a certain standing in the professional community a specific body of stories was required to be known and told in a specific style.

Where we disagree is where we see our roots. I look to the simple village storyteller for my heritage. Other people look to more formal traditions. Each of us is honouring the traditions we feel form our foundation. As with all folk traditions, different communities have different 'ways' and, knowing who they are and where they came from, when they look upon other traditions they can respect it but realize that 'their ways are not our ways'.
Meryl A. 7/19/06

(This web page updated 10/21/05; 4/6/06; 4/10/06; 7/19/06)


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