Master Storyteller- Chronicle of a Tri-BOB

I just decided to use Master Storyteller in my English class this year. A teacher in my PLN had requested the outline, so I was perusing the assignment with an eye to sharing it only to realize that I could use it again. That made me nostalgic about how it came to be.

When I first conceived of Master Storyteller, it evolved from watching my husband speak. I am often amazed by his knack for narrative, and listening to him got me thinking about storytelling as a truly marketable skill. So many aspects of life and careers could be enhanced with a deep sense of how to tell a story that I thought it would be a good thing to have my students practice and develop.

I was teaching Grade 3 at the time, and I had successfully administered the POETS tri-BOB, though neither the idea of BOB nor the approach, Building Outside the Blocks, had even been a consideration at this point. I had taught the students the 6 + 1 writing traits and how to write a story. They had presented 3 POETS, so they developed a sense of audience and style. As a result, I felt that I had laid enough groundwork to make this project a showcase of storytelling.

I introduced the assignment and helped with brainstorming and planning as each child began, or tried to begin, developing an original story. As became a characteristic of the Building Outside the Blocks approach, students signed up for a date to present their story over the allotted presentation time, which was going to be last two months of school in this case. Class time to begin, but the stories has to be completed ay home, and students had to prepare to "tell" their on their own time. Whenever needed, I was available to help out during lunch and recess for those that required more support.

BOBs create so much diversity in product and style. I had one student tell a story about a deer that came to visit their cottage and stayed for the rest of the day. This was a decade ago, and he was using Power Point for the first time to share his personal narrative. He showed pictures from the day and the class revelled in the humour and detail of his story.

Another student who had real literacy challenges used a story that her parents read to her often. She retold it with her own twists to make it hers. She really owned the story and brought it to life for the class audience. I had never seen her so proud and in control of her learning experiences. I was so excited about the MST, as I came to call it, that I brought it with me to my new school.

By then, I had developed several projects for that grade level and divided the ones I wanted to revisit between the Grade 3 and 4 classes I was going to be teaching (we have a rotary system from Grade 2 up). The Grade 3’s did POETS, the 4’s participated in the EXTRO (short for Ordinary where they have 21 days to make and track a change in their life) and I developed the MST as a tri-BOB. A tri-BOB, like POETS, is a three-part project that scaffolds over the school year and builds over time but also revisits some of the same skills with the goal of mastery.

The MST tri-BOB begins with reading a story and evolves to become storytelling. The student starts in a most innocuous way. They select a picture book to read to the class. The text selections can be so various and are mostly chosen from the student’s interests. I have watched and supported many students select their books and even beyond their “reading level” because their passion drove them and their commitment helped them achieve their goals. Whether hockey books, classics or ones that they fondly recalled from their earliest childhood, the texts were varied and informed the class a lot about the individual presenter. At the same time, it gave me a lot of information about the learning skills and next steps for the student.

For the second Master Storyteller, referred to as MST 2, students add a visual component to help tell their story. Students used photographs, dance, costumes, drawings, animations, slideshow presentations and more to present their stories to the class. It was an amazing evolution from the first MST, with so much to take away and learn from each presentation.

After spending the first two thirds of the school year explicitly instructing the students in writing skills, they were ready to write a story and tell it. I gave them strategies, we watched storytellers and created a list of the success criteria for effective storytelling (though I didn’t call it that then), and the students rose to the challenge. They prepared original pieces, often memorized, that varied but really showed each of the students’ best work and reflected growth over the year.

When I was moved to Grade 6 English (Language Arts/Language and Literature), I brought the MST with me. My last Grade 6 English class led me to “perfecting” the assignment at each iteration. At this point, I had started referring to my projects as Building Outside the Blocks and was documenting my work with photographs. I had also just gotten started on Twitter, and these were great things to tweet about. In Grade 6, the MST 3’s were just amazing.

I had left school early that year due to reconstructive ankle surgery, and the kids were so worried. Their biggest concern was not my recovery but how they were going to share their MST 3’s with me (It may have been about the marks, but I’d like to believe it was something more). My incredible supply teacher made sure to record each of the ones that were being presented after my leave. While I was happy to evaluate the work by video, I was even happier to celebrate the students' growth. It was a pleasure to view and even have keepsakes of the amazing work my students did. Their accomplishments were mine, too.

Thanks to Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, which I read after that first year at my present school, I felt extremely validated. I not only learned that I was on the right track with the MST, but I discovered the power of storytelling. Beyond being a “fundamental human ability” it was a skill that everyone could and should learn. It is an authentic and transferable quality that can help students in their present and futures. Learning to tell a story well can enhance creativity, activate parts of the brain, improve memory and, certainly, make life a whole lot more interesting.

Watch Daniel Pink discuss Story:

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