In 1981, Vivian Paley began publishing books about young children and the ways they use stories and play to think. She used a tape recorder to capture the conversations in her classroom, and designed an activity she referred to as storytelling and story acting (STSA).

The storytelling portion of the activity would begin with Who has a story to tell? After taking dictation from all children who had expressed an interest, Paley invited everyone to the classroom rug for the story acting or dramatization part of the activity.

I discovered Paley’s books in 1995, and a few months after reading them, gave Paley a call to see if we could produce a training video about STSA for early childhood professionals.

After a year of conversations and visits, we were ready to film. Curious parents and teachers stood and sat around the room, doing their best to stay out of the way of cameras, lights and boom mikes. Paley began by reading stories she had brought with her, then showed the audience (adults and children) what she meant by “act it out.”

At the end of two days of filming, we had collected enough footage to make three videos, the first of which we called Vivian Paley and the Boy Who Could Tell Stories. It came with a companion guide which

• offers a brief summary of Paley’s teaching career.
• presents a complete listing of Vivian Paley’s books.
• shows, step-by-step, how to do storytelling and story acting [Figure 1].
• supplements film commentary offered by Vivian Paley with excerpts from Paley’s books, particularly, Paley’s observations on inclusive classrooms.
• highlights relevant commentary Paley has given in workshops across the country.
• addresses frequently asked questions beginners have of storytelling and story acting.
A transcript of “The Boy Who Could Tell Stories” is included at the end of this guide, and is referenced throughout this guide by page number and line. (e.g. “7/134” is page seven, line one hundred thirty-four.)

Figure 1.

Our storytelling and story acting pages feature six stories told by children on the second day of filming. They include transcripts and are connected to the alphabet we are making to show what Paley meant when she said:

This is the world. We tell our stories and people must listen and join us. This is the easiest pathway to what our classmates are thinking about. Almost everything you want to tell about life – almost everything can be done in the format of storytelling and story acting.

From the Companion Guide:

For would-be teachers of storytelling and story acting, probably the most challenging aspect of The Boy Who Could Tell Stories is Vivian Paley’s work with and commentary on Aaron. You might have found yourself wondering if you can do what Paley does. She combines sensitivity for a child who might otherwise be considered different or deviant with her ability to orchestrate a specific, ongoing activity that helps the children around Aaron transcend those differences and come to know him better through the stories he tells.

In her article, Must Teachers Also Be Writers?, Paley’s answer included additional thoughts about connections and inclusion:

Were someone to ask for a single example of my best teaching moment, I might give them Jason and the mother pig. The pig is in a story of Katie’s, and Jason is the boy who tells us every day that his helicopter is broken.
“Come listen to Katie’s story,” I call to Jason. “This mother pig does something that reminds me of you.”
He approaches the story table blowing on his blades, one of the many ways to fix a broken helicopter, and I read what Katie has just dictated to me: There is the three pigs. And the mother pig is there. The wolf huffs down the brick house. And the mother puts it back together.
“That makes me think of the way you fix your helicopter,” I say.
Jason and Katie smile at each other, and I am a step closer to my vision of connecting everything that happens in this nursery school classroom. My habit of drawing invisible lines between the children’s images is, I think, the best thing I do as a teacher.

From a First Book of Definitions to An Alphabet of Stories: Connections Continue
Writing, including, connecting

The title The Boy Who Could Tell Stories, was an adaptation of the title The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter.

Seeing into Conversations: Children Using Words in Stories is our latest print publication, designed to help teachers and parents who are interested in exploring the connections between story, play and children’s thinking.

Our latest online work in progress, An Alphabet of Stories, shows how A Hole is to Dig: A First Book of Definitions can be expanded into A First Book of Stories.

Conversations for practicing and companion guide which includes transcript and overview of Paley's work.
Click to purchase.