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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Storytelling Drills

Dear Colleagues:

For the last few days I have been discussing storytelling from a conceptual level.  I thought I would bring it down to the practical today and see if I could share with you some storytelling drills to get the ball rolling in your courses and classes.

By the time a law student makes it to the second or third year of law school the human being has pretty much been beaten out of them by the socratic method.  Even though law schools are responding to recent market pressures and thoughts about the best way to teach, I think most law students would not place creativity, storytelling, or risk taking at the top of the list of things that you do in law school.  Because of this they have suppressed the ability to walk out on the ledge and explore their humanity.  Good storytelling drills can begin to reopen their creative pores!  Let me give you some ideas.

1.  Chatka.  I am sure that I am not spelling this correctly, but it comes from a wonderful session I did at an Externships conference years ago.  Collect a bag full of small items before class.  The items should be everyday items, but varied.  You might include a sea shell, comb, sponge, fountain pen, small can of play dough, silly putty, a rubber ball, let you imagination run wild.  Bring the bag to class and then tell the students to visualize a problem in their life.  Something that they are struggling with.  It can be anything.  Once everyone has their issue firmly in mind, pass out the items.  Give each person three of them.  Tell them that they have to choose one of the items and focus on it.  They should consider the item in light of all five of their senses and the memories or ideas that it evokes in them.  They should then apply the nature of the object to the personal challenge they previously thought of.  Give them time to do this.  Let them roll the items around in their hands, smell them, play with them. Explain to them how the answer to their problem can be found in the nature of the most common of items around them - they just need to look.  Once they find the answer, and many will, it is time to let them share the lesson that came to them from the item.  Try it for yourself, you might be surprised.

2.  A pig, a knife and bottle of wine.  I get my class together and say you have a pig, a knife and a bottle of wine.  Tell me the story of these three items.  I then give them about 5 minutes to brainstorm, pick the first volunteer and they tell us their story.  Then I call on the next one, and the next. It is very interesting because they begin to compete with one another to outdo the last story - this is also a great ice breaker.

3.  Robert Altchiler uses the picture technique. He gives the student a piece of paper with frames, looking a bit like an old school comic book.  He then tells them that they must share the story of their case in pictures - no words.  It is incredibly liberating.  He sent me some of their work from last semester and I was blown away by the creative nature of the process he was using, even the ones who had no artistic talent.  Great idea.

4.  Picture stories.  The Honorable Robert McGahey suggests the picture drill and that is a great one.  He collects a series of humorous photographs and then puts them all together in a slide show.  He shows the class a picture for around 5 seconds and then tells them they have to tell him a story about the picture.  It cannot sound like an opening statement or closing argument and lawyer words are forbidden.  He has had excellent results with this technique and I intend to try it out myself next time.

These are just a few ideas to get the storytelling ball rolling.

What do you do?


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