Few things can send fear through the hearts of some storytellers than the thought of standing in front of middle school students for storytelling.
Elementary school students are game. They still like tales, and they want to hear them.
There are a myriad of topics for High School Students, and you can actually have conversations about things.
Middle School isn’t like either of those.
The Middle School audience wants to be entertained, is really freaked out about what everyone else is doing, wants to be treated like they are grown, but are actually still children, think that they know more than the adults around them, and are swinging through the first and most pernicious part of puberty. They are, in other words, challenging.
There are tellers who come to mind who we are pretty sure have no problems with middle school.
No doubt Kala Jojo could keep an auditorium of middle school kids enrapt.
Well, “sure”, you might say, “Of course they could hold middle schoolers, but what about me?”
I can’t play the Bow Harp!
I don’t even know what this is!
I have an mbira…somewhere.
And, before you ask, no, I most certainly do not have a djembe!
Yes, middle school audiences love music, but they also love language, and you can hook them if you try a few simple steps.
- Create Common Ground. This is a skill we all employ. Though it might seem that this crowd wants nothing to do with anyone, not even themselves half the time, they are as susceptible to hearing things about themselves as the next person. You could begin by asking questions such as, “What were you most worried about when starting school this year?” you could seed the discussion by saying, “When I was in sixth grade, my biggest fear was being laughed at by other people. Does anyone else have this fear?” Questions are a great way to begin.
- Shape your stories to deal with the sorts of things that plague or interest this group. This age range deals with a complete renegotiating of who they are and how they live with peers. It is the age where they start giving each other grief about their hair, shoes, clothes, skin tones and all sorts of other things. Belonging is more important than expressing individuality. This is really hard for some kids. Talk about the identity issues, and tell stories that address the feelings of isolation, fear and shame that lots of this age group grapples with on a regular basis.
- This is a group of people who do not have their emotions under control, and they are likely to do spontaneous, destructive, charitable, lovely, unpredictable, crazy, out of the blue things. Address this as well, and tell stories about your own foibles, the foibles of other adults through history, or folklore that deals with the perils of acting before you’ve thought about it.
- You could also talk about surviving middle school. Focus on the kids who are marginalized, and tell stories that help the kids in the middle realize that someday all of them will be leaving school, and you never know who someone is going to turn out to be in the next ten years.
Don’t write people off just because you don’t see where they might be going!
When you figure out where your audience lives, you can meet them there and take them anywhere!
Donna Washington, Storyteller.
Donna is a national storyteller, author, workshop presenter and award winning recording artist. She has been featured at thousands of schools, festivals and conferences across the country.