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How to Use Storymaps When Learning Both Oral and Written Stories
by Dianne Hackworth

Here's some of the information that I use in study guides after a residency. This is a compilation over the years of doing storytelling residencies in the schools of information I've gleaned here and there and just plain ole "Eureka" moments. I'm assuming you can picture the storymap from this description. I always draw an example for the study guide. I'm also including guidelines on learning a story for telling that work for both written or oral stories. When teaching creative writing residencies, I always start participants drawing a storymap. No words until they have told the story to someone — well, maybe a word here or there, but no phrases! Can you tell I really believe in storymaps?

How to use a storymap:

For the stories the students plan to tell, you will want to show them how to make a storymap or write a story outline. (A storymap is basically a pictorial outline, quite like a flow chart with simple illustrations.) This is a process that helps organize and learn the story. It can also be used when retelling the first few times when "what happens next" is forgotten. Once the students have learned to make a storymap or outline they can continue to use it for stories they wish to learn on their own. This is very beneficial and should be learned by all.

The story map helps in visualizing the story. It is very important that you see the story in your mind as you tell it, just as you would watch a silent movie and tell what is happening. The number of pictures you draw for the story will vary. Some stories require only six to eight pictures, while more complicated tales, of course, would need more. The first time you tell the story, you will probably need to look at the storymap/outline all the time. After a few practices, you will need to look at it only when you forget what comes next. After telling the story while using the storymap/outline 10 to 15 times (fewer times with simpler stories), the pictures of the story will appear in your mind in order as you tell the story.

Learning to tell a written story:

  • Find or write a story you like. If you do not like the story, neither will the audience.
  • Read the story several times.(At least five times to really get to know the story. You may ask someone to read it to you.)
  • Read the story out loud once or twice.This helps you hear how the story should be.
  • Take out any extra detail that can be left out
  • Think about particular phrases you want to include.
  • Visualize the story in your mind as if it were a movie.
  • Without looking at the story, make a story map.
  • Watch the story as if it were a silent movie in your mind.
  • Decide how will you begin and end the story. These are the only parts of the story you might want to memorize.
  • Tell the story out loud using the storymap or outline as needed.
  • Keep telling and practicing until you can tell the story without looking at the storymap, but can see the pictures of the story like a movie in your mind.
  • Tell the story as often as you can and HAVE FUN!

Remember, memorization should be kept to a minimum. You may want to memorize the first few sentences and the ending. You may also want to memorize key phrases or especially well-worded parts written by the author. The story, however, should be mostly told in your own words. Remember to visualize the story like a movie as you are telling it. Picture your storymap.

Dianne Hackworth, a storyteller from North Carolina, tours throughout the Southeast telling stories for all ages. Dianne brings to life Appalachian and Celtic folktales; stories of fantastic beings, dragons and jugglers; musical tales of cats, monsters, and toads; humorous stories, scary stories, and touching tales. To find out more about this delightful teller, visit her website at


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