Circle Stories - How to Get Kids to Write


Gary Cox © 1993

Anybody with children loves to do stuff with them: movies, swimming, horseback riding, soccer games... my kids and I love to play tennis or paddleball together...

But as parents, we occasionally feel a need to pass down to our children some important gem, some bit of wisdom, from our vast wealth of experience.

We can drum it into their little head with daily thumping -- I don't know how many times I've yelled out to a speeding child: "Don't run down hill!" -- or we can put the message into an entertaining story. It's the old: "The moral of the story is..." A revised Jack and Jill was much more effective in teaching my kids the relationship of critical speed to high speed hill descent and knee-eating rocks.

So. I invented a way of involving the kids in the development of these kinds of stories and found, as expected, that the message was much better retained.

But wait! An unexpected plus! Here was a new fun way to play with my kids, my kids' friends, and even my -- get this! -- pre-teens and their friends.

The technique is called "circle stories" and to play you need a circle of kids, a bottle, and a "story master" -- a kind of guide. It helps if you're a writer -- as one of the members of the circle.

The story master, leading the group, get consensus on the subject of the story. Then begins with any appropriate opening -- "Once upon a time..." is always good -- while spinning the bottle.

Where the bottle stops no one knows, but where it stops that kid has to fill in the blank.

"OK!" The story master says, "Once upon a time there was a ... "

The bottle points to a child: "... A goose!"

After a second, the group, including the silent types, is on their way to writing some terrific tales. At the end, time permitting, the story master sums up, and tells the story again.

The story master is also charged with the duty of collecting the stories. Incidentally, if a friendly artist has drawn pictures along the way, the smaller kids get the idea of how illustration and story work together.

Here are a few fully-contained circle stories, and a few that started as circle stories and were embellished by the writer for the entertainment of the children. And occasionally some adults along the way.


Example: The flower that lost its smell.

Story master: Once upon a time, there was a

Child: flower

Story master: Ok. What do we know about flowers. There are tame flowers and wild flowers.

same kid: It was a wildflower.

Story master: So where did it live?

Child: By the woods

Story master: In the deep scary woods.

Child: No. By a town.

Story master: What did this flower look like?

Child: It was a very pretty little flower, and it had lots of friends. And they would drop by for a visit.

Story master: Why would they do that?

Child: Flowers stay in one place, because they're planted.

Another kid: And it had a pretty smell.

Story master: So they would talk and share the flower's smell which was always very, very sweet. One day, while the friends were visiting... What happened?

Child: They were reading a story and it started to rain and everybody went home.

Story master: How did that make Flower feel?

Child: He was sad.

Story master: What did he say?

Child: "It's just a dumb wind. Doesn't bother me."

Story master: So then what happened?

Child: The next morning, it was still raining. And Flower was still mad.

Story master: So did the friends come visit.

Child volunteering: When the friends came to visit the flower was really mad. He said, "Stupid storm! You ruined everything."

Story master: What do you think the friends said?

Child: "Oh, Flower. You're just grumpy because the storm made the sun go away."

Story master: Who said that.

Same kid: A bird.

Story master: How about a grouse? That's a bird in the woods. And what about another friend?

Child: A mouse.

Story master: Did he say something?

Child: "Don't worry. Be happy." (SIC)

Story master: Like the song? What happened then?

Child: The flower was mad because it lost its smell.

Story master: OK! So the flower said, "Go away, all of you!" Besides everything else that's ruined, I lost my smell." What did the friends do then?

Child: The said they would look for it.

Story master: Ok. They said, "We'll all help you look for it" They might have did that because friends help friends when they're in trouble. Right? So where did the grouse-friend look? Where do grouse hid out?

Child: No answer.

Story master: How about in the thicket? What other friend?

Child volunteered: My folks always say look in the last place you had it.

Story master: That's pretty smart. What smart animal might have said that?

Selected kid: An owl?

Story master: Ok. What about another animal?

Child: Coyote?

Story master: While the tricky coyote looked in secret hiding place, "I bet he put it here under this rock."

Story master: Ok. What about another animal?


Mouse-friend looked in the tall grass.

Grouse-friend looked in the thicket.

Racoon-friend looked by the waterfall.

Otter-friend looked by the stream.

Rabbit-friend looked in the brambles.

Badger-friend looked in the hollow.

Sparrow-friend looked in the barn.

Frog-friend looked among the lily pads.

Deer-friend looked in the meadow.

Beaver-friend looked under water.

Child: And Blue Bird-friend looked in the sky.

Story master: Tell me about the sky.

Child: It was blue. It was all pretty again.

Story master: Yes. The sun had come out. But even though the sun shone brightly again the friends were sad. They told Flower they couldn't find it's smell. What did Flower say?

Child: Flower said, "We will find it. I'm sorry I was so grouchy."

Story master: So the friends gathered around and all hugged Flower and each other. Then something magical happened. Flower's smell came back. You know where it was? It was hidden away inside his heart and when all the animals hugged, his heart opened and out came the smell.

And that's how Flower found his smell.

Send for the e-Book of stories by Gary Cox.

Back to the homepage