Storytelling Project

“Hear My Story, Tell Me Yours”

Notes from John Farrell

The Storytelling Project is an ongoing project that features stories told to students by elders in their families and communities. Students interview elders and record and retell their stories. The web site will be the library or museum where these stories can live on. Students and teachers from anywhere can visit the web site to view, listen to and read stories from other places and cultures. The project idea grew from a song I wrote while in South Africa. Background information telling where the song came from is in the following paragraph.

This song came to me unexpectedly in October of 2007 as I drove along an unpaved road on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. I was on my way to meet and interview some remarkable women from the Keiskamma Art Project in Hamburg, situated along the banks of Keiskamma River, which flows to the Indian Ocean. As I drove along this dirt road more than 6,000 miles from my home, I passed townships and settlements. I saw hundreds of school children walking miles to school. I dodged cows and goats in the road and wondered about the unfamiliar landscape and vegetation. The women I was going to interview are participants in the Keiskamma Art Project, a project founded by Dr. Carol Hofmyer, to raise awareness about and fight against HIV AIDS in the village and surrounding areas. They have achieved inspiring results in their battle to change the tide of the Aids epidemic that has ravaged their community and country. As I thought about what I wanted to ask the ladies I spontaneously began singing what would become this song about telling each other our stories and passing them on.

How to Get Started on Your Storytelling Project

  • Explain to students that this project is being done by students around the world and that the stories they collect will be included as part of a compilation of stories from many countries.
  • Tell students about where the idea of the song came from, or read John Farrell’s notes above to them.
  • Listen to the song, “Hear My Story, Tell Me Yours.” You can do so by playing the CD “Building Bridges: Promoting Respect and Understanding” or click on the link below. Tell students that the chorus of voices they will hear on the recording are members of the South African vocal group “Thula Sizwe.” For background information about Thula Sizwe you can go to the web site Thula Sizwe are friends of the Bridges of Peace and Hope Project and have performed in several BoPH Concerts, and recorded a number of songs for the project including “We Are Walking a Bridge of Peace,” and “All That Is Is One,” which are both included on the “Building Bridges” CD and also available here on this web site.

Download the mp3: "Hear My Story Featuring Thula Sizwe"

Click here for printer-friendly lyrics to "Hear My Story"

How to Collect Your Stories

  • Have students ask permission to conduct an interview with a grandparent, parent, relative, or an elder in the community. The purpose of the interview is to learn about the elders life and to choose one or more “meaningful” stories to retell.

Notes: For the purpose of the activity an “elder” should be someone at least 30 years older than the student if possible. If the student can talk with a grandparent, or someone of that generation or older, that is recommended.

A “meaningful” story is one that made a lasting impression on the elder. It may be about something happy, sad, frightening, or exciting. It could be about a life-changing event, a historical event that affected him or her, a story that tells about the living conditions at that time, or something that taught him or her an important life lesson. It doesn’t have to be a childhood story but it should be a story from long ago. Our hope is to build story “bridges” that make connections across time and cultures.

Bring a voice recorder or video camera to the interview and ask the elder for permission to record the interview. Having an audio or video record of the interview will be helpful in retelling the story and may be incorporated into the students presentation of the story. Remember the necessary batteries and storage needs such as tapes or DVD’s.

Conduct the interview at a time and location that will be most convenient and comfortable for the elder.

Getting Started With the Interview

  • Have students compile a list of questions they would like to ask the elders. This can be done individually or as a group. Choose questions that cannot be answered “YES” or “NO.”

Listed below are some sample questions. Feel free to use these questions, make changes or choose your own. These are included to get you started.

  1. What do you remember most about growing up?
  2. What were family celebrations like? (i.e. birthdays, holidays, etc.)
  3. Tell about something funny that happened when you were younger.
  4. Tell me a story about something surprising or unexpected that happened.
  5. Tell me a sad story about your childhood.
  6. What was it like where you lived?
  7. What kinds of games did you play?
  8. If you went to school, tell me what school was like.
  9. What were you afraid of?
  10. Tell about something that happened that taught you an important lesson.
  11. What story would you most like others to know?
  12. Tell me a story about one of your parents or grandparents.

Retelling the Stories You’ve Collected

  • Have student choose a method of retelling the story he/she learned from the elder. The retelling can be;

Written out as a story or poem

Retold orally and recorded or videotaped

Retold to classmates, schoolmates, or community members

Student can choose another method of retelling the story not listed here

  • Have student create a piece of art that in some way portrays the lesson or main idea of the story. The art can be a drawing, painting, sculpture, photograph, collage, video or other work.
  • Have students write a caption or title for the artwork or presentation. The caption should include the main idea, meaning or lesson of the story.

Example of a simple story and description of possible artwork and caption:

“My grandmother told me the story about the time she won first prize in a race at the county fair. She was the same age I am now when it happened. To win the race she had to run faster than one of the “loud” boys in her class. The boy was really mad that she beat him and he said she cheated but she didn’t cheat. She just really wanted to win and she was faster than him that day. Grandma still has the blue ribbon she won.”

Art could show the grandma as a young girl running in a race, or it could show the ribbon she won, or it could show the grandma telling the story.

The caption (or “what I learned”) might be “I didn’t know my Grandma was a fast runner when she was a girl” or “My Grandma was very determined when she was a girl,” or “The day Grandma won the race,” or “She taught that boy a lesson.”

Have a Culminating Storytelling Performance

  • Invite parents, family members, or other classes to come hear your stories and view the artwork, photographs and videos that go with your stories.
  • You can sing use the chorus of the song “Hear My Story, Tell Me Yours,” to introduce each new story, or listen to the recording.

Use Photographs, Artwork, Music and Video to Create a Storytelling Video

  • If you have a video camera available, or if your school has an AV or IT person, or a parent who is willing to assist you, invite students to create video projects that retell their story. The videos can include photos, portions of the interview, the student retelling the story etc.

Post Your Projects on this Web Site

  • To share your projects with other classrooms and teachers please contact John Farrell at to receive instructions for posting your work.