Story Studio: teaching writing through storytelling

A small but mighty Victoria organization has helped thousands of children and youth become great storytellers and is sharing resources to reach even more students, including adults.

Story Studio is an award-winning charity that inspires, educates and empowers youth through writing. They create ‘fun-first’ workshops that give youth the tools and support to create their own stories. Since 2011, they have worked with almost 10,000 youth and produced 1500 youth-authored books.

“Story Studio supports literacy and is fun,” says Story Studio’s Executive Director Sean Rodman, one of the organization’s two employees, “but is particularly important to engaging reluctant readers and writers.”

Sean is also Victoria’s literacy outreach coordinator (LOC), supporting literacy initiatives within the city, and is the author of nine books geared for reluctant readers.

In February 2023, he shared tips and resources with literacy practitioners on how to teach writing through storytelling at a Decoda Literacy Solutions webinar.

“We developed a lot of resources and techniques around the idea of building narrative capacity that anyone can employ – that LOCs and other literacy practitioners can use in their own setting,” said Sean. “What we’re doing with Story Studio is worth sharing.”

Why storytelling is important to teaching

“Stories are a really powerful vehicle for teaching. Studies show that the retention and comprehension of information improves if you wrap those facts up with a story. Story telling lights up different areas of the brain, primarily through emotional engagement.”

He explained that when the brain receives facts and data, it engages only two parts of the brain: Wernicke’s area and Brocha’s area; whereas when the brain receives stories, it engages eight parts of the brain (sensory cortex, Wernicke’s area; auditory cortex; olfactory cortex; motor cortex; Brocha’s area; visual cortex, cerebellum).

Inspire, educate and empower reluctant readers and writers

Story Studio aims to inspire, educate and empower reluctant readers and writers.

“Many people say ‘I’m just not a writer’ – and that’s not true. Anyone can tell a story and anyone can build their narrative capacity. It’s a skill that can be developed with training and practice.”

Inspire

What to write about is often a writer’s dilemma. Sean says that it’s important to find the things that will engage people in their own education or literacy journey.

“Find the thing that inspires them to write. Work with kids to find out the media and stories that are around them. What do they like? What books do they like? If there is a video game you like, let’s look at the narrative and storytelling behind that. Take it apart, think about what makes it tick and why you love it.”

Educate

Each year, Story Studio collaborates with 20-30 school teachers and classes (and increasingly with community groups) to deliver writing workshops.

“There are a whole bunch of tools that professional writers use that are very simple but powerful. We show them that professional writers use these same techniques and tools.”

Story Studio created StorySheets to help writers plan and develop their story. These free-to-download worksheets guide young writers from idea generation to final edits, including topics such as: Gathering Ideas; Creating Characters; Building a Setting; Creating Story Maps and how to hook your reader.

Empower

The two-day Story Studio programs bring in volunteers to help students individually through the writing process. The end result of these programs is that they create two books per student – one for the author to take home and one for the school library.

“A local author collection can be seen on the walls in the library,” said Sean. “It validates that as a grade 3 student, you have written a book. You went through the whole process. That is enormously empowering!”

He says that the same tools and principles apply for adult emerging readers and writers, and points to a recent collaboration with Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood house in Vancouver. “Families newly arrived to Canada, they’re learning English, and as part of that, we helped them to write a book for their kids, often based on their journey from their home to Canada,” he said.

Literacy happens

“We’re a storytelling organization, but literacy is the outcome, almost like a side effect,” he said. “If you focus on all this stuff, then literacy happens. It can give youth the motivation to do the hard work, the spelling and grammar.”

Sean points out that story telling organizations are not new but are growing, as a pathway to support writing skills and literacy.

“There is a wave of this happening around the world, like 826 Valencia in the U.S., Ministry of Stories in the UK and Writers’ Exchange in Vancouver.”

Comments from webinar participants

  • “This was fantastic. It is immediately applicable for practice. Very, very worthwhile.”
  • “Love having a webinar that really dives into the “how” you can use the information in your regular programming as well as using it to start something new.”
  • “Something as simple as stories are keys for literacy and a means of empowering the learner.”

Storytelling tools and resources

Storysheets

Download the full ‘StorySheet’ creative writing system as PDFs – for free!

To download the storysheets: visit the Shop page, then scroll down to Free Downloadable Resources – you’ll need to add them to the shopping cart at $0 and check out.

You can also purchase PDF or printed bundles with extras, like the Educator Bundle with curriculum aligned lesson plans.

Monthly writing contest

Story Studio holds a monthly world-wide creative writing contest for ages 5-13. Prizes are awarded for the two top stories for ages 5-9 and 10-13.

Guild of Young Writers

For youth age 12-17, the Guild of Young Writers is a growing online community for new voices and emerging storytellers. Participants meet for a weekly ‘Writer’s Cafe’ to share writing and receive feedback from other members of their community, join in for monthly presentations and workshops with visiting authors and illustrators and are the first to hear about exciting opportunities to showcase their writing!

About Sean Rodman and Story Studio

Sean Rodman is the executive director of Story Studio, an award-winning charity that inspires, educates and empowers youth to be great storytellers. For over twenty years, Sean has worked in the non-profit field in leadership and advancement roles. He has also written 9 young adult fiction novels, which have been critically well-received and have collectively sold over 35,000 copies to date. Finally, Sean is an experienced presenter and has engaged youth of all ages on issues related to creative writing, literacy and publishing. He feels lucky that Story Studio lets him combine all his passions in one amazing place.

Sean loves to support new story writing programs, connect with him by email at: info@storystudio.ca or learn more at storystudio.ca

About us

Decoda Literacy Solutions is BC’s provincial literacy organization. We support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC by providing resources, training and funds.

Our work supports children and families, youth, adults, Indigenous and immigrant communities to help build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

Find more professional development opportunities on Decoda’s training page.

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