Memory Bags and Storytelling

In the first week of school this year, I asked my students to create a “Memory Bag” and now the students are creating great stories out of the objects they have collected.  The idea came from an article in a recent Responsive Classroom newsletter.

A Bag of Memories

I began by using objects in my own bag to tell some stories to my class.  As I held a small beach rock, I told of how my kids and I love to collect rocks during the summer and create structures on the larger rocks at the beach, and then watch the waves wash them away.  While holding a small gel pen, I told them about how my friends and I used to write notes to each other after school and leave them in a variety of places to find like a scavenger hunt. The students loved the stories and it was a fun way for them to get to know me.

On another day, I read them the story Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox.  This is a great story where a little boy helps an elderly woman remember things from her past through the sight of a variety of objects he collects.  Drawing students’ attention to how his basket of things is similar to my bag, I gave each student their own clear, ZipLock bag and asked them to fill it with small objects they might find that contain a memory.  And off they went.

Over the  next few days, student proudly brought in their bags and placed them in our Memory Bag Crate.  The bags sit waiting to unleash some amazing stories!

Telling Stories

I use my snack time to listen to music each day, but this year, I’ve been taking one day a week to have at least one student tell a story using their bag.

Storytelling is a great way to get students thinking about writing a story.  It also helps students to gain a better understanding of story elements (setting, characters, and plot) without the interference that may come with writing, grammar, spelling and punctuation.

However, storytelling is not easy.  It’s a skill that needs to be developed.  While I could use these Memory Bags as a way to just spur ideas for stories later, I’m choosing to (and hoping to fully follow through with) the idea of telling a good story that may be inspired by something in their Memory Bag.

One of the biggest challenges I have seen my students face during this process is that they want to just tell about the object, not tell a story.   For example Suzie held up a ticket and started out telling us what the ticket was for and that she went to a game.  Johnny showed us a Lego from his collection and simply told us about who the Lego guy is and what collection he is from.  It has been a challenge for students to get away from telling facts about the object to telling a story.

Here are some ideas and prompts I have tried with my students to get them to tell a story.

  • Help bring us back to the time this object reminds you of.
  • Set the scene for us.  Where are you when you hold this object?
  • What does this object remind you of?
  • Who is with you when you have this object with you?
  • What do you do with this object?
  • What events occur?
  • What interesting things happen or does a problem arise?
  • How do things end up for you?

Or, if you want students to steer away from a realistic fiction or personal narrative and start to tell more fantasy type stories, try these prompts:

  • What does the object feel (emotions)?
  • Who is with the object?
  • Where is the object?
  • What does the object like to do?
  • Where does it go?
  • What happens (to the object)?
  • How do things end up?

In a sense, I use these prompts to help guide the students through the BME of a story, helping them to focus on the elements that make up a good story.

This project will be on-going throughout the year.  Students can share stories in partners, groups and as a whole class.  As we learn more about what makes a good story, rising action, plot, problem/solution, characterization, descriptions, etc, the students’ stories will become better and better.  It will be a natural transition for students to then use these skills in their own writing and in their reading comprehension, but it is my hope that they will learn some key story telling strategies as well.

Life is a story.  Start telling it!



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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Love these ideas! Reading this post reminds me of the class I took where the professor was an Irish storyteller … bring back wonderful memories and great inspiration!

  2. I like the idea of teaching students to tell stories verbally before having them write stories. The prompts you use can be used later in writing when you ask the question, Is there anything else the reader needs to know?

    When writing stories, older students can learn to elaborate by analyzing the balance between actions, setting, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings.

    Thanks for the post – a good reminder of the benefits of verbalizing stories.

    • Thanks for the comment, Janet. It’s been fun watching the kids think their way through a story while they’re sitting in the hot seat. I think it’s good for all the students and myself to see where their minds are at while they’re telling a story.

  3. Chris Bole says:

    This publishing company might be another way to capitalize on the storytelling generated from the memory bags:

  4. Tod Deskin says:

    Educators creating safe, ambitious, and joyful elementary schools Like every instructor, I spend part of each summer picturing the students who will maintain my treatment for the next 180 days and thinking about the best way to start the new school year. Straight away, I want to begin cultivating a classroom community based on confidence, and I also want to get the academic learning going from day one.

  5. Joanne Kenzy says:

    I am taking your suggestions to a different generation. The seniors of America.
    I am going on a planned book tour at senior facilities to read story poetry. I now plan a memory bag. Something to spur the reminiscent spirit among the group.

    The bell-man ascended to the steeple
    He leaned against the wall
    A little boy was placed at the door
    The door leading to Independence Hall!

    That old bell-man waited long
    “They will never do it” he kept saying
    And while he waited in that stall
    That old man knelt and he was praying.

    “Give liberty to this land
    And to the inhabitants thereof;
    That taxation and representation are inseparable
    Give us the freedom that we love.”

    Suddenly a loud shout arose from below
    The blue-eyed boy yelling “Ring, let her ring”
    The Declaration of Independence had just been signed
    And with purity of purpose was sent to the king!
    Joanne Kenzy

  6. Joanne Kenzy says:


    She had no control of her body
    As she tumbled down the hill
    She did not know up from down
    Nor the sudden stop or the sudden still

    Snow had filled her mouth
    As she cart- wheeled through the wave
    Inside the ribbon of speeding snow
    She felt this may be her grave

    The avalanche spread had stopped
    Jagged ice piled everywhere
    Locking everything in an icy cocoon
    Including the skier named Molly Dimare

    One ski remained on her foot
    Pointed to the sky
    Her head now frozen in the ice
    Be calm she thought, you will not die

    She was able to reach her face
    Picked away the ice
    Able to see the sky up above
    She was alive, felt real nice

    This group of expert skiers
    Smart and up-to-date
    All wore chirping beacons
    To help before it was too late

    It had not occurred to Molly
    Of the thrill, she soon would know
    When her friend picked up a signal
    And spotted pink mittens sticking out of the snow

    Joanne Kenzy
    September 6, 2014

    My book “Excursions of the Mind” goes to print in April. My senior tour will occur in June…Nevada, Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah.
    The book has 47 pieces of poetry, each with beautiful graphics. Will be available on Amazon, also watch for my new website and hear the voice of the poet queen.
    I was born a Peterson, way back when.

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