Tag Archives: primary schools

Where did September come from?

StickersThis morning I turned around and noticed that a new academic year had crept in whilst I was looking the other way.  Who saw that coming (again)?

Its been a slow start to the school year here at Kirk Towers.  The fact is that as the teachers and pupils find their feet the last thing they need is a storyteller.  Besides I am still recovering from an epic summer of non stop storytelling.  Saying this the snowball is beginning to gather momentum and I have bookings through until December.  As ever I am hoping that this snowball produces an avalanche!

It isn’t just schools finding their feet.  Many of the organisations I worked with over the summer are using the end of summer and beginning of autumn to take stock and reflect before cannonballing into Black History Month and plans for 2016.

In short, with not many people around and a lot of work awaiting the go ahead, I find that today I can relax a little but rest assured I’ll be in Ipswich next week as the show carries on.

1000 up for Time the Ostler (and counting)!

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

A year ago I made a video inspired by “The Highwayman” in which Tim the Ostler confesses what he did to betray Bess and The Highwayman.  Twelve months on its just had its thousandth viewing.  Yah!

I’m thrilled that so many people have watched it (admittedly it’s not millions of bods but I’m not a pop star or a puppy/baby doing anything cute).  As with most things though the devil is in the detail – How many people watched the video because they were looking for it?  How is this short clip being used?  Do people like it?  I wish I could tell you but the truth is I have no idea.  For all the views, my video has received very little feedback.

It’d be lovely to know that this little film is being used as a study tool rather than just accidentally clicked on.  So do me a favour, if you’ve watch and enjoy any of my Youtube videos don’t forget to leave a comment or click “like”.

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Swansea

Odysseus and PoseidonAnother week another odyssey – this time I went to Swansea via Oxfordshire.

First Oxfordshire for Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”.  The Just So Stories may not be the most fashionable collection of short stories and are certainly overshadowed by The Jungle Book, but Kipling’s clever solutions to things that occur in nature (How the Camel gets its hump, how the Rhinoceros gets its skin and how the Elephant gets its trunk to name the few I incorporate) are little gems and great to tell.  As a child I thoroughly enjoyed these stories and they offer a wonderful and imaginative Launchpad for further learning.

As I already knew the stories from the collection I wanted to tell and I had an idea of how I wanted to tell them the preparation work was very enjoyable.  As with many of my stories, finding the right props was trickier but in the end my Mum came to the rescue as she made the most wonderful crocodile for the story of The Elephant’s Child.  I would not be exaggerating if I said that when I presented the story in East London, the crocodile’s appearance left two Reception classes speechless – he is brilliant (photos to follow)!

I’m glad to say my version of Kipling’s tales have been very well received.

HUNGRY MEAD1“We had a great time and our little ones were enthralled.” (Parent, Ebb & Flo Bookshop Session, Chorley)

“The day was absolutely fantastic and enjoyed by all! An imaginative and creative way to bring the ‘Just So Stories’ to life for younger children.” (Teacher, Wychwood Primary School, Oxfordshire)

It is always pleasing to be given the challenge of developing new material rather than simply trotting out the old favourites.  It is often good for my practice and my relationship with an organisation (the experience of working together becomes far more personal when the booker has been very specific about the day).  I particularly like to develop stories I feel will have a life beyond the intended audience.  So far my version of the “Just So Stories” has been in front of almost 350 children and I hope it will be a part of my repertoire for some time to come.

So that was Oxfordshire but what about Swansea?

I have been touring Britain for the better part of a decade.  I have been up and down England, into Scotland and even visited the Channel Islands but I had never worked in Wales.  I had heard stories of how wonderful Welsh audiences could be so I was very excited to take “The War Game” a story about football, to Swansea Central Library, situated in the heart of rugby mad Wales.  I had a very memorable day (even if the three schools I worked with all wore blue and had unpronounceable names) and it was all over much too quickly for my liking.

It wasn’t just my day or lime green hotel room that were memorable..

The War Game

Now one of the reasons why I perhaps hadn’t worked in Swansea before is the fact its 42 junctions along the M4 from London.  Don’t get me wrong, I love travel and visiting new places but motorway driving is monotonous.  Wishing I had got the train I set off for home, deciding to stop for fuel at Membury Services (not far from Swindon).  It was here that I picked up Sheffield University students Alex and Dom – my first ever hitchhikers.  It turned out that the boys were spending their Easter break hitchhiking for charity and were en route to Bucharest(!).  They had left Sheffield that morning and were attempting to get to Dover.  What they had been doing in Swindon was a little confusing but I gave them a ride to a service station on the southside of the M25 before turning for home.

As March ends so too does my busiest period of the year.  Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking bookings for April thru July and firming up my summer schedule.  Highlights will include another trip to The National Football Museum, visits to libraries in Peterborough and Hull and work on a Heritage Pop Up project in Redbridge but beyond these landmarks who knows where the next few months will take me…

April to June: What they said..

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.

This year I have seen the amount of work I do swell.  More than ever before I am being asked to travel across the country to work with young people and adults on all manner of projects.  As the school year ends I thought I would share a few of the comments from the past three months.

In March Private Peaceful was perhaps the largest single project I have ever undertaken and the feedback from it was phenomenal but rather than share what you can see on a dedicated page I have picked out testimonials from other workshops that I offer.

“Children from all ages and classes were engaged and buzzing from their work with you.”

Literacy Coordinator, Watling Lower School, Dunstable (Jack and the Beanstalk Workshop and Storytelling Day, May 2014)

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.“The staff said you were the best story teller they had ever experienced.”

Inclusive Coordinator, Sauncey Wood Primary School, Harpenden (The Unlucky Mummy Myths and Legends Day, May 2014)

and perhaps my favourite…

“‘I really get it now. Shakespeare was my worst thing before but now I understand that it’s meant to be fun and dramatic.'”

Year Eight, Shenfield High School, Shenfield (Shakespeare’s The Tempest Workshop Sessions, May 2014)

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.

I’d be lying if I said that everybody adored my style of working and that there haven’t been difficult days along the way but the comments I choose to share here are my mandate for carrying on working into 2014-15.  They demonstrate my value and the difference my storytelling and workshop sessions make to young people and educational professionals.

I am incredibly lucky to have worked with some fantastic people during the current academic year (City Read London, Shrewsbury Children’s BookfestGuilden Morden Primary School and Hackney Museum) and much of my success is because of the wonderful, supportive people who give me such wonderful opportunities.

The Summer Reading Challenge 2014 has already kicked off what’s looking like a very exciting six months.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll be visiting you.

See also feedback from Jan-March

Mammoths to Medals (Revisited)

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.In 2013 I moved from the London borough of Hackney to the London Borough of Waltham Forest.  I may have only moved seven short miles but after six happy years in one of the most vibrant boroughs in Britain it was a massive wrench.  Whilst living in Hackney I had some of the most creatively fulfilling years of my life as I built strong working relationships with organisations including The Hackney Museum.  Hackney Museum, based in Hackney Central Library is an amazing community resource staffed by knowledgeable and creative people with a passion for sharing local history.  I may be biased but I think its one of the best museums in the country.

Working in heritage environments is something I really enjoy.  My earliest solo storytelling pieces were based around British history (including a Victorian Classroom session for The Bruce Castle Museum) and this summer I will be helping to lead a creative exploration of the Guilden Morden fire.

Anyway, as I sat watching Lizzy Yarnold, Jade Etherington and Team GB at the Sochi Winter and Paralympic Games I couldn’t help but think back to my time working with Hackney Museum.  It was in the build up to Summer Olympic and Paralympics (London 2012) that I collaborated with Hackney Museum on Mammoths to Medals,a presentation which sought to tell the incredible story of Hackney’s history as part of the Museum’s Mapping the Change project.  In just 30 minutes we explored 200,000 years of Hackney’s history highlighting the contributions of those people who have called Hackney their home; Anglo Saxon Farmers, Tudor Society, Victorian Industrialists and migrants from across the globe.

In the life of the project I have presented the piece on many occasions at Hackney Museum and in Hackney Primary Schools.  Incorporating games and learning activities into a chronological narrative the piece offer facts about Hackney and but also it questions how we will be remembered.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.A lot has changed in the two years since we made the piece was documented at Kingsmead Primary School.  Hackney’s demographic and landscape have been slowly morphing for 200,000 years but concerns about how communities will withstand the gentrification of East London mean our legacy is once again scrutinised.

When we look at Hackney’s story it shows us that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  It points to how different traditions, cultures and values have shaped an area into a place people want to live and work.   I am incredibly proud of being a part of Hackney’s history and of this piece.  I hope that through watching Mammoths to Medals young people recognise how they can shape their community.

Thankfully I haven’t lost touch with Hackney Museum and hope to be back to run sessions as the country prepares to commemorate The Great War.  For the moment though I am very settled in Waltham Forest and I’m looking forward to the future.

The Merits of a Narrative Poem

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.When I was younger I didn’t think that I liked poetry.  Outside Shakespeare I rarely read verse for pleasure.  Last year though, I was introduced to Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” and it changed my view of poetry completely.  Since then I have been reading other narrative poems including the “The Ballad of the Fleet” (Tennyson) and “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (Carroll) and incorporating them into my work.

A narrative poem tells us a story but it is set out in stanzas with the rhythms and rhyming patterns familiar in other types of poem.  It will contain a skilfully woven story packed with wonderful imagery and metaphors which compels its audience.

In my opinion the narrative poem offers so much that I have even used them in pieces for Birthday Parties!  Here are what I see as the merits of working with narrative poetry.

The narrative poem is perhaps one of the most ancient form of storytelling (The Iliad and Beowulf are both story poems).  As a Drama Facilitator I believe they are a fantastic way of introducing complex text to young audiences which demonstrates the breadth and depth of our literary heritage beyond Shakespeare.

It offers a whole story.  A chapter of a book or a scene from a play wouldn’t offer the beginning middle and end in this way.  If I want to guarantee that a group have heard the material a narrative poem is a concise way of quickly offering an entire story.

The narrative poem will capture the imaginations of boys and girls as it often recalls and romanticises some kind of adventure.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Investigating narrative poetry through drama is a lot of fun and once a group has a story they are better positioned to explore the author’s imagery and language choices.  The poems I am talking about were mostly written in the 19th and 20th Century and whilst the language is certainly complex it is not impenetrable.  Accessing it allows young  participants to make their own judgements about themes, events and characters (perhaps physically characterising or hot seating characters about their decisions in the story or making up scenes based upon their deductions).

I have also found that exploring a narrative poem can become a catalyst for exploring rhythm, rhyme and meter and getting groups to write in poetry.

_ _ _ _

“The wind was a rushing train, dodging every tree

The moon was a shiny banana ripe and ready for me.

The road was a lonely wanderer, under an ongoing spell

and Mr Highwayman came riding, riding, riding

Josh Highwayman came riding, up to the Grand Hotel.”

_ _ _ _

“The snow was a breeze of coldness coating the leafy bush,

The sun was a ball of fire, gleaming upon rushing waves

The field was a soft green carpet, over the earthy road

And the Highwayman came skating, skating, skating

The Highwayman came skating up to the big mansion’s door.”

_ _ _ _

As well as getting excited about narrative poetry I have discovered narrative songs.  My taste in story song is eclectic ranging from Benny Hill (The Fastest Milkman in the West) to Charles Daniels (The Devil Went Down to Georgia) and Chris Wood (Hollow Point).  You could easily laugh some narrative songs off as being novelties but constructing an effective narrative within a poem or a song is a great skill.  Tennyson and Noyes might not be matched for their poetry’s beautiful imagery  but Hollow Point particularly is (in my view) a powerful piece of modern verse based storytelling.

Up to now narrative poems have formed the basis of workshops or featured within other work that I have presented but this summer to coincide with The Summer Reading Challenge 2014 I am taking my new found love of the narrative poem to a whole new level as I reinterpret Homer’s “Odyssey” for a young audience.

My final reinterpretation is unlikely to be a narrative poem but one thing is certain – it’s going to be epic!

Special thanks to the children of South Malling Primary School for sharing their “modern” takes on “The Highwayman”.

Qualifying my contribution to children’s learning

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.This week I am using my blog to qualify my impact on learning by sharing some of the testimony I have received in the past 3 months.

“The day was absolutely fantastic and the feedback from children and parents was brilliant. It was lovely to see the children echoing the language you used when writing stories the next day. They all thoroughly enjoyed the day so thank you!!”  Teacher, Wychwood Primary School, Shipton Under Wychwood (Traditional Storytelling and Presentation Day, January 2014)

“I can honestly say that this was one of our most successful days!
John totally engaged the children and especially a group of boys who usually show very little interest in drama, storytelling or writing! The next day the children were still talking about John’s visit and the tips he had given them for story writing. I call that money well spent!” Headteacher, Gillibrand Primary School, Chorley (Classic Storytelling and Workshop Day, February 2014)

“Again, a fabulous day much enjoyed and talked about by the children all week… They have also been inspired to write their own poems and stories – ” Teacher, South Malling Primary School, Lewes (Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman“, February 2014)

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Each of these teachers work in very different social, economic and geographic settings and yet their feedback demonstrates that my stories and workshops manage to transcend such obstacles, appealing to young people nationwide.  They also point to a lasting impact and legacy.

Positive and constructive feedback is always appreciated but I’d like to finish this piece by sharing a lovely comment I received from a school in Liverpool.  Leaving London at 5.30am I made it to Anfield for a 10.45am start.  I led a story and workshop session and was back in the big smoke by 7.45pm.  The children were wonderful to work with but getting this comment from their teacher made an epic trip to Merseyside more than worthwhile.

“The children got a lot out of the workshop! Thank you.”  Teacher, Whitefield Primary School, Liverpool

Related blogs

Fairy Tale Stepmothers do ave’em! – my thoughts on female Fairy tale villains

See also A Tale of Two Newspapers – a piece about performing in Chorley (my home town)

See also “The Highwayman” from an Ostler’s point of view – my thoughts on rewriting Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”

See also Why Mickey Flanagan isn’t joking – my thoughts on quality

“The Highwayman” from an Ostler’s Point of View

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Highwaymen are often referred to as “Gentlemen of the Road” but they were in fact nothing more than common thieves.  “Stand and Deliver!” (the command rather than the song), was last uttered by a Highwayman in Britain in 1831 but their exploits were (and are) popularly romanticised.  Alfred Noyes’ epic poem chronicles the night time adventures of one such rogue and the Landlord’s daughter, who tragically meet their ends in the cobbled inn yard.  Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” is a brilliant story of love that has been reinterpreted by artists, film makers and musicians around the world.

As part of a workshop exploring Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”, I was challenged to reinterpret the poem for a group of Primary School children.  This video is a part of the result and this blog came about as more and more people watched it online.


Rather than tell the Highwayman’s story I wanted to explore the world of the other characters mentioned in the poem.  I wanted the tone to be quite serious so taking Bess’ perspective was out.  The Landlord and the King’s Guards presented possibilities but the most interesting character seemed to be Tim the Ostler.  In the original poem Tim is mentioned by name but appears in just one stanza:

“And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
    His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
    But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—”

Who was this man?  Why was he there?  What was his role in events and what was his story beyond the inn yard?

What follows is the transcript of the above video.  My version is actually longer than this as I introduce the Captain of the Guard and explain what happens to Tim (I reserve those verses for live presentations).

What was most striking for me in Noyes’ poem was his rhythm and rhyming structure.  When I listen to the poem I always think about a horses hooves and I wanted my poem also to respect a regular meter (which it loosely does).  I also love his imagery and try to include some bold similes and metaphors.  Like Noyes I was drawn to his original themes of love, jealousy and violence but I have chosen for Tim the Ostler to recount his bitter betrayal rather than a third party.


Tim the Ostler

Now the landlord he has a daughter, whose lips are as red as a fire

Her hair is a perfumed cascade you couldn’t fail to admire

Oh how I longed for this young girl, who goes by the name of Bess

My master’s black eyed daughter

She smiled at me, his daughter

I dreamt that this sweetest lady would someday be my Princess….

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Tale of Two Newspapers

I am originally from Chorley in Central Lancashire but live in North London.  I had learned about an event which was to take place called Chorley Live through Twitter.  The event was all about showcasing local talent so I was keen to support it.  I got in touch with the organisers and arranged to bring my work home to Chorley.  Knowing that I would probably struggle to publicise myself at a festival 200 miles away I phoned the local paper (The Chorley Guardian) in order to get a bit of publicity for my performance of Dracula at Chorley Library.  What I got was an amazing two page spread!

Chorley Guardian Interview

As you’ll imagine the piece meant that quite a crowd of people attended my performance.  It went really well and it seemed that everybody enjoyed themselves with many people taking away business cards.

Now, whenever I give out business cards I notice spikes in activity on my Youtube and Facebook pages.  That evening I noted such spikes with  audience members from the library going online to follow, like and comment on my performance but I thought nothing more of it than that.

A few weeks passed and I was contacted via Facebook by somebody who’d seen my October performance.  She had been so impressed by my work that she had recommended me to her children’s school!  Before I knew it I was back in Chorley in front of 300 children, opening the school’s library with my Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  I had a fabulous day at school and it was an immense privilege to be asked to cut the ribbon and officially open the school’s library.

Once again my adventures made it into the local paper.

Chorley Guardian St Gregorys

This story proves two things: that work truly does breed work and that I wouldn’t be anywhere without the support of my many friends, family and supporters across the United Kingdom.

Thank you for continuing to spread the good word!

An INSET Epiphany!

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.In 2011 I worked on a Creative Partnerships project in Lincolnshire.  The project was massively successful and attracted plaudits from educational professionals across the region.  That Autumn I was invited to share my ideas with a conference of new Headteachers in Lincolnshire.  I was then asked to lead a training event for four of the Head’s schools relating to creativity and the Summer Olympics.  18 months I was invited to lead another training event.  The theme of the session would be Mental Maths.  I was set the challenge of offering creative ideas for engaging children (foundation to key stage two) with Mental Maths.

So it came to pass that at Epiphany in the year 2014 I followed the A1(M) and came upon an inn in Lincoln (well, a Best Western anyway).  Now, it is a well known fact that this Wise Man is diabolical at Mathematics.  The people who know me best would confirm that the idea of me teaching anybody else about maths is hilarious.  Why then did I get such positive feedback on the INSET?

“Thank you so much for the training, staff said it was the best training they have ever had!”

In the first part of the session I presented a series of games.  The participants then applied their specific need (to consolidate or introduce Mathematical concepts) using my selection of games.  The learning was not restricted to Maths as Sciences, Languages and Humanity subjects entered the discussion.  In the second part of the session we explored how we might use narrative and storytelling technique to include our groups in Maths based storytelling.  The participants created wonderful stories which considered number bonds, using money and addition as well as other aspects of learning (literacy).  It seemed to me that the participants found a lot of energy and freedom in our exercises.

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.The epiphany’s of my INSET days aren’t as shiny as The Three Kings gifts but they are things which all of us need sometimes:

A Different Perspective – I am an outsider to the group.  When I work with a group I will have little knowledge of individuals or circumstances.  I will offer constructive criticism based on my experience and will respond to what I am presented.  This is very useful when problem solving or in team work exercises.

Fresh Ideas – I have a unique base of games and ideas which I have developed over a decade of working in a range of environments.  I love sharing my knowledge with other professionals because its in this way that young people are offered a better deal.

Fun – Most people who teach or who have ever been taught will agree that fun is important.  I believe in the valuing the contribution of individuals and collaborating to achieve goals together.  It always important that the atmosphere is friendly and that the participants feel comfortable.

So why was my INSET successful?  It was a success because I am not a teacher, I am a facilitator.  Often the results are within the room before I arrive.  I help the participants to find them.