Planning your First Storytelling Residency

By Katie Knutson

Katie KnutsonAre you ready to dive into the world of school residencies? If so, here are a few tips that will make the walk to the diving board and the plunge a little less shocking.

There are two major models for residencies that I use: the pre-packaged residency and the co-created residency. They each have benefits and drawbacks.

The pre-packaged residency has a set curriculum that you can bring from one classroom to another without changing it. You write the lesson plans and learning objectives and create any necessary handouts beforehand. Since you can focus on one specific strength of yours, it is often easier to start with this kind of residency. The range of topics could vary greatly, from Historical Fiction to Bullying. These residencies make life really easy for teachers and administrators because they don’t necessarily need to be involved in the planning process.

The co-created residency is one that you create directly with the teachers. It requires more planning time and will be customized for each classroom. One teacher might want to create a play based on Cinderella, while another wants to teach Science vocabulary. These residencies include embedded professional development for both the teachers and teaching artist. Co-created residencies also have a better chance of being repeated by the teacher in the future, as the teacher will be viewing herself as a learner and be personally invested in the residency and its success. This process requires a substantial knowledge of appropriate activities and stories to teach a variety of subjects.


Make sure to allow sufficient planning and evaluation time with the teachers. I prefer to have two meetings before the residency begins. In the pre-planning meeting, we iron out logistics, I share what I do, and we begin brainstorming. In the second, we set goals for the residency, scaffold what each session might look like, and create a detailed lesson plan for the first class. Ideally, I schedule one planning session for each class I teach. This is not always possible or necessary, but it is good to get it in the calendar early.

Evaluation includes the assessment of three things: each classroom session you have taught, the students’ learning, and your performance as a teaching artist. In each planning meeting, I spend the first few minutes getting feedback on the previous class and troubleshooting any problems before planning for the next session. In order to know what the students have learned, it is necessary to assess them before and after the residency. This does not necessarily mean a written test. You can look at work samples before and after, comparing growth in specific areas such as character development or the use of details. You could ask students to use their bodies to make things, like the main character of a story you just told or an organism you are about to study, and count how many can do it. Talk to the teachers about other creative ideas for assessments. Ideally, most residencies will end with some kind of a final performance or product.

Every residency is different, and no residency will go exactly as planned. Remember to have fun and love those kids, and you’ll do just fine. Please share your success stories and failures, as well as any tips you have for first-time residencies in the comment section below.

Here are some additional resources:

Artful Teaching and Learning Handbook: you can download it for free or order a printed copy for $30

Teaching Artist Handbook, Volume 1: Tools, Techniques, and Ideas to Help Any Artist Teach by Nick Jaffe, Becca Barniskis, & Barbara Hackett Cox

Books that include Stories and Lesson Plans or Discussion Ideas:

  • Beyond the Beanstalk: Interdisciplinary Learning Through Storytelling by Lynn Rubright
  • Literacy Development in the Storytelling Classroom by Sherry Norfolk, Jane Stenson, and Diane Williams.
  • The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development by Bobby and Sherry Norfolk
  • Once Upon a Time: Storytelling to Teach Character and Prevent Bullying by Elisa Davy Pearmain
  • Social Studies in the Storytelling Classroom: Exploring Our Cultural Voices and Perspectives by Jane Stenson and Sherry Norfolk
  • Speaking Out: Storytelling and Creative Drama for Children by Jack Zipes
  • The Storytelling Classroom: Applications Across the Curriculum by Sherry Norfolk, Jane Stenson, and Diane Williams.
  • Storytelling and QAR Strategies by Phyllis Hostmeyer and Marilyn Adele Kinsella
  • Tales with Tails: Storytelling the Wonders of the Natural World by Kevin Strauss
  • Write Right!: Creative Writing Using Storytelling Techniques by Kendall Haven


About Katie

Katie Knutson is a Storyteller and Teaching Artist based in Minneapolis. In addition to writing or curating this column, she performs regularly, leads workshops for storytellers and teachers, and spends time with her kindergartner. She is the Storyteller-in-Residence/Arts Integration Specialist at Folwell K-8 School. More at

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