By Dan O’Reilly-Rowe, 2009.

Many stories are simultaneously public and very private things. The experiences that people have are related in many different ways through different media, and can give other people who have not shared that experience a window onto other worlds. However, when stories are captured and retold without respect for those people whose reality is being represented it can result in exploitation. This simple storytelling (and listening) activity helps participants reflect on the power and responsibility in telling other people’s stories.


  • Practice active listening.
  • Practice telling stories from one’s own experience.
  • Reflect on how it feels to hear one’s own experiences related as stories.


None required.


Approximately 30 minutes.


  • Re-iterate any group norms about confidentiality and respectful interaction.
  • Divide the group into pairs.
  • Each participant should think of a place. The place should be somewhere special to them. A place where they feel happy, or safe, or alive. It could be somewhere from their past, or somewhere in their present.
  • Participants will take turns describing their special place to each other for 5 minutes, one at a time, without interruption.
  • The listener must remain completely silent and attentive throughout the 5 minutes. They should try and remember as much detail as they can about the description they are hearing because they will later have to recall this information.
  • Storytellers are encouraged to describe the place as fully as possible, not only in terms of what it looks like, but in terms of other senses (touch, smell, etc.), and in terms of what the place means in their life.
  • After both members have had their turn being the storyteller, they then take turns recounting each other’s story back to the original teller. This should be done in the 3rd person. For example, if the original storyteller’s name is Fatima, and she said “I loved hanging out under my bed and pretending it was a cave when I was 6 years old.” Her partner might relate the story back to her by saying “Fatima loved hanging out under her bed when she was a little girl. She would pretend it was a cave.”
  • When both partners in all pairs have had their turns telling, listening, and retelling each others stories, reconvene the group.
  • Process with the following questions:
    • What did it feel like to tell your own story?
    • What did it feel like to hear your partner’s story?
    • How did you feel telling the other person’s story?
    • How did it feel to hear your own experiences in the 3rd person?
    • What does this have to do with media making?
    • How could this activity influence your attitude towards your own media making practice?

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