Sheherazade Pilots: Introducing storytelling for inclusion


Sheherazade is a Grundtvig Multilateral Project that wants to introduce storytelling and the use of storytelling techniques as an educational strategy and a pedagogical tool in formal and non-formal adult learning. The project focuses on the linguistic, interactive, performing, social and cultural aspects of stories and storytelling and will help adult learners gain communication skills, develop imagination and creativity, improve intercultural understanding and build competences for inclusion.

In this newsletter you can read the articles on the pilot projects organised by some of the Sheherazade partners.


Sheherazade Pilot in Paris, France, by ELAN Interculturel


The sessions were led in collaboration with French storyteller Jacques Combes. We had participants from Korea, Italy, Algeria, Columbia, Argentina, Venezuela and the United States.


The goal was to make the sessions interactive and to facilitate storytelling. Because the pilot was held in multiple sessions, we were able to build upon the activities used from session to session. Activities included:

Icebreakers: Each pilot session was kicked off with a few short icebreaker activities to encourage creativity and build group confidence.

“Saperlipopette”: In this activity, the participants stand in a circle and each person says a letter of the alphabet, going in alphabetical order. For the second round, the participants replace their letter with a word that begins with the same letter (ex. “C” becomes “cat”). Any unknown words are explained. For the third round, each participant builds a sentence around the word they have chosen. Finally, for the fourth round, the participants create a story as a group, with each person adding a different sentence that includes their word and that is connected to the previous sentence by the markers “and,” “but,” “so”, “then”, etc.

Vire-langue”: Working in pairs, the participants practice pronouncing tongue twisters” (ex. “Le chétif chef coupe-tifs chante,” ”Les crocs du crocodile croquent Odile”). Afterwards, the pairs who want to are invited to recite their tongue twister in front of the group.

Storytelling by Jacques: Each session included at least two stories told by Jacques. Participants listened to the stories, noting the words or expressions they did not understand. When necessary, Jacques stopped to make sure he was understood. Afterwards, the participants took turns sharing their thoughts on the story and any unknown words were explained.

Participant storytelling: Participants were encouraged to tell their own stories in a variety of ways.

  • Image exercise”: This activity was built up over two sessions. In the first session, each participant was given an image and had to invent a story using the image as inspiration. In the second session, participants were split into small groups and each group member was given a postcard. Using all of the postcards, each group had to work together to create a story and then share it with the other groups.
  • “Movie posters”: was an activity in which, again working in small groups, participants took turns describing the plot of a movie that they hadn’t actually seen, using a poster advertising the movie to spark their imagination. They then shared their impression of the imagined movie and told the other members of the group why they should (or shouldn’t) see the movie.
  • “Object Exercise”: Participants sit in a half-circle facing the storyteller. One by one, a volunteer is chosen to sit in a chair in front of the other participants. The volunteer places his hands behind his back so that the storyteller can give him a small object, which neither he nor the other participants can see. Based on touch alone, the volunteer must tell the story of a memory that the object evokes and the other participants guess what the object is.
  • “The First Time”: This activity followed a short story from Jacques about his first time visiting a neighborhood pool. Afterwards, the participants were split into pairs of two and took turns sharing stories of different ‘firsts’.
  • “The Name Exercise”: Working with a partner from a different country, the participants took turns sharing the story of their name (how it was given to them, its origin what it means, etc.). This activity was one of the first times the participants were invited to share their own stories and was used to show them that we all have stories to share.
  • “The Rumor Exercise”: For this exercise, the participants sat in a circle. Next, three different rumors were told to three different participants sitting in different parts of the circle. The participants then had to pass the rumors on in the circle. In a second version, the participants were split into two groups. One participant was told to say something to his neighbor who then modified what had been told to him when sharing it with the person on his other side.

Results: The pilot sessions had a very positive feedback from the participants. They reported that they were excited to discover a new approach to learning French and that they would love to participate in future sessions. Similarly, the French teachers who participated in the workshop were eager to incorporate some of the activities used into their own classrooms and to have access to more resources that would allow them to use storytelling in their teaching.


Sheherazade Pilot in Hasselt, Belgium, by Alden Biesen

From February till June 2013 a nice Sheherazade pilot took place in Hasselt, the capital of the province of Limburg in Flanders, Belgium: the original people from Hasselt (Hasselaren) and newcomers (recent immigrants) told stories to each other. This experiment was part of two projects: ‘Together at home in Hasselt’ and ‘Sheherazade’.

‘Together at home in Hasselt’ is a ‘meeting project’. The project tries to match a Hasselaar and a newcomer to become a ‘tandem’ or a duo. Each duo is challenged to meet each other on a regular basis to talk and/or to attend a (cultural) activity in the city. The planning and type of activities is entirely on each tandem’s own initiative. The idea is to learn to know each other and each other’s culture and to speak Dutch in order to give the newcomer the opportunity to practice the language in a natural environment and feel at home in the city more easily. The City Social Department and Vorming Plus Limburg, a non-formal adult education organisation, are the project operators in Hasselt doing the coordination and matching.  

Alden Biesen, Sheherazade coordinator, was looking for a target group to pilot the Sheherazade approach in the area. Vorming Plus Limburg was looking for a common cultural activity to obtain more cohesion in their group of tandems. When both organisers met and talked, it seemed a perfect ground for cooperation and so it was arranged. Taking part in the Sheherazade pilot was offered on a voluntary base. 12 ‘tandems’ enrolled with participants from Ethiopia, Kenya, Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco, Gaza, Ukraine, Turkey, France, Russia and … Hasselt.

Every three weeks on Sunday morning this small group of people: ‘old and new Hasselaren’ came together with storyteller Rien Van Meensel. Sunday morning was a deliberate choice, as it was a free period for most of the participants. Evenings were not really an option since especially (single) migrant women usually are not free then. The organisers also provided day care for the children of the participants during the storytelling sessions. This service lowered the threshold for many a participant.

Storyteller Rien led the process of telling and sharing stories. Every session started with warming up exercises and icebreakers: name games, sound games, ‘Samson, Delilah and the lion’ … Creating confidence and building up trust is an important element for this type of activities. The first three sessions dealt with short real life stories, recalling memories, telling about daily events, sharing stories of each other’s culture … all in the Dutch language. Each time the topic was first told in pairs or trios, only later in the whole group. During the last three sessions traditional stories were told by Rien and used as a basis for discussion in the group or for a creative exercise by the participants. Participants were invited to describe how they e.g. see the garden in the story or what gift they would offer ‘the prince’ etc. 

Stories offer ideas, images and values and each participant can offer his/her own view and interpretation, linked to his/her personal history and cultural background. Telling stories not only stimulates creativity and language skills but is the ideal catalyser for exchanging ideas and feelings. The group witnessed many special moments during the sessions. All participants are enthusiastic and there certainly will be a follow-up project.

The Sheherazade Pilot in Vienna, Austria, by Brunnenpassage

In the Austrian Sheherazade pilot project the Brunnenpassage has chosen to implement storytelling into traditional ways of language teaching. The project was carried out in cooperation with a big local adult education centre in the district of Ottakring (“Volkshochschule Ottakring”). The pilot was carried out during a German language course, which consisted of three four-hour classes each week. Each storytelling session lasted for two hours and was led by a storyteller.

Initially, the language teacher couldn’t imagine how exactly these storytelling units would work. As a result, the storyteller conducted the first unit by herself. The following sessions were accompanied by sessions of preparation and reflection, by the teacher and the storyteller. Consequently, the teacher began by acting as an active assistant to the storyteller, and by the end of the project also slipped into the role of telling a story herself. They developed simple exercises for the storytelling units, which would often correspond to the topics dealt with in the German classes.

The level of this German course was A2, which seemed to be quite a challenge at first. At this level, the students/participants are not used to speaking a lot in the foreign language. Some participants were troubled by their own perfectionism and refused to say a single sentence that would not be a hundred per cent grammatically correct. The playful approach of the storytelling units helped them overcome these difficulties.

In the storytelling units, both traditional and personal stories were used. The storyteller had to choose contexts where the vocabulary was familiar to the participants. One theme which occurred in several exercises was how to enrich stories by focussing on the senses: talking about smells, feelings, sounds and so on. While working on dilemma stories, it became apparent that the participants had completely different experiences and values. Accordingly, the storytelling units not only generated new methods but also new content.

The decision to choose a German class of a rather basic level had the side effect that the group of participants was very diverse. This diversity ­- especially concerning the educational background of the participants - is not the case in the advanced classes. The 15 participants mentioned nine different first languages: Punjabi, Thai, Turkish, Greek, Urdu, Uyghur, Sinhala (spoken in Sri Lanka), Romanian, and Spanish. The newcomers (some had arrived in Austria only a few months ago) were between 17 and 45 years old.

When they booked the German course, the participants were not aware of the special storytelling aspect. Some of them seemed rather critical in the beginning, but it is not unlikely that they just felt insecure, because they had no idea what awaited them. After the first storytelling session, however, everyone was motivated, participated in the warm-up and understood that this kind of language training needs neither pencils nor desks. In the end, the participants’ feedback was very warm and positive.

As the Brunnenpassage is situated in the direct neighbourhood of the local adult education center and the impression was shared that our activities could be of interest for the participants, one longer storytelling unit was carried out in the Brunnenpassage. During this session, the Brunnenpassage and its activities were introduced to the language students. Furthermore, the group profited from the large space and could work in two separate groups. At the end of this session, both groups told each other a story they had worked on.

At the beginning, both the storyteller and language teacher had serious doubts as to whether the choice of a language course for beginners had been a good idea. However, it was the language teacher in particular who disagreed with this view at the end of the project. In her opinion, this project was the proof that storytelling can be a useful tool for learning a language, even at this early stage.


Course and conference

One of the outcomes of the Sheherazade project will be a Grundtvig course on the use of storytelling in adult education. This course will be piloted in Alden Biesen (BE) 11-15 November 2013. The Sheherazade team will also organise an international conference on 14 November in Belgium. More info will follow on

Project partners:

Landcommanderij Alden Biesen, BE, coordinator.
Fabula, storyteller association, SE
Oslo & Akershus University college, NO
CVO Landen-Leuven, BE
Brunnenpassage, AT
Meath Partnership, IE
Superact, UK
ELAN Interculturel, FR
Sofia University, BG

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"This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.This communication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein."


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