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'Tell Us Something' teaches middle schoolers empathy through storytelling

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Everyone has a story to tell, but it's the way it's told that makes listeners follow along and feel like they're a part of it.

That's exactly what Marc Moss, host of the "Tell Us Something" live show and podcast, is teaching seventh-graders at C.S. Porter Middle School.

Moss jumped on top of a bench in Jessica Smith's seventh-grade classroom as he told students a story about how a half pipe run at the skate park left him with a broken ankle. He pointed to his ankle and made a popping sound to describe the moment it broke.

Moss is in his third year of visiting C.S. Porter through the SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning program to pass on his love of storytelling, while teaching students valuable lessons in listening, empathy and public speaking. Each year, he holds several weekly workshops with middle school classrooms where he helps students understand the importance of storytelling in their everyday lives.  

"We have to tell stories all the time," Moss said. "We have to tell stories to our teachers about why our homework is late, or we have to tell our potential employers why we’re the best person for the job."

In a workshop in Smith's seventh-grade classroom at C.S. Porter last week, students broke into groups and each spent two minutes sharing a story and then listening to feedback from their peers.

Vincent Zarbolias, a seventh-grader, started by asking his classmates, "How many of you have been in a boat or canoe before?" and proceeded to share a story about a family rafting trip where he encountered some bumpy conditions, fell out of the boat and broke his collarbone.

"I like how you put a lot of detail into it and you made an emotional connection with us by asking if we had been rafting before," said Clara Yoshimura, another student.

The workshops are incorporated into a broader unit called "Walking in My Shoes" that focuses on mental health challenges.

"We really just want to teach kids how to put themselves in someone else's shoes and develop some empathy," Smith said. "We brought Marc in to have another way to get kids to put themselves in someone else's shoes by hearing other stories and telling their own stories."

The lessons also help students get comfortable with public speaking, and learn active listening.

"I hope that they feel listened to and heard," Moss said.

Students become better listeners through the workshops by providing each other with feedback and instructions. Moss said that instead of just pointing out that a storyteller is saying "um" a lot, he advises students to give more constructive feedback such as staying quiet in moments when it's tempting to use filler words.

Moss also helps students tackle stage fright by providing them with breathing exercises and ways of shifting nervous energy, in addition to focusing on their volume, inflection and speed. At the culmination of the workshop, the students will share their stories with the entire class.

"They were really apprehensive at first but once they get going and get talking, they just open up and turn into these beautiful people that want to share their story, and it's been really fulfilling to watch," Smith said.

Moss's visits to C.S. Porter are one of many opportunities that the SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning program offers to K-8 Missoula County Public School students. The program partners with the district, the City of Missoula and a variety of institutions, local arts organizations and artists to ensure equal access to the arts.

Moss said students are always welcome to apply for the live Tell Us Something events, where storytellers apply to share a tale from memory in front of an audience, and noted that a past show once featured a 13-year-old.

The next Tell Us Something event centers on the theme "Tipping Point" and takes place at the Wilma on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at

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