Study Guide


As you scroll through this guide you will find curriculum connections, notes from the artist, discussion questions, units of study and more. You will also be able to click on any templates, worksheets and/or graphic organizers. If you wish to create your own lesson plan from the study guide copy, we have created a lesson plan template for your use. We hope you will find this guide to be a useful resource. Should you have any questions or feedback or have inquiries about the use of this guide (which is copyright protected), please feel free to contact Karen Gilodo, Associate Artistic Director, Education at

This study guide has been adapted for YPT by Aimee Bouchard, Member Schools & Education Manager, with contributions from Queen’s University teacher candidates Taylor Snow and Terry Shi. The original study guide for Bello was written by Tracy Carroll.


What does it mean to belong? How do you belong to your family, classroom and school community, and your community at large? What commonalities and responsibilities do we have to the people who are part of these communities, and also to those who are outside of them?

In the pre-show unit, students will examine the idea of belonging, particularly as it pertains to families. Students will explore what it means to be a family, how families come in all shapes and sizes, and how to determine their similarities despite these differences. Students will also examine other groups they belong to and explore the complexities of sameness within difference and vice versa.

In the post-show unit, students will learn more about folktales and oral storytelling traditions, and work together to collectively tell their own stories and stories from other diverse cultures and backgrounds.

It is our hope that this production and study guide foster a strong sense of belonging and empathy in your students, and give you the tools to celebrate the power of storytelling in bringing your classroom community together.


  • Kindergarten (Belonging and Contributing; Self-regulation and Well-being)
  • Social Studies (Heritage and Identity, Our Changing Roles and Responsibilities; People and Environments, The Local Community)
  • French as a Second Language (French Language Performances only)


  • Kindness and Caring
  • Perseverance
  • Empathy


  • Seeing Beyond Stereotypes
  • Building Community and Family
  • Overcoming Loneliness
  • Exploring the Past


Imagine a time when there were no phones, no cars and no light bulbs – when the land stretched out like a quilted bed and the sky was like an ocean overhead. A lonely young boy named Bern gets lost traveling home from school during a snowstorm. He meets an old woman who has been shunned by the village. And from this chance encounter, Bern makes a discovery – about himself, his family and the importance of compassion.


Choral Speaking
The organized recitation of poetry or prose by an ensemble or group, emphasizing vocal elements such as tone, pitch, tempo and dynamics.

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

A story bearing the characteristics of the culture, folklore and customs of the people from which they originated. Folktales are typically passed down verbally from generation to generation.

The action or state of welcoming or of being welcomed within a group or structure.

Mia bello
An Italian phrase meaning “my beautiful boy”.

Narrative Arc
The chronological construction of a story or plot, consisting of an exposition or introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

A silent and motionless group of people arranged to represent a dramatic scene; a “frozen picture”.

Talking Stick
An instrument of Indigenous democracy. In a meeting, a talking stick is passed around from member to member allowing only the person holding the stick to speak. This enables all those present at a meeting to be heard, especially those who may be shy.


My parents are immigrants. They are Mennonites. They grew up on collective farms in what was then called the USSR, and which is now part of Ukraine. A few years ago, I asked my parents to each tell me a story they heard growing up in their village. Was there a strange story, or an odd character, or a “boogey man” they were scared of? My mother told me the story of Old Nettie, who everyone thought was a “witch” but just turned out to be an old woman with no family living in an abandoned building. My father told me the story of Little Bernhard, who got lost in the snow and survived. I decided I would combine these stories and create a new play called Bello.

Some people are very scared of newcomers, of strangers, of people they don’t know or don’t understand. This was true when my parents immigrated to Canada and faced discrimination. This happens still today in our own country. This play is dedicated to my parents. They taught me tolerance, acceptance, and to welcome the strange. These are all lessons every character in this play learns.


  • What makes a “family”? What similarities do you notice across families that you know? What differences?
  • What does it mean to be alone? What does it mean to be lonely? How are they alike or different?
  • What does it feel like when you are not included or left out?
  • How can you tell if someone else is feeling lonely?
  • What does it mean to “belong”? How does it feel?
  • What are things we can do to make other people feel like they belong?
  • What is empathy? How can we be empathetic towards others?


Pre-Show Warm-Up: Family Portrait


Students will explore the idea of what makes a family, and explore how every family has similarities and differences.


  • A space in which to move

Tip: When creating a tableau, ask students to consider the following:

  • Facial expression: What kind of expression is on your face? What emotion are you trying to portray, and how can you show that using your face?
  • Physical expression: How does your body language communicate what you’re doing and how you’re feeling? What kind of character or emotion are you trying to portray, and how can you show that using your body?
  • Levels: How can you make this frozen picture look interesting by considering different heights? Can there be someone low to the ground, kneeling or at medium height, and someone standing?


  • Ask students to spread out around the room. Have them begin by walking around the space silently.
  • Call out a number indicating the amount of students in each group. Students will then form a group with that amount of people, e.g. “groups of three”. Note: not every student will intrinsically be included by this instruction (for example there may be one or two students that can’t fit into a group of three). For younger students, you might give the instruction to include these extra people in their group. For older students, perhaps you may choose to let students figure out for themselves what to do when there are extra people who can’t fit into the group number. Refer to the final debriefing question of this activity to discuss the outcome.
  • Once students are situated in a group, call out a silly family prompt. Suggestions include:
    • Superhero family
    • Circus family
    • Dog family
    • Racecar driving family
    • Royal family
    • Celebrity family
  • Students will then create a tableau in the form of a “family portrait” or “family photo” representing this family.
  • Encourage students to look around the room at the other group tableaus, asking them to notice similarities and differences between the tableaus. Then have students break their tableaus and continue walking around the room. Repeat steps above.


For a challenge, give students only ten seconds to create their portraits, and count them down. You can also challenge students to communicate without words to create their family portraits.

Debriefing Questions

  • Did every tableau look the same?
  • What differences did you notice between the families in the tableaus? What similarities?
  • Do all families look the same?
  • What makes a “family”?
  • How did it feel when you couldn’t fit into a group? For students in the groups, did you try and include these people? Why or why not? If so, what strategies did you use to include them?

Pre-Show Activity: Family Frenzy


Students will discuss their own family make-up and work together to identify what makes their families similar.


  • Space to move
  • Music
  • Speakers


  • When you play the music, everyone walks around the room.
  • When the music stops, ask students to freeze, then find one person near them. Each pair has to find one thing that their two families have in common. Some ideas could include family members, cultural background, language spoken at home, pets, activities you like to do as a family, etc.
  • Ask a few pairs to share their similarities with the class, then start the music again.
  • When you stop the music, ask students to get into groups of three. Now, all three students in each group have to find three things their three families have in common. Share similarities, and then start the music again to continue the game.
  • When you stop the music next, ask students to get into groups of four and find four things their families have in common. This time, however, they are not allowed to use an answer that any one of them has used before (i.e. if one person in the group said “I have a brother” earlier in the game, they can’t use that again). Once groups have found four different things their families have in common, ask groups to share their similarities with the rest of the class.
  • Finally, ask students to get into groups of five. The whole group has to now find five things their families have in common, again not using an answer they’ve used before. Ask students to share these similarities with the rest of the class.


For older students, encourage them to find similarities that go beyond listing individual family members (i.e. mother, father, brother, sister, etc.)

Debriefing Questions

  • Was it difficult to find similarities between your families? Why or why not?
  • Were there any similarities that surprised you? Why?
  • What do you think all of our families have in common?

Pre-Show Culminating Activity: Come, My Friends


This exercise examines categories of belonging outside families, providing an excellent opportunity for students to discover common experiences as well as different perspectives within what seems to be the same group. This activity allows students to explore the complexities of sameness within difference and difference within sameness.


  • Space to move


  • Ask students to think of other ways in which they belong, imagining wild and varied types of categories (e.g., soccer players, people who like swimming, been on a rollercoaster, love cats, etc.).
  • Form a large circle and ask students, one by one, to come to the middle of the circle and call out a category they belong to, saying, “Come, my friends who…” and everyone who identifies with that category joins in the centre of the circle.
  • One rule is that it is everyone’s own right to identify or not identify with a category, and no one can volunteer or force another person into an identity (e.g., no nudging someone saying, “Go! Go! You are a ping pong player!”). If, for any reason, a participant does not wish to identify with a category, they do not need to enter the circle. The group of “friends” may include just one other person or may include the entire class – it all depends.
  • Once the friends are gathered in the center, call out, “Group image!” The group has about five seconds to sculpt themselves into an image that conveys what, according to their individual perspectives, it feels like to belong to this group.
  • After a few rounds, to end the game, you may choose to enter the circle and say “Come, my friends who are in my class!” and create an image of what it means to belong to this class together.


  • Ask participants to form a single, unified image. For example, rather than separate interpretations of what it means to “play soccer,” the group would have a brief moment to discuss and present a single image from the collective group of bodies to present what it would look like if they were to all play soccer together.
  • To challenge students even further, encourage them to try sculpting their unified group image without talking.

Debriefing Questions

  • Discuss the similarities and differences in the group images. Were there images where everyone in the group had a similar idea of what it means to belong to that group? Even though they were in the same group, were some images not so cohesive or unified in their idea of what it means to belong to that group? Why do you think that is?
  • Were there any group images that looked similar, even thought they were from different categories? Why do you think that is?
  • How did it feel like to be a part of a big group versus a smaller one? How did that impact your ability to create a unified image?


  • Why was Bern lonely at the beginning of the play, even though he had such a large family surrounding him?
  • Does Bern still belong to a family even though it changes over time?
  • Why does Nettie leave small toys and trinkets under the tree?
  • Why does Nettie ask Bern to come and live with her?
  • What did Bern do to include Nettie? Why was his family hesitant to include Nettie?
  • Do you think Nettie became part of the family at the end? Why or why not?
  • What is a folktale? How is Bello a folktale? Do you know of any other folktales?


Post-Show Warm-Up: Bern’s Chores



Students will use a short excerpt from the script of Bello to create imaginative movements and gestures to dramatize Bern’s routines from the play.


  • Review all of Bern’s chores from the play together (see Appendix A: Bern’s Chores). For each, ask the class to come up with a movement or gesture they can all perform while calling back Bern’s response. Rehearse these movements together.
  • Ask the class to walk around the room to music. When the music stops, call out one of the routines. Students will then have to call back the corresponding response and perform the movement. When the music plays again, they can continue walking around the room.
  • Continue to pause the music and call out routines at random for them to perform.

Post-Show Activity #1: Not-So-Scary Stories


Students will explore the power of stories to change our perceptions of and interactions with a thing or a person.


  • Various ordinary objects


  • Ask the class to consider: what makes something scary?
  • Pick up an ordinary object, and ask the class to just imagine that it is scary (i.e. “See this plant? I heard that it’s no ordinary plant. The last time someone watered it, it grew terrible poisonous thorns!”)
  • Ask students for their own ideas about the object, and get them to contribute to the “scary” story. Ask if they’d like to hold the object (or not) while they add to the story.
  • After a few more ideas, switch the narrative: tell them that you just remembered that that object that was scary is actually really helpful or positive (i.e. “Actually now come to think of it, I heard that plant’s thorns actually weren’t poisonous, they CURED you from a poisonous snake bite! Anybody else hear something like that?”)
  • Solicit more positive responses from the students to change the narrative surrounding that object, and ask them to hold the object while adding their part of the story.
  • Repeat the steps above with a new object.

Debriefing Questions

  • How did our story about the object change over time?
  • How did the way you think about that object change how you interacted with it?
  • What would happen if we were to tell stories like this about people, or communities of people?
  • What kinds of stories were told about Nettie in the play? How did these stories affect how people felt about her?

Post-Show Activity #2: Story Circle


Students will examine what makes a good story, and work together to collectively tell their own original story.


  • Ask students to consider “what makes a good story?” Some basic ideas to include in this discussion are characters, conflict, setting, and a narrative arc: a beginning, middle and end.
  • Sitting in a circle, the whole class will work together to tell one unified story that has a beginning, middle and end; this should be accomplished with everyone contributing one phrase or sentence, with just one round around the circle.
  • Before you begin, ask students to pull one card from each category of Appendix B: Storytelling Prompts: character, location, conflict. These will be the central elements of the story you will tell together; it may be helpful to display them somehow for the students to reference throughout the story.
  • You will begin the story by introducing one of these main elements (e.g. “Once upon a time, there was a little boy who was very lonely.”)
  • The student sitting beside you goes next, and contributes their own phrase or sentence to the story. Encourage students not to go on too long with their part, and not to interrupt the storyteller when it isn’t their turn (if your students struggle with this, you may want to introduce the idea of a talking stick – see Resources for more information on introducing a talking stick into your classroom).
  • The story continues around the circle as each student contributes to telling it. Remind students at the appropriate moments to introduce the conflict, start reaching a conclusion, and to end the story by the last person in the circle.
  • If you anticipate that some students may need some inspiration when it’s their turn to contribute to the story, you can use Appendix C: Story Inspiration to prepare some slips which they can randomly pull from a hat or other small container.

Debriefing Questions

  • Did our story have all the elements of a “good story”? If we were to tell this same story again, what could we do differently to make it an even stronger story?
  • What were the challenges we faced as a group all trying to tell one story? How can we overcome these challenges next time?

Post-Show Culminating Activity: Storytelling Festival


The playwright of Bello wrote the play to be told, not by characters, but by “storytellers”. The storytellers play multiple characters in order to tell the story. With this activity, students will engage in the art of storytelling by researching and choosing a folktale and presenting it to the class.


  • Collect examples of legends or folktales from different cultures (see Resources for ideas). Introduce students to legends and folktales by reading one to the class. If possible, choose a story that explains some aspect of that culture, such as the origin of a custom or the environment.
  • Discuss what a folktale is, and the similarities and/or differences between the folktale you’ve just shared and Bello. Mention how many of these folktales were created by storytellers, who passed them on to others orally, not in writing. Only later were they written down.
  • Students will then become oral storytellers themselves. They will choose a folktale to learn and then present the story as part of a storytelling festival.
  • Divide students into storytelling teams. Give students time to do research and choose a story. Remind students that their story should say something important about the culture from which it comes. Encourage students to choose a story that lends itself to a dramatic reading or presentation.
  • The group should study the story, becoming familiar with the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
  • Next they should make a plan for how they would like to perform, or “tell” it. You may want to first discuss the ways in which the storytellers in Bello told their story interestingly, and how they can apply the same storytelling techniques in their story. Encourage students to be creative about their presentations. For example, students may want to:
    • assign different parts of the story to each group member
    • write lines and have group members act out specific parts
    • incorporate choral speaking
    • include music or play an instrument
    • add movement or choreography
    • incorporate costumes or props
  • Allow enough rehearsal time for each group. Hold the first performances in the classroom. Then discuss with students how to share the storytelling with other classes or with family and community members.


Ask students to think about a story that you have in your classroom that the whole class witnessed – a story that they all have in common that could become their own class folktale. Perhaps there is a particularly memorable day you all shared, a moment of triumph for the class, or a day when something changed. In small groups, students can rehearse and perform their own perspectives of the same story. After the performances, ask students to compare and contrast each telling of the story – how was the same story told differently each time?


APPENDIX A: Bern’s Chores

Click here to download.

APPENDIX B: Storytelling Prompts

Click here to download.

APPENDIX C: Story Inspiration

Click here to download.


Pre-Show Culminating Activity inspired by Cahnmann-Taylor, M. & Souto-Manning (2010) Teachers act up! Creating multicultural learning communities through theatre. Teachers College Press.


World of Tales – An excellent resource for folktales for children from all over the world.

Teaching with “Pourquoi” Tales – Folktales and lesson plans for K-5 around origin stories, or the story of why and how something came to be.

Native Languages – Native American folklore and legends by tribe.

Talking Stick – A lesson plan to introduce the idea of a talking stick into your classroom.