Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 4:07 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Students learn, share the age-old art of storytelling


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

The storytelling of Micah Merchant, captivates first-grade students at Paul Banks Elementary School.

A troupe of storytellers visited Paul Banks Elementary School last week, delighting the kindergarten through second-grade students with tall tales of adventure and make-believe. They offered the promise that the audience themselves might one day be storytellers.

Easy to believe since the troupe was comprised of fourth-grade students from West Homer Elementary School, some of them former PBE students.

The young storytellers came from the classrooms of Lyn Maslow and Melissa Cloud, who began developing young tellers of tales two years ago.

"I got the idea from Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, great storytellers I heard at a convention," said Melissa Cloud, WHES fourth-grade teacher.

Using the Hamilton-Weiss method, Cloud encouraged her students to read as much as possible, finding stories that interested them from a collection of 60 that she has pulled together. Each youngster read 10-15, narrowing their selections down to ones that particularly caught their attention.

"There was a whole series of activities that helped them with public speaking and confidence," said Cloud.

"That's really the goal behind the idea, to help kids get over their fear of standing in front of an audience, learning to make eye contact, putting expression on their faces."

Since the stories aren't memories, the students drew story maps that illustrated the plots. Each time the stories were told, they were different.

"And they're still changing the stories as they tell them," said Cloud. "It changes every time they tell it. That's the art of storytelling which I think at times is becoming a lost art."

The youngsters practiced telling their stories in a number of ways and with various "audiences."

"It was really loud and noisy because everyone told their story to the wall," said Cloud of the noise filling her and Maslow's classrooms. "Then they told them with a monotone voice, with lots of expression."

The fourth-graders were told to choose a sentence or phrase and repeat it like it was the first day of school and they were excited. Then they were told to repeat the phrase as if it was the worst thing that could have happened to them.

"All of the different ways got inflection in their voices. It was making little words say so many things based on how you say them," said Cloud. "We did a lot of those exercises to help them find expression in their voices.

The visit to Paul Banks is only part of the storytelling lessons. Next, the fourth-graders will begin studying Alaska history "and that's where I'll be weaving some of the history through Native Alaskan storytelling," said Cloud.

Also for the next few Wednesdays, the students will share their storytelling talent at the Homer Public Library's preschool story hour.

"It is fun," said Cloud. "Even my kids who were shy and hesitant and said they couldn't get up in front of others and talk, they got up," she said. "I saw the little kids at Paul Banks, the kindergarteners, sitting there totally enthralled, focused."

The first-grade students in teacher Dina Marion's class applauded and shouted "awesome" at the end of each story, their enthusiastic response bringing smiles to the fourth-graders.

"Just think, in a few years you, too, might come back here and tell stories like this," Marion told the young listeners.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.