“Once upon a time, in a land far away…” For centuries, storytellers around the globe have been using these nine words to transport audiences to magical lands. At Oak Creek High School, sophomore students are getting the chance to join this tradition.
In the final unit for Speech class, students select an engaging children’s book and craft a performance of this tale, with special attention to emphatic gestures, vocal expression, intriguing word choice, and creative props. While all students present their story for their Speech class, the best storytellers are selected for a special encore performance for kindergarteners at Edgewood Elementary. This semester, twelve high school students traveled to Edgewood on January 11 to entertain a very excited group of youngsters.
Speech teacher Kristan Hren knows that having an authentic audience for her students is a crucial part of the class. “Once students select a book to perform, most become very excited about planning and delivering their story,” said Hren. “However, once they learn about the possibility of being chosen for a special storytelling session for little kids, I see the enthusiasm skyrocket.”
The experience is beneficial for all involved. The kindergarteners get ramped up to see older students visiting their classroom. It’s common for the little kids to show their appreciation by actively participating in the stories. They chant refrains, mimic gestures, and have even been known to sing along with some especially musical teenagers.
Hren also notes a connection between storytelling and reading. “If we can get young kids excited about stories by seeing these performances, then we are helping to promote positive attitudes towards reading,” said Hren. “As an English teacher and parent, I know how crucial it is to instill that in kids as early as possible.”
High school students, on the other hand, gain confidence and poise in presenting to an unfamiliar but receptive audience.
“It was like they really cared,” explains storyteller Stephanie Stenglein. “They were singing along with my book Pete the Cat. And at the end, they didn’t want us to leave.”
Nikki Putnam agrees. “They were really attentive to my story Six Crows ,” said Putnam. “Their eyes were glued to me, and they were paying attention to every detail.”
The student speakers did more than entertain the kindergarteners. One bonus is that the stories impart important messages for the listeners. “My story taught a lesson about life,” Putnam said. “You should try to talk things over and solve a problem, rather than fighting.”
Echoing Hren’s earlier comment, storyteller Hailee Bode notes that the storytellers were there to inspire their audience members. “I think our stories will encourage the kids to want to read more,” she said. Bode has practiced this idea at home with her six-year-old twin siblings. “I read to my brother and sister using funny voices and lots of animation,” she said. “They want me to read, and then they want to read on their own.”
The kindergarteners and sophomores may be ten years apart in age, but they are finding common ground with stories and are building a tradition that will leave all involved parties living “happily ever after.”