Tall Stories Weave Mighty Spell

TheAge.com.au (Melbourne, Australia), July 16, 2012



Just before the bell sounds for morning recess — when attention spans traditionally wane — students have crowded around the feet of their resident storyteller at Coolaroo South Primary School to begin a ritual that has been embraced by generations.

A light strum of the mbira, a thumb piano, signals that a story is about to begin. As Julie Perrin launches into a lively narrative of a mouse seeking its lost tail, the pupils eagerly join in finishing sentences, rejoicing in the anticipation and delighting in the trickery.

Through the ages, simple storytelling like this has captured the imaginations of young and old. Behind such small pleasures lie important tools for literacy.

Immersion in stories, Ms Perrin says, helps students to anticipate patterns and identify story structure and genre.

She points to a group of grade 5 and 6 students she recently coached in the art of storytelling. By training them to retell simple stories, chants and rhymes to the younger students at the school, she saw these student storytellers develop their fluency, memory and expressive skills.

“By grade 6 they are really interested in lived experience, they want to know what’s real so I tell non-fiction stories and marry them with traditional stories so they can see how they point to life, wisdom and understanding because if you tell a story that matches with a real experience it makes more sense to them,” she says.

Recently, Arabic, Turkish and Vietnamese children in the City of Hume were treated to folktales in their own language through bilingual storytelling workshops.

“They would hear the stories in their first language as well as English and once they had a sense of being at home with it in their first language, their fluency in English improved,” Ms Perrin says.

“There was a lot to celebrate because these are children from refugee and migrant backgrounds where English isn’t spoken at home and for whom literacy was a huge conquest and this was an important platform for them to feel fluent.”


Subjects Covered: education

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