Storytelling in the 21st Century

Posted on March 17, 2011

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Last week, for Read Aloud Around the World Day, I read a wonderful Herschel story to my 4th graders and another class in Boston via skype. I’m not a big fan of skype. I hate the jerky movements, delay, fuzziness, and the way calls are frequently dropped.

Until now. My first love has always been storytelling; a friend sat me down with a kindergarten class and a book years ago. It was love at first try. Storytelling comes easy to me, but it’s not as easy as I make it look.

Sometimes when I say storytelling people think of an adult sitting and reading a book aloud to a group of kids. This is not what I mean by storytelling. Storytelling is bringing the book alive with gestures, vocal inflections and modulation, pacing, timing, improvisation, and characterizations. I’m blessed with the ability to speak with a variety of accents and what my students call “funny voices”. It’s not simple; timing is incredibly important–as is connecting with your audience and paying attention to them. Knowing when to “add a little bit to the story” is also crucial.

I don’t just pick up a book and read it aloud. No, I read it many times beforehand, trying out different accents for different characters, checking the timing, deciding just where to put a dramatic pause, etc. All of that happens before the class even thinks about coming to the library.

As I read the story to the class in Massachusetts via Skype, I was watching both my own 4th grade class and the northern class at the same time, checking their reactions to my accents, pacing, and facial expressions. I’m proud to say both were mesmerized. I love the totally focused look my audiences get when I’m performing well and they are connecting to me and the story. It was amazing to see that look both on the live faces in front of me and on the computer screen via skype. At the end my students applauded, as did the students in Massachusetts. Their teacher then expressed their amazement at “my ability to do so many voices for the characters, and keep them all straight.” I’d never even thought about it before, but I suppose it is harder than I realize.

I love sharing my gift with my students, but I didn’t realize until I skyped that I could share it with so many more people–courtesy of 21st century technology. There’s something wonderfully ironic about using such a 21st century tool to share the thousands of years old wonder and magic of storytelling. If you’d like me to tell a story to your class, send me an email. I think I’m getting the hang of this 21st century stuff!

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Posted in: Lesson Plans