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Storytellers Offer Entertaining Lessons

Storyteller Linda Gorham performs the story, "Fat Cat," for about 100 children at a Virginia community center.
Storyteller Linda Gorham performs the story, "Fat Cat," for about 100 children at a Virginia community center.
Linda Gorham is a storyteller whose stories come alive through sounds, rhythms and the repetition of words.

Gorham, who routinely performs before large groups of children, believes storytelling is a powerful teaching tool.

”I call it teaching without preaching," she says. "I don’t tell a story and then, at the end, say 'Now, here is what you needed to learn.' My feeling is that the message should be in the story and if the story is well crafted, you’re going to get it.”

Linda Sullivan, president of the Arts Council of Fairfax County, Virginia, organizes storytelling performances for school children county-wide, including one Gorham recently gave to about 100 students at a local community center.

“They learn by being engaged," Sullivan says, "and not just being talked to but asked to response and participate.”

Storytellers use a variety of tools to spin their yarns, including theater, dance, and song.

Gale Nemec is a storyteller who was recruited by Fairfax County schools. She performs her stories like they are short plays which are heavy on character development.

“If you’re doing the witch, you need to make her sound witchy and figure out what kind of motions and how her body would be," Nemec says. "If you’re doing a story which is perhaps an angel, I’d work on making her soft and smooth.”

The stories can sometimes help children who have learning disabilities. One of Nemec's stories, about elephants, helped a child who had problems with speech and language.

“So the mommy elephant said, ‘Ha, what do you think we should do?' The father elephant said, ‘Ha, I think we should cross to the other side of the river.' Hearing that kind of thing, the child...he started to understand that he could speak. And he started practicing more, speaking more, because he was hearing this storytelling going back and forth.”

Storytellers know instantly if their audience is hooked. After she performs the story, "Fat Cat," at that Virginia community center, the children give Linda Gorham excellent reviews.

"I never heard of the story before," says one child. "It sounded very cool with the songs. Everybody wanted to do it.”

"I like that you can imagine it," says another, "as if you’re looking at the pictures of the book.”

Gorham says storytelling can teach even young children how to communicate in an engaging and persuasive way. And that's a skill for life.
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    Faiza Elmasry

    Faiza Elmasry writes stories about life in America. She wrote for several newspapers and magazines in the Middle East, covering current affairs, art, family and women issues.  Faiza joined VOA after working in broadcasting in Cairo for the Egyptian Radio and Television Corporation and in Tokyo for Radio Japan.