Storytelling Events

My Very First Outdoor Storytelling Session

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Yes, I finally did it! A storytelling session after our move here to Georgia 🙂 I did my first one in a preschool. There weren’t any pictures so I didn’t write any updates. And also, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures in the school. My second session was in an open space, near our church, St Thomas Aquinas. They organized a little Trunk N’ Treat in conjunction with Halloween and the storytelling was at the end of their Trunk N’ Treat route, where they also had their s’mores and apple ciders.

I decided to tell ‘The Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything” hence my old lady get-up. There were 3 short sessions altogether and were done in an ‘Open House’ manner. So it was pretty flexible, timing wise. Storytelling has never been thrown into the Trunk N’ Treat program before, so this is the first, and I’m so glad to be part of it 🙂 It was my dearest hubby’s idea. He saw the announcement in the church’s newsletter about Trunk N’ Treat and suggested that I offer my storytelling services since I love it so much and I’m crazy about Halloween haha So I did. After a few emails, the slot is confirmed 🙂

Honestly, outdoor storytelling is a whole different ballgame altogether. It has its own set of challenges. I’m writing this to remind myself of what I learned from it.

Firstly, I HADN’T THE FAINTEST IDEA, what ‘Open House’ meant, and it was my fault for not asking. So, I went there, totally CLUELESS. I sat and waited for the organizers but neither of them came. So I waited for crowd to arrive for the first session, but the crowd which came, didn’t seem to be waiting for one. I didn’t want to continue waiting, so I approached the crowd myself, (who already busied themselves at the campfire, with their s’mores and apple ciders), and just made the announcement (in a rather clumsy way, I must add. Thinking back, I think I made a fool of myself haha)

Then some of them responded and walked with me to where I wanted to tell the story.

All these caught me off guard, hence whatever I prepared for my introduction, just flew out the window. To top that all, that evening was really chilly. I was shivering (due to the cold) and shaking (due to the jitters), and now I can hardly recall what I said in the beginning LOL Thank goodness I remembered every part of the story haha 😛

Despite all that, I was quite surprised by the kind, positive feedback from the parents. Some of them sat for all 3 sessions! One hugged me and thanked me for such a great session (they and their children sat for 2 sessions), another said I was really good and the children couldn’t keep their eyes off me, another lady jokingly said the story was so spooky she had to call her mom to sit next to her haha! And one dad asked if I was an actor 😀

So anyway, these were some of the lessons I learned:

1) Outdoor – noises from your surroundings

2) Voice – definitely gotta improve this if I were to do another outdoor session

3) Work more on my gestures and facial expressions – need to be clearer and with better timing

Am I taking this too seriously? If I am, that’s because I love doing it and I want to do better each time 🙂

Ben didn’t manage to take many pictures because it got pretty dark and many of the pictures turned out blurry… 😦 So here are some of the clearer ones


Of witches and princesses!

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For Halloween week, I’ve been asked to do a storytelling session at Times Bookstore in Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur. And so, I’ve chosen the story, ‘Room on the Broom’, once again from one of my favourite children’s authors, Julia Donaldson. I decided to tell without pictures this time and replaced them with props – a witch’s hat (bought), a magic wand (handmade) and a ribbon (handmade).

I wasn’t sure if I made the right decision by going “picture-free” or not, because in this session, I got a very different audience. All of them conversed more comfortably in Chinese than in English and they were all girls who were pretty shy (though one came out of her shell during our activities session 😉 She is such a sweetie!).

So I had to make sure that they understood me every step of the way by using facial expressions, hand gestures and constant eye contact, plus lots of encouragement to try to get them to participate. To my amazement, they understood the story and could answer the questions later, though it took them some time… 🙂

Why did I decide to go ‘picture-free’? Well, very simply because I find children these days are being bombarded with too many pictures and graphics, telling them what certain things should look like, what and how to think, etc so much so that they aren’t given room to imagine and wonder; something that shouldn’t be taken away from a child. That’s what make them so beautiful and unique. Why stop their sense of wonder by throwing pictures and graphics and limit them from imagining that world and let them take ownership of it?

During our art & craft session, when we were to make our magic wands, I told them the magic wand that I have looks very boring and not very magical. So I asked them to make theirs as colourful and magical as they can, and they came up with their own versions 🙂

When it came to colouring, I told them the same thing. I asked one of them, if you had a magic frog, what colour would it be? She answered me purple, and she coloured her frog purple with a yellow head 🙂 We also had a very colourful witch who had a very colourful cauldron (a rainbow theme) 😉 As for one of them, who didn’t like colouring, I gave her a blank piece of paper to draw and she drew a magic tree which had little houses hanging from its branches 🙂 I encouraged her to show it off to her parents who were sitting nearby.  

Before the end of the session, I told the girls to remember to use their magic wands whenever they need to by saying the magic words they just learnt 😉

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Malaysia International Storytelling Festival 2011 (Day 2)

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Sheila Wee from Singapore

(Continued from Day 1)

Day 2: Step into Storytelling – Storytelling for Beginners by Sheila Wee
I enjoyed Sheila’s workshop immensely. She was so well-prepared (she even prepared extra shawls for those who couldn’t stand the cold!), knew exactly what she wanted and needed to do; she even timed each session so that every minute in the workshop was well spent.

So, let me go straight to the meat of her workshop. When storytelling, you:
• use your own words
• make eye contact
• change the delivery of the story according to how the audience reacts (i.e. be spontaneous)
• choose a style that suits your personality; something you’re comfortable with

Storytelling is a ‘connective’ (not sure if I copied correctly) art. It is engaging and is the theatre of the mind. It transfers images from one mind to another through the bridge of oral language.

In a conventional communication, you only have one active participant, i.e. the speaker, while the listener’s passive. Whereas, in storytelling, both speaker and listener are active, because when listening to a story, your imagination is activated, and you create a ‘new’ story in your mind, therefore taking ownership of the messages in the story. I think this explains why many research have proven that storytelling contributes to brain development, imagination, problem-solving skills and perspective taking.

Participants sent on a Scavenger Hunt

Storytelling also improves your listening skills, comprehension, vocabulary and speech. It helps to bond two individuals or more (ever tried talking to someone you’ve just met and ask them about their background? You’d find, almost immediately, the ‘stranger’ isn’t a stranger anymore. This point was proven with the ‘Scavenger Hunt’ activity :)). Stories also create a sense of belonging, helps an individual to empathise; they also instil positive values and give hope.

For successful storytelling, choose a story that you really like that has a simple plot and choose a simple, clear, natural manner of telling. Here are some tips from Sheila:
– use your posture to illustrate the characters (remember to mind your distance from the audience.)

Sheila telling us about 'Truth & Stories'. I loved this story!

– use natural movement and gestures
– begin with confidence
– signal story coming to an end
– don’t worry about making mistakes (If you realised you missed an integral part of the story, you can try phrases like “What you didn’t know…”, or “I haven’t told you this…”

A major part of her workshop was dedicated to various activities that involved the participants, making the sessions very hands-on and more memorable. These sessions I find, answer the objectives of her workshop. They aren’t just sessions just to get the participants to do something, but sessions that help the participants achieve their goals and understand the reason for doing them. If you have the chance to attend a workshop by Sheila Wee, GO FOR IT.

Jeeva Raghunath from India

Talking Tales – Building Communication Skills by Jeeva Raghunath
Jeeva stressed the importance of communicating effectively and how to do so by:
• stressing key words in a story
• not swallowing your words
• pronouncing your consonants
• express is with the right emotion (face, body language, voice/volume, intensity) and intonation

Then she told a story in a very unique way. She tore a page from a newspaper into different shapes and sizes. She just tore and tore, letting some of us help her out too. Then, using the torn papers, she asked us to label the papers with names of objects/things/people. She chose 6 shapes and we labelled them as a car, fish, cat, shoe, knife and stairs.

Jeeva telling us a tale using newspaper

I came up with this story: The cat was eyeing the fish in the fish bowl near a window. Then he heard a honk from a car outside which startled him. It’s his master. Heard the keys at the door. The master took out his shoes and went up the stairs. The cat was relieved now that he could proceed with his plan. As he was about the pounce on the fish, suddenly a knife landed right in front of him. The cat meowed and ran out of the kitchen. “Crap! Me and my butter fingers!” cried the master’s wife.

You can also create a story using just one object. Jeeva used the example of the water bottle which could be a torchlight, a tower/building, a microphone, a dumbbell, etc.

To be a good and effective communicator, you’d have to be clear of what you want to say using the right emotion, expression, body language and tone of voice.

She also gave us each a handout about storytelling techniques that’d improve your communication skills: How?
* Begin with a familiar story (Repeat it as often as you like. It’d help improve your verbal skills)
* Listen to stories (to improve your listening skills. Listening is part of communication skills too)
* With some creativity, develop your own imagination to make your story more interesting (use different voices, add ‘meat’ to your character and settings)
* Draw charts with who, where, when, what, why and how and fill it with information from the story (this will help with your analyticial skills)

That’s the end of my Day 2 🙂

If you’d like to see more pictures from MISF 2011, you can find me on Facebook (Jee Wan).

Malaysia International Storytelling Festival 2011 (Day 1)

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The MISF Booklet

When? 9 – 10th Sept 2011
Where? Sunway International School (SIS), Selangor Darul Ehsan.
What time? 9.30am – 4.30pm

The night before MISF, my hubby and I were at The Lion King Musical in Singapore (it was spectacular!), which ended at about 10.45pm. Right after that, we rushed back to my aunt’s place, got all our bags into the car, then headed back to Kuala Lumpur and reached at about 4.30am. That morning itself I had to attend MISF. So, you can say, I was half awake when the workshop started.
I decided to attend Roger’s session since I didn’t get the chance in Singapore. I was quite interested in the topic too, because I teach as well, but turned out this is more appropriate for older students. But I still got something out of it 😉
10th September 2011: The Stories Every Student Needs to Know (And How to Tell Them) by Roger Jenkins
Roger started the workshop with ‘The Crocodile and Sister Hen’ and my, did I enjoy it! I loved the way he told it as it included participation from the listeners, some sign-languages and hand gestures involved. His facial expressions made the story even more hilarious. Moral of the story? We’re all the same; we’re all brothers and sisters, so treat each other with respect. No bullying, no derogatory comments, and definitely no eating! 😀
Roger & Boys role-playing a story

In the next session, Roger got two participants from the crowd. If I’m not mistaken, both were students from SIS and got them to role-play in the next story about two friends fighting over a packet of Oreos, each claiming he saw the Oreos first, so it was his. Roger told both of them what to say in each part and the students, very amazingly, dramatized and acted out the scene perfectly! The boys really got into character. I had fun watching. The story ended with a teacher (Roger) asking them the colour of paper he was holding (One side was black, the other was white) So the person standing on one side, would only see the colour he sees. So the boys argued that the paper is the colour they saw. Then Roger asked them to switch places, then the boys realized the other party was right. An interesting way to learn ‘perspective/point of view’, might be a little complicated for younger learners though.

Roger telling the extended version of The Hare and The Tortoise

Next, he told ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’. This was fun. Might tell it to my students 🙂 Some of you might have heard of these versions before. After the race has ended, the hare realized his mistake, so he challenged the tortoise to another race. Learning from his mistake, the hare won the race this time. No doubt slow and steady is good, but fast and steady is even better!

Being the ever-confident hare, he decided to race with the tortoise again, allowing the tortoise to choose the track, because he got bored with the old track. When they raced, the hare came upon a river and was dumbfounded because he didn’t know how to swim. He panicked and decided to take a different route, while the tortoise, who loved swimming, calmly swam across it. The tortoise won the race in the end. This part, the listeners should learn that one should identify their strengths and use them to their full potential. In the final part, the hare and tortoise became friends and decided to compete in a marathon. They made use of each other’s strengths and won the competition!

After this session, we adjourned to a different room where we did some role-play activity. With a partner, we were asked to pick a story and tell it in different ways – a first person point of view, using only actions, very simple English to someone from China who has limited vocab, put the story in a different time and location, tell it very enthusiastically and tell it like you’ve told it a thousand times. This can be quite a fun class activity; very adaptable to different types of lessons too.

When we returned to our classroom, Roger told us some stories we could tell our students and showed us a list of them. Click here to get the list.

Dr. Wajuppa Tossa opens with 2 traditional songs

Riddle Stories – Creative Storytelling by Dr. Wajuppa Tossa
I find this session interesting and would love to apply this in my lesson. I know my students will love it 🙂 What I’ve learnt is that, any stories can be turned into a riddle story. It’s just a matter of turning a certain part of the story into a question or a problem to be solved.  Here were some of the riddle stories Dr. Wajuppa told us.

The Three Friends (the elephant, monkey and bird) (Great for pre-school), The Nine Bamboo Clumps (Some calculations are involved. Appropriate for 12 and above) and the Rich Man who seeks a Daughter-In-Law (for older audience).

Then we were asked to solve some riddle stories. Out of the list she gave, we picked 6 stories – One Cookie (from Europe), All is Mine, Serving Giant (from Laos), The Magic Stick (India), Bird in Hand (India) and Guilty Stone (China). It’s interesting to see the different answers given in some of the stories, as I like learning a different person’s point of view, or way of looking at life/a story, and how they derive at that answer.

After that mind-boggling session, we were then asked to turn a story we know into a riddle story. Our group decided to pick the story of The Golden Swan. Upon deciding the ‘riddle’, we then chose a storyteller to present the story. Unanimously, we picked the youngest 😉 And she did really well!

Attentive participants

The art of turning a story to a riddle story? Simple! Either leave the ending open or pick the highlight of the story, then ask why or how. If you want to add another question, just ask your listener to guess its title. This would be fun if you’ve got a funny title or a title that plays with words.

Although totally knackered after the workshops, I left feeling excited about preparing for my future storytelling sessions. I also attended the showcase that was held tonight from 8pm – 10.30pm.

If you’d like to see more pictures from MISF 2011, you can find me on Facebook (Jee Wan).

Click here for Day 2 🙂

Singapore International Storytelling Festival (Day 2)

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Day 2: 3 Sept 2011 of SISF (Continuation from Day 1)
Yet again, we were spoilt for choices. We had to choose between Ruth’s Storymaking with Young People, Lilli’s Improvised Stories and Abbi’s La Maison de Conte: Transmission and Research (sharing session). If only I could clone myself or split myself in 3! Being the ever loyal me, I chose Lilli’s Improvised Stories because I liked her workshop yesterday, and I liked her style of conducting one.

Lilli & Me @ SISF 2011

Improvised Stories by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang
The first half of the session was about ‘Yes, And’. This game is popular drama activity among thespians. How is it done? Well, first, the facilitator of this activity would start with a sentence or two. Then when he/she ends, the next person would need to say ‘Yes…and…’ follow by his/her sentence or two that continues from the facilitator’s ‘introduction’. And it continues until the story has an ‘ending’. The rule of this story is not to ‘kill off’ anything mid way, and allow every person to have a chance to develop the ‘story/idea’. The whole concept of this game is to allow each individual to learn to accept ideas and concept offered by another person.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Hmm…not when the story reaches an interesting point, and you tell yourself, ‘Ok, the next person better say this, so that I can continue with THIS (YOUR idea).’ But of course, the following person had a different idea, and says something totally different from what you were thinking. And bam! There goes YOUR idea of YOUR beautiful story. So the challenge would be, to ACCEPT what has been given to you, EMBRACE it, and MOVE ON 🙂 And that’s how one should approach life too. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade 😉

The second part of the session is even more challenging (for me at least). We were divided into 6 groups, and each group was given a slip of paper that had 2-3 sentences. These sentences are part of a story. Our task is to continue the story, but with a different storyline, which means we weren’t supposed to know what the original story was about. Each of us had 2 minutes to tell our own version of the story. My team had one about 2 children who lost their parents and had to fend for themselves by fishing for oysters. It was set in an unheard-of place (I can’t even remember the name now). Man, it was tough! I thought I couldn’t do it. And 2 minutes FELT SO LONG! But applying ‘Yes, and’, I embraced the challenge. My story was about the brother sought help from an old man who lived right at the end of the beach. I didn’t manage to end the story in 2 minutes though 😦 Some of my other team members came up with some very interesting stories 🙂

After lunch, we had to choose between Sherry & Bobby’s The Moral of the Story, Sheila’s Telling Together: Interactive Storytelling for Children with Special Needs and Dr. Gideon & Kamini’s Happily Ever After: Using Stories to Help Adolescents Meet Life’s Challenges. I chose Bobby & Sherry’s workshop.

Bobby & Me @ SISF 2011

The Moral of the Story: Character Education through Storytelling by Sherry and Bobby Norfolk
In this workshop, Bobby performed 2 stories. He started with a story about Baby Hawk who wants to learn how to fly. Following that, was a brief discussion on how we could use this kind of story on the first day of school, to tell children the positive behaviours we expect of them.

To further discuss the point, they randomly distributed printed copies of some popular fables.  We were asked to read it, and try to identify the moral of the story, then share it with the others (who didn’t get a copy). When we were done, we were to exchange that story with another person so we could all have a chance to read another story. Getting us all to exchange stories this way, would take up time and it was a big audience. I felt this part wasn’t properly managed. It would have been better if there were already printouts that listed those popular fables and the moral of the story at the end of the discussion. This way, the participants can keep them for reference.

Bobby then performed The Lewis & Clark Expedition, telling it through the eyes of York, William Clark’s slave, who was the only African-American member of the “Corps of Discovery”. It’s very different seeing history ‘told’ this way. Definitely more engaging than reading straight from the sleep-inducing history books!

How I felt about the SIFF 2011 overall? This being my first and that I’ve got no other storytelling festivals to compare it to, I’d say this is an awe-inspiring experience, and I can’t wait to put some of the techniques I’ve learnt into practice.

But if I were to compare this to the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content, SISF wins this hands down. AFCC 2011 was quite a disappointment for me. I felt some speakers weren’t even fully prepared.

I’d also be attending the inaugural Malaysian International Storytelling Festival this weekend. You can read more about it here. Am really looking forward to it 🙂

Singapore International Storytelling Festival 2011 (Day 1)

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Bobby Norfolk on the front cover of the SISF booklet

Let me start this blog with a post on my very first storytelling festival which I’ve attended in Singapore recently. It’s called the Singapore International Story Telling Festival (SISF). If you’ve not heard of SISF, it’s a gathering of great storytellers from around the world who come to explore the many manifestations of storytelling, and how it can be used as an aid to learning in education. This year, we had the honour of listening stories told by Sherri and Bobby Norfolk (Bobby is the one in the picture on the left) from USA, Ruth Kirkpatrick, Abbi Patrix from France, Randel McGee & Groark (his witty, green dragon) from USA, Roger Jenkins, Lillian Rodrigues-Pang from Australia, Beatriz Montero from Spain, Dr. Gideon Arulmani from India, and Kamini Ramacandran and Sheila Wee from Singapore.

The festival was held from 1 – 5 September. I attended the workshops on the 3rd and 4th. Every morning, there was ‘Storytime’, when a storyteller would perform/tell a story for 15 minutes. On both mornings, we had the honour of listening to Kamini and Sheila. They were wonderful and I loved how they delivered their stories – simple, calming and soothing. Sheila’s very graceful and elegant, totally the opposite of Lillian (Lilli) and Beatriz who were more theatrical, though I could relate better to Beatriz and Lilli’s way of storytelling.

After Storytime and Keynote, we adjourned to our respective areas for the chosen workshops. As there were 3 workshops running concurrently in one time slot (11am – 1pm), we had to choose 1 out of the 3. Today, we had to choose between Randel McGee’s 1000 Voices Speaking Perfectly Loud, Sherry & Bobby Norfolk’s Helping Struggling Readers: How Storytelling Can Make A Difference and Ruth Kirkpatrick’s Storymaking with Children with Special Needs: A Different Point of View. Tough choice, huh? 😦 So. I decided on….Randel McGee’s workshop, because I can’t wait to meet GROARK! (Sorry Randel hehe :P)

1000 Voices Speaking Perfectly Loud!

1000 Voices Speaking Perfectly Loud by Randel McGee, 11am – 1pm
This workshop basically introduces the techniques of using the vocal chords and other speech makers to produce a variety of character voices and sound effects to add excitement and colour to your storytelling presentations. In this workshop, I learnt that the important things to look out for in using character voices are: pitch, speed (the higher the speed, the higher the pitch), volume, age and size. These are also the natural factors that affect our speech. Whereas, the learned factors are breath control, accent, culture and vocabulary. And of course, to master these, you need to practice, practice and practice!

Useful tips: Visualise the image of your character, as it’d help set your vocal focus. If you don’t have one, try visualising a cartoon character you’re familiar with and use it as a reference. When possible, try use vocal nuances to express emotions instead of words.

What made this session more interesting was that one of the participants brought a puppet with her, and asked Randel if he could help give this puppet a character (refer to picture with the orange puppet on the right). I was amazed by how Randel handled it. He looked at it, touched it, played with it, and in no time, made it come alive! (I’m not exaggerating) Suddenly, that puppet has A CHARACTER. He could even make it ‘look’ old, by just changing its voice, speed of speech and motion. Great stuff!

Tada! The Princess & The Pea!

Then he told us the story of the Princes and the Pea while cutting a black piece of paper. When coming to the end of the story, voila! The plain black piece of paper, became a cut-out of the princess, the pea and the layers and layers of mattresses! Brilliant, isn’t he??

For the second session (3 – 5pm) after lunch, we had to choose between Roger Jenkins’s Interact and Bond with Children with Special Needs using Simple Storytelling Techniques, Beatriz Montero’s Storytelling for Babies and Toddlers and Lillian Rodrigues-Pang’s Culture, Language and Your Stories. I chose the last one.

Culture, Language and Your Stories by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang, 3pm – 5pm
Culture, Language and Your Stories

I love Lillian’s workshops (I attended both of them. Another one the next day. More on that later in my next post). She came with lots of knowledge and experience to share. She started off this workshop with a story, set in West Africa, about The Hat Seller named BaMusa, who learnt his first ‘business’ lesson from a few monkeys who stole his hat. This story, if read directly would be very plain. But Lilli made it more interesting by dramatizing it and adding repeated phrases using a song, which we could all sing together. Then she showed us how she could use this story and set it in Mexico.

Her suggestion on things to look out for when you want to take a story and put it in a location you want:
* Body language and gestures of your character from that country
* Accent/slang of course
* Country (What’s it famous for? Fruits? Icons? Celebrities?)
* Location (Where exactly? Is there anything there your audience could identify with? Is there anything you could engage them with?)
* Song (A famous song which you could use to introduce a few new words?)
 I’ll share more after I’ve received the email which Lilli will send once she’s done compiling all the notes. Isn’t she sweet? 🙂
I’ll write part 2 for Day 2 of the festival in my next post. This is waaaaay too long for one post! Haha