Once upon a time there was a shy little girl named Thao Nguyen who feared public speaking.
Thao, 10, of Westminster, got nervous at being the center of attention and preferred to stay clear of the limelight. Then, one day, her fairy godteacher at Carrillo Elementary School showed Thao's fifth-grade class how to act out vivid tales with wild arm motions and different voices.
Over the past few months, the teacher's magic transformed Thao and her classmates into master storytellers, capable of enthralling large audiences with words and gestures. So, on Friday, Thao stepped confidently in front of almost 100 of her peers and wove her tale of a village trickster who got what he deserved.
"At first, it was kind of scary, but now it's really enjoyable" to act out a story for a group, she said afterward.
Her teacher, Traci Hoff, started using storytelling as a instructional device earlier this school year and said that it has paid off for her students both inside and out of the classroom.
"It's improved their writing, reading, poise and self-confidence. They tell me they would never have been able to (perform alone) before. But now, they do and they're very proud of themselves," she said.
Now, her students perform for the younger children on campus on a regular basis and coach each other on ways to improve their performances. Some of the tricks the performers have learned include using sound effects, arm movements and descriptive words to evoke mental images and involve listeners.
"The most important part is doing the voices. You do a deep voice for big, mean people and a high squeaky voice for little animals and people," said Lisa Co, 11.
Learning to tell a story well has already helped her in other subjects in school. In fact, she attributes improvement in her grades in writing--from Bs to A's--to her involvement in telling stories: "If you learn how to story-tell, your writing is more descriptive and exciting."
Many of the students at Carrillo will perform at a storytelling festival sponsored by the County Department of Education on Saturday. The festival, held at the Department of Education, 200 Kalmus Drive, Costa Mesa, will run from 9 a.m. to noon. About 100 children from all over the county will participate in the event. Admission is free, spokeswoman Julie Chan said.
And on Friday, 34 students from Carrillo practiced their skills, telling tales of wicked princesses, helpful elves, forest giants and hungry hippopotamuses to a rapt crowd of youngsters who smiled and giggled during the assembly. The performers waved their arms, knocked on imaginary doors and portrayed numerous characters often with breathless delight.
"I think they were good. They were exciting," said Lindsey Ellis, 10, after the show. "The way they described it, it really made you visualize a picture in your head."
For Thao, whose shyness has been replaced with self-confidence, storytelling had become a wonderful habit.
'It makes you feel really good inside. It's a feeling that you're sharing something special," she told the young man who came to watch her perform.
It was clear to everyone that sharing stories had helped Thao grow into a better, smarter person; and that when she shared her gift with others, she received many gifts in return.