A lesson in storytelling that all kids should learn

02/10/2014 7:00 AM |
The Story Pirates at Oysterponds Elementary School. Photo by Rachel Young.

The Story Pirates at Oysterponds Elementary School. Photo by Rachel Young.

Last month Nick Kanelis, an actor with the educational and improvisational group Story Pirates, posed a question to the students in Jenny Schoenstein’s pre-K and kindergarten class at Oysterponds Elementary School in Orient. 

“Can a piece of paper be a character in story?” the Brooklyn resident asked a group of 4- and 5-year-olds — 22 in all — who sat on a carpet in a corner of the classroom. “How about a toilet?”

Amid giggles, some of the children told Mr. Kanelis, 28, that neither of those things could be a character in a story. How silly, they said.

Just then, Mr. Kanelis turned to fellow Story Pirates actor Tim Platt and gave him a command.

“Tim, show me how to be a toilet,” he said. Opening his arms wide, Mr. Platt clapped his hands together, mimicking the action of a toilet seat being opened and closed.

“I’m a toilet,” he said in a baritone voice to the kids, who were now laughing uproariously. “I live in the bathroom.” “You see?”

Mr. Kanelis told the students. “Anything can be a character.” That concept — that anything can be a character — was the principal lesson the Oysterponds students learned one day last month when Mr. Kanelis, Mr. Platt and three other actors stopped by the school to work with individual classes on developing creative, sometimes outrageous stories with defi ned characters and plots.

The Story Pirates will take those stories and return to the school March 13, when they’ll act each one out using props.

“We’re going to do a group story the pre-K and kindergartners wrote and then we’ll do some stories written by individual kids, one for each grade,” Mr. Kanelis said.

Richard Malone, Oysterponds’ superintendent, said he was familiar with Story Pirates and endorsed them “on the spot” when some PTA members approached him about having the Manhattan-based group conduct a workshop with students.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to help teachers learn ways of pulling ideas together and helping students become better writers,” he said. “Secondly, I think it’s connecting what kids enjoy as play with an understanding of what goes into theater. I think anytime you can use children’s ideas to create public displays you’re validating who they are and what their thinking is.”

Ms. Schoenstein said last Thursday that her students are still talking about the Story Pirates, two weeks after their initial visit.

“They still remember that anything can be a character,” she said. “We were just working on it today.”

The group’s visit was beneficial to her, too, Ms. Schoenstein said.

“I teach those things [like character development] but having Story Pirates in was so exciting for the kids,” she said. “It made me feel like I should be more animated when trying to present those things.”

Drumming up excitement is a great way to spark creativity in young children, Mr. Kanelis said.

“Real pirates think gold is treasure,” he told Ms. Schoenstein’s students. “We’re Story Pirates who think your imaginations are treasure.” 

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