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Training pays off in stories

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Third-grader Raya Esplin uses gestures to help tell a backward fairy tale about a prince who wanted to be turned back into a frog.

Third-grader Raya Esplin uses gestures to help tell a backward fairy tale about a prince who wanted to be turned back into a frog.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Blond-haired fourth grader Alison Hollingworth stood tall, showed little fear and began telling "Pies of Unusual Variety," stories about her great-grandpa that her aunt had written. After a few sentences she relaxed and smiled. The training had paid off.

The 10-year-old explained something she learned while training as a storyteller.

"In some parts it's my regular voice," Hollingworth said. "But I like using expression — it makes people want to listen more."

Hollingworth was one of 24 students who performed as storytellers Thursday night at Canyon Crest Elementary's Celebration of Literacy night in Provo. Parents and children milled around the school for several hours taking part in four different activities. Storytelling was just one of them.

Cheryl Loveless, literacy coordinator for the school, has been working with this group of first- through sixth-graders for several months now.

"The kids have been attending workshops for the last couple of months," Loveless said. "We even sent two finalists to the Timpanogos storytelling finalists auditions."

Another storyteller, third-grader Raya Esplin, told a backward fairy tale where the prince wanted to be turned back into a frog. She punctuated her presentation with stomps, hops, a witch's cackling voice and a scrunched face. She bowed when she finished.

"I really like stories and I like how people laugh," Esplin said. "But I don't like it when you are about to tell the story and you're all nervous."

Fourth-grader Allysa Lewis dressed like a dog, complete with a real collar and leash from her dog Ranger, to tell her story about a dog.

"It's really fun, and if you forget a part, you get to make it up," Lewis said. "I think everybody loved it. I heard some giggles."

Getting students to serve as storytellers is just one way Canyon Crest is pushing literacy and a love of books. Teachers have also helped students write and illustrate their own books. In Lynda Westover's class, the theme was spiders.

"Our third-graders are doing a lot of literacy activities around spiders," Westover said. "They are learning about animal ecosystems and reading both fiction and non-fiction." Her students wrote personal narratives that were on display around the school.

In Westover's classroom the parents read aloud and did some interactive writing with their child.

Another activity was the book swap where every child was asked to bring one of their favorite books from home, to swap for another. Students also earned tickets to trade for additional books.

Principal Pat Anderson was pleased with the event's focus on literacy.

"It's the number one thing we do," Anderson said. "Our goal is to produce children who are good readers and writers. So there's nothing better than to be celebrating literacy."

E-mail: knelson@desnews.com