Rongai teacher enhances learning with storytelling

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An Ongata Rongai primary school teacher is reviving the age-old art form of story telling by incorporating it into her lessons which according to the British Council enhances listening skill, active participation and verbal proficiency.

Meet Agnes Wangithi, a lower primary teacher at Beacon of Hope Primary School who is using her talent to make her classes more interesting.

“I usually tell my stories when I notice that the children are tired or bored and this happens a lot during the afternoon classes,” said Agnes.

According to the Ongata Rongai teacher, there is usually a remarkable difference in the students.

“It re-energizes the kids and they really open up, sometimes they even want me to continue,” she said.

The art of story telling is nothing new to Agnes as she has been doing it her whole life.

“Even as young as I can remember in nursery. Whenever the teacher used to request for a volunteer to tell a story, all the children would point to me,” she said.

The lower primary teacher however began to realise its potential as a career in 2010 a cousin of hers referred her to an event.

“There is a cousin of mine who facilitates at team building events so this time he had been invited to a child’s birthday party and decided to carry me along to also entertain the children,” said Agnes.

In school however, it is done more for the benefit of the children.

“Most of my colleagues are younger than me so they do not understand when I tell them that this used to be a lesson in school with the old curriculum. I usually approach them and offer to tell a story during one of their classes,” said Agnes.

According to the teacher this form of edutainment is great for developing good morals and aids in learning too.

“In order to instill good behaviour such as the consequences of stealing, I will tell a story on how a misfortune befell a hare after it stole and immediately you will hear a pupil confess to stealing something and vowing to change,” said Agnes.

When it comes to learning, the stories improve concentration and increases vocabulary.

“I remember in college we were told how children around the age of 8 years have a concentration span of 7 minutes so whenever you are trying to pass on an important point it must be done within that time-frame. However, when I am telling my stories, the children can still even for 35 minutes and sometimes they even want more,” said Agnes.

It is not only children who enjoy storytelling sessions but adults too. Agnes is part of a group of story tellers called Nyef Nyef who organise such sessions.

“The turnout for these events is usually great especially among Caucasians but even more Africans are embracing them. I think adults enjoy them because it is nostalgic. It takes them back to listening to cucu’s stories in upcountry,” she said.

The type of stories Agnes tells a mixture of those old folktales, myths, legends and even some of her unpublished work.

“I am a writer so when I found it hard to get some of my stories published, I opted to tell them instead. When it comes to the old grandmother’s stories, I always add my own twist,” said Agnes.

She goes on to add that she even borrows from cultures outside Kenya such as Spain and then localizes them.

“It is all about being creative. I will maintain the moral of the story and the theme but perhaps change a bear to a lion because we do not have bears in Kenya or add an African or Indian name to cater for the various cultures,” said Agnes.

If it is at Sunday school, you will find that she twists the stories a bit so that the children can understand easily understand concepts like Jesus’ crucifixion.

“For example, I will tell the kids of how a mother hen is hurt trying to protect her baby chicks and then they will be able to relate that to how Jesus’ died for them,” said Agnes.

She also tells stories at school sports days, at children’s homes as a way of giving back to the community and even in rehabilitation centres whereby she says that it acts as a great form of therapy.

If a child is interested in becoming a story teller, Agnes advises that they need to possess certain skills.

“One needs to be very natural, this is not a theatre or acting. A story teller must also have a good mastery of the language of instruction. Lastly, they should also be humorous, entertaining and creative,” said Agnes.

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