Wide-eyed and spellbound, 50 students at Orangethorpe School in Fullerton waited Friday to hear whether big bad Golly Wolf would devour the little girl who had wandered into the forest to pick flowers.
Sixth-graders and special education students gasped at the description of Golly Wolf's teeth that "were as sharp as razor blades" in the four-minute tale, part of a weekly storytelling hour at the school.
The tales are an effort by teachers and the state Department of Education to stimulate the children's imaginations and improve their listening skills. The program is also aimed at improving their creative talents, critical thinking, self-confidence and writing, said Arlene Obremski, storyteller and special education teacher.
The art of storytelling and its educational benefits were taught to Obremski and other teachers in Orange County through a program paid for by the state and the Zellerbach Family Fund. In turn, Obremski has taught the skills of storytelling to two other teachers in the school.
"I feel like I've given birth to a rainbow. That's what we really want, it's got to grow," said Obremski, who wore a colorful apron appliqued with characters from the stories she has told.
Obremski gathers her tales from various books. A story from a book in the school library usually is followed by a mad dash to check it out.
The storytelling makes "literature come alive," Obremski said.
Marc Anderson, an attentive sixth-grader, said the storytelling hour "makes me feel good about what people can think up in their minds." Often, he said, he thinks up his own version of stories afterward.
Storytelling techniques also are tied to the curriculum. For example, they have been incorporated into lectures to make the history of Russia or the demise of the dinosaurs more interesting.
Lisa Friedberg, a storytelling teacher, said she has seen results of the program reflected in essays by her sixth-graders. The students have learned about plots and character development and "have become creative on factual details," she said.
They have also become more accepting of the special education students who attend the storytelling, Friedberg said. The youngsters cuddled into the laps of the older children during the story, often jumping or exclaiming during the scary parts.
Friedberg said a visit this week by master storyteller Ken Haven helped her discover voice characterizations and intonations. "If you've got the ham in you, it gives you a captive audience," she said. "It's a chance to let your hair down."