It's all Ancient Greek to me

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
A storytelling workshop that explores myths is helping teachers bring the past to life. Raymond Ross reports

An afternoon spent with Zeus, Hermes, Hercules, Odysseus and Pandora was always going to be colourful and noisy as "Team Olympus" put us through our paces, exploring the myths of Ancient Greece. And so it proved as we made drawings, enacted scenes from the myths, played games drawn from the stories and worked with puppets; "we" being mostly teachers and storytellers from Scotland, Ireland, India and Canada.

This was a workshop designed for teachers (primary to S3) and artists exploring the shapes of the stories, how to tell them concisely and express them through visuals and drama to bring them alive.

"Children all hear stories in different ways," says Ailie Finlay, a storyteller and theatre-in-education workshop leader, who is one half of Team Olympus.

"Stories operate on different levels and the use of drawing, games and drama helps children retain the stories for themselves. It's about bringing them alive."

Her workshop partner for this Scottish Storytelling Festival event, Andy Hunter, agrees: "Swapping roles in the stories so that you might play a god, a bird, a villager or a sailor helps young people come in at `soul level'. As we role play, we learn different ways of being," he says.

Having drummed, sung, chorused, whistled and role-played, we seem to be in philosophical mode. How, asks one participant, do you distinguish between "myth" and "truth" for a young pupil?

"All stories are true and some of them might even have happened. The point is to let the stories work for themselves before you `interpret' or try to reduce them to a `moral'," says Mr Hunter.

"The over-riding thing in Greek myths is not morality but consequences, that one action will cause something else to happen. It's a way children learn about consequences," he says.

As the workshop nears its end, Ann McLeod, head of classics at St Aloysius' College in Glasgow, says: "You can take so much from Greek myths in terms of philosophy, morality and general knowledge that you could keep a class discussion going for hours.

"I'm looking to integrate myth into our Latin and Greek language classes . It's been very refreshing and what we've shared in terms of visual and action learning today, I can use even with older pupils. The storytelling approach is very exciting."

Adapting myths

1. Catch a myth

You might want to choose a myth because it's an exciting story. Or you might be thinking about how its mood represents aspects of humanity and its relevance to your audience (eg, curiosity: relevant to pre-schoolers; sexual jealousy: apt for teenagers).

2. Pare it down

What is its essence? Can you re-tell it in four or five sentences?

3. Highlight

What is the most important moment for you in the story?

4. Add detail

Think about characters and places - where and when. And about sensory experiences - sights, sounds, smells. Imagine "walking through" the story. The more you imagine in your head, the more real it will feel to the listener.

5. Let children capture the story

This can be done in paintingdrawing; role-playing characters; making puppets to explore the story; turn parts of the story into a game (eg, sailors stealing Odysseus's "bag of winds").

Connecting with Stories workshops 2011-12 www.scottishstory

Ailie Finlay workshops


Andy Hunter workshops


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