WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
This sheet is about being aware of your body language when you tell a story to the pupils and how to train this medium of expression. While this sheet is intended for the teachers’ use, the advice it provides can be transmitted to the children through mimicry. To tell a story well, it is important to use all the tools at disposal in order to help the audience immerse into the story. Stimulating imagination and creating emotion is no easy feat. Even in private life, body language makes up a great percentage of our day-to-day communication. While some gestures hold a cultural meaning, body-language in a broad sense can be recognized universally by both humans and can even be transposed in animals, this phenomenon is called kinesics. It is important to note that body language does not only mean hand or arm gestures. Those are not mandatory; some storytellers tell great stories while not moving a lot. But body language also encompasses a whole world of physical signals such as posture, tension, eye-contact, gaze direction, facial expressions, etc. Facial expressions especially, are really important. There are seven emotions universally recognized beyond cultures: sadness, happiness, surprise, anger, fear, disgust, and contempt.
HOW TO USE IT?
Body language can be used to enhance the impact of a message and the amount of information you give. You can use body language to infuse dynamics into your story, to simulate spatial locations of the elements around you for example. By looking and pointing in a direction, pupils will be able to situate what you talk about in spatial relation to the main characters. It is important to stay consistent with the content of your tale.
Technical event can also be simulated by imitating the movements that goes with it: mixing the soup, pointing a gun, etc. Do not hesitate if the movement is a little technical, to research it before-hand and to practice.
Body language is also used to transmit and accentuate emotion. More emotion is synonymous with more impact on the audience. Also, you could use body language to drop hints that the character is hiding his true emotion: like putting on a brave front while the person is scared in reality, it gives more weight and tension to what is happening.
While body language can be used to accentuate some elements or give more information, it should not be used in an extreme way, or you would take the risk of distracting pupils from the original story instead of boosting the story. The exception being to try and aim for a comical effect.
A young audience may sometimes have difficulties to follow a story without visual stimulation allowing them to distinguish characters and places. Body language is a medium by which the storyteller may accentuate some characteristics of his characters to help pupils differentiate them or follow the story more fluidly.
Dynamics for characters interactions can also be created through body language. You could turn your gaze and upper body from left to right while simulating a dialog between two characters, as if they were facing one another while talking for example. This will help the audience identify who says what.
Coupled with great storytelling, body language allows to give a lot of hints on the state of mind of the characters, their physical characteristics, the size and type of the space in which they evolve, etc. to help pupil distinguish between characters easily.
- TRUTH IS IN THE EYE
A lot of body language, especially in storytelling, comes through facial expressions and eye-contact. The easiest way to recognize universal facial expressions easily is to take a look at the way facial expressions are drawn in comics, as they are accentuated in order to help the viewer understand and the codes used in comics are recognized by all young people.
Eyes and gaze are very powerful body language tools. We often say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. The place where you direct your gaze can be very revealing to your audience.
Averting your gaze to the ground or looking anywhere but at the person you are talking to can reveal a feeling of shame or that the character is trying to hide something.
Straight gaze with a frown can indicate anger or bravery depending on the tone of voice and other gestures you use coupled with that.
A straight gaze with half lidded eyes with up drawn eyebrows can signify boredom or indifference.
Choose a simple dialog between two characters of your favorite story and put yourself in front of a mirror (or better yet, film yourself with your phone or other camera device). Try out the dialog with different gazes and see how the message changes depending on the place you direct your gaze and your facial expression alone.
Do the same exercise, but instead of changes your facial expressions, try to change your posture. The way a person holds themselves can say a lot about their state of mind, physical state, and also their intentions.
As with facial expressions, it is interesting to look at drawn postures as they are accentuated positions and their characteristics are really emphasized.
This can be made into a game with your friends or even pupils. You may adopt a posture and they need to guess what emotion/state of mind/profession/etc you are trying to portray.
Body language is usually a combination of both posture and facial expressions. As such, the last step would be to choose a familiar story and to try to give life to each character through both body language and facial expressions. Try to find a test audience and see how they react. If you can record yourself and see what the end result is, it is even better. To make the experiment more interesting, record yourself first as you would normally tell the tale, then do the exercises, then compare how different these new additions to the story make the story change.