iggles erupted from kids and adults as a Seymour High School junior read a book about a grandmother who ate all kinds of things for Thanksgiving.

Gavin Knutson didn’t just sit in front of third-graders at Emerson Elementary School in Seymour and read “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie.”

He acted out the words as he went along, and that had everyone paying attention and laughing at the silly tale.

He put his hand on his abdomen when the grandma’s stomach rumbled, mumbled and grumbled as she swallowed each item, including a salad, a roll, a turkey, squash, cider, a pot, a 10-layer cake, bread and, of course, a pie.

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As the woman kept eating, the story said “perhaps she’ll die,” prompting Knutson to make a motion of cutting his throat. He also made his voice rough when it mentioned the pie was dry and flapped his arms when the woman swallowed a turkey.

“Whoa!” and “Oh my gosh!” could be heard from the third-graders as the grandmother added food to her stomach.

It was all a part of Tim Perry’s dual-credit speech class visiting the school for a children’s book read.

Knutson said he occasionally reads to his younger brother and sister. And earlier this year, he read the book in front of his speech class. But this was his first time reading in front of an elementary class, and he was glad to see it go so well.

“I really feed off of it. I really love when the kids laugh. It really makes me happy,” he said. “Whenever I have my brother and sister laughing, it’s only two kids. When you have a whole class laughing, you just love it. I just love the laughter. I do it for the laughter.”

Each of Perry’s students got to pick a book to read to the kids. Knutson said he had read “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” but then he came across the other book in the series.

“I just like it because it’s very comical, and I can make it a way to read funny. I can really make it entertaining for the kids,” he said.

Using actions while reading, Knutson captured everyone’s attention.

“They like a lot of action going on at once, and so I feel like the more stuff you do, the more laughs you get and the more entertaining it is for everybody,” he said.

Knuston said he has always liked to perform, including getting in front of people and singing solos in choir, so he was in his comfort zone.

“Not only do I like to see the kids laughing, but I like to see the other people, as well,” he said. “That made me really happy just to see that it’s not only little kids that I can entertain. It’s just everybody.”

Even though he already was comfortable speaking publicly, Knutson said taking Perry’s class has helped him.

“I’ve made incredible improvements,” he said. “I’ve learned much that I had not learned before, and I really learned the process of giving a speech and really how to express myself more. I feel like the more that you present and get in front of people, the better you get at it.”

Speech is an elective class at Seymour. But Perry said since the school began offering it as a dual-credit course through Ivy Tech Community College a couple of years ago, enrollment has increased.

In three classes this year, he has 75 students.

“The word is getting out, ‘Hey, you can get dual credit for free through Ivy Tech for this,’ so that works out very nicely,” Perry said. “I’m happy with the numbers growing.”

When Perry was a teacher at Brownstown Central High School, students paid $75 to take a speech class through Vincennes University for three credit hours. Once he learned Ivy Tech offered it for free, Brownstown made the switch, and he later continued that when he became a teacher at Seymour.

Perry said he started doing children’s book reads in 2008 after going to Richmond for a professional day where a teacher there did something similar.

The recent visit to Emerson was only the second time he took a group of students to read to kids. Other times, students read children’s books in front of their classmates.

The first public speaking assignment in Perry’s class this semester involved students partnering up, memorizing things about each other and presenting it in front of the class.

The second one involved putting five items reflecting your personality in a box and talking about them. And they recently finished up a group project where they performed a television talk show in front of the class in the auditorium. The class also will do demonstrations and impromptu speeches.

Knutson said doing all of this public speaking will help him in the future. His plans are to study physical therapy, which would involve interaction with people.

“I feel like public speaking is a valued skill that a lot of people look at,” he said. “In job interviews, they look at how confident you are when you are speaking, and I feel like it’s pretty valuable.”

Perry said that through the years he has learned one thing about public speaking — either you have it or you don’t.

In Knutson’s case, he’s a natural, Perry said.

“That’s just Gavin,” Perry said. “I’d like to think that if Gavin would have done this without me, if he had just come here on his own to do this, you probably would have seen those same skills from him. But hopefully, I enhance them a little bit.”

Perry hopes other students benefit from the speech class and realize public speaking isn’t that bad.

“If you are yourself, and if you are natural at speaking, you shouldn’t feel intimidated,” he said. “You might feel nervous. That’s part of it. But you can channel that nervous energy into flawless delivery. That’s what’s important.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.