Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Why Storytelling in the Classroom Matters

What is "storytelling"? Telling stories, of course! In 2014, there are so many diverse, wonderful, and sometimes overwhelming ways to do this. What I want to explore is traditional, oral storytelling, which has been a part of human life since we first left Africa 200,000 or more years ago. Perhaps storytelling was the reason language developed in the first place, as our minds began to inquire, wonder, think.

Why Do We Tell Stories?

Whether in caves or in cities, storytelling remains the most innate and important form of communication. All of us tell stories. The story of your day, the story of your life, workplace gossip, the horrors on the news. Our brains are hard-wired to think and express in terms of a beginning, middle and end. It's how we understand the world.

Storytelling is the oldest form of teaching. It bonded the early human communities, giving children the answers to the biggest questions of creation, life, and the afterlife. Stories define us, shape us, control us, and make us. Not every human culture in the world is literate, but every single culture tells stories.

Can You Be a Storyteller and a Teacher?

You already are. Teachers are storytellers, and storytellers have been teachers for millennia. In reality, teachers don't see themselves as storytellers. Or rather, they see the occasional storyteller and think it's a theatrical, exaggerated show more akin to acting. But hang on a minute -- being a teacher definitely involves acting and theatrics.

Interactive Storytelling

It is important at this stage that I describe my particular style. I don't rely on just "speaking" the story. I don't sit still in a chair. I talk slowly, with alternating rhythm. I walk around. I use my hands a lot. And, most importantly, I invite children from the audience to act out the story as I tell it. They dress up in funny hats and other props, and they follow the instructions in the story and repeat the dialogue I say. I stop and start the story a lot, asking the audience to contribute sound effects, to answer questions, to make suggestions.

The Many Benefits to Storytelling

When you tell your first story, there is a magical moment. The children sit enthralled, mouths open, eyes wide. If that isn't enough reason, then consider that storytelling:

  • Inspires purposeful talking, and not just about the story -- there are many games you can play.
  • Raises the enthusiasm for reading texts to find stories, reread them, etc.
  • Initiates writing because children will quickly want to write stories and tell them.
  • Enhances the community in the room.
  • Improves listening skills.
  • Really engages the boys who love the acting.
  • Is enjoyed by children from kindergarten to the end of elementary school.
  • Gives a motivating reason for English-language learners to speak and write English.

That last point has really proven powerful this year. My school is 97 percent English-language learners, and I have many children in my class who arrived speaking little or no English. The single biggest factor to their incredible progress in English has been their wanting to become storytellers.

So How Do You Become a Storyteller?

I recommend the following:

  1. Read as many different world folktales, fables, myths, and legends as you can.
  2. Watch professional storytellers and take notes about how they do it. Every storyteller is different, and you can learn something from them all.
  3. Build your confidence by reading your students picture books or chapter books with an interesting voice. Stop to ask questions. Make the book reading interactive. It will help you create a shared event with a story.
  4. Pick stories with small numbers of characters and repeating events, as these are easiest to remember. Having said that, pick any story you like -- no, that you love! If it captivates you, it will captivate the younger ones, too.
  5. Write the stories down in a notebook. Writing helps you remember a story, and it models the same to the children.
  6. When you start "telling" your story, it's OK to have the book nearby and to take a look at it if you forget a part. Don't be too hard on yourself. You are a student again.
  7. Get yourself a "prop box" made of old bits of linen, and fill it with hats from charity shops and random objects that children can use imaginatively. I got a lot of my materials from recycling centers.

So What's Next?

Sure, becoming a storyteller takes effort and inclination on your behalf, but with so many benefits, isn't it worth trying? You might surprise yourself. You will certainly surprise your students. In relatively little time, you can be telling stories, running storytelling clubs, capturing the attention of the whole school assembly, contributing to school events and PD training schedules. I never thought I would be doing any of this when I started my teacher training seven years ago.

So what's stopping you? The next story starts with you . . .

(3)

Comments (9)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Dean's picture

Lovely read. Thank-you. The photograph that leads your article is of Jan Andrews. Ms Andrews is an award winning author and a professional storyteller. Jan co-founded the Storytellers of Canada. With Jennifer Cayley she began the Epic Series, tellings of the great epics such as the Odyssey and the Kalevala. Ms Andrews has been a teller-in-residence, and continues to give Master Classes about storytelling. As a photograph of a teller in action, you picked a good one.

(1)
Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

A facet of teaching is performance art and storytelling is definitely on the top of that list.

1. You don't "need" anything (materials) to tell a story.
2. You can do it in a classroom, in the hallway, in line for lunch, etc...
3. It's almost failsafe. I've seen non-storyteller teachers tell really terrible stories, but the students are "all in." I think it's just the honesty of the story. When students feel the teacher is being real (whether its true or not) and not really "teaching" anything, they are engaged.

I use storytelling in writing to teach Voice and rehearsal.

Storytelling allows you to escape robotic writing. Author, Tom Romano, in his book Crafting Authentic Voice, states that, "Strict from is a voice blocker, a voice stopper, a voice skewer." Storytelling does the opposite by allowing the writer to hear what the story will sound like in a certain voice, which gives the story life --Makes the story colorful with tone, pitch, and also facial expressions that physically show what the character is feeling (Makes for great writing).

Storytelling is also a valuable technique to model how writers "rehearse" their story before writing it down. I often rehearse what I'm going to write in my head way before the pen hits the paper--Jogging, shower, car ride, on the beach, etc... are places where this usually happens. And it doesn't stop until the piece is finished. The storytelling (how it sounds) continues into the revision stages of a piece and I feel comfortable with sharing it.

Great, useful article for all teachers to try. Thanks!

Gaetan

(2)
GranvilleSawyerAuthor's picture

I agree with Mr. Friday's views on the value of story telling. I have been a professor teaching business courses in universities for over three decades and, in this capacity, have seen over and over again the value of story telling in communicating concepts and ideas that are challenging. In fact, I say to my students every semester that I am not a traditional teacher -- I am a story teller.

One important addition, however, is what I call the Takeaway or the moral of the story. Much like the approach taken in Aesop's fables. That's where I relate the concepts to the story. As I am sure Mr. Friday, and others, know, that is what makes remembering and understanding the concepts easier.

Dr. Granville M. Sawyer Jr.
Author - College In Four Years: Making Every Semester Count
www.granvillesawyer.com

Mike Raven's picture
Mike Raven
Former Head of Department (Science), Teacher, Brisbane, Qld., Aust

To help you on your way to becoming a better storyteller. I suggest you improve your:

1. SENSORY AWARENESS
I would suggest that you sharpen the use of all your senses - become a better observer and listener (notice the smaller details and colors; hear the little sounds.) Smell the different smells associated with places, people and objects. Feel the texture of objects.

Store all this sensory information away - waiting and ready to be used to enrich your storytelling.

2. VISUALIZATION SKILLS
Equally important to improve your visualization skills.

3. IMAGINATION
Develop a vivid imagination. (inject some humor and emotion or take the class on a guided, imaginary tour - perhaps to the ancient past)

Improvements in these skills will not only greatly assist your storytelling but it will definitely help your students learn and understand !

How to improve ?

To learn more visit:
http://bestlearningplace.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/visualisation-imaginati...

ELIAS LEOUSIS's picture

Very timely article.
I too am a story teller and I would like readers to check out my blog. I would appreciate if you would also leave a comment: Any constructive criticism is helpful.

PLEASE GOOGLE: ELIAS LEOUSIS , THE SUBSTITUTE TEACHER

norairis's picture

This is a wonderful article and very timely. With advancements and availability of technology we are experiencing a decrease of face to face socialization. Where everything we say is in writing. Story telling requires no technology and no materials. All that is needed is an audience and a person deveoted to telling great stories. Most of my memories of my early learning come from a story I was told. I think that story telling is essential in developing social skills by helping us increase our verbal skills and helps many concur their fears of speaking in front of an audiencee.

(2)
Judi Pack's picture
Judi Pack
Life long early childhood teacher and administrator.

There is nothing that surpasses Vivian Paley's Storytelling and Story Acting approach with children. When children can tell and then act out their stories, magic happens...in all areas of development. ESL students learn their second language much more quickly because they get to see and act out the language. I've done this with preschool through 3rd grade students and have had older children take the dictation of the younger ones. Also, Keiran Egan has written wonderful books about teaching as storytelling. Very compelling.

(1)
KJLuna's picture

I really enjoyed Mr. Friday's article on storytelling. As a first grade teacher I never considered myself to be a storyteller. After reading this article I can see how important it is to be a storyteller in my classroom. In first grade we are very focused on getting our students to become writers and I think being excited about telling stories and sharing that with our students can help them become the writers we want them to be. I would love to hear more about how storytelling has worked in other classrooms to help benefit students in becoming better writers and storytellers themselves.

Matthew James Friday's picture
Matthew James Friday
International School Teacher, Literacy Manager and Professional Storyteller

Hi there.

I started out in Grade 1 and had three very happy years there. I totally understand when you say you are tasked with the responsibility of inspiring your students to become writers, which was the same for me in England. While we worked enthusiastically on curriculum text forms together, the students were happiest when writing stories to 'tell'. They wrote these independently and profusely at home, some writing at length for the first time. Some of the more advanced writers loved being in total control of their work and created mini-chapter texts. It was this process that first got me excited about storytelling and its potential to inspire writing. I'm excited for your students to think you might be telling the stories this coming year. The response of the students is a magical one that will further inspire you... Matthew

Judi Pack's picture
Judi Pack
Life long early childhood teacher and administrator.

There is nothing that surpasses Vivian Paley's Storytelling and Story Acting approach with children. When children can tell and then act out their stories, magic happens...in all areas of development. ESL students learn their second language much more quickly because they get to see and act out the language. I've done this with preschool through 3rd grade students and have had older children take the dictation of the younger ones. Also, Keiran Egan has written wonderful books about teaching as storytelling. Very compelling.

(1)
Dean's picture

Lovely read. Thank-you. The photograph that leads your article is of Jan Andrews. Ms Andrews is an award winning author and a professional storyteller. Jan co-founded the Storytellers of Canada. With Jennifer Cayley she began the Epic Series, tellings of the great epics such as the Odyssey and the Kalevala. Ms Andrews has been a teller-in-residence, and continues to give Master Classes about storytelling. As a photograph of a teller in action, you picked a good one.

(1)
norairis's picture

This is a wonderful article and very timely. With advancements and availability of technology we are experiencing a decrease of face to face socialization. Where everything we say is in writing. Story telling requires no technology and no materials. All that is needed is an audience and a person deveoted to telling great stories. Most of my memories of my early learning come from a story I was told. I think that story telling is essential in developing social skills by helping us increase our verbal skills and helps many concur their fears of speaking in front of an audiencee.

(2)
Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

A facet of teaching is performance art and storytelling is definitely on the top of that list.

1. You don't "need" anything (materials) to tell a story.
2. You can do it in a classroom, in the hallway, in line for lunch, etc...
3. It's almost failsafe. I've seen non-storyteller teachers tell really terrible stories, but the students are "all in." I think it's just the honesty of the story. When students feel the teacher is being real (whether its true or not) and not really "teaching" anything, they are engaged.

I use storytelling in writing to teach Voice and rehearsal.

Storytelling allows you to escape robotic writing. Author, Tom Romano, in his book Crafting Authentic Voice, states that, "Strict from is a voice blocker, a voice stopper, a voice skewer." Storytelling does the opposite by allowing the writer to hear what the story will sound like in a certain voice, which gives the story life --Makes the story colorful with tone, pitch, and also facial expressions that physically show what the character is feeling (Makes for great writing).

Storytelling is also a valuable technique to model how writers "rehearse" their story before writing it down. I often rehearse what I'm going to write in my head way before the pen hits the paper--Jogging, shower, car ride, on the beach, etc... are places where this usually happens. And it doesn't stop until the piece is finished. The storytelling (how it sounds) continues into the revision stages of a piece and I feel comfortable with sharing it.

Great, useful article for all teachers to try. Thanks!

Gaetan

(2)

Discussion Pick out a Quality Packers Movers Agency for Transferring Residence Goods

Last comment 1 day 1 hour ago in Literacy

blog How to Start a Great Writing Center

Last comment 3 days 10 hours ago in Literacy

Discussion The Un-Fallacy of Balanced Literacy

Last comment 4 days 17 hours ago in Literacy

blog Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation and Growth Mindset in Writing

Last comment 1 day 15 hours ago in Literacy

blog Why Storytelling in the Classroom Matters

Last comment 3 hours 6 min ago in Literacy

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.