How to Become a Good Storyteller

The basic idea is simple: learning to tell stories from memory is a great way to learn all sorts of essential skills. Children who fill up with stories by listening and retelling create an inner store of language, ideas, and imagination.

They will then draw upon this store in their work and life. Speaking, listening, confidence, empathy, ideas, facts, sequences, plots … you name it, storytelling can teach it.

We believe that all children benefit from developing their storytelling skills throughout their education. In schools where improving basic literacy levels is a priority, the Storytelling Schools method has been used to quickly raise standards. Storytelling provides a natural way of developing rich and active story language, for children to recycle in their own story making and writing.

In this way, attainment can rise quickly and be sustained. In other schools, where low literacy levels are not the main issue, the simple joy and magic of storytelling is seen as a crucial part of an all-round education, a core skill for learning and sequencing ideas, a way of developing skills and confidence in speaking and performing, and a way of developing ideas about stories that enable high achievers to go further in their story making. See also this post about “Whooos Reading”.

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. It’s all about the Power of Tuition and understanding how to be a good storyteller really helps!
  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. It’s like developing a continuum for Phonics and Reading Knowledge.
  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. Just like early education teachers, you are a student again. That’s how it feels.
  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.

To be a good storyteller, you may very well use old newspapers for inspiration or subject. The problem, though, with using old newspapers sometimes is the level and sort of pictures that you can find in them today. Sometimes I’ve had to censor a few pages, so my students couldn’t see anything all-too sexy or something horrible that happened across the globe. Sometimes, they’re just too X-rated! Often, we’re already doing great jobs by not letting them see all on TV, but when using a newspaper, be aware of the risks involved as well.

You may also want to learn more about “Reading Wonders”, an entirely digitalized education program for reading, language development, and storytelling practices that is developed in accordance with the Common Core Education Standards that are accepted by most states for Reading and Understanding English.

A question you may commonly hear will be “Where are you getting your stories from?”. Well, the answer is that it’s just stuff that’s happening. Anything happening to you could be turned into a great and useful story. It’s all about how you’re looking at things, it’s all about how you make them fit into a specific context.

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.