World Storytelling Institute /
Chennai Storytelling Association
Eric Miller, PhD, Director
98403 94282

Notes for 5 February 2011 presentation
for a Workshop for School Librarians,
organised by the Madras Library Association,
at Anna Library in Kotturpuram, Chennai

Title of presentation:

"Using Storytelling to Encourage Reading:
and Tips for Librarian Storytellers"

Both story-listening and story-reading involve using one's imagination.  The images are presented to one, and one has to complete the communication process by "imagining", making images.  Children make pictures in their minds as they hear stories being told, and once they are in the imagining habit, they keep making pictures as they read silently to themselves.

These elements of storytelling and story-listening can assist a child to develop literacy:
Experiencing sequencing; a progression of events.
Vocabulary, grammar.
Visualising images.
Symbolism and metaphor.
Character development.
Thinking about motives (developing understandings of characters' personalities and actions).
Thinking about values/ethics/morality.

Experiencing stories gives practice in perceiving and producing (spoken and written) symbols.

Stories organise data into sequences, into events, into experiences that progress from a beginning, to a middle, to an end -- and hold together cohesively as a story.  Exposure to stories helps children to "put things together".  We think in story.  Listening to stories, and discussing stories, helps a child to develop a sense of story.  We make sense out of experience by organising parts of experience into stories.  We use stories as frames to structure and convey data, information.  All information may be story-able. (Prof Brian Sturm, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, talks about this and other aspects of storytelling at, ).
Sharing stories helps us to share our lives, and to connect with each other.

Storytelling can be defined as, "relating a series of events".

Some people feel that "narrative" refers to a description of events, and "story" refers to a description of events with a point -- but in practice the two words mean the same thing. 

Showing illustrations in accompaniment of stories may have positive and negative results.  A negative may be that listeners/readers do not have the chance to visualise the images for themselves.  A positive is that people tend to enjoy seeing images.

Discussion, with active student participation, after each story is important.  This activity increases students’ abilities to articulate their thoughts and feelings.  Children learn from discussing and retelling stories.

From far away and long ago -- to right here and now.  Make the story experience vivid.  Bring stories to life.  Act out characters, and when doing so, look at listeners and address them as if they were other characters in the story.

Children can hear a story, and then do research with library books to learn more about a subject they heard about in the story.  In this way, a fleeting and impermanent experience can be deepened, enriched, and given tangible form.


Paraphrased excerpts from "The Role of Storytelling in Early Literacy Development", by Louise Phillips, 1999, .

Storytelling is an intimate sharing of a narrative with one or more persons.

Literacy is a second-order language system that requires oral competency as a prerequisite.

Literacy is a system of its own, that builds on the base of oracy.

Regular storytelling experience increases young children’s vocabulary.  Children may encounter a broad range of new words through story-listening, thereby supporting the development of their written vocabulary.

Through regularly hearing stories of diverse genres, children learn to expect certain features of each genre.  This is typified by the replication of stories beginning with "once upon a time" and ending with "and they lived happily ever after".  This knowledge builds a sense of story.  Children develop a schema of what stories are: what they consist of and what they are about.  This then gives them frameworks for understanding written story texts.

Storytelling enhances comprehension skills.  When storytelling is combined with judicious questioning and retelling strategies, comprehension skills at the literal, inferential, and critical levels can be developed.  These skills are highly useful for reading comprehension.  The same cognitive skills of creating mental imagery, and making inferences and causal links, are used both when listening to a story and when reading a text.

Children draw from their entire "symbolic repertoire" in order to interpret the symbols of text. Symbol systems are a people’s way of organising and responding to experience, and storytelling presents opportunities for this.  Stories can act as reference points, as children decipher what living in the world is all about.  For example, children turn to fairytales because they provide ordering devices which can be applied to the sometimes seemingly formless and chaotic natures of their everyday lives.

Children who have heard a story told will be more capable of reading a text of the same story by using prediction skills from their established story knowledge.

One study of storytelling compared two groups of three-to-six-year-olds over an eight-week period.  One group had stories had stories told to them (storytelling), and the other group had stories read to them (story-reading).  Both groups benefited from their story-listening, but when members of the group to whom stories had been told were asked to retell the story, they were more capable of retelling the stories.  Members of this storytelling group experienced greater comprehension, as demonstrated in their retelling of the stories.  These children were more able to identify the settings, the characters, and the morals of the stories.  Their retellings included more story conventions, they told longer and more sequential stories, and they employed more diverse vocabulary, than the children who had been read to.

Story-listening enhances children’s awareness of story structure.  Afterwards, they can recall and comprehend, which in turn guides them in creating their own stories.  Retelling stories can assist literacy.  Young children can be invited to retell a story after listening to it, and the teacher or parent can use questioning to prompt the recall of even more story elements.  The questions are internalised by the children, and the children eventually ask themselves the questions to guide their own recalling.

Dramatic play provides opportunities to build connections between oral language and literacy development.  Play activities inspire children to enact narrative-based actions, which may involve the speaking of past and future forms of verbs; noun phrases; and connection and transition markers between episodes -- all of which also have literate forms.

When a young child has a wide variety of stories to play with, she may develop a strong sense of story.  This may help the child to interpret (when reading), and to construct (when writing).

Literacy programs can actively employ storytelling to bridge children’s established oracy skills and their new-found literacy skills.  By listening to storytelling, children may encounter a broad range of language: new words, archaic expressions, puns, phrases, rhymes, chants, tongue twisters, metaphors, figures of speech, and dialogue.  This establishes an extensive oral language base onto which they can build literacy skills, such as word recognition, spelling, grammar, literary conventions, and comprehension.

The development of children’s literacy skills can be cultivated by providing story listeners with opportunities to play with the words, and with the stories.  After hearing a story, children can be invited to retell it, modify it, and act it out (in spoken words, pictures, or written words; individually or in groups).

Exposing children to a broad range of (spoken and written) stories extends their reading and writing skills.  Children’s knowledge of stories increases their understanding of the world.


Paraphrased excerpts from "The Power of Story: Using Storytelling to Improve Literacy Learning", by Sara Miller and Lisa Pennycuff, Journal of Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives in Education, Vol. 1, No. 1 (May 2008) 36-43, .

Storytelling relies on both the teller and the listener.  Thus, this activity utilizes the social element of language.  Literacy instruction is also most effective when developed through social interaction and collaboration with others.

Communicating and experiencing stories is a fundamental way of sharing knowledge among people.  Doing so allows participants, in their imaginations, to be transported to other times and places.

Having a sense of story is critical for students to make sense of text and derive meaning from a story.

Storytelling is a powerful strategy for setting patterns of meaning.

Through participation in storytelling experiences, students learn to build a sense of story by anticipating features of a genre, including how a story may begin and end.  The development of a sense of story allows students to make better predictions, to anticipate what might come next, to increase awareness of cause and effect, to understand the sequence of events -- in spoken and written stories, and in life.

Comprehension, critical listening, and thinking skills can be developed by combining storytelling with questioning of listeners, retelling by listeners, extended description and discussion of imagery and characters, etc.

After reading a story, the student can try to tell the story to a partner.  Following this telling, the students can go back to the written texts, to be sure that they have included all of the important details.

We are storytellers by nature.  The comfort of the oral tale can be the path by which students reach the written one.  It only makes sense to give students a chance to first do something they are already good at.  By first focusing on oral tellings of stories and on oral discussions of stories’ meanings, students can then more easily also convey and express such thoughts through writing.

In the early grades, most writing activity focuses on story-writing.  As students become more proficient writers, however, they are expected to practice other forms also, such as persuasive writing, and essay writing (expressing a point of view).  Students are able to transfer their skills in narrative writing to these other more analytical forms.

Three key areas in which storytelling can improve student writing are: use of language (increasing vocabulary, and improving grammar), organisation of story, and identification of audience.  The writer's audience is whom the writer is addressing and for what purpose -- children can learn about this by experiencing how a storyteller addresses her audience.

Orally sharing story ideas can help students to develop language for writing.

Hearing new words, or familiar words used in new ways, in others' stories can expand students’ spoken and written vocabularies.

Storytelling prior to writing serves to help students organize their stories.  This is typically considered the "pre-writing stage" of the writing process.  Teachers may have students create outlines, or diagrams, of the elements that the students want to include in their stories.  Often struggling writers, like struggling readers, do not have a strong sense of story and their pre-writing may not be very useful in crafting a well-designed plot.  But by using oral discussions and storytelling to tell possible stories and to discuss them -- with a partner or with the class -- students can make decisions about what type of story they want to write and what details they might include.  This helps writers to get ideas about how to structure their stories, before they begin to write.

Oral storytelling gives students confidence in their ideas, motivation to craft an interesting story, and a starting point for writing.

Children who regularly tell stories become aware of how an audience affects a telling, and they carry this awareness into their writing.

When writing, students must learn that their role has changed: they now are the authors and they must find ways to engage with the reader.  Students can practice this concept orally through storytelling until they have internalized how their reader might react as the story unfolds.


Regarding Early Literacy (Global Literacy Project, )  --

Beginning in pre-school and continuing through the primary grades, it is helpful to provide language activities that develop listening and expressive skills.  Such activities include:
Listening to stories, poems, and expository text.
Telling and retelling stories and nursery rhymes.
Singing and chanting.
Discussing word meanings, ideas, books, and experiences.
Making predictions about words and stories.

These activities develop vocabulary, and understandings of syntax (sentence structure) and story structure in children.  Whenever possible, parents should be enlisted to support the development of their child's reading skills by:
Reading to their child,
Listening to their child read, and
Discussing what has been read.

This home-school connection should be supported by schools and teachers through regular communications with parents about classroom activities and expectations.  Materials should be sent home for parents to read with their children.


Storytelling Suggestions, from Eric

1) Before Telling a Story
One you have selected a story to tell:
A) Identify one or more turning points / key scenes / dramatic moments, of the story.  These are scenes in which important things happen, important decisions are made, and/or important actions are taken.  In the process of discovering the key scenes of a story, one might also come to understand, "What is this story really about?"
B) Visualise each episode of the story, and practice describing what you see.  One way to practice is alone, silently, with one's eyes closed.  Also:  You might write the story.  You might represent the story visually, as a series of images.

2) While Telling a Story
Get to the key scenes in a timely manner.  "Step into" characters (role-play), especially during the key scenes.  When speaking as a character, look into the eyes of a listener and address her as if she were another character in the story.  Doing this invites the listener to join the play, to pretend that she is also a character in the story.  One at a time, you can do this with other listeners present.

3) After Telling a Story
Lead a conversation about the story with the listeners.  Ask "open questions", such as,
"What did you think about the story?"
"How did you feel about the story?"
"What did you like about the story?"
"What do you remember about the story?"
"How do you feel about the ways the characters behaved?"
"Might there be something about the story that you might like to change?”
"What messages, morals, and meanings do you get from the story?"

Three types of stories are:
1) Folk stories (talking-animal stories, fairytales, epics, etc).
2) Personal-experience stories, and other “documentary” stories.
3) Stories that are made up.

Regardless of whether a story's characters are humans, animals, divinities, aliens, or other:
All stories are about situations.  The story characters find themselves in these situations, and the listeners project themselves into these characters and situations, and identify with them.  Then listeners can think and imagine about how they might do things the same or differently from how the characters do things.  This gives the listeners practice for living.

Telling a story can be the first step in an interactive process.  After each story is told,
1) The storyteller can lead a discussion about the story,
2) The listeners can draw/paint the story,
3) The listeners can make puppets and masks relating to the story,
4) The listeners can act-out the story as a skit.
5) The listeners can be encouraged to change, and add to, the story.
6) The listeners can be encouraged to tell real-life experiences, as well as traditional stories, that might come to mind.

Storytelling-related subjects include
1) Helping storytellers to lead discussions with listeners about stories.
3) Helping storytellers to enable listeners to find/create and tell their own stories.
4) Collecting family stories, and other oral histories from various individuals and groups.
5) Story and Storytelling Tourism (visiting the countryside to visit the places of a story, and to hear and tell stories there).
6) In-performance translation methods (spoken and visual).
7) The history of the modern storytelling revival movement around the world.
8) Using storytelling to teach a language.
9) Using storytelling to teach any subject.

Topics in Storytelling:

Story Content -- Types of Stories.  Finding and Creating Stories.  Elements of Stories.  Symbols in Stories.  Story Structure.  Story and Place.  Story and Community.  Story and the Past.  Story and the Future.  Story and Personality Development.                               

Story Performance -- Breathing/Singing/Moving and Storytelling.  Role-playing by tellers and listeners.  Psychological, verbal, and physical audience-participation.  Stylized speech and movement -- by the narrator, and by story characters.  Timing, pacing, and rhythm; striking a pose; pauses.  Story Mapping/Painting/Drawing.  Storytelling accompanied by Illustrations, Puppets, and Props.  Ways of Coaching Storytelling.  Using stories in inspirational speeches.  Using stories in sales pitches.



Scholastic's Myths, Folktales and Fairy Tales Internet Project,

Stories Written in English:
Jataka Tales, Panchatantra Stories, Aesop’s Fables, Grimms’ Fairytales, Tamil Folktales...

Over 100 Interviews About Storytelling (audio only),

Local Learning: Folk Arts in Education,