Storytelling

By Karen Robinette, Teacher, and Suzanne Offensend, Teacher

Telling stories to children, as opposed to reading stories from a book, has some clear goals and objectives. First, telling a story without pictures actively engages children’s imagination in
forming their own mental images–a rare opportunity for most children, who are bombarded with words, visual images, and sound effects. Second, listening to a storyteller promotes children’s ability to understand the emotions conveyed by facial expressions, gestures, and body language. And third, storytelling helps children develop listening skills and
learn to follow a story sequence.
Storytelling has practical advantages, too. Since the storyteller can focus completely on the audience without the distraction of a book, each child feels an intimate bond with the teller, a sense of being spoken to directly. Storytelling can also occur anywhere and any time, and for any length of time: the teller can abbreviate a story for distracted, restless children or embellish a story for a rapt audience. Story-telling lends itself well to the use of music and props. Props found in the immediate environment are ideal, for then the children can use the same props to retell the story and thus become storytellers themselves. Finally, the storyteller can even include the children in the plot.
There is no “right” way to be a storyteller and no “right” material to use. Most often, storytellers select stories that they themselves love, such as a treasured tale from childhood. They also mine fairytales, legends, and other folklore. Some storytellers edit out elements that may be inappropriate for the audience; others focus more on the whole. Some storytellers use props extensively; others use none at all.
Professional storytellers have important advice for those starting out: whatever your material, learn it well. Begin with a simple story that does not include many elements, and review it until it is internalized. Practice telling the story to yourself or to a few trusted people before presenting to an audience. Just before greeting an audience, make an effort to be calm and focused: a few deep breaths or a pause can help. If you become rushed or harried, the audience will generally
follow suit. When you are focused, calm, and prepared, the audience can become fully engaged. And don’t forget to give the story a strong ending.

Telling stories to children, as opposed to reading stories from a book, has some clear goals and objectives. First, telling a story without pictures actively engages children’s imagination in forming their own mental images–a rare opportunity for most children, who are bombarded with words, visual images, and sound effects. Second, listening to a storyteller promotes children’s ability to understand the emotions conveyed by facial expressions, gestures, and body language. And third, storytelling helps children develop listening skills and learn to follow a story sequence.

Storytelling has practical advantages, too. Since the storyteller can focus completely on the audience without the distraction of a book, each child feels an intimate bond with the teller, a sense of being spoken to directly. Storytelling can also occur anywhere and any time, and for any length of time: the teller can abbreviate a story for distracted, restless children or embellish a story for a rapt audience. Story-telling lends itself well to the use of music and props. Props found in the immediate environment are ideal, for then the children can use the same props to retell the story and thus become storytellers themselves. Finally, the storyteller can even include the children in the plot.

There is no “right” way to be a storyteller and no “right” material to use. Most often, storytellers select stories that they themselves love, such as a treasured tale from childhood. They also mine fairytales, legends, and other folklore. Some storytellers edit out elements that may be inappropriate for the audience; others focus more on the whole. Some storytellers use props extensively; others use none at all.

Professional storytellers have important advice for those starting out: whatever your material, learn it well. Begin with a simple story that does not include many elements, and review it until it is internalized. Practice telling the story to yourself or to a few trusted people before presenting to an audience. Just before greeting an audience, make an effort to be calm and focused: a few deep breaths or a pause can help. If you become rushed or harried, the audience will generally follow suit. When you are focused, calm, and prepared, the audience can become fully engaged. And don’t forget to give the story a strong ending.