In Their Eyes
A storytelling article for teachers of young learners primary
Lucy Crichton,Florianopolis, Brazil
The Teacher's story
Choosing a story
Preparing your classroom and students
Interaction and involvement
Finishing a story
Language and stories
Sources of inspiration ( Bibliography)
In this article I would like to discuss the importance of reconnecting with the ancient
craft of storytelling and how we as teachers can use this tool to help improve the
harmony within our classrooms. I will also share some simple and practical ideas
that I have tried and tested in my classroom.
Teachers often say to me "but I am not an actress or a professional storyteller, I
won't be able to do it". And I say "we are telling our children things in the classroom
every day, aren't we?" Storytelling then, is really an extension of what we do
everyday. After all it is the way humans have communicated since the beginning of
time and is, in fact, the oldest and most powerful teaching and learning method
known. When we take our children on a narrative journey we are linking with past
generations and values that in the busy world of today, desperately need rescuing.
We are giving feelings and values a new context where self-esteem and
The visual and sensorial world of storytelling is a perfect vehicle for teaching
languages. Young children live in a kind of feelings realm where they observe and
assimilate all we do and say. They are not only imitators of our movements,
thoughts and feelings but they are challenging instigators who translate and
transform our world into a new perspective. Storytelling work offers children a rich
and stimulating place to assimilate all that they have captivated and provides them
with a backcloth on which to experiment their innermost feelings.
- use all the language skills and provide an environment of learning
- promote curiosity, inventive thinking and problem solving
- are cross-curricular and motivate students to find out more
- introduce students to folklore and literature
- can modify negative behaviour and increase concentration
- can uncover hidden talents
- are inexpensive
- are totally adaptable
- enhance empathy
The Teacher's Story
So where do we start? How can we tap into the creative spirit that lies dormant in
every one of us? Looking for this should not to be seen as a desperate search to
improve something inside ourselves, but should be an internal and quiet process
that involves time and tranquillity. Ask yourself what am I naturally good at inside
the classroom? How can I bring that into my storytelling? Use your instincts be
intuitive. Sleep on your initial ideas; the unconscious is much richer than the
conscious. It is the hard disk of our lives so far and the ideas, which we have
recorded, meet up and exchange information. Even if you don't get it right the first
time, you'll know, deep in your heart, if you're on the right track.
There are thousands of books for children in thousands of styles and on thousands
of different topics. Well, the easiest, the cheapest and the simplest place to start
with is, you the teacher. If we try to remember a wonderful, never forgotten
teacher, it is most likely because they, not only were good at what they taught, but
we knew something special about that person. Telling your story then, is a perfect
way for your students to see you in another light.
In order to introduce the concept of storytelling I usually start by telling them
something about when I was the same age as they are. I might use some photos
and memorabilia, an old toy or a game that I enjoyed. Young children especially
like seeing photos of my parents and the house where I lived because that is a
deep part of their reality and something that they immediately identify with. This
works very well with older children too, as they will see the teacher more as a
human being rather than just a giver of information. We all, if we search carefully,
have a wonderful story to tell.
Choosing a Story
Apart from the fact that stories are a lot of fun, they are also extremely educational
as has been mentioned before.
If you know your group well enough, then it won't be too difficult to choose a story
for them. If you are just starting, stick to simple themes like giving, helping, trusting,
friendship, discovery etc.
When choosing any story the following items should be taken into consideration:
A single theme that is clearly defined
A well-developed plot
Style: vivid scenes, pleasing sounds and rhythms
Appropriate to listeners and connected to the world they live in
Length of story
Most importantly - you have to find your way of telling the story. How you identify
with the narrative and how it touches you, will make all the difference in the telling.
Preparing your classroom and students
This is a colourful curtain that is stuck up on the doorway into the classroom.
Students will pass through the curtain as they enter and leave the room. By doing
this we are already stimulating their senses and they will get a different feeling from
a normal class. We are starting to modify their conception of the classroom by
defining the outside world from that of the inside. We are preparing the boundaries
where reality and fantasy meet.
Take a roll of paper that is big enough to cover the classroom door. Cut it to size
and decide on the design.
The title of the story
Some vocabulary from the story
Images that connect to the story
A painting that the children did previously
Then roll the sheet up and cut it into 5cm strips, leaving 20cm uncut at the top so
that the curtain doesn't rip all the way up. As you unroll the piece of paper you
should have a coloured curtain full of hanging strips. In this way it will be quite easy
for the students to pass through it. Attach the top of the curtain to the top of the
doorway on the outside of the classroom and let the strips hang down to the
ground. It is also possible to have both sides of the curtain painted then the
children will have an entering experience and an exiting one.
Having set up the first sensorial tool we should now focus on how to organize the
students. As Andrew Wright says in his wonderful book 'Storytelling for Children',
teachers should get their audience as close to them as possible. A semi-circle is
usually the best set up leaving space or isles if the group is a large one.
A soft storytelling carpet could be rolled out for the children to sit on
The room could be darkened and a candle lit
A musical instrument could be played
A poem or verse could be recited
A song could be sung
The little star
I found a little star and right from the start
I took this little star and I put it in my heart
(Do actions according to the verse)
Two Little feet
Two little feet go tap, tap, tap
Two little hands go clap, clap, clap,
One little jump from behind the chair,
Two little hands reach high in the air
Two little feet go jump, jump, jump,
Two little hands go thumb, thumb, thumb,
One little child turns round and round
One little child sits quietly down.
(Do actions according to the verse)
I believe that we don't need to announce the Story time; rather it is a more delicate
movement from the teacher as she uses her own personal techniques and sounds.
The children will automatically know what to expect without any prior
announcement and after a while will move into a kind of listening mode. The
preparation of the students is as equally important as the story itself. If we can
really bring our students to us and get them into a ready and receiving state we are
already off to a flying start.
When the teacher feels that the group is ready she can begin. First she should take
a deep breath before saying the opening lines of the story and then …Once upon
a time …(she should pause in order to suspend the listeners for some seconds,)
…… there lived a very old woman…etc. The beginning of the story is like the
opening gates to a beautiful garden where you will invite the listeners in to see the
trees and smell the flowers. Once - gives a sense of immediacy, upon - lifts the
story into imaginary realms and a time - takes the listeners both forwards and
backwards. This is the classical opening to a lot of children's stories but of course
there are hundreds of possibilities.
Interaction and Involvement
The core of all interaction begins with you the teacher. The voice is the tool of all
moods, of magic, of danger, of tranquillity. Your facial expressions that the children
follow and imitate as they listen, in fact all your body movements are a bridge that
the children can cross and enter into. Disruptive behaviour wont happen if the story
is interesting enough, if children have something to do and if the choice of story is
relevant to the listeners. If a child does lose concentration there are many things
that can be done. Try to include them in the story, use their name; ask them to help
you by holding a prop or miming a part of the story. The suspension and repetition
of words can suddenly hold the group's attention including the use of props
costumes and students that help the action move along. If someone comes into the
room their presence should be acknowledged in some way. Never ignore
happenings and try not to break the magic of the story.
Paying attention to a story helps the child see that there is a moment for
everything, for listening, for working, for playing and for having fun. When
observing both sides of a story (the good influences and the bad), they are
developing their own personal critical eye, constructing active disciplined
personalities full of life and expression. When children have the possibility to
fantasize, they are enlarging themselves and their capacity to create new
references for that whole.
Watch the children's' faces carefully and check their reactions while telling the
story. They are your best indication if things are going well or not. Remember to
keep eye contact with those at the back and sides and be careful not to tell the
story to only a few at the front. Be prepared to change the storyline to include any
spontaneous suggestions that small children may throw in and move action on if
you feel your listeners are getting restless.
A Brain Break.
If you can see that the children are yawning or fidgeting, suggest a brain break.
Ok, now lets pretend that we are elastic bands. We are still rolled up in the box and
need to get out and stretch! In slow motion, the rubber bands slowly crawl out of
the box and start to stretch themselves in all directions, testing their elasticity. They
stretch their arms and legs one-way and then contract.
When you can see that the children have exercised their 'brains' a little, suggest
that it's time for them to return to the box in order for the story to start again.
Having done this I notice that the children come back to the story with renewed
energy and the whole process is much more effective.
Finishing a Story
The end of the story should be clear to the listeners firstly by the teacher's tone of
voice and of course by the action. There is no need to tell the moral of the story.
The listeners will naturally take this on, each in their own way according to their
own necessities. The ending 'ceremony' can be the same as the beginning e.g. the
same music, the folding up of the carpet or the blowing out of the candle. It must
never be hurried because the feeling of the story can continue for some minutes
Languages and Stories
As we know, children have an enormous capacity and inherent need to watch
stories over and over again. Re-telling a story is perfect for second language
acquisition in that the grammar and lexis of the language are repeated
meaningfully many times. All the words and expressions are connected to real
images. Initially students are introduced to a whole new set of language concepts
using the five senses which depending on the teachers lesson objective, can be
explored in a number of ways.
Find out what the students can remember about the story. Which part did they like
the most? Select some key vocabulary or expressions that the children suggest
and write them of pieces of paper. The children then draw their interpretation of the
word or phrase. Put the drawings up on the wall and ask the children to make sure
that they are in the same order as the story. Now practice saying the words or
expressions in many different ways. For example: say the word with your body, say
it in slow motion, now very quickly. Choose a character from the story and say your
phrase like the character would say it.
There are many things to explore with your students. It is important to note that
through the story, the children are taken on a journey that continues long after its
ending. If we as teachers are sensitive enough to choose the right story from the
beginning we will have an endless source of language possibilities right in the palm
of our hands. Better still, our students will learn their new language through what
they naturally know and love.
This article has discussed how teachers can use storytelling in their language
classrooms to enhance learning and reach their students in new ways. A simple
sequence of steps to follow has been described and some practical ideas on
bringing students into a story listeningstate have been suggested.
Today in our over stimulated world, we as educators must try to find ways of
calming down our students. By using simplicity as our motto perhaps we can also
teach patience, intuition and relaxation because as Guy Claxton says, "… it is
sometimes more intelligent to be less busy.
Just like the end of the fairy tale we can have the happily ever after in our lives if
we want it. As a storyteller we have the power to stretch the emotional muscles of
the our children's spirits, opening up new windows of imagination, enlightening
values and guiding them on their most beautiful journey - life.
Sources of Inspiration
Teaching Myself by Bernard Dufeu
Storytelling with children by Andrew Wright
The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson
Hare Brain Tortoise Mind Guy Claxton
The Book of Virtues for Children organized by William J. Bennet
Love Child by Gcina Mhlophe
Effective Storytelling by Barry McWilliams
The Golden Windows by Laura E. Richards
Seven times the Sun by Shea Darian
Looking forward by Molly Von Heider
The Three Billy Goats Gruff - a folktale
The Magic Porridge Pot - a folktale
The Little Red Hen - a folktale
The Great Big Enormous Turnip - a folktale
The Selfish King by Lucy Crichton