Storytelling and literacy

Storytelling in schools

Most of my storytelling time is spent in schools. Teachers invite me to come along and join in celebrations for Book Week,  National Storytelling Week, World Book Day, Chinese New Year, Black History Month, International Week and many more.


Wendy Shearer at Mitchell Brook Primary School

Supporting literacy

My aims are usually to inspire children with the pleasure of stories, capture their imagination and demonstrate how to tell a good story. It’s my job to use a variety of vocabulary & rhythm with my voice to help with this.  What I love most is how well the children respond, using their speaking and listening skills to shape the story with me.

Speech & language skills

I recently visited Summerside Primary School where some of the children are deaf or have challenges with their speech and language skills. I knew that assistants would be on hand to either sign or help children according to their additional needs, but I am always careful to make sure I have ways of including everyone in the storytelling experience.

Get everyone involved

Here are some of my storytelling techniques that I use to get everyone involved in the story regardless of their abilities:

Repetition – using a word or phrase which everyone hears and can repeat with me

Similes – describing a a character and asking children to add to the description

Questions – a good way to make sure they are listening! Ask what they think will happen next, what the character should do next, how they think the character can solve a problem

Role play – this does not always involve speech, some children can physically demonstrate how the character acts or looks

Actions – again this does not always involve speech or sound – everyone can copy my physical expression or movement

The end of the story

Sometimes I stop telling my story just before the end.  When it’s going well, everyone in the room is gripped, hanging onto my every word including the adults. The suspense is simply stifling the air.  No one can skip to the end, turn a page or ask their friend.

They have to just wait…. for the storyteller to continue. It’s a risk but I sometimes take it.  I ask the children to tell me what they think happens next.  I run through a few scenarios just to recap the characters and dilemmas. I ask them if they need some time but usually they don’t.

Their hands are shooting up in the air, bursting with storytelling scenarios, phrases, endings, twists and turns.  I absolutely love hearing every single one (if there’s time!).  I do always conclude afterwards and by the end of the session, we’ve re-told several endings to my story.

If children are not able to speak well, they may simply share a word – a description to add to the next stage or show me how the character feels.  It’s a great way for them to use their listening skills and have a chance to tell the story before they write it and read it again.

The National Literacy Trust explains that speaking and listening skills underpin all learning.  I couldn’t agree more. Visiting schools where children have additional needs has highlighted even more for me how vital storytelling is at supporting literacy.