How to Use Storytelling to Improve Literacy

When teaching literacy, a teacher needs to find the best paths to success for each literacy standard. Teachers who hold a master’s degree in literacy can rely on the advanced principles and concepts of their degree programs to engage a diverse range of children. The more teachers know about literacy and how it affects and engages people, the more capable those teachers become. Using storytelling to strengthen reading comprehension can be a fun way to improve students’ literacy.

Storytelling is central to the human experience, and technological developments mean people can share their stories faster than ever before — digital images and animated GIFs can improve stories’ interactivity.

Teaching the Art of Storytelling

Pat Johnson, in her seminal book Catching Readers Before They Fall, writes about storytelling as a lost art. When students struggle to write stories, Johnson explains, it is because they need to learn to tell stories first. She hosts workshops to teach teachers how to tell stories so that they might instruct their students to do the same.

Teaching literacy is part art and part science. When teachers learn the science of how people learn best, they must then develop the art of the learning environment. Every student has a story to tell, and each can benefit from help with telling their story.

One suggestion is to start every day with a story. The teacher simply tells a story to the children. The story can be about something that happened that morning or further in the past, but it should have a beginning, middle and end. Afterward, teachers should allow one or two children to tell their own stories. With practice, students will begin to have ideas at the ready when they sit down to write.

How to Become a Storyteller

Everyone is already a storyteller, but there are ways of becoming a better one. Earning a master’s degree in literacy can help because postgraduate classes introduce degree candidates to the reading material they need to develop storytelling instruction. Additional reading offers students experience with engaging texts, such as folktales and fairy tales. Further, aspiring literacy teachers can attend storytelling events and watch storytelling videos for new ideas.

Examples of classroom techniques include reading picture books aloud and acting out their scenes. Teachers can use different voices for each character or even move around the room while reading. Stories with only a few characters and a lot of repetition are easier for students to remember. A great way to help kids see how a story unfolds is to write it out for students to see as you tell it for the first time, resulting in a visible script. This helps children connect writing to telling stories.

Developing Children’s Oral Narrative Skills

Teaching literacy means continually developing students’ storytelling repertoire. Early techniques teachers can use include “adding on.” In this exercise, one person starts a story and then every other person adds a subsequent section. Teachers can begin by using a story everyone is familiar with, like The Three Little Pigs. After sharing the fairy tale, teachers can close the book and begin adding on. Storytelling sessions can include storyboards with pieces of characters, settings and other props — all of which can help students generate their own ideas.

Another simple way to help students learn storytelling is through show and tell. Students bring a treasured object to class and tell their classmates about it in concrete, easy-to-understand language. This helps with descriptive and narrative development. The more teachers incorporate storytelling into their students’ days, the better the students will become.

Learn more about the CSUSM online MA in Education, Literacy program.


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