It has been suggested that oral storytelling has been around since the development of human language.  It is a way for people to share an experience together and express fears, beliefs and hopes through narrative.  Before reading was an activity available to the wider population, stories were often passed orally from generation to generation… and often the written stories we access today still have a basis in these folktales, fairytales, myths, legends and personal recollections.

Many schools are exploring the importance of spoken language when supporting pupils through the curriculum.  National Storytelling Week is an opportunity to focus upon oral storytelling, to investigate the relationship with written language and to explore with the wellbeing benefits of encouraging pupils and staff to engage socially through stories.

We’ve put together some ideas to help your school run storytelling activities as part of this annual celebration but also to embed oral storytelling throughout the school year.

Visitors Telling Stories

The Society for Storytelling website features a searchable directory featuring storytellers that you can book for events throughout the school year.  Also, the school visit agency Authors Aloud also has a directory of storytellers and can help you to arrange a visit.

If an external visit isn’t suitable at the moment, perhaps look closer to home for visitors who would be able to tell stories.  Staff, governors, parents/carers or other members of the local community may be willing to visit school to tell stories passed down within their family or cultural tradition.  You could also consider inviting these visitors to speak in their own home language.  This would be a great opportunity to discuss with pupils techniques that storytellers use to get the story across- vocal expression, facial expression, actions, repetition.

Encourage teachers to swap classes and to tell a story (either from memory or to read it aloud) to another class.  You could even use this opportunity to buddy up older and younger pupils and get them to orally tell a story to each other.

You could also use videos in order to enjoy watching stories being told but also to encourage pupils to identify what makes a well told story.  The Oxford Owl traditional tale videos feature professional storytellers and would be great for discussion stimulus around what makes a good storyteller.

It would also be great to introduce children to the idea that sign language is also a way to tell stories.  Clips of the CBeebies TV show Magic Hands would be a great way to see stories told in a different format and also to include children who communicate using sign language.

This Class Clips video of Katrice Horsley introduces the pupils to the idea of storytelling as a career and could be used as an introduction to a discussion about why people enjoy having stories read to them. What draws us towards stories? What keeps us telling stories to each other?

Creating a Story- Games and Activities

National Storytelling Week is a great opportunity to allow the pupils the freedom to experiment with creating their own oral story.  You could use a range of games to encourage pupils to think on the spot and devise stories:

Sentence at a Time Stories

One pupil begins a story but only providing one sentence- eg Long ago, in a land covered in ice, there lived an old, decrepit wizard. The next pupil must continue the story, giving more details and furthering the narrative.  You could either do this with a familiar story (asking them to elaborate and innovate) or encouraging them to develop their own new stories.

Word at a Time Stories

In a circle, tell a story (familiar or devise your own) but only giving one word at a time.  This really encourages pupils to listen to everyone to ensure that they maintain the narrative but also so the sentences make grammatical sense.

Story Arts Games

Story Arts has a list of fantastic games and activities to encourage oral storytelling and to help encourage speaking and listening, reading and writing skills.

Story Prompts

Using physical objects is a great way to support children in either recalling and retelling a story or devising and telling their own.

The Imagination Tree website has a range of immersive ideas to support young children in telling and retelling stories, including using playdough, small world and storytelling tubs.

Creating a storytelling stick can be a great way to support pupils to remember the different parts of the story.  Run My Child gives an example based on a recollection of a journey but you can also tie or stick string, wool, beads, sequins or natural objects on to a stick to help you retell a story.  For example, when retelling the Three Little Pigs- you could use grey wool to represent the wolf, straw, short sticks and a picture of a brick.

Happy Hooligans has a great guide to how to create and use story stones to help develop a story.

Rory’s Story Cubes are a widely available storytelling resource and can be used to help support the development of both oral and written stories.  You could also work with pupils to make their own story cubes using a net and allow them time to practice telling stories using each other’s cubes.

For further ideas to help develop oral storytelling please check out our Oral Storytelling Pinterest board.