Monday, October 1, 2012

Oral Storytelling – Guest Post

Oral Storytelling
by JB Rowley

How Parrots Got Their Colours
One day I was telling stories to a group of kindergarten children. During the thirty minute program I told them three stories using hand puppets and my storytelling apron to display story images. The children were enthusiastic in their participation and we all had fun together. However, at the end of the session three-year-old Johnny said, “When are you going to tell us a story?” I reminded him of the stories I had just told the group. Shaking his head he got up from the mat, took a book from the nearby display shelf and handed it to me.

“You can tell us this one,” he said.

For him, telling a story meant reading a book. Because I did not use a book, I had not told a story. The ancient art of oral storytelling is practised so infrequently that children (and adults) do not always understand what it is. Since that day, I usually start my storytelling sessions, especially when telling to young children, by saying, “My stories are all in my head.” Sometimes the children think my head is a strange place to keep stories and they giggle. I guess it does seem strange to children brought up to expect stories to come from a book. However, that is what oral storytellers do. We keep stories in our heads.

When I tell a story, the story transfers from mind to mouth (my mind to my mouth) and then passes from mouth to mind (from my mouth to the listener’s mind). There is immediacy and intimacy in this. As an oral storyteller I pass the story directly to my audience, creating a personal communication between me and the listeners. I have the flexibility to change and/or stop the story, according to my audience’s needs and reactions, as well as the freedom to invite participation. The listeners and I become a community.

Listening is an important element of oral storytelling and is one of the skills children can learn and develop by attending oral storytelling sessions. The first stage of language development is listening. It is a skill that can be fostered through being an audience member as well as by being the teller of a story. When children tell a story in front of an audience, even a small audience of family members, they realise their story works better if the audience listens well. This knowledge and experience will contribute to improving their own listening skills.

Another significant benefit of oral storytelling is stimulation of the imagination. When listening to an oral storyteller children must create their own pictures in their minds. They also develop an awareness of story components such as characters, structure and sequence.

Storytelling is something children can do long before they can read or write stories. While oral storytelling has benefits for all ages, at the pre-school stage it is a vital language development tool. Parents who encourage a child to tell stories, even just a one sentence story, give that child a precious gift. Some pre-school children love to imitate the storyteller. They gather all their toys together and proceed to tell stories to their captive audience; an excellent activity for language development.

Parents and teachers can create storytelling programs for young children that include:
• A simple oral story with repetition and language play
• A song
• A chant or rhyme
• An activity

Topic based programs are especially suitable for young children.

An example of a topic based program for pre-school children:

• Story - How Parrots Got Their Colours
• Song - Sing a Rainbow
• Rhyme - The Bunch of Blue Ribbons
• Activity - Colour in the colours of the Rainbow Lorikeet

An example of a topic based program for older children (5 - 7):

Seasons – Spring:
• Story - The Wattle Fairies
• Song - Rig a Jig Jig
• Rhyme - Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
• Activity 1 - Ask children to change the last sentence of Mary, Mary Quite Contrary by adding their own rhyme
• Activity 2 - Ask some children to retell the story

BIO: JB Rowley is an oral storyteller, an educator and an award-winning writer who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Her books include the non-fiction novel, Whisper My Secret, and a children’s series called Trapped in Gondwana. Blog link:

If you're interested in storytelling, you might also like:


  1. I have added a Halloween storytelling program at:

    JB :-)

  2. @jbthewriter Great! Thanks for letting us know, JB!

  3. One of the friends I admire most tells her children a story every night at bedtime. She does not read a story, she tells one.

    I have no idea how she makes up a new one every day.

    These kids know how a story works. They have an unspoken sense of character, setting, and problem.

    ...and they've started telling their own stories.

    Janet |

  4. @Janet Abercrombie Really good point about the kids developing a sense of story structure etc. I love making up stories, usually adventures starring the kids I'm telling them to, and often thinly disguised myths or fairy tales! What I love is that I can use all my theatre skills because I don't need to look at print.

    Thanks for commenting!

  5. I have to tell a story, could it work with flashcards?

    1. Hi Irene,
      What would you have on the flashcards?


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