Friday, April 22, 2016

Children’s Book Week 2016 - Focus on Storytelling

Written by Susan Stephenson,

Storytelling is an ancient art form that goes right back to the days when humankind told stories while huddled around a campfire. Nowadays we have many fancy digital ways to tell stories, but they are still a combination of words and often sounds and images. A good story can entertain us, teach us a lesson, or even change the way we look at the world.

Australia: Story Country. Have children thought about that word, “story”? How many different ways do we hear it used? Is a story always fiction? Can a story be written in a book? People talk about “stories” and mean things as diverse as a televised oral description of a factual event, a written account of a series of life events, a fairy tale told orally, something with a beginning, a middle and an end as text, a ballad, a tapestry or a series of photographs. Why do people tell stories? How do people tell stories?

Storytelling is one way of conveying a story. A focus on storytelling is an excellent way to ensure children develop fundamental communication skills. Many adults have not developed these, for a range of reasons. They include speaking audibly and coherently to an audience, using one’s body and face to communicate, and preparing/practising a story before delivery. Story is hugely important in our society, is used by adults in a range of professions (e.g. advertising, sales, teaching, psychology, welfare) and is the basis of many educational and entertainment activities.

Here are some tips for getting started with Storytelling:

** Why not make time for daily storytelling activities during and after Children's Book Week? Make a fake campfire with painted wood or cardboard logs and cellophane flames, and use this for regular storytelling sessions. Each day or time classes meet, have a storytelling activity around the campfire first. Marshmallows optional.

** One energy-charged activity your kids will love is to delve into a prop box or dress-up box and become a character who tells a story. Hats and clothes from op shops make a good start but also look for costumes at garage sales. Pieces of material become cloaks and belts. Great props tend to be ones that are general rather than specific e.g. a plastic triangle can be a shield, a hat, a sign etc. (NB I tend to ban any physical weapons, even cardboard swords, until students have learned to stage fight and can be trusted to look after each other.)

** If you know any storytellers or adults who like to share oral stories, grab them! Each will have a personal style, but ask your kids to note the fundamentals, then look for extra techniques they can use themselves. This is a wonderful opportunity for kids to think creatively: they might consider use of appropriate costume and props, audience involvement, voice - volume, tone, pitch, pace - sound effects and movement.

** Story is very important in Aboriginal culture. Model the telling of an Aboriginal dreamtime story with story stones. Help children become familiar with the text via cards, PowerPoint slides or similar. Ask children to re-tell the story with their own story stones. To make story stones, you need to find flattish smooth stones e.g. at a beach or craft shop. Then apply a picture by painting or using glue or mod podge and cutouts. Google “how to make story stones” and you’ll see more details.

** Encourage children to gather stories. Can they interview family members and neighbours to discover stories? How will they record them? Classes might try to come up with a list of classic stories just right for storytelling, and kids might choose one as a story for re-telling. Stories like folk and fairy tales are wonderful fodder for storytelling - imagine the rich possibilities in something like The Emperor’s New Clothes with young tellers acting out the King’s pomposity and the crowd’s shock and merriment! Kids could use a book-creating app to record stories they want to keep.

** Check out our new Laureate’s Story Calendar for inspiration - “A different theme for every month to inspire your story adventures.”

** Once children have had a chance to learn storytelling skills, look for opportunities for them to present a story to a group who will appreciate it. Children in younger grades make an ideal audience, and interaction like this is not only great modelling, but fosters inter-grade relationships. Students need to think about ensuring content and other elements are appropriate for any particular audience.

Storytelling Activities - for starters

What Next? Students sit in a circle and each receives a picture of something, or even an actual object. The teacher starts a story. The next student continues the story, incorporating their photo or object.

Storytelling Box or Bag These can be used in so many different ways. Some adults put little props in there that a child can use to tell a particular story. Another idea is to have a range of objects, pull out one and base a story around it. Or kids can pull out an object at a time and incorporate each into the story they tell. Find more ideas in Create a Story Box.

Word-at-a-time Story This works with small or large groups. One person starts telling a story, the next says the next word, and so on around the circle. The story can be strange but it needs to make semantic sense. For example, you can have:


but you can't have


Throw-in-a-word Story One person begins telling a story and one by one, and by degrees, the rest of the group throws in a word that the storyteller must incorporate into his story. Kids take turns being the storyteller.

Joe: One day I went to visit my grandma. She lived...
Penny: Hat
Joe: She lived under a pink hat in the woods with
Tom: Pickle
Joe: ...with her pickle named Albert.

Hive Story An excellent collaborative storytelling activity is to have kids tell a story one sentence at a time. Or move to the next level, and have them write a story one sentence at a time (change to a paragraph at a time for older kids.) This is not like mad-libs where the fun is in writing something totally unrelated. Instead, kids should read what has gone before and co-operate in creating a story that has some sort of cohesion. One way to do this is to open a word document on the class computer, and have kids contribute either as they're inspired, or according to a schedule. In a computer lab situation, you can dedicate a whole computer to this task.

Pinocchio To charge any storytelling activity with excitement, and free up kids' imaginations, why not task them with creating the most outrageous stories, or the biggest "whoppers”? You could have a Pinocchio award for this.

Make and Tell How long is it since primary kids created with play-do? Making a beginning scene or main character can be a great way to get kids started on storytelling, as they think and revise as their hands are busy. They might like to use what they make as props to tell the story to others.

Contest With older kids who’ve developed storytelling skills, consider having a storytelling contest where they prepare a story to be recorded. They can use costume, props, sound effects and other dramatic devices to invest their story with pizzaz.

You’ll find many more ideas to adopt or adapt in my article, Sixteen Sensational Storytelling Ideas and Story Bags as Prompts for Storytelling.

Storytelling Activities linked with books

** Share a book like Narelle Oliver’s Sand Swimmers with kids and ask them to create a story about a character that might live in such an environment. They could use a tool like Blabberize or an app like Chatterpix Kids to animate a picture of their character and tell its story.

** Share Thunderstorm Dancing with kids and have them re-tell the story, helping bring it to life with instruments, body percussion, sound effects, dance and whatever else works. Find other books with strong sound elements and ask children to prepare a scene from one, using voice and sound effects.

** Ask groups of children to find a traditional story they can re-tell using puppets. In the library, there will be many treasures lurking in the 390 shelf! Kids may need little supervision and be able to confidently choose a tale, source materials, create puppets, prepare a script, rehearse and present to an audience independently. Or you may need to focus on a step at a time. Consider using simple puppets like spoons or paddle pop sticks with younger children, and guiding them to choose a story they all know e.g. an oft-repeated read-aloud, a fairy tale or even a nursery rhyme. Older kids might like to make simple but life-sized stick puppets over dowel, rakes or brooms. These can look very effective in a storytelling presentation, and are such fun to design and make. (NB I made the one below very quickly, just to give you an idea, but if you present it as a problem solving activity to kids, they will  think of things like making limbs from stuffing old panty hose, using old gloves or card for hands, adding a wig etc and perhaps even of wearing dark clothes so they "disappear" as puppet masters.)

Baroness Beatrice Broomhead

Two storytelling projects for kids:

1. Take an Australian song like Waltzing Matilda and re-write it as a story. Practise your story, adding in visual and sound effects to bring it to life. You could also consider developing a character, and telling the story as that character. Perform your story for your classmates and ask them for constructive feedback. Polish the story some more and choose a different audience to tell it to. Keep polishing and tweaking until your story works very well. Consider also stopping the action in a storytelling, and asking audience members or helpers to re-enact a scene.

2. Look at and read some different versions of the same story. In what ways are they the same/different? Discuss which parts work well and which might be changed. Write your own version of the story, trying to use your own words, but incorporating the things that you thought worked well. You might include sound effects, repetition, movement opportunities, interaction parts etc.

For instance you could try to find and read or watch some different versions of The Hobyahs, a story about a hero called Little Dog Turpie. What age would be an appropriate audience for your story? Now re-tell the story for the audience you decided on, using all the storytelling skills you have learned.

Teachers: If short on time, there are some different versions of The Hobyahs story below in Resources.

Teachers: As a culmination to many weeks of storytelling, record students’ storytelling performances and consider going in the YR 5 and 6 storytelling competition.


A free PDF available at my website of the traditional tale of The Hairy Toe. I've re-told it as a model for kids to use for their own ventures into storytelling, or indeed to learn by heart and deliver as a story presentation.  

Lesson plans and activities about storytelling in general.

Plots for re-telling.

Storytelling Australia website. 

Australian Storytelling Guild NSW  has a list of accredited NSW storytellers as well as links to storytelling guilds in other states and countries.

Aaron Shepard’s Storytelling Page is a wonderful resource! Kids will find lots of advice on preparing a story on his website. He also offers scripts, including those for beginners.

You and your kids might like to adapt reader’s theatre scripts from Timeless Teacher Stuff.

Excellent sample storytelling lesson at MENSA for Kids including an evaluation rubric.

A text and slightly Australian version of The Hobyahs, another text version, video of a Storyteller telling The Hobyahs, video of a very atmospheric animated version of The Hobyahs.

Today is the third in my series of articles about Children's Book Week in Australia in 2016. On Monday, I introduced my ideas for discussion starters and educational children's activities related to the theme, Australia: Story Country. On Wednesday, I suggested a list of some books, videos and other resources that might be useful for Children's Book Week this year.

  May you have a wonderful time reading and telling stories in Children's Book Week!

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