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Story Telling

~ An Historic Teaching Tool ~

Once upon a time….. and happily ever after. We all know these phrases because we all shared the experience of hearing or reading stories as we grew up. Listening to fairy tales and reading children’s books are the staples of our culture, but long before we had mass published books, audio tapes, video tapes and movies, we had folklore, legends, myths, creation stories and more. Stories helped people understand the world around them, especially the supernatural or incomprehensible. Stories also served as entertainment and a way of communicating with others, remembering important events, and preserving culture. “Because stories have been handed down through time, they are ‘examples of the heart and soul of the people who created them.’” (Koki 1998)
Story Telling was very important in religions of the past, and perhaps still is today. Hindu storytellers used story cloths from The Ramayana to illustrate their narratives. The Hasidic Jews used storytelling to introduce their rituals and beliefs to children. Early Christian prophets used stories in their preaching, along with Jesus himself, teaching through parables. (Pellowski) Stories have been told again and again – from generation to generation – over land and time. “Traditional texts have been passed on through storytelling across the generations, developed by way of the folk process, and resulting in archetypal culturally shared narratives that have educative value.” (Mello, 2001)

Some research has been done recently on the benefits of story telling in education, as a renewed spark of interest has inspired many creative and new ways to appreciate and learn from story telling.

Wells's [1986] seminal study found that consistent exposure to storytelling and narrative discourse was very important to school success and development of reading skills. Mello cites more studies that support Well's findings, “suggesting that telling stories from culturally diverse sources supports the creation of multicultural awareness in classrooms [McCabe, 1997] and encourages the development of healthy self-concepts [Paley, 1990].” (2001)

Teachers can use story telling as an educational tool, confident that it still works. In fact, neuroscience is investigating the possibility that our brains are actually set up to work with story telling. Turner Learning, Inc. states that neuroscientific discoveries are suggesting that “the brain is wired to organize, retain and access information through story.” (2000)
If you let people talk about themselves or discuss issues that they can relate to, they will listen, and be more likely to remember. When teaching, I try to incorporate this strategy and encourage sharing and open discussion. Personal stories can enlighten a student or a whole class and promote a connection between students. Koki states that, “All people have a basic need to share stories. Stories organize experiences and record important happenings.” (1998)

Adults and children students are not so different. Everyone likes a good story. “Stories are motivating, easily accessible, and immensely interesting.” (Koki 1998) Adults can learn all the same skills as children learn from listening to, reading, and telling stories. Stories can help with memory tasks, or at least make it more interesting. Illustrations or hints can help jog the memory when needed. Important for tolerance and identity is the cultural awareness one can gain from stories of other countries and people. Listening to, reading and telling stories all help with language, literacy, and speech skills. Stories promote confidence, imagination, creativity, and critical thinking for both visual and auditory learning styles, with the potential for tactile learning as well.

Everyone can learn from stories – no matter how old. “As a folk art, storytelling is accessible to all ages and abilities. No special equipment beyond the imagination and the power of listening and speaking is needed to create artistic images. As a learning tool, storytelling can encourage students to explore their unique expressiveness and can heighten a student's ability to communicate thoughts and feelings in an articulate, lucid manner.” (Forest 1992)

“Educators have long known that the arts can contribute to student academic success and emotional well being. “ (Forest 1992) Teachers as well as students, young and old, can benefit from listening to, reading, and telling stories. Spark the imagination, or escape from everyday boredom with a story. Take the challenge to find new and stimulating ways to use stories in the classroom. I’ve often started a class with a story, not even knowing why. It would lighten up the class, and get everyone’s attention. Later, letting the students tell the stories, keeps their attention. Through this research I learned much more about the benefits of story telling. I found many fantastic resources, and new ideas to incorporate stories into a class. I only hope that I can inspire others to use story telling strategies in their classrooms.

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Forest, H. (1992) The Story Arts. Retrieved on October 15, 2004, at

Games for Teaching Storytelling, (1977) National Story League's Junior Story League Handbook, Richmond, VA. Retrieved on October 15, 2004, at

Koki, S. (1998) Storytelling: The Heart and Soul of Education. Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, Honolulu, Hawaii. Retrieved on October 14, 2004, at

Mello, R. (2001) The Power of Storytelling: How Oral Narrative Influences
Children's Relationships in Classrooms. International Journal of Education & the Arts (2) Wisconsin. Retrieved October 13, 2004, at

Wells, G. (1986). The meaning makers: Children learning language and
using language to learn. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Paley, V.G. (1990). The boy who would be a helicopter: The uses of
storytelling in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University

McCabe, A. (1997). Cultural background and storytelling: A review and
implications for schooling. The Elementary School Journal, 97(5),

Ramsey, I. (2003) Handbook for Story Tellers. James Madison University, A. Retrieved on October 14, 2004, at

Carmody, B. The Story Teller Website. Retrieved on October 14, 2004, at

Turner Learning, Inc. (2000) Learning Through Storytelling. Retrieved October 14, 2004, at

Back to Porfolio
Download Activities Booklet
Check out Engagement Theory

Bonnie Isham Willis
Educational Leadership I
October 16, 2004