Storytelling Workshop

The aim of this workshop is to show how the skills and techniques used in storytelling can be transferred into the classroom programme and how it links into the English Curriculum Achievement  Objectives.


If we take time to look at the oral language section and the specific features we read that they range from,‘Converse and talk about personal experiences’ (level one), ‘to talk coherently in small and large groups about experiences, events, information, ideas and opinions, organise material effectively and questioning and supporting others.’’(level four)


In use of text it states ‘tell a story recite or read aloud, present or perform arrange and make meaning clear.’


If you want to link the document with other strands the reference is page 60.
The art of storytelling crosses all cultures and every tale whether it be a myth a folk tale a personal tale it is valued.  In the opening address I have mentioned how in the classroom students can exchange their own story or translate another into a group tale.

Storytelling is a dramatic improvisation where speaker and listener construct and enter worlds of their own creation. It is interactive and the essence of the tale as been well researched and performed around the world through the work of Augustus Boal. In the world of drama this has come to light with the concept of inter-twining story and performance.


In recent years in drama the process of sharing a story has been performed through the style of playback theatre. This includes the owner of the story who shares it with a group and then chooses some of the group members to act out either all or part of the tale. This is a very interesting way of sharing a tale.  This method can be shared with students, as you will experience in the session.


If we look at a story in text we can enrich the tale orally and not loose its richness.  It is important to be familiar with the tale and record phrases that you as the teller find enriching. These phrases can be learnt by heart and if you can find a repeating one this is an essential component for the listener.


The story sequence is an important aspect so the tale is not lost in the retelling.  It is a valuable exercise to choose a traditional story to practise on and one you enjoy telling.


The work of Vygotsky suggests that learning occurs initially on a social plane and it is then internalized.  In other words language is not used to just express thoughts it is used to create them.  Children want to hear what the writer has to say and then in turn share with either their peers or an adult their findings.  Barnes (1992) talks about the importance of children working on understanding. The readiest way of working on understanding is often through talk because the flexibility of speech makes it easy for us to try out our new ways of arranging what we know.

Meek (1991- 1993) argues that all societies are fundamentally oral, that any understanding of literacy must begin with a recognition of oral language.  Britton states, “writing floats on a sea of words.”  In viewing the exemplars on Poetic writing, the conference details recorded between teacher and child show the link between oral and written language.  We can see the development of the child’s voice and impact in the writing process.


The work of (Snow &Dickinson,1991; Dickinson&Tabors 2002)  states that the provision of rich and varied language experiences in the early years is now being seen as a predictor of later academic success.
It is interesting to note that in the early stages of storytelling very little was recorded on how it influenced children’s learning in the educational setting.  It was often only seen in the context of performance rather than a daily oral language technique.
In the present day the interest in this ancient craft is more readily accepted as a valuable tool in developing children as listeners and participants. This is not new to people of Maori descent nor to any other group with a strong oral history.  In order to learn about where I now live, I just had to stand and work with aroha in the kitchen at Parihaka to hear the stories from the wahine to learn the history of the land and the people.
Ted Hughes once wrote,  “Stories are like candles in the mind”.   I hope you will find this to be accurate.  In his book, Traditional Storytelling in the Primary School, Grainger. T. (1997) we read –


“As tunes of the tale are twirled on the tongue the storyteller shares his work and simultaneously hears these words. So there is more than one kind of active listening happening as the teller relives the tale in a creative community of listeners.”


I have already commented on the implicit knowledge of grammar gained through living and communicating. Storytelling builds on the differences between spoken and written language.  In telling and retelling stories to each other children develop an understanding of how language works. They soon realize that some words have more impact and can be  powerful and can show anticipation, pace, suspense.  This can all be orchestrated with the voice, the spoken word and possibly gesture. The dialogue in story can make the teller aware of colloquial and idiomatic language.  Howe and Johnson  (1992) in Common Bonds - storytelling in the classroom, point out that teachers need to see how a wide range of different language styles increase language knowledge. 


In telling a tale to a multi cultural group of students I have used their own languages to tell the tale even though as participants we don’t all know what is being said.   Gesture and voice tone leads to great performance.


The techniques we are using in this workshop I have been using for over ten years. They have grown from my background as a child in a school in London working with Dorothy Heathcote, to being a drama student at teachers college, to becoming a teacher of drama and English,to being a storyteller and Literacy adviser. 


Rosen tells us that children do not realize that all their grunts and noises can be written down, including their dialect, for through this richness we can celebrate and record the variety of oral language.  In teaching I believe we hold a privileged position in weaving the spoken tale into the written and beyond.


I hope once you have taken a butchers hook you will be inspired to try these ideas in your classroom and become tellers as well as teachers .
 Roland Barthes;     
                     The work can be held in the hand,
                     The text is held in the language.


Odysseus told Penelope of all the discomfiture……….
She listened Spellbound, and her eyelids never closed in sleep
till the whole tale was finished.   Homer.