Storytelling and the English Classroom

It all starts with “Once upon a time…”. This is the key which opens a magic world, a world where anything is possible because normal rules of logic do not apply; a world where children of all ages can let their imagination run wild, go to places they have never been before; a world where they can be anyone and do anything; a world which gives them wings to fly and once they leave this world, they realize they still have the wings that they can use in the real world.
Here are some of the techniques that can be used when telling a story to students, all depending on the creativity of the teacher, the type of story, the level of your students and the amount of time you allow for this activity.

Storytelling through pictures

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” says a famous proverb, which greatly applies to learning a foreign language. It has been proved that pictures play an important role in the process of learning, as does visual memory.

With storytelling, pictures can be used in the pre and post stages by the students and during the actual storytelling by the teacher. During the pre-listening stage, the students are shown pictures in order to predict some of the vocabulary that will be part of the story, to associate them with words or sentences and to describe them. While telling the story, the teacher may use flashcards or drawings to illustrate words that are not familiar to the students and that may lead to a better understanding of the text. In the post-listening stage, the teacher may assess comprehension and ask the students to name the words/ expressions that have been rendered through pictures. The students can also be given a written story where some of the words are expressed through pictures. They should replace the pictures with words and then tell the story. When the students’ level is higher, the teacher may assign a worksheet with sequences of pictures which the students should describe under the form of a story.

The use of pictures is a great support for foreign language learners as it helps them acquire new vocabulary, practise language in purposeful ways and remember words in context.

Storytelling through actions (TPR)

Using movement for language acquisition is known under the name of Total Physical Response (TPR). TPR is a method that was developed by James Asher in the late 1960s, with the goal of helping students acquire a second language. The main assumption is that a second language can be learned in the same way as the first, through the same natural processes. So, TPR tries to mimic these processes by requiring students to respond to commands, which in turn require physical movements. This method was embraced by ESL teachers and it is quite popular, particularly when teaching elementary or beginner students.

The teacher begins by uttering a simple command, demonstrating or having a helper act out the expected action, and inviting the class to join in. Commands are usually addressed first to the entire class, then to small groups, and finally to individuals. A learner who does not understand a particular command can look at others for clues and will be ready to respond appropriately the next time. After some time, the students spontaneously begin to give commands to each other. This indicates that they are ready to gradually evolve from the receptive to the productive mode.

Storytelling through puppets

Storytelling and puppets go hand in hand with foreign language teaching and learning and are not unfamiliar to teachers. Children love puppet stories and learning through puppets is a favourite activity since they are relaxed, happy and have their interest aroused.

Puppets provide children with an opportunity to achieve the following educational goals:

  • to stimulate and enhance imagination and to develop creative expression
  • to sharpen listening skills and to improve speech, enunciation, and voice projection
  • to develop spontaneous oral expression and become more fluent in reading
  • to gain appreciation of literature
  • to gain self-confidence and personal satisfaction
  • to release fears, aggressions and frustrations in acceptable ways
  • to develop social interaction and problem solving skills
  • to improve fine motor skills
  • to evaluate his/her and others’ work.

When using puppets, the teacher gets the students’ attention more than with other techniques. Thus, the students listen carefully, join in the story and actively participate. They find it easier to answer the puppets’ questions rather than the teacher’s and are eager to become the puppeteers and give life to the puppets themselves.

Storytelling and music

Songs are one of the best tools to learning a foreign language. Children like learning through music because it creates a less stressful atmosphere and gives them pleasure. It makes them participate in the class more and give them more motivation. When using a song to teach English, a teacher should plan ahead and take into consideration the things that he/ she wants to achieve, such as:

  • The students enjoy the activity and are therefore motivated for the rest of the lesson and future lessons.
  • The students learn faster and more easily than with other methods.
  • The students remember longer than with other methods, due to the repetitive patterns.
  • The students lose some of their inhibitions about speaking out, using rhythm and intonation when speaking, moving around and using gestures etc.

Using the song reinforces other things the teacher is working on in the classroom such as discipline, teaching kids to work together, rewarding good behavior and encouraging learner independence. In order to achieve good results, the teacher will need to make sure that:

  • The meaning of the words in the song can be explained in a quick and easy way.
  • The song is easy to remember and it is suitable for the students in terms of age, speed or content.
  • The language in the song is similar to the language they will be able to use in other parts of the class and/ or outside the class.

Music has been accompanying storytelling for a very long time. A story which is weaved with music is fascinating for the students. They listen carefully and as they grasp the meaning, they anticipate when it is time to sing again. Following the repetitive pattern of the song, they actively participate in the story, thus turning from listeners to speakers.


Storymime is a strategy which combines words and mime in order to tell a story. This form of mime is a wonderful resource for performing in the classroom. Mime can capture emotions at very deep and meaningful levels. It is with our actions that we often convey our deepest feelings.

Storymime encourages movement and mime. In fact, any barriers people might feel with moving can disappear with storymime. Stories can be used as narratives in which participants hear the story for the first time as they create movement spontaneously. Using carefully chosen action words, groups find movement easy. With practice, the two arts of mime and storytelling can create powerful, effective movement.

Once they get the grasp of it, the students are eager to perform in front of their classmates, especially if they are familiar with the TPR technique, where a lot of words have been learned through mime. Stories can be mimed by the participants in the audience, each one moving independently and acting out the script on their own.

Storytelling through mind mapping

A mind map is a “diagram used to visually outline information. It is often created around a single word or text, placed in the center, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added. Major categories radiate from a central node, and lesser categories are sub-branches of larger branches. Categories can represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items related to a central key word or idea” (

Mind mapping is a highly effective strategy of note-taking and note-making in a creative and logical way. All mind maps have the same things in common. They have an organisational structure that emerges from the centre and uses lines, symbols, words, colour and images according to simple, brain-friendly concepts. There are five essential characteristics of a mind map:

  • The main idea, subject or focus is shaped in a central image.
  • The main themes radiate from the central image as “branches”.
  • The branches comprise a key image or key word drawn on its associated line.
  • Topics of lesser importance are represented as “twigs” of the relevant branch.
  • The branches form a connected nodal structure.

Mind mapping can be used with storytelling as a follow-up activity in oder to ckeck the students’ comprehension. After listening to a story, the students are supposed to draw a mind map having as the central image the title of the story, a character or an event. With high-level students, a ready-made mind map can be used to create the story or students can create both the story and the mind map starting from a suggestion, a clue, a few words or pictures.

No matter which of these innovative techniques you decide to use, you are very likely to become your students’ favourite teacher and help them learn English in a fun way.

1. Armstrong, S. , ‘The power of storytelling in education’, The center for digital storytelling, 2003
2. Franklin, Karl J., Loosen your tongue – An introduction to storytelling, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, 2010
3.  Haven, Kendall F., Super Simple Storytelling : A Can-do Guide for Every Classroom, Every Day, Teacher Ideas Press, 2000
4. Read, Carol, 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom, Macmillan Education, 2007


prof. Nicoleta Velescu

Școala Gimnazială Ștefan cel Mare, Galați (Galaţi) , România
Profil iTeach:

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