Tell Us a Tale: Teaching Students to Be Storytellers
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Throughout history, storytellers handed oral tales down from person to person, generation to generation. This lesson borrows from that tradition by helping students take an existing story and make it their own.
- Read and choose a folktale or short story that they want to retell
- Map the story's sequence of events with a graphic organizer
- Identify and summarize story elements
- Write a script that elaborates upon or interprets parts of the story
- Build confidence and practice creative expression as they tell their story to the class
- Graphic Organizer for Sequence of Events — one copy for each student
- Selection of books for students to choose from. See our recommended books for seasonal and timeless tales.
- Watch or timer that can track 10 minutes
Step 1: Choose a story.
- Explain to students that any book or story can be told as an oral story. Storytellers take existing stories and use their imaginations, body movements, and expressive tones of voice to retell the story in their own way.
- Invite students to look over your selection of stories and to choose one they think they think will grab the audience's attention.
Step 2: Read the story 4-5 times.
- Students should read the story independently several times.
- If it is a chapter book or long story, have them choose a specific episode that they can retell within the time limit (recommended time for each storyteller's performance is 10 minutes).
- Explain that they don't need to learn the story by heart, but they should concentrate on remembering facts and details in the story, including:
• The order in which things happen
• Characters' names
• How characters feel in different situations
• Descriptions of locations or sounds
Step 3: Outline what happens.
- Using the Sequence of Events, students should outline each scene in the order it occurs. Model this for students by outlining "The Three Little Pigs." For instance:
Scene 1 - First pig is in his straw house
Scene 2 - At the same time, Big Bad Wolf is in the village looking for a pig
Scene 3 - Big Bad Wolf comes to the first pig's straw house
- Students can add boxes to the organizer in order to outline all the events in their tale. Remind students that they will be telling a story in 10 minutes. If their story has too many scenes, they will need to shorten them or combine events to keep the story short.
Step 4: Describe each scene.
Have students write descriptions of the settings and characters' actions for each scene. They can use the book and these questions as guides:
- Where and when does the scene take place?
- Who is in the scene?
- What happens?
- How can you use movements to illustrate the action (i.e., pretend to open a door)?
- Besides characters' words, what sounds are heard (thunder, birds)?
Step 5: Use your imagination.
- Once students have laid out the story "as written," ask them to look for ways in which they can make the action more exciting. For instance, what if their hero drove a racecar instead of riding a horse? Tell them not to be afraid to add or change things — that's part of the storytelling tradition!
- Have them add notes to their outline that indicate where the new scenes or descriptions will go.
Step 6: Create a script.
- Using quotes from the book or lines they write themselves, have students write a description and character dialogue for each scene. This is the first draft of their script.
- Students should revise their script and specify the narration (when they will describe the setting and characters' actions) and character dialogue (when they will become the characters, speaking their lines and even acting like them.) Have them add notes that describe how they need to move or act as they speak.
- Model creating a script based on the sequences of events created for "The Three Little Pigs." For example:
"The Three Little Pigs" SCENE 1
[sit with eyes closed]
One morning, Pig was napping, when suddenly….
[open eyes, jump up]
bam! bam! bam! There was a loud knock on his door.
Pig jumped up in surprise.
And went to see who was knocking.
[pretend to turn a doorknob]
In rushed his brother pigs and knocked him right over!
- Using the watch or timer, have students read their scripts quietly to themselves and time it (remind them to read slowly and pause in places when they will imitate an action without speaking).
- If their script is longer than 10 minutes, discuss ways they can edit it down: Are there lines you can shorten? Can you combine two or more scenes into one? Is every scene essential to telling a good, exciting story?
Step 7: Perform it!
- Have students practice reading the script over and over until they can tell the story without looking at the paper. Storytellers don't have to memorize it perfectly, though. Explain that they should feel free to add on or alter the story as they perform it for the class (as long as they can keep it within or around 10 minutes).
- Hold a storytelling festival and invite other classes to listen to your students tell their tales!
- Invite a professional storyteller to visit your class and share a tale with students then share "secrets of the trade."
- Videotape each storyteller so students can see their own performances. Have them do a self-evaluation based on their taped performance.
Supporting All Students
Encourage struggling readers to create an oral story about an illustrated book or one picture from a book. Check the images from our Teaching with Illustrators feature for ideas. Using a tape-recorder, have them tell a story based on the pictures. They can listen and alter the tale until they're satisfied and have learned it well enough to perform for the class. Tape their final performance; then help storytellers write out their tales to create books they can re-read along to with the audiotape.
Home Connection: Invite parents to attend your storytelling festival. Send home a list of recommended books that families can turn into oral tales to share with each other over the holidays.