Storytelling at school
to master the art of speech

Why use storytelling as an educational tool?

People have been telling stories ever since the invention of language and without them, the human race would have died just as it would have died without water.

Karen Blixen

Nine reasons to use storytelling as an educational tool

Storytelling is the oldest form of education

Storytelling has been the main tool for education and transmission since the dawn of humanity. Mankind has been sharing stories orally for more than 50,000 years, whereas writing was invented only 5,000 years ago. The birth of the first human narratives goes hand in hand with a capacity for symbolic expression and abstraction. It is because our ancestors told tales that our brains have been able to develop in this way. Stories are at the core of all that makes us human, and they play an essential role in all human societies.

Cultures and civilisations have always been sharing stories as a means of collectively transmitting beliefs, traditions, and values to future generations.

Oral stories (folktales, fables, myths, legends, fairy stories…) come from the oral tradition and have been created, reinvented, and honed by generations of tellers and listeners, and so they are best told without referring to a written text.

Stories are how we store information in the brain

Humans are storytelling beings. Recent studies in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and education agree on the fact that the brain is wired to organize, retain and access information through storytelling and that every relationship, experience and object is recorded in the mind as a story.

A list of disparate facts will easily be forgotten, but in the form of a story, it won’t be. Stories allow us to link content together and organize information.

Students memorise narratives of increasing complexity and length, and in doing so can develop their memory skills. Beginning with nursery rhymes, then chain tales, proverbs, fables, etiological tales, folktales, tales of magic, myths, legends…

Storytelling is not acting! It is not about learning something by heart, which is based on a previously written text. With wordfor-word learning, the slightest omission can lead to a black hole. This is not the case when you tell a story because you have a lot more room for improvisation, interaction with the audience, or with the context…

Storytelling stimulates imaginative and creative skills

Albert Einstein valued imagination above knowledge. One day, a friend of Einstein’s reportedly asked him how he could make his son brilliant. Einstein replied, “Tell him fairy tales and more fairy tales…” Einstein loved stories and made groundbreaking discoveries through “experiments in the imagination”. In order to explain unanswered questions, he created mental stories in which he portrayed characters who had to perform actions or have adventures. By imagining that a man would be able to run at the speed of light, he deduced the importance of the time parameter in the equation of light. The theory of relativity was born.

When a student tells a tale, he visualizes in his head the images of his story. He is the director of his own movie. He does it in his own voice, in his own style, in his own words. Each storyteller is different and crafts a story differently. A successful telling reinforces the student’s sense of their individual approach as being valid and valuable: tales promote individuality. For those who feel smothered by the need for obedience and conformity, telling a story can feel like a breath of fresh air.

Stories appeal to the emotions

Because students are generally emotionally involved and truly enjoy storytelling, it can help to create a positive atmosphere within the learning process.

Through tales, we gain another perspective on the world and on nature, a reenchanted vision that appeals to our imagination and sensitivity

Storytelling develops listening skills

Storytelling helps students to develop their concentration skills. Notice how people respond when they are actively listening to a well-told tale: they live the story and identify with the protagonist’s struggles…

When listening to a story, we hear more than the sound of mere words directed to our ears. Recent brain-imaging studies have shown that the regions of the brain that process vision, hearing, taste and movement in real life are activated when we are engrossed in a compelling narrative.

The listener’s brain is as active as the storyteller’s and is, in fact, internally telling and anticipating the story along with the storyteller.

This level of interaction has a positive effect on the class as a learning community, and when students feel able to do it themselves, they will become more aware of their own creative potential as storytellers. Being able to actively listen to another human being, face-to-face, is essential, and has nothing to do with listening to the radio or television!

Listening to stories builds a unique relationship with language and encourages children to read

Storytelling can have an impact on the reading habits of students. When storytelling is introduced in schools and that more and more children become interested, going to the library together to find more tales is often seen positively by the children.

Once storytellers achieve a certain level of proficiency, they may also find written versions of stories in books (and on the web) and develop them into oral tales, providing motivation for more reading.

Stories teach lessons

Stories are excellent tools for teaching good behavior patterns and for strengthening character.

Stories allow us to virtually experience events similar to those that we will encounter in real life. For example, scary stories allow children to become familiar with the emotion of fear. Being scared is part of growing up… and can also be fun!

Stories also put forth ideas and solutions for managing conflict and dilemmas. Access to a good range of stories provides the child with many options to adapt to unexpected situations in the future. In fairy tales, the youngest, the weakest, the most fragile, always succeeds in getting out of harm’s way. This model is ideal to build self-confidence in children

There is a difference between telling and reading. Without the book as a barrier, the teller looks directly at the audience and is free to use movements, gestures and facial expression to bring his story to life. By contrast, the reader sees only the words on the page, while the storyteller sees the reactions on the faces of the listeners. Reading aloud is not orality, because there is no internal elaboration of thought or creativity. This mode of learning and transmission follows a pedagogical technique that focuses on the text and not on orality. It is the written word, and not the spoken word, that reading out loud emphasizes.

Telling tales from around the world creates an awareness and appreciation of different cultures

Today, children from various backgrounds attend European schools. Asking them to tell stories from their native cultures valorizes them and allows the whole class to discover other ways of life. Storytelling can bridge cultures. There are differences across stories from all over the world, but often many similarities as well. After all, stories are deeply human, and create bonds between people.

The story is a “tool for humanity”

Stories help to counteract the growing emphasis on technology in school and at home. To tell a story, there is no need for special equipment, a smartphone, a laptop, or a costume… nothing beyond the imagination and the power of listening and speaking is needed to create lasting images.

We are reasonable beings but also emotional beings. Speech is what allows the development of the human mind; of human intelligence. Without communication, there is no creativity, and no real relationship with others.

Children who grow up surrounded by stories develop intellectual and emotional skills, such as language and reasoning, empathy and imagination. On the other hand, growing up in “linguistic poverty” limits development and leads to difficulties in reading and writing. This is why interacting with children from an early age and with their parents (particularly those from “linguistically poor” environments) through stories is vital, as it not only offers valuable emotional and social benefits but also improves their overall chances in life. Stories can play a key role in addressing inequalities in literacy.

Benefits of storytelling at school


  • Enriching one’s vocabulary
  • Building a personal relation to language
  • Discovering the symbolic and poetic functions of language

Cognitive activities

  • Memorising and making a story one’s own, exercising one’s sequential, auditory and visual memory.
  • Imagining, exercising one’s attention span, actively listening, cultivating the imagination
  • Reasoning,mastering the logical structure of the story, constructing a narrative, anticipating it

Social activities

  • Listening and respecting the other’s speech • Feeling empathy
  • Participating in a common project
  • Speaking in front of others as a way of promoting selfconfidence
  • Sharing a local, national, European and worldwilde oral heritage
  • Acquiring and sharing human values
  • learning how to read and write
  • a calmer atmosphere in the classroom
  • a positive attitude towards learning
  • an inclusive approach that values each child
  • spreading knowledge of traditions, peoples, nature and the world to prepare children for the future
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