This is a module I wrote for teachers at upper primary stage in India.



1. Introduction

Everyone loves to listen to stories. There is hardly anyone among us who has not heard a story during our childhood. Stories keeps children engaged and let them feel that they are also participating in the process of story telling. Language learning, any learning for that matter, happens when children are engaged in meaning making activities. If story telling is made into an interesting experience and fun filled activity where the listeners also participate in telling, guessing, manipulating, it could be a joyous learning experience.

2. Objectives

·        To develop an understanding among teachers about the importance of storytelling in language classroom.

·        To enable teachers to select stories for language classroom and to use story telling as a strategy for effective language teaching- learning.

·        To familiarize teachers with techniques of telling a story and to create stories with children in the process of language learning

·        To develop a perspective among teachers about the uses of story telling in terms of developing sensitivity to various world views and reinforcement of social values through stories

Activity 1

Read the following story with your friend

Funny Si Kabayan


Long ago, in Indonesia, Si Kabayan loved to play with words. Once, his father-in-law said, “Sing me a song.”

So Si Kanayan droned,  “Sa-ri sa-r sari-”

“That’s no good,”moaned his father-in-law. “I want something gentle on the ears.”

“Try chicken feathers.” Said Si Kabayan.

“Forget singing then, you fool,” said his father-in-law. “Tell me a story

“Something long?” asked Si Kabayan.


“A road.”

“You useless fellow!” roared his father-in-law.

Something short, then?asked Si Kabayan.


“An ant,” grinned Si Kabayan.   And that was the last time that his father-in-law asked him to do anything at all, which made Si Kabayan very very glad!

Now discuss with your friend

  • Is it a humorous story?
  • Will (y)our students like it?
  • Is the story suitable for your students? Why do you think so?
  • How can this story be used in the classroom? (a) Students reading individually (b) Students reading in groups (c) teacher telling the story to the class.

3. Story telling Vs. Teaching a story

We need to understand the difference between teaching a story and telling a story. In Teaching a story as a piece of work or literature as it happens most of our classroom where the teacher presents and explains the events, actions and characters of the story. Here the purpose is different. Story telling as a strategy for learning, more so language learning, serves as major language ‘input’ for learners and enables them, through experience, learn / acquire the language naturally. 

4. Understanding the learner and his / her context

Children are impulsive for they have no apprehension and notions that will stop them from acting; they are inquisitive and want to know what is around them and what is happening to things and people; they have enormous energy that they will not stop doing things till they are extremely tired; they are spontaneous and social, and would like to be entertained always. Moreover, children crave for attention and  love, as this is a natural instinct of a child. If our classrooms keep them engaged with right kind of entertainment in the process of learning, learning is ensured. This is because children are active learners and thinkers (Piaget, 1970). They learn though social interactions (Vygotsky, 1962) and learn better and more effectively through scaffolding by adults (Bruner, 1983).

Task 1

Could you supplement some of the qualities of children mentioned in the last two lines of the above paragraph?

4.1. Teaching young children

We help children learn language when what we ask them to do is purposeful, meaningful, socially significant and enjoyable. They need to feel supported when they attempt to do something i.e. learning and this could happen when they are given context based tasks and activities. How can we make our classroom activities purposeful, meaningful and engaging?  Can you list out some of the ways in which you want to do it?

  • ………………
  • ………………..
  • ………………..
  • ……………….
  • ……………

5. Why stories for language learning?

Stories use a holistic approach to language teaching and stories support natural acquisition of language. We believe language is learnt in contexts and in chunks, not in isolation, word by word or sentence by sentence. Stories are meaningful inputs i.e. comprehensible inputs (Krashen 1985) that children receive as they listen to and tell stories. Comprehensible input refers to the language given to children just above the level of their present language competence. This helps them get engaged and motivate them to understand and find out the new words, structures and make meaning out of the input. Stories develop in children an understanding about other cultures, respect for others and other cultures. Stories help children develop critical thinking and making a judgement about things and happening and actions of people, ideas and so on. Above all children love stories.

6. Choosing the right kind of story

How will you choose stories for children?  We have lots of them available in of textbooks, supplementary readers, publications of NBT, CBT and Sahithya Academy and many other private publications. Don’t you feel we need to choose the ones children like, those that that match their age and language level? So consider the following when choosing stories to tell in the classroom

  • Find stories your children will like.
  • Stories that match their age and language level.
  • Choose stories you like.
  • Choose stories with  simple structures
  • Choose stories with positive values (positive aspects of human nature-resourceful, humorous). Avoid didactic stories. Stories should be in such as children may understand and critique actions, characters, ideas, themes in them and make a judgement expressing their own opinions. 
  • Choose stories that relate to children’s  daily life and their thinking,  curiosity and interest.   (Adapted from Pederson 1995)

Task 2

With  your friend

Can you suggest a story that you would like to tell your children? Give reasons for you selection.

“Having chosen a story how do I go about the task?” is the question in your mind now.   Here is what a teacher tells us what she would do.

  • Study the story’s background and try to test your selection
  • Importance of vocabulary. Children will understand the text they read if they know at least 90% of the words  (Joan Kang Shin 2007)
  • If the story has a lot of unknown vocabulary, make sure that you can make it comprehensible before or during the storytelling.
  • It helps if children know the most frequently used words.

7. Techniques for Story telling

Though children love to listen to stories, we need to begin with short sessions, if they are not familiar with storytelling in the classroom. You can make your own seating arrangement comfortable for children. You can have younger children sit on the floor around you. Begin with very short stories, riddles, anecdotes and tales which children like better. Here are some riddles

                                                Water of two colours in a single pot 

                                                A mother carried her children around her neck

                                                The old woman who eats only wood.

Golden lock for a small house.

(See the answers at the end)

You may ask children tell such riddles in their mother tongue or in English. This will serve as good starter to take children into the story telling session.  Now read slowly and clearly the story and with expressions. While telling the story use the following techniques or actions to sustain children’s interest.

7.1. Tools for a story teller

·         Concentration and visualization

Close you eyes and recall a story heard as a child, Picture the home you grew up in.

Remember some of your happiest moments; saddest times; times of anger; times of reflection

·         Breathing

                        Take deep, slow breaths.

Enjoy and remember the silence and calm as you do this.

Try breathing in and our quickly as if panting, without moving shoulders or chest much so that you develop deeper, fuller breath support.

·         Voice work

Chew, hum and stretch to keep your voice relaxed. Alto try voice exercises from vocal/ oral tradition of your region.

Read a newspaper line or say a nursery rhyme in different ways varying pitch, volume, texture, and feeling.  Try talking in a monster’s voice, giving a king’s command or a beggar's plea.

Vary the pace, tone and volume of voice; pause where appropriate;

Disguise your voice for different characters.

Do not be afraid to repeat, expand, and reformulate.

·         Encourage children to take part in  story telling

Ask question that involve children.

Make comments about illustrations and expect a response from children.

·         Sound and Silence

Listen to the sound of the spoken word.

Consider alliteration; explore the possibilities of rhyme; Add sounds to the right stories- animal noises; connect culturally.

·         Word Play

Very short stories, tales, puns, riddle would do wonders.

                                (Adapted from Brewster, Ellis & Girard 2004

  and Cathy Spagnoli year not mentioned )

Task 3

Now read the following news items in three different ways. (Try and read giving emphasis on  the bus, then ninety year old man  and then crushing of the bus or the old man into pieces.)

Bus collided with a ninety year old man and crushed into pieces.

And discuss with your friend what technique you employed.

7.2. Pre-Story telling to Post Story Telling

Now let us see how we can design pre and post storytelling activities. Our aim is to capture the attention of children before we venture into our story telling session. Children learn with the help of their previous knowledge. They would pick up well and with interest, if they can connect to prior knowledge and experiences. Have activities, tasks, role play or actions that would connect their life experiences with the ideas, themes, incidents or the characters of the story. Also review language in the story children already know and teach new vocabulary or expressions. Children would love to predict what will happen in the story. So stop when you reach such a point where the tension mounts, and ask children to predict.

The above discussion yields the following pointers:

§  Capture children’s attention.

§  Connect to their prior knowledge and experiences.

§  Review language in the story children already know.

§  Teach new vocabulary or expressions.

§  Have children predict what will happen in the story.

§  Give them a purpose for listening.

Post Story Telling Activities

The following activities and tasks would enrich the experiences of children after listening to the story.

§  Questions and answers based on the story. This has to be oral.

§  Total Physical Response (TPR)*

§  Group retelling

§  Create your own ending

§  Drama and role playing

§  Story mapping

§  Story boarding

§  Games that check comprehension (Start & Stop, retelling with mistakes, picture out of order.

*Total Physical Response (TPR) is a language teaching method built around the coordination of speech and action; it attempt to teach language through physical (motor) activity  (Jack C. Richards & Theodore s. Rodgers 1986)

Task 4


Here is a story. Set pre story telling activities, then tell the story and set one or two post story telling activities.

Lake of Diamonds

                                     Sujata. C

The village of Paritaal had got its name from the lake in the middle of it.  The lake was the life of the village.  Stories were told of diamonds that lay buried beneath the lake-bed.  But this summer things were different. There had been no rains for two years and the threat of another drought was looming over Paritaal.  The lake had dried up.  Eight-year-old Abdul lived with his family in the village. His grandfather was the village sarpanch.

One evening the whole village gathered to discuss the delayed rains. Vigyan, a well-read man and Haji, the potter asked the sarpanch about the legend of the buried diamonds in the lake-bed.  “Let’s all dig up the lake and find the diamonds.  Then we won’t be hungry and poor anymore.”

“Yes, yes, we must do that,” agreed Laxman, the carpenter.  The sarpanch and the priest were worried. If it did not rain this year there would be mayhem. Hunger and poverty would make beasts out of men.

Abdul knew how difficult it was for them to get water.  His mother and sister would be away for more than half the day, as they had to walk five km to fetch drinking water.  They could not carry much water, just three pots.  It was the same story in every house.

The villagers insisted that they should be allowed to dig up the lake and find the diamonds.  Vigyan tried to dissuade the villagers and instead suggested that they should all wait and if they wish they should offer prayers. Abdul’s grandfather managed to convince the villagers to organize mass prayers.

But there were a lot of people who did not believe in the power of prayer and felt that the sarpanch was cheating them by not allowing them to dig up the lake-bed.  Two days was too long a wait.  Haji, the potter, whose idea it was to dig up the lake, was very restless.  For Laxman this whole business of praying seemed foolish.  Every member in his family including himself had been reduced to a bag of bones.  He wanted to dig up the lake-bed.  And that’s what he did.  He kept at it all night aided by the light of the moon.

The day of prayers came.  Before sunrise, all the villagers gathered at the lake, knelt down on the dry lake-bed and prayed.  Abdul too had gone with his grandfather. It was a beautiful sight to see people united in adverse times.

Just as the sun rose, Vigyan came along with people and they had a yagna on the caked lake-bed.  Just then, the villagers discovered Laxman’s attempt to dig the lake.  The sight of the dug-up lake-bed was like a trigger that had been pulled up.  The villagers seized any implement they could grab – pick-axes, spades, shovels, crow-bars-and started digging.

By afternoon it was baking hot.  The sarpanch pleaded with them to stop but no one was in the mood to listen.  By night, the lake was at least five times deeper than it was.  Not a single diamond had been found.  Like madmen they kept digging all night.  By daybreak the lake was really deep.  Suddenly water started oozing out.  The soil became slushy and the digging stopped.  Ropes had to be let down to pull the men up.  The men were disappointed that there were no diamonds.

It took the wisdom of the sarpanch, Vigyan  and others  to show the men that water was the greatest treasure they could have.  “Where there is water, there is work; where there is work there is wealth and prosperity,” said Abdul’s grandfather.  The men saw the point.  They were tired, but ready to plough their lands and prepare for prosperous times.                                        (Young World, The Hindu, Tuesday, July 14, 2009)

8. Storey telling as a strategy to enhance oral language proficiency

Story telling is an effective strategy to help children obtain oral language proficiency.   In instructed language learning situations where the exposure to English is only in school like in a majority of our schools, stories and story telling will serve the purpose of not simply promoting listening skills, but will also develop oral language proficiency. The following processes could be of use when we attempt to help children enrich their oral skills through story telling. Here children move from being mere listeners of stories to beginning storytellers in an interactive way. This is only suggestive and need not be seen in the linear way it is given. We can start children telling stories along with teacher’s story telling sessions. Prepare the children well with clear instruction and clarification before the start of any story telling session.


From listening to a story   to   interactive story telling

Teacher telling a story in a session.

v  Children are involved

v  Children participate, ask question

v  They predict the possible ending or alternative end of the story.



Shared Reading

v  Whole class reading a story –choral reading (with and without teacher reading)

v  Reading in groups

v  One child reading out to the group / whole class.




   Children telling a story

v  Children tell  a story individually to the whole class or to a group

v  Children take turns and tell a story

v  Children ask questions each other as they tell a story or after telling / listening to a story.

v  Children bring stories from their experiences, from elders, etc and share by telling and exchanges with their peers.

v  Teacher’s role: Teacher makes the session informal and does not intervene much.

v  Critical Pedagogy: Children ask question on the ideas and beliefs, characters, happenings and intensions of the story (writer).  This makes them analyse and judge and conclude.

 9.  To Sum up

Stories and story telling serve as an important input for enhancing language learning in the classroom.   Teachers need to know  how to select a story and the various techniques of telling a story and enabling children to be story tellers in an interactive way. Let us recall

  • Find stories your children will like and appreciate.
  • Stories that match their age and language level.
  • Choose stories you like.
  • Choose stories with a simple structure
  • Choose stories with positive attitudes.
  • Choose stories that children could connect with their daily life and their thinking,  curiosity and interest.  


Before your story telling session

·         Study the story’s background and try to  test your selection

·         Importance of vocabulary. Children will  understand the text they read if they know at least 90% of the words  (Joan Kang Shin 2006)

·         If the story has a lot of unknown vocabulary, make sure that you can make it comprehensible before or during the storytelling.

·         It helps if children know the most frequently used words.

·         Employ the techniques of both physical actions and oral modulation to tell a story

·         Plan and design pre-story telling, post story-telling activities.

·         Make Story telling as an interactive activity paving way the for enhancing the oral language proficiency of children.

10. Evaluation

Read the story given below and write a plan a session of a story telling session by the teacher and a session in which children take turns to tell the story. Mention the pre and post story telling activities.

Food for Thought


A young woman in Sri Lanka had parents who were extremely caste conscious. When they began to seek a groom for their daughter, they were most anxious that he should come from a high caste.  Although they had little money, they turned down offers from rich lower caste men, preferring instead to find any possible husband, no matter how impoverished, from the higher castes.

Finally, the match was made and the woman was married to a high caste man who had few rupees indeed.  The poor woman suffered great hardship in her husband’s home, for he was a good-for-nothing who neither helped her in the fields nor brought home any income.

One day, her parents decided to visit her.  They approached the house, smelled the wood fire and saw their daughter scraping a spoon round in a pot.  She invited them to sit down and they looked forward eagerly to a fine meal.  They sat and waited.  No food was served.  Quite hungry, they waited a little more.  Still, no food.  At last, the mother went to see if the meal was ready.  She looked into the pot and was very surprised.  For even though the girl still moved the spoon in the pot, there was nothing to stir-the pot was empty.

“What are you cooking, my dear?” asked the mother, quite confused.

“We have nothing to eat,” replied the daughter, “So I’m roasting the caste that you value so much.   (Adapted from “Grain of Rice” Ratnapala 1991 p137)  The stories Funny Si Kabayan and Food for thought are taken from the book,  Telling Tales from Asia: A resource book for all who love telling stories authored by Cathy Spangnoli published by Tulika. (year not mentioned)    


Brewster, J., Ellis, G. & Girard, D. (2004). The Primary English teacher’s guide. London: Penguin.

Cathy Spangnoli (year not mentioned)   Telling Tales from Asia: A resource book for all who love telling stories. Tulika.

NCERT (2005) Position Paper on Teaching of English. New Delhi

Pedersen, E.M. (1995) Storytelling and the art of teaching. English Teaching Forum, 33 (1) 2-5.

Richards, C. Jack Rodgers, S. Theodore (1986) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching: A description and analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge Language Teaching Library.

Shin, J.K. (2006) Ten helpful ideas for teaching English to young learners. English Teaching Forum, 44 (2), 2-7, 13.

Slatterly, M., & Willis, J. (2001). English for primary teachers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





Average: 4.5 (4 votes)

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight