StoryTelling Strategy
StoryTelling Strategy
Teaching Resources
Categories Educator Resources 
grades:  -

Storytelling is simply the oral telling of a story.

  • Storytelling is principally an oral form, distinguishing it from story reading. 
  • Storytelling relies as much upon the words of the story as on the dynamic and heartfelt telling of those words. 
  • Dynamic storytelling can make use of some (though not necessarily all) of the following: vocal inflections, body language, audience interaction, dramatic techniques, costumes, props, puppets, visual displays (for example, felt boards), and songs and / or chants.

  • Storytelling conveys values through modeling behavior. (In fact, it may be the most time-honored way that humans have taught values). 
  • It allows students to vicariously experience new, unique, and often challenging situations in a safe and controlled way. 
  • Students are engaged and develop their creativity and imagination. 
  • Storytelling can be adapted to teach and “bring to life” a wide range of content in a fun and engaging manner. 
  • It builds self-confidence, concentration, and motivation. 
  • It provides the opportunity for self-exploration. 
  • It develops oral language skills (speaking and listening). 
  • It develops narrative skills (the ability to meaningfully construct information into a dynamic, captivating sequence).


  • Stories for young children should be short. Ten minutes is a rough upper limit for a rather engaging story. 
  • Stories with repetition, refrains, songs, chants, and cyclical action (similar scenes or actions repeated over the course of the story) give students predictability and structure, even as they invite them into the unknown and unexpected. 
  • Storytelling thrives when potential distractions are limited as much as possible. For instance, if a teller stands in front of a window or with her or his back to the rest of the room, then any activity behind him or her is likely to distract the audience. Instead, the teller should select a wall or corner to stand before. 
  • Children love stories with strong action and slapstick humor.

Have good sources

Find some good story sources—collections of folktales, picture books, short stories, etc. There is much out there, so try to get a sense of your personal story preferences while keeping in mind what is needed for a given situation / lesson / audience. A great starting point for Jewish tales is the following bibliography of story collections:

Connect to the story
Read through various stories until one “jumps out.” To tell a tale well, it is of great importance that you really like the story and agree with—or better, feel passionate about—the ideas, motifs, and morals it conveys.

Find stories from the oral tradition
The closer a story is to the oral tradition, the easier it will be to tell orally. Depending on the person, it may be easiest to learn a story by listening to another storyteller telling it. Regarding written works, for most people it is much harder to orally adapt a highly detailed short story than a simply recorded folktale.

Use direct language
Similar to the last point above, it is easiest to use a story with direct language. Too much description or dialogue bogs down a telling (especially for young children). If you really like a story that has these elements, it is always possible to cut out some of the description and summarize the dialogue.

First, a note of caution: Be selective with the approaches below. Different ones are useful for people with different learning styles, but following too many of these suggestions can become cumbersome and overwhelming.

Familiarize yourself with the story
Read through the story several times, both silently and out loud. Pay attention to how it reads, how it sounds, and how it feels.

Record yourself reading the story
Record yourself reading the story (or find a recording of the story by a good storyteller) and listen to it repeatedly (Schwartz 2004).

Highlight special phrases
Highlight special phrases, magic words, or chants that could be good to memorize. That said, it is best and easiest to tell stories in your own words, so try to memorize only those aspects that are truly fantastic and / or crucial to the telling. Even if, say, a chant is included in the written version, feel free to make up a chant that you prefer which still can serve the same purpose in the story as the original.

Pay attention to sequence
Pay special attention to the beginning, the end, and the basic sequence of events. Think about any changes you’d want to make to the beginning or end.

Take notes
A helpful technique suggested by Sylvia Ziskind is to take a large notecard and create crucial notes for a story (1976). On the front of the card, write down the title, author (if there is one), place where the story was found, and other helpful logistical notes (the genre of the story, the approximate telling time, ages for which it is suited, etc.). On the back of the card, write out the beginning of the story (a sentence or two), the main sequence of events, any key words or refrains desired for the telling, and the ending of the story (also a sentence or two).

Use your imagination
While reading, telling, listening to, or thinking about the story, try to experience it through the imagination as fully as possible, drawing on as many senses as you can. Visualize the setting, characters, and events. Imagine the smells and tastes. Imagine experiencing the story directly, in your own life. Do whatever works best given your own learning style. The goal is to remember the story in the same way that you recall a striking memory rather than how you might memorize a list of facts. In Syliva Ziskind’s words, “know a story by heart, not by rote.”

Be concise
Cut out or summarize anything too wordy, with too much description, details, or dialogue. As Margaret Read MacDonald says, ask, “Is it necessary? Is it beautiful? Is it fun?” (1982). If something meets none of these criteria, it might be worth cutting out.

Find your own words
After reading or hearing the story several times, try telling it on your own, in your own words. If during this telling, you come upon any sections you can’t quite remember, try to keep going anyhow, making up parts as needed. (If you have to, of course you can stop and check in with the story to fill in the gap, but it’s good to develop the ability to improvise and seamlessly fill in any gaps while you’re telling, since that is occasionally necessary in front of an audience. Also, in the process of improvising you might come up with something that you really like that you may wish to use in your retelling of the tale. This makes the tale all the more “yours,” which is a key part of what storytellers do.) Once you’ve finished telling, go back and reread or relisten to the story, noting all the parts you missed or messed up. Simply having that “Aha!” moment of “So that’s how it goes!” will help you remember those parts with which you feel the least comfortable. Then try telling it again!

Practice in a good setting
When practicing, it’s helpful to do so in a space where you can move around and make lots of noise without being disturbed or feeling too self-conscious. The more your whole body can get into a story, the easier it is for the story to become a part of you.

Again, a note of caution: Thinking too much about too many of these techniques can, again, be overwhelming. The fact of the matter is that humans are storytelling beings. As Elie Wiesel writes, “G-d made man because He loves stories.” Through media and social interactions, we have all been exposed to an incomprehensible number of different stories, and from a young age we develop an intuitive sense of what makes for a good story. Trust that sense! The list below is there to help you fine-tune it.

The following are different basic components of verbal presentations that you can use to make your telling more dynamic and engaging. The trick is to modulate these to bring variety and emphasis to different parts of the story. For instance, when the action rises in a story, you can increase your volume, speed, and even pitch to bring more emotional intensity to a sequence.

If you notice that your students’ / audiences’ attention is drifting away from the story, a sudden change in many of these verbal components (for example, suddenly getting quiet or loud, or a long dramatic pause) will often snap their attention back to the telling. Components of verbal presentations to consider:

  • volume 
  • pitch 
  • speed 
  • pacing (including pauses, resting places) 
  • acting 
    • Act out certain parts of the story. You should be careful, however, not to spend too much time “as” a specific character—usually several seconds here and there is enough to bring a character or action to life. 
  • sound effects 
    • For example, try knocking on a cabinet when someone knocks on a door in the story, and then using your voice to make the sound of the door creaking open. 
  • voices and accents 
    • There is no need to go overboard with voices and accents, since even subtle differences in how different characters speak can go a long way. 
  • body language 
  • props, pictures, puppets, costumes 
    • While these bring great diversity and can engage multiple senses, there is a whole craft to managing them effectively and integrating them successfully into a story without breaking the “flow” of the tale.

There are a number of ways that students can become active participants in a story that’s being told to them:
  • vocal participation, such as songs, chants, and sound effects (for example, “poof,” “shhh,” “knock knock,” or “creeeeeaaaak…”) 
  • verbal participation, where they provide names for characters or ideas for parts of the story 
  • bodily participation, such as 
    • hand gestures (“wave,” “hold up two fingers,” etc.) 
    • dramatic poses (“sit up like a big mountain,” “flap like an angel,” etc.) 
  • emotional participation, such as 
    • acting (“act sad,” “pretend you’re as happy as that lady!” etc.) 
    • verbal (responding to questions such as “How do you think he feels right now?” “How would you feel if you were that princess?”) 
When applying these techniques, the following tips can be helpful: 
  • If a story has a certain song, chant, action, or effect that appears frequently, you can preface the story by telling the listeners that they’ll be helping you with the storytelling. Then briefly teach and practice those frequently appearing elements—more to give the children familiarization than mastery. They’ll pick up their roles more fully as they recur during the telling. 
  • Asking simple or leading questions is a great way to ensure audience involvement. 
    • For instance, instead of telling students to “mooooo” like a cow, ask, “What sound does a cow make?”
    • A leading question might be: “And do you think the greedy man shared his bread with the beggar?” Regarding this, if there’s not a clear group answer you should answer the question yourself (after a pause for the audience’s response) so that everyone is on the same page. You can even cue the answer by nodding or shaking your head while asking the question. 
  • If your story has a repetitive phrase, after you’ve used it a few times, try leaving “pregnant pauses” in the phrase for the students to fill in. After a few instances of putting the gaps in the same places, the audience will usually fill them automatically. 
  • Similarly, if an upcoming element of a story is very predictable, leave a pregnant pause for the students to add their prediction. 
    • Example: “Suddenly she heard ‘sssssssssss.’ She looked in the bushes, and there she saw a ? ... That’s right! A snake!” 
  • Find a balance. Too much participation can break the story’s flow and bog it down, while too little can lose young listeners. 
Renowned storyteller, Jordan Hill, captivates the imagination of young learners and engages them with three special Jewish folktales. As you watch these lessons, you will notice many of the tips described in this section.

The Moon In The Well
David And The Spiders
The Cracked Jewel
Coat For The Moon

MacDonald, Margaret Read. Twenty Tellable Tales. The H. W. Wilson Company, 1986.
Schwartz, Howard. Personal communication, 2004.
Ziskind, Sylvia. Telling Stories to Children. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1976.

Appendix Contributor
Jordan Hill, Storyteller,