Who's telling tales?

21st September 2007 at 01:00
Storytelling is vital for all teachers of young children. Alison Davies offers some useful pointers for reading in class

Young children love stories. That is why reading to a class is so popular, and why storytelling is even better. Storytelling breaks down barriers of communication. There is nothing between you and the group, no books or papers just yourself and an engrossing tale. Stories help children to make sense of the world and allow them to experience and personalise situations.

There are various types of stories you can use, and they work differently depending on what you want to achieve. A traditional fairytale can be adapted to get across a moral or an idea. It can be simplified or modernised, although archetypes including kings, queens, wizards and witches will always have a place. If I'm going to tell a tale using a popular archetype I start by asking the children to picture the characters and describe them to me. What would they be wearing? Where would they live? This immediately involves them in the tale.

Stories based on personal memories work a treat because they have their footing in the truth. Encourage children to share stories or draw and describe pictures of fun things they have done. Use other people's recollections to help children understand what it is like to be in another's shoes and experience the truth of the tale. Encourage them to swap stories and pictures and tell someone else's memory tale.

You don't always have to tell the tale in its entirety. Leave it open-ended so the children can come up with their own ideas. Drawing pictures helps them to think about what might happen next. In so doing, they will start to consider, discuss and understand the story.

In stories, information is not delivered in a formal way: it is wrapped up in the tale. The key to understanding and learning comes from involving the children, and there are many ways to do this.

Choose a story that illustrates your point, and incorporate some easy, repetitive phrases. Encourage the children to join in by repeating the phrases with you.

Develop a pattern in your story, so that if a character encounters a challenge once, he encounters it several times. This will allow the children to join in at the opportune moment because they know what's coming. They become part of the tale.

Include movement in your storytelling. Use simple actions that children can copy. Choose a movement to represent a character so that every time that character appears, the children do that movement. I use a twirl in one of my tales to illustrate the arrival of one of the magical characters.

Storytelling is a fantastic way of passing on new ideas, of helping children to make sense of things and exploring language in a fun way. It's never too young to start

Alison Davies is a writer and storyteller from Nottingham. Her latest book, Storytelling in the Classroom: Enhancing the Oral Tradition, is available from Sage Publications. She also runs workshops. Contact alison@alisonlrdavies.com

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