The art of storytelling

Storytelling is an art, and following these tips can help you become a master at it!

By S Seshadri

The art of storytelling


Storytelling is an art that has given joy and instruction to children since the beginning of time. In this form of art, we talk about an event or series of events, true or imaginary.

Storytelling has many values. Some of them are:

    • It gives children an opportunity to become acquainted with the best of children’s literature.
    • Stories talk about varied lives and prevailing cultures. This creates a curiosity in children to know more `about those times and such people’.
    • It increases a child’s knowledge and enriches his vocabulary.
    • It helps build an ethical value system.
    • It develops a child’s listening skills.
    • When the child tells a story, she learns to organise and express herself clearly. She becomes confident in facing an audience.

Selecting stories

Traditionally grandparents have played the role of storytellers with stories from our Epics or Puranas that have some values to teach. Often, when grandparents are not available, the young mother has to don the role of a storyteller.

Storytelling plays an important part in moulding the child’s personality and value system. Anyone can be a good storyteller with a little practice and a genuine interest in the characters narrated in the stories. 

As a mother, you can select suitable stories from various sources – especially the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jataka tales, Panchatantra, Fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Suitable stories for different age groups

Ages 2 to 5: For this age group, the stories must be short and to the point. Stories should talk about familiar things that the child can relate to, like animals, children, home, machines, people, toys, rhymes, humorous and nonsense stories and poems, jingles. Typical stories would include: ‘The Three Little Pigs’, ‘The Three Bears’, ‘The Adventures of Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Thumbelina’ and more.

Ages 6 to 10: Animal tales, stories of children living in other lands, and the ancient and modern fairy tales appeal to this group. Examples of such stories: ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, ‘ Rumpelstiltskin’, ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, tales from Panchatantra and our epics.

Basic Story Elements

As a well-prepared storyteller, make sure that each story you tell contains the five basic elements: Action, drama, emotional appeal, a strong beginning, and a satisfying conclusion. In order to supply stories with these characteristics, it is often necessary to rewrite or shorten stories to make them more suitable for a child audience.

Preparing the story

Much time and effort are required to prepare a story for narration, but the effort is rewarding. A typical preparation of a story would run as follows:

    • Select an appropriate story.
    • Know the story completely before you narrate it. Read the story the first time to get its flavour, then reread with specific attention towards the plot.
    • Read the story once again. This time look for the distinguishing features of the dialogue, the unique quality of the characters, the setting of the story.
    • Focus on ‘the four’: the introduction, the body, the climax, and the conclusion.
    • To hold a listener’s attention, the introduction has to be short, to the point, and if needed, memorised.
    • The body of the story contains the action, the series of steps that lead to the climax. The story-teller must visualise each of these steps in the story while narrating.
    • The climax is the heart of the story, giving meaning to the whole. Whatever impression you wish to make on the child, whatever message has to be passed on to him, has to be emphasised here.
    • The conclusion merely ties up the loose ends and does not convey any new idea.

Telling the story

A few principles relating to storytelling:

    • Children prefer stories with dialogue.
    • A story should contain no more than four characters. The children cannot follow any more.
    • Never memorise stories verbatim. Do commit to memory the necessary phrases or snapshots of interesting dialogue that lend drama - ‘Once upon a time’, ‘Somebody is sleeping on my bed’ etc.
    • Some stories are better read than told. Choose only such stories that lend themselves well for narration.
    • Shortening the tale and deleting descriptive passages are acceptable practices.
    • By recording a story and listening to it, you can improve your pitch, range and voice volume.
    • Use gestures sparingly, as these distract attention from the story and bring focus onto the story teller instead. Facial gestures are enough.
    • A dramatic repetition of the story increases the enjoyment of the story and enriches the vocabulary of younger children.
    • Your child may become occasionally distracted. Then you may ask the child a rhetorical question: “And, what do you think happened next?”

The child as storyteller

Children are imaginative and they can build stories out of home events or classroom activities that are of interest to them. Activity expeditions, gardening, special days, festivals can also give rise to stories. Children enjoy telling stories that are real or imaginary, stories they have read or listened to or something that they have made up on their own. It is their way of sharing a moment with their friends or audience. As a parent, listen with interest and encourage the child to:

    • Speak clearly.
    • Look at his audience.
    • Use colourful words.
    • Have a good beginning and ending.
    • Talk naturally.

What you and your child can do together

His turn to tell: You tell the story first. The story may be retold in a few sentences by your child assuming different roles.

Developing a story: You can begin an imaginary story in which you introduce a couple of characters and an action plot. At a given point you can stop and ask: “Can you go on with the story?” The story can proceed as an oral activity.

Participating in storytelling: On the subsequent telling of the tale, you can pantomime and make the sound which the child can immediately repeat aloud.

Listen to records: Some records may be recordings of stories told by children. Commercial story records may also be used.

Some resource on the web

Story Arts Online: Storytelling activities, lesson plans, bibliographies and links are featured on this excellent site. Also, features a free newsletter.

The Art of Storytelling: Online story resources, a list of storytellers and organisations as well as links to other storytelling websites.

Handbook for Storytellers: Online text resource with tips and ideas for a variety of storytelling techniques.

Story Games: Extension of the Handbook for Story Tellers website, this has classroom activities that can be used to encourage the storyteller in any student.

Kids Story Telling Club: This fun site features crafts, activities, and stories. Maintained by Story Craft Publishing.

Preschool Education: This site is maintained by Preschool Magazine. Story-telling themes, finger-plays and free downloadable flannel board props are just a few of the great resources that can be found here.

Child Fun: Based on the premise that parenting and teaching children are fun, this site has a wealth of ideas and free props (flannel board and puppet patterns to name a few) for story telling.


S Seshadri currently serves as administrator of education in Madras Cements Limited. He has vast experience in the field of school education and training of teachers.