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Tips for Storytelling in the Classroom

Little Moose Teacher

1. Know your students

When planning to share a story with your class, adjust the story elements so that the characters, location, plot, and conflict resonate with your students. Use your knowledge of the specific preferences, interests, and needs of your students to guide your choice of stories and then tailor your narrative to engage your students. That includes using your own gestures to engage the class, make sounds to enhance the action, incorporate humor that your students will appreciate, and find ways to make the story meaningful to your class.


2. Understand the theme

As Storyteller Rudolf Roos asks, “What is essential for understanding the story?” Within every story is a central theme. When organizing and planning to tell a story, take time to thoroughly think through and understand the underlying theme. Make sure you understand how the elements of the story work together to reinforce, highlight or clarify the theme. Then build the narrative arc that takes your students on a journey. Think about how your students will react to the story elements to make the underlying theme more meaningful and more memorable. To learn more about the 8 Common Elements of a Story, click here.

3. Use descriptive language

Experienced storytellers don’t just tell a story, they pull their audience into the characters’ journey. Engage your students by appealing to their senses. Descriptive language is an effective tool that can be used to appeal to those senses. Describe smells, sights, or sounds that will enhance the story. For example, it is much more effective to sound out a loud explosion and use an expansive gesture (“BOOM!”) instead of simply stating that an explosion occurred. Describe the colors, the weather, the scents, and whatever else the characters might experience, so your students feels like they’re going on a journey along with the characters.


4. Incorporate conflict

Conflict is at the heart of the plot structure whether it’s an external conflict between characters or an internal conflict experienced by the protagonist or main character. It can be as small as a hungry character wanting something to eat, or as tense as a dangerous life or death struggle. Tension and conflict are key elements to keep your students engaged and invested in the outcome of the story. So, use the conflict to build suspense and engage your class.


5. Emphasize your emotions

 Emotion is a powerful tool for connecting with your students and helping them care about the characters in a story. Whether it’s through humor, sadness, fear, or excitement, tapping into the audience’s emotions can help make your story more impactful and even more memorable. Try to draw out your personal experiences and relate them to the story you are about to tell. Ask yourself questions like: Have you ever had a similar conflict as the characters? How did you feel? Regardless of what emotions you are evoking, use your gestures, movements, tone, pace, and facial expressions to express whatever the characters might be feeling. Make sure your class is emotionally invested in the outcome of the story by making sure they care about the characters and can relate to the conflict. In other words, “sell” the story to your class and stay focused on them.

Moose telling scaring stories to forest animals
6. Practice, practice, and practice again

Like any skill, storytelling takes practice. It’s natural to make mistakes or feel some anxiety before telling a story. Remember the goal of practicing the story is to become more comfortable with the key elements of the story. Then you can be more spontaneous, more confident, and more authentic in your telling, not necessarily more polished. Try rehearsing in front of a mirror to get a good idea of what you look like in front of your class. Practice by telling stories to friends, family, or colleagues to hone your skills. Discover through telling the story what works and what doesn’t. Stay focused on the class as individuals to help manage any anxiety and help engage your class in the story.


7. Get feedback

After you tell a story, ask for feedback. Ask your friends or colleagues for any tips they might suggest. Be open to recommendations that will clarify the narrative structure and support the underlying theme. Ask if the action is engaging, where does the plot include too many or not enough details, are the protagonist’s decisions plausible, how could you make your delivery more impactful, etc.? Take time to review your work, and then make the adjustments necessary to hone your storytelling skills.


8. Authenticity is key

Whether you are telling a story that begins, once upon a time in a far distant land or sharing a personal experience from your life, authenticity is an important element to connect with your students and help them care about the story. When you are true to yourself and your experiences you will build trust with your students. Taking incremental risks will make you more vulnerable and help your storytelling more become more authentic. So, as you tell a story, stay focused on your class, not on yourself.


9. Observe other storytellers

No matter how confident you are in your own storytelling skills, keep an open mind and observe how other teachers tell stories. Look at the way they tell a story and how it might be different from the way you’re used to sharing a story. Listen to podcasts, watch films, or stage performances to discover how experienced, master storytellers express themselves and keep their audience engaged.

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