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What is Storytelling?

Rob Cleveland storytelling on a stage

Although contemporary storytelling can be used for many purposes, we define storytelling more traditionally as the live experience of sharing a story or a narrative with a group. For our purposes the group or audience is a classroom of kids. This unique attribute, where a live audience can interact with the person telling the story, differentiates storytelling from other forms of written or recorded communication.


The dynamic nature of live storytelling means that listeners or the audience can actively participate with the teller to adapt or shape the story as it unfolds. The “live” nature of sharing or performing a story combined with the potential for “real-time” interaction with the audience, differentiates storytelling from every other art form

As master storyteller, Margaret Read McDonald writes, “Storytellers take their cues from their listeners and adapt their stories as they tell, adding an embellishment here, slowing the pace there, as they tailor the story for the needs of a particular audience.”


Using storytelling with kids can enliven any classroom. Plus, it’s fun to share stories whether they are hundreds of years old and come from a diverse culture or the story is about an experience from last weekend that helps clarify a key point of a lesson, making a topic more relevant for kids. To understand the unique contributions that storytelling can make in the classroom go to Why is Storytelling so Important.

An experienced, master storyteller can engage kids in the critical aspects of a story to immerse them in the plot details. One technique to build active listening skills is to ask questions that involve the listeners in the plotline. Kids can even use their imaginations to personalize a story, making it more meaningful, and even more memorable. In some cases, students might act out the plot, create their own stories based on similar situations from their lives, or complete follow-up activities that highlight key points of the story.


Spoken word or sharing a story forms the basis of the oral tradition in a broad range of diverse cultures. It predates recorded history and demonstrates how our brains are wired to organize events that fit a story-based narrative that can be shared, remembered, and then retold.


Whether you are reading aloud from a picture book, performing a story with gestures and multiple voices, or assigning kids roles to play in story, most stories follow a classic structure. To learn more about the 8 Critical Elements of Stories click here.

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