At the risk of sounding too old fashioned, I extol the virtues of story telling. These days, with the advent and use of smart-boards and connecting devices, teachers often use audio-visual technology when it comes to story telling and story readings. The possible reluctance that teachers may feel about telling stories to children is not new. When I was a primary school student in the 1950’s, we used to have ‘Junior Listener’ stories broadcast to us by radio. For half an hour or so we would sit at our desks in rural Western Australia and listen to the story of the week being read to us by a presenter in Perth. Memory fades with time but I cannot remember our teachers being much into story telling. We were read to from time to time. However in those days, books were not attractively presented or full of colourful illustrations to be shared with children.
Teachers should not feel reluctant about telling or reading stories to children. Sadly, the skill of story telling is becoming a lost art. I always gained great satisfaction from being able to share stories with students from Transition to Year Seven. I believe that teachers of older students can fashion their delivery of material in a way that transmits it to students in story form. Story provided ‘setting’ and helps place the context of message into a feasible environment. It helps students understand the application of theoretical contexts.
To tell stories with and to children is to engage with them in a primary conversational context. Stories told with animation and conviction, with supporting gesture and eye contact, engage children and switch them on in a way that draws them close to the message being conveyed.
Some of the positives of story telling are as follows:
* The quality, meaning and context of language, word usage and meaning can be followed up by discussion during ‘conversational pauses’ within the story or at its end when the story is being reviewed.
* Questioning to test listening helps to build the notions of concentration and listening. To have ‘mini quizzes’ where there is some sort of contestation build within the group (for instance, girls versus boys, contest between class groups and so on) adds to student focus and engagement. This strategy discourages students ‘switching off’ and mentally wandering off into the distance.
* Having students work on ‘prediction. and ‘forecast’ by sharing their thoughts about where the story will head and how it will conclude can be an interesting and testing strategy. This approach helps develop the skills of logic and reasoning within thinking.
* Language study is enhanced. Asking children the meanings of words and words within context is an example. Similes and antonyms can be developed as a part word studies. The possibilities are endless.
* Some texts which share stories are written in the ‘language of yesteryear’. There are two volumes that come to mind, being ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ and stories by Hans Christian Anderson. These stories not only introduce children to a vast array of very colourful old fashioned words that have been superseded by the idiom of modern language. They are also set in social situations of the past, largely replaced by the social attitudes and disposition of today. These stories lend to wonderful exploration of word development and a comparison of historical and contemporary social mores. They help with developing understanding of what has changed and why behaviours once acceptable have been replaced.
* The appeal of stories to imagination and ‘the mind’s eye’ is such that art growing or flowing from story presentation can be colourful and creative. If the story is one drawn from history, asking children to think of clothing, transport, buildings and other artefacts from the past can help with differentiation and clarify understanding.
* A great way of treating longer stories, is to serialise (or mini–series) them, with ‘to be continued’ as part of the understanding. That is a great way of helping children anticipate what may happen. A good story being well told can also be a motivator. Continuation can be applied as a reward for effort and endeavour.
* Make sure when telling stories that you use clear, expressive language. Take the part with language variations of the characters you are describing.
* Engage children by asking them to respond by being characters in the story. Have them thing about and describe the characters, moods and attitudes of those around whom the story is centred.
* Have children act or visit the story or parts thereof through dramatic expression. Drama is a subject very rarely considered these days.
* As a story teller, make eye contact with the group. Vocal expression is important including pitch, rhythm and other elements of speech.
I could go on about story telling. A good story told well, will be remembered for a long time. I still have people, now in their late teens and adult years, tell me they remember my story telling and how much they enjoyed stories I told.
It is a sad fact of life that adults tend to lose the capacity to imagine as they get older. To engage in story telling is to keep the imagination of the story teller alive and flourishing. As a school principal, I used to talk with children about the importance of imagination and imaginative thought. To tell stories has helped keep me in touch with this advice.