The importance of telling stories

Published by The Literacy Company on

We often start our reading courses by asking delegates to think about their favourite books. As well as being a bit of an ice-breaker this is also a great insight into how we view ourselves as readers and the journey we have been on. For many, the earliest memories are of a story shared by a teacher or family member. The excitement of finding out what happens in the next chapter or the comfort of re-reading an old favourite. We also may think of other forms of media such as Listen/Watch with Mother, Jackanory or CBeebies Bedtime Stories. What they all have in common are the memories they evoke and the part they played in shaping us as readers.

When teaching children to read, there is obviously the need for a clear focus on the mechanics of reading and the skill in turning letters and words onto a page into coherent sentences and narratives. Alongside this though, we mustn’t forget that children need to hear stories being read to them. This gives them a positive role model to aspire towards as well as exposing them to a rich vocabulary and different themes and conventions. At the heart of this is the need for us to regain and embrace our passion for stories (over the next few weeks we will be sharing our current team reads to help inspire you).

The origins of storytelling date very far back (somewhere between 15000 and 13000 BC) with the first cave paintings. These showed simple representations of daily life such as how to hunt or daily rituals. People have always told stories though and they have very much been a way of life; passed down by generation to generation. We have used stories to warn, inform and help make sense of the world as well as to entertain and pass the time. All reasons that are still highly important today.

By 700 BC the first printed stories were recognised, having been carved on stone pillars. This was followed sometime in the 200s BC when it was reported Aesop’s fables began to be recorded (its first official publication date was 26th March 1484) having previously been shared person to person.

As the years have gone by our lives have been filled with more of these storytellers (William Shakespeare, JRR Tolkien, The Brontes, Beatrix Potter, Roald Dahl and JK Rowling to name a few) all having an impact on our view of the world and immersing us into their tales. Our traditions for sharing and enjoying a story are in decline though, with recent figures showing only 56% of 3-4-year-olds are read to daily or nearly every day (69% in 2013) and fewer than 19% of 8-10-year-olds are read to daily or nearly every day (down from 25%). Source: Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer Nielsen, 2018.

We have a real opportunity now to turn these figures around.
How do we really make the most out of re-telling and sharing these stories though? Here are our top tips:
1. Find a comfortable space where everyone can relax and hear the story clearly.
2. Make sure you model expression and fluency when reading to help build excitement, suspense and patterns within the text.
3. Encourage children to join in when they think they know what is coming next.
4. Talk about the characters, setting and plot together. What do you think will happen next? I didn’t like that part, did you? My favourite bit was…’
5. Talk about any new words as they come up to help children understand vocabulary in context.
6. Encourage children to ask questions to help them make sense of what is being read.
7. Don’t feel it has to be a long time – 10 minutes is ideal.
8. Finally just enjoy the shared experience and look forward to the next one.

For more ideas on how to share stories and some recommendations of titles and online resources, check out our book review blog.
If you want to find out more about the history of storytelling try bigfishpresentations.com which is where we got our facts from.