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  Purveyors of the Oral Art of Storytelling

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"People are hungry for stories. It's part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality, too. It goes from one generation to another." Studs Terkel

Storytelling-the oldest form of communication

Storytelling is Interactive
As a story listener you
    . Exercise your imagination by creating visual images
    . Improve your memory by tapping into your past
    . Facilitate communication by connecting with the experiences of others
As a storyteller you
    . Keep age-old stories alive for future generations
    . Create new stories from your experience
    . Bring history and its character to life for audiences
Storytelling is Timeless
    Since humankind has existed, stories have been told
    . to entertain and to inspire
    . to teach lessons and values
    . to pass culture to new generations
In classrooms and boardrooms, a well told story is
    . more memorable
    . more forceful
    . more believable

The Value of Storytelling

Storytelling finds and builds on the connections among people. Through stories we experience our diversity and appreciate our similarities. Stories from different cultures call forth similar stories and help to tear down walls and build bridges.

Stories teach values without preaching. Listeners of any age take from each story the ideas, values and lessons they need to cope with the good, bad and unknown in their lives. Whether the teller repeats a folk tale, reinterprets a literary tale or redefines a personal history, the learning and the healing are in the listening and the telling.

To learn more about storytelling, click on any of the links below.

Storytelling and Organizations: the Perfect Language
Storytelling and Pre-Schoolers: the Perfect Match
Storytelling and Counseling: An Ideal Blend
Teaching Storytelling (from the Committee on Storytelling, NCTE)

Storytelling and Organizations: the Perfect Language

Storytelling is the time honored means of communication among people. Organizations are a product of how employees interact for a common purpose. Stories remove barriers to interaction and assist employees to relate to each other.

    . Help create and communicate common purpose
    . Exclude hierarchy and promote relations
    . Use metaphors and analogies to relate facts
    . Build faith in ideas and people
    . Can teach lessons using emotion and facts
    . Are non-threatening
    . Demonstrate values
Stories can be:
    . Basic
    . Inspiring
    . Fun
    . Sad
    . Motivational
    . Creative
    . Imaginative
    . Persuasive

Storytelling can be readily adapted as an aid in communicating to groups for any organizational issue and provide the vehicle for conversations throughout.

Storytelling and Pre-Schoolers: the Perfect Match

We all know that 97% of language is learned by modeling and re-use - - - and preschoolers, with their
    * awakening into awareness of imagery,
    * enjoyment of sounds, words,
    * capacity for curiosity, exploration and discovery
are the perfect audience for the natural everyday medium of storytelling that meets their curriculum needs enhancing
    * listening skills
    * vocabulary development and use
    * ordering
    * prediction
    * counting
    * cause and effect
    * association and
    * EVERY curriculum subject -
AND the way that children and teachers can have fun together!

Storytelling and Counseling: An Ideal Blend

Components of an Elementary School Counseling Program

  1. Classroom Guidance (CLG) - every child in the school is taught by counselors' regular presence in each classroom
  2. Small Groups (SG) - specific needs such as anger management, self-control, study skills, dealing with divorce, friendship, perfectionism, friendship and others are addressed by counselors
  3. Individual (IN) - specific needs of one child are addressed one-on-one with his or her counselor

The Georgia Department of Education has mandated that the Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) be taught in every school in the state. "Values and Character education development usually occurs over a number of years and within a number of environments. Since family members are the first individuals with whom one comes into contact, the influence of the family continues to be extremely important to a child's character and values development. This fact is particularly appropriate in the preschool and early school years. As students progress through public school, it is important that their education provide instructional opportunities, explicit and implicit, that help them develop their beliefs about what is right and good."

Classroom Guidance

  1. Character education - Stories teaching character traits abound in world literature such as folk tales, fables and the like. William Bennett's "The Book of Virtues" is a classic text offering stories on respect, responsibility, compassion, self-discipline, honesty, friendship, perseverance and others.
  2. Safety - Stories teaching refusal skills guide children in protecting themselves from those who would harm them and in finding adults who will come to their aid when danger lurks.

Small Groups

  1. Younger children tell stories about animals, and in so doing tell their own stories.
  2. Open-ended stories allow students to deal with personal challenges.
  3. Healing stories touch on specific experiences such as abuse and neglect which have wounded children.
  4. Writing their own stories allows children to have control over the characters and their situations.


  1. Healing stories (see above)
  2. Stories dealing with a situation at home or at school can address challenges such as dealing with bullies, self-concept, friendship, sharing, safety, and others.

Several results of listening to stories

  1. Children learn to identify characters' actions, motives, emotions, traits and feelings.
  2. Children empathize with certain characters.

Several results of telling stories

  1. Children learn self-expression.
  2. Children experience the freedom to share inner thoughts and feelings.
  3. Children strengthen their self-concept.

Today's school counselors deal with academics as well as the emotional needs of students. Storytelling meets curriculum requirements (see QCC) by providing experience with the following:

  1. cause and effect
  2. prediction
  3. listening skills
  4. imagination
  5. empathy
  6. creativity
  7. drawing conclusions
  8. compare/contrast
  9. making generalizations
  10. others

Storytelling and counseling are indeed an ideal blend. Everyone has stories to tell which will enrich his and her own life and the life of others.


Teaching Storytelling
A Position Statement from the Committee on Storytelling
National Council of Teachers of English

Once upon a time, oral storytelling ruled. It was the medium through which people learned their history, settled their arguments, and came to make sense of the phenomena of their world. Then along came the written word with its mysterious symbols. For a while, only the rich and privileged had access to its wonders. But in time, books, signs, pamphlets, memos, cereal boxes, constitutions—countless kinds of writing appeared everywhere people turned. The ability to read and write now ruled many lands. Oral storytelling, like the simpleminded youngest brother in the olden tales, was foolishly cast aside. Oh, in casual ways people continued to tell each other stories at bedtime, across dinner tables, and around campfires, but the respect for storytelling as a tool of learning was almost forgotten.

Luckily, a few wise librarians, camp counselors, folklorists, and traditional tellers from cultures which still highly valued the oral tale kept storytelling alive. Schoolchildren at the feet of a storyteller sat mesmerized and remembered the stories till the teller came again. Teachers discovered that children could easily recall whatever historical or scientific facts they learned through story. Children realized they made pictures in their minds as they heard stories told, and they kept making pictures even as they read silently to themselves. Just hearing stories made children want to tell and write their own tales. Parents who wanted their children to have a sense of history found eager ears for the kind of story that begins, "When I was little ...." Stories, told simply from mouth to ear, once again traveled the land.

What Is Storytelling?

Storytelling is relating a tale to one or more listeners through voice and gesture. It is not the same as reading a story aloud or reciting a piece from memory or acting out a drama—though it shares common characteristics with these arts. The storyteller looks into the eyes of the audience and together they compose the tale. The storyteller begins to see and re-create, through voice and gesture, a series of mental images; the audience, from the first moment of listening, squints, stares, smiles, leans forward or falls asleep, letting the teller know whether to slow down, speed up, elaborate, or just finish. Each listener, as well as each teller, actually composes a unique set of story images derived from meanings associated with words, gestures, and sounds. The experience can be profound, exercising the thinking and touching the emotions of both teller and listener.

Why Include Storytelling in School?

Everyone who can speak can tell stories. We tell them informally as we relate the mishaps and wonders of our day-to-day lives. We gesture, exaggerate our voices, pause for effect. Listeners lean in and compose the scene of our tale in their minds. Often they are likely to be reminded of a similar tale from their own lives. These naturally learned oral skills can be used and built on in our classrooms in many ways.

Students who search their memories for details about an event as they are telling it orally will later find those details easier to capture in writing. Writing theorists value the rehearsal, or prewriting, stage of composing. Sitting in a circle and swapping personal or fictional tales is one of the best ways to help writers rehearse.

Listeners encounter both familiar and new language patterns through story. They learn new words or new contexts for already familiar words. Those who regularly hear stories, subconsciously acquire familiarity with narrative patterns and begin to predict upcoming events. Both beginning and experienced readers call on their understanding of patterns as they tackle unfamiliar texts. Then they re-create those patterns in both oral and written compositions. Learners who regularly tell stories become aware of how an audience affects a telling, and they carry that awareness into their writing.

Both tellers and listeners find a reflection of themselves in stories. Through the language of symbol, children and adults can act out through a story the fears and understandings not so easily expressed in everyday talk. Story characters represent the best and worst in humans. By exploring story territory orally, we explore ourselves—whether it be through ancient myths and folktales, literary short stories, modern picture books, or poems. Teachers who value a personal understanding of their students can learn much by noting what story a child chooses to tell and how that story is uniquely composed in the telling. Through this same process, teachers can learn a great deal about themselves.

Story is the best vehicle for passing on factual information. Historical figures and events linger in children's minds when communicated by way of a narrative. The ways of other cultures, both ancient and living, acquire honor in story. The facts about how plants and animals develop, how numbers work, or how government policy influences history—any topic, for that matter—can be incorporated into story form and made more memorable if the listener takes the story to heart.

Children at any level of schooling who do not feel as competent as their peers in reading or writing are often masterful at storytelling. The comfort zone of the oral tale can be the path by which they reach the written one. Tellers who become very familiar with even one tale by retelling it often, learn that literature carries new meaning with each new encounter. Students working in pairs or in small storytelling groups learn to negotiate the meaning of a tale.

How Do You Include Storytelling in School?

Teachers who tell personal stories about their past or present lives model for students the way to recall sensory detail. Listeners can relate the most vivid images from the stories they have heard or tell back a memory the story evokes in them. They can be instructed to observe the natural storytelling taking place around them each day, noting how people use gesture and facial expression, body language, and variety in tone of voice to get the story across.

Stories can also be rehearsed. Again, the teacher's modeling of a prepared telling can introduce students to the techniques of eye contact, dramatic placement of a character within a scene, use of character voices, and more. If students spend time rehearsing a story, they become comfortable using a variety of techniques. However, it is important to remember that storytelling is communication, from the teller to the audience, not just acting or performing.

Storytellers can draft a story the same way writers draft. Audiotape or videotape recordings can offer the storyteller a chance to be reflective about the process of telling. Listeners can give feedback about where the telling engaged them most. Learning logs kept throughout a storytelling unit allow both teacher and students to write about the thinking that goes into choosing a story, mapping its scenes, coming to know its characters, deciding on detail to include or exclude.

Like writers, student storytellers learn from models. Teachers who tell personal stories or go through the process of learning to tell folk or literary tales make the most credible models. Visiting storytellers or professional tellers on audiotapes or videotapes offer students a variety of styles. Often a community historian or folklorist has a repertoire of local tales. Older students both learn and teach when they take their tales to younger audiences or community agencies. Once you get storytelling going, there is no telling where it will take you.

Oral storytelling is regaining its position of respect in communities where hundreds of people of every age gather together for festivals in celebration of its power. Schools and preservice college courses are gradually giving it curriculum space as well. It is unsurpassed as a tool for learning about ourselves, about the ever-increasing information available to us, and about the thoughts and feelings of others.

The simpleminded youngest brother in olden tales, while disregarded for a while, won the treasure in the end every time. The NCTE Committee on Storytelling invites you to reach for a treasure—the riches of storytelling.

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.

To learn more about the NCTE organization, visit their website by clicking on this link to their website:
National Council of Teachers of English


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