Heather Lea

"Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values"- Dr. Pamela Rutledge



Storytelling is unsurpassed as a tool for learning about ourselves, about ever-increasing information available to us, and about the thoughts and feelings of others ("Teaching Storytelling"). Storytelling is important in the ELA classroom from k-12. Digital storytelling helps engage students through a medium that students are currently interested in and familiar with (Dreon, Kerper, Landis).

What is Storytelling?
"Storytelling is the oral interpretation of a traditional, literary, or personal experience story. It is not the presentation of a memorized script; rather, it is a story told in a natural manner with all the flavour and language of the particular tradition from which it comes"(Peck 138). Storytelling is relating a tale to one or more listeners through voice and gesture. Each listener, as well as each teller, actually composes a unique set of story images derived from meanings associated with words, gestures, and sounds ("Teaching Storytelling").

Why is it Important?
Teaching Storytelling is important because listeners learn new words and contexts for already familiar words. Students also become aware of an audience and how they react to storytelling, which carries into their writing. It is also a good way for students to learn about themselves and teachers to learn about their students through their choice of story ("Teaching Storytelling"). Introducing students to a variety of stories allows them to begin to become familiar with a variety of types of genres and narrative literature (Roney 521). Storytelling also creates an opening for students to learn about other cultures and traditions, especially those cultures who traditionally value their oral history. Storytelling can also help to make factual information more memorable ("Teaching Storytelling").
In the classroom storytelling promotes speech and written composition, reading and listening comprehension, listening skills (effective and critical), and reading skills. (Peck 138-139). Storytelling is a good gateway for students struggling with these elements to become more comfortable and willing to develop other skills than their oral skills. "A natural progression from hearing, reading, and telling stories is the writing of original stories"(Peck 140).

Key Points

Storytelling itself is basic to humanity. Children have mastered the oral aspects of their native language by the time they enter school. Storytelling using this expertise can facilitate continued academic growth (Roney). This remains true through middle and high school. Students can use their oral knowledge as a base to expand their knowledge and other skills. Storytelling is a way of providing meaningful instruction that is also enjoyable, which in turn leads to positive lifelong reading and writing habits (Roney). If there is a collection of stories or a certain storyteller that students come to enjoy storytelling can be used as a reward for students, making it an even more enjoyable experience.

  • Creates a "Sense of Story" (Roney 521-522)
    • exposes students to various types of stories
    • mentally imagine and predict the story (Predictive- creative thinking)
    • integrated across the curriculum it is engaging and informative
    • gain a sense of story structure
    • stimulates the imagination
  • Stepping stone to other things
    • Writing
      • Vygotsky stated "In learning to write, the child must disengage himself front the sensory aspect of speech and replace words by images of words. Our studies show that it is the abstract quality of written language that is the main stumbling block, not underdevelopment of small muscles or any other mechanical obstacles"(Roney 523). Storytelling engages students' imaginations and the skill of visualizing images as they hear words, not relying on skills such as writing skills which may inhibit a student if they are not as strong.
    • Engage in many activities following storytelling to extend the storytelling ex. illustrate what they heard, write about something similar to what was in the story, and create original stories.


Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling should be integrated because young people are using emerging technologies and are fluent in how to work them, despite that teachers may not be. Students are not only using emergent technologies to consume information but also to create it, often in very personalized ways. (Robin 221)
  • Videos are instructional but also contain a host of characters and has a distinct plot (Dreon, Kerper, Landis).
  • The Seven elements of Digital Storytelling

Types of Digital Stories

(Robin 224-225)
  • Personal Narratives
    • Author tells personal experiences
  • Inform or Instruct
    • Conveys instructional material
    • Used in a variety of subjects
  • Examine Historical Events
    • Recount historical events using historical materials (photos, newspaper, speeches, etc)
    • Adds depth to historical events


  • Can help struggling readers envision text and offers a platform for visually communication meaning (Dreon, Kerper, Landis)
  • Uses a style that students are interested in and familiar with
  • Can be used to introduce content and hook students (Robin 222)
  • Promotes 21st Century Literacy Skills (from Robin 224)
    • Digital literacy: the ability to communicate with an ever-expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and seek help
    • Global literacy: the capacity to read, interpret, respond, and contextualize messages from a global perspective
    • Technology literacy: the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance
    • Visual literacy: the ability to understand, produce, and communicate through visual images
    • Information literacy: the ability to find, evaluate, and synthesize information


  • Having enough laptops or computer time available
  • All students having access to technology at home (Dreon, Kerper, Landis)
  • "Teacher familiarity, confidence, and skill in choosing software and integrating technology into the curriculum are dependent on teacher training and time for self-directed exploration and learning...many teachers have not received adequate training to select appropriate technologies and lack support to use them"(qtd in Robin 222).

Illustrative Examples of Integrating Storytelling into the ELA Classroom


Division 1 (1-3)

GLO 2 and SLO 2.2 Respond to Texts can be accomplished, using Grade 1 as an example. Students will listen to a variety of fairytales both those that they are familiar with and those from other cultures. We would identify the elements needed in a fairytale (character, beginning, middle, end, etc) and then students would write their own fairytale. Students would then record their voices telling the tale and do the reflective recordings.

Reflective Recordings
Student record themselves speaking their story and play it to a partner. The Listener can give feedback about where the telling engaged them most. Learning logs allow both teachers and students to follow why student choose details to include or exclude, knowing the characters, etc. ("Teaching Storytelling")

Teachers as Models
Tell personal stories, including sensory detail. Observing the natural storytelling in the everyday environment, noting how people use gestures and facial expression, body language, and variety in tone. ("Teaching Storytelling")

Division 2 (4-6)

GLO 2, SLO 2.2 (Respond to Texts: Experience various texts), 2.4 (Create Original Text: Generate ideas), and 3.4 (Share and Review: Share ideas and information) can be accomplished using grade 5 as an example. Students would read or listen to a novel or short story. They would then identify main characters, setting, and the major conflict. Students would use these elements in their movie trailer. An online site such as extranormal is a good site for students to use to create their movie trailer at this age level.

2 Minute Trailer
Students create a 2 minute movie trailer for a book they have finished reading. Touches on aspects of theme, plot, character, setting, and perspective. Tempts other readers to read the book as well. (Dreon, Kerper, Landis). Students would present their movie trailers to the class or students could watch the trailers when looking for a new book to read. Students could then leave a review and tell the student who made the trailer why they decided to choose the book based on the trailer.

Students would hear a a few variations of the same fairytale from different cultures such as "Naya, the Inuit Cinderella," Chinese Cinderella," and the classic Cinderella. In groups students would be assigned one of the versions of the fairytale. They would then have to choose the soundtrack for their story and decide on appropriate tone and emphasis. Students would then create a movie or presentation for their fairytale story. There could be actions and props, but the main focus would be making the story interesting and engaging with a meaningful presentation.

Division 3 (7-9)

Give students a story starter image from the collection The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and have them create their own story. There could be two or three different images to choose from for students to create their original story. Students would practice their stories once with a partner who would provide constructive feedback for something they could improve and what areas really interested and engaged them. Students would then revise their stories or how they are presenting them recording changes they made and why in a learning log. Students would then present to the class. SLO's 1.2 (Clarify and Extend: Consider the ideas of others, extend understanding), 2.4 (Create Original Text: Structure texts), 3.4 (Share and Review: Share ideas and information), and 5.2 (Work within a Group: Cooperate with others) using grade 7.
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Division 4 (10-12)

I would have students first listen to a great storyteller like Stuart McLean tell a story that has to do with an event that occurred in their everyday life, for example "Back to School," "Dave the Dog Walker," or "Mystery Book." "Students need to take note of pauses, where the storyteller emphasizes his words, changing tone, etc. As a class we would discuss the importance of these elements. Students will then write their own story about an event that occurred in their everyday life. Stories could be between 5-10 minutes. Students would then need to revise and rehearse their stories to present to the class. Once students are ready to present their stories the class (listeners) would provide comments to their classmate. Students would provide something they liked and something they think the storyteller could work on (constructive criticism). Students would then write in their learning logs what they thought about the experience and what they might do differently next time. This activity would touch on SLO's 1.1.2, 2.3.3, 4.1.3, and 4.1.4.


Extranormal.com-Movie making site. Type text to create a movie. You do have to create an account, but it is free.
Storytelling Lesson Plans and Activities -Site to get general activity ideas for integrating storytelling into your classroom
Lit2Go -Source for read aloud stories and novels that also have PDF's that can be printed for students to follow along with or use after. Stories also have a suggested reading level.
Vinyl Cafe -Stories told by Stuart McLean that revolve around the family of Dave and Morley, good source to introduce tone, pauses, and storytelling techniques. Have to fast forward to the story because the stories are just one element of the podcast.


Dreon, Oliver, Richard M. Kerper, and Jon Landis. "Digital Storytelling: A Tool for Teaching and Learning in the YouTube Generation." Middle School Journal 42.5 May (2011): 4-9. ERIC. Web. 27 Jan. 2012.

Peck, Jackie. "Using Storytelling to Promote Language and Literacy Development." The Reading Teacher 43.2 Nov. (1989): 138-41. JSTOR. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.

Robin, Bernard R. "Digital Storytelling: A Powerful Technology Tool For The 21St Century Classroom." Theory Into Practice 47.3 (2008): 220-228. ERIC. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.

Roney, R. Craig. "Back to the Basics with Storytelling." THe Reading Teacher 42.7 Mar. (1989): 520-23. JSTOR. Web. 27 Jan. 2012.

"Teaching Storytelling: A Position Statement from the Committee on Storytelling." National Council of Teachers of English(2000): 1-6. ERIC. Web. 27 Jan. 2012.