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Storytelling (NOT Reading): the Most Powerful Tool for Literacy and Learning

Storytelling the most powerful tool for literacy and learning

Yesterday, as Pari and I were finishing up our breakfast at the dinner table, a nostalgic remark from me led us into the most engrossing storytelling sessions ever!

Read on to know why storytelling is the most invaluable tool for learning in early childhood – even more powerful than reading from books.

Pari and I were discussing names for our homeschool when suddenly a familiar sounding name popped into my head. ‘Happy Learning Ground’. And, I instantly realized it sprang from a school-time story I’d read and had been deeply moved by. The moment I told her this, she wanted me to tell her that story.

So, I started – first vaguely – trying to wrap my head around the story; it had been years, after all. Then, within moments, I found myself narrating it with such fervor, I could see Pari drawn heart and soul into the story. I was narrating with gusto – using voice modulations, expressions, spacing words and lines in a way that it created intensely dramatic effect. Every sigh, every drawl or a pause before a turn of event – were doing their work on my listener.

A few minutes into it and one of her friends joined us. I gave her some context and continued the story.

The girls were listening in rapt attention. I could see the expressions and colours on their faces changing with every turn in the story. Pari asked a few questions – fewer than she does when I read to her from story books. Mostly, she and her friend were just listening – intently – and absorbing each word wrapped in emotion and drama.

the fun of learning through storytelling

When I finished the story, the girls looked calm, satisfied and thoughtful -as if reflecting back in silence; as if the atmosphere still lingered in their mind’s eye.

I didn’t speak a word. I wanted them to soak the joy and satisfaction. After a few minutes, I asked them if they visualized or pictured any character from the story. Or, the setting?

And, their answers simply blowed me away and made me realize the power of storytelling for creative and open-ended learning.

So, let me share with you what their answers were and the details of their imagination.

Just to give you some context, the story was about a man and his dog living on the outskirts of a forest. They encounter a pack of wolves one day and the dog saves his master valiantly. They get separated and meet another day at the same place. Well, this is more or less the story with some changes and twists here and there added by me – impromptu.

Pari said that she visualized the dog to be tall with long ears and a gentle face. She said, she imagined the master to be tall and strong. And, the jungle to be dense with tall trees. She said she imagined the dog being chased by the wolves howling after him. She said she visualized dry leaves on the forest floor making noise when they ran. She also imagined the master running back home but being worried for the dog. She imagined the dog and the master uniting again with sobs and tears.

Such amazing details that an illustrator can paint elaborate pictures from these visual cues! 

This is just one point that screams in favour of storytelling vis-a-vis reading. I’ve always believed that stories – narrated without the aid of pictures and text – can be the most valuable learning experience for both the storyteller and the listener. I was all the more convinced after attending a spell-binding storytelling session by the most creative Storyteller of our times – Jeeva Raghunath (in the pics below).

storytelling ideas

Figure this –

  1. During storytelling, the storyteller relies on voice modulation, expressions, body language, sound effect and needs to connect with the listener so as to engage him deeply. All this can create a magical atmosphere for the listener and he/she is transported into the world of the story– creating pictures in his/her mind’s eye. Reading from book can never illicit this kind of a response and connection with the reader.
  2. Talking about ‘connection’, storytelling can create a loving bond between the child and the parent. The child – snuggled with the mother or father and listening intently – will remember these memories for ever. I do…. :)
  3. Storytelling can be adapted to any type of audience as per their age, cultural background, gender. Any story – even when it’s written for older kids, can be repurposed for a younger child. You can tinker with the language, vocabulary as compared to reading from a book
  4. Intersperse your storytelling with simple or probing questions and it serves a valuable lesson in comprehension, which is a higher level literacy skill.
  5. Storytelling can be used as a powerful tool to support any curriculum. Infact, with storytelling, any curriculum becomes more engaging. Be it in school or at home – storytelling can be a creative tool to facilitate open-ended learning
Each of us has a storyteller within us. Really. Some have genuine talent for it. Others can hone it with trainining, practice and  – passion. Well, yes, that’s the most important ingredient of storytelling. If the storyteller lacks enthusiasm and conviction for the story he/she’s sharing, the audience will never connect with it.
jeeva raghunath storyteller par excellence india
Storytelling is such a time-tested tool for learning and yet, I think it’s not been used to its potential.
For promoting literacy skills – reading, writing, comprehension, summarizing – as well as for engaging study related to history, geography, nature – even science – storytelling can make learning a truly magical experience for children.
Not just that, it really soothes their mind, helps release stress, calms their whole being and improves concentration. 
I am definitely going to use storytelling as much as I can to make learning fun for Pari.

What about you?

PS: Talking about stories, I hope you have entered this giveaway to win these fabulous Personalized Storybooks for your kid. The last date to enter is Jan 20, Friday (any time zone). It’s an international giveaway. These books, take my word for it, will make the most joyful gift for your child as he/she will see have his/her name woven into the story, along with names of four friends. Not just that – a personal message from you – printed on the book and the child’s photo featured on the opening page. The titles are just too endearing for any kid to not like. So, enter now without delay... :)

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Angelique Felix January 18, 2012, 2:20 pm

    ABSOLUTELY wonderful Rashmie!! Please consider writing a featured article for me :)) I love yr style very much
    Love from Angelique

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:15 pm

      Oh, Angie – you’re too kind to always encourage and support us here :)
      I’d LOVE to write an article for your blog, dear. I just need to create more time…
      This year, one of my resolutions is to manage my time really, really well so that I can do all that I want to – alongside Pari’s homeschool!
      Next up – as soon as I can, I’m contributing an article for your blog… :)

  • Aleksandra January 18, 2012, 2:37 pm

    Love your blog. I have started with story telling with my daughter almost a year ago, when she was two. Sometimes with stories which I know or make up, sometimes to illustrate difficulties which happen in her life, and characters I have invented have to cope with the same. Other times she asks me to tell her a story again we have read, in my own words, to make sure that she understands the message (she is trilingual). I recommend it very much!

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:20 pm

      Thank you, Aleksandra for sharing your validation and experience with storytelling. What a fabulous job you’ve done to start storytelling as early as that…
      it’s a wonderful idea to tell stories to help kids cope with difficulties or anything that’s troubling them mentally…
      Wow, she is trilingual? Amazing! What languages does she speak/follow?
      My daughter speaks Hindi and English and she follows another regional language of India – called Kannada. Sometimes, I wish, my country had just one language for all to communicate in. Though this diversity is enriching, it can also cause barriers and language-based division, too…
      Thank you for being here, Aleksandra. I look forward to your input in the future too… :)

  • Ann January 18, 2012, 10:09 pm

    Great idea! Story-telling is such an amazing thing. I admire people who do it well & I am sure it is a skill you can improve upon with techniques and practice! I think I will give it a try tonight using some of your suggestions like pausing for questions and voice modulation!

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:22 pm

      Thanks, Ann. Storytelling IS enriching.
      I saw your own post about it with book recommendations and left a comment.
      Lets keep sharing our experiences…

  • maryanne @ mama smiles January 19, 2012, 4:40 pm

    My Grandma is an amazing storyteller! Hopefully I can acquire some of her talent if I practice enough telling stories with my kids!

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:24 pm

      I can imagine your grandma being such a skilled storyteller. In that generation, storytelling was such a done thing. My mom is an amazing storyteller, too
      It’s such an age-old art of education. I hope our generation uses it much more..

  • Toddler Approved January 20, 2012, 7:41 am

    I love storytelling and need to work on being a better storyteller! Listening to stories is such a great visualization and listening comprehension activity… and I’ve noticed that when they are stories from my growing up years my son is so intrigued and will listen forever. I still remember my dad telling us stories about his childhood before bed and the stories are some of my favorite memories! Great post!

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:27 pm

      @toddler approved – absolutely – I, too, have noticed that the stories from my childhood are Pari’s favourite. She can listen to such stories day after day..
      Interestingly when my mom and her elder brother (my uncle) meet, they can’t stop sharing stories of their childhood and these stories are still our fav although we’re now grown ups! haha!

  • The Iowa Farmer's Wife January 21, 2012, 10:03 pm

    I loved this! I need to work on my storytelling abilities! What a wonderful post!

  • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:29 pm

    @the Iowa Farmer’s Wife – thank you for stopping by to share your comment. I am working on my storytelling skills, too :)

  • shalini February 6, 2012, 5:12 am

    Dear Rashmie,
    What a wonderful article! (warm hugs to you :)) Where was this entire workshop held? Seems fun. Love the excitement on Pari’s face.

  • Joyce @Childhood Beckons April 20, 2012, 11:53 am

    This is an absolutely beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing. I am planning on linking to it in a post I’m working on. I’ll let you know when I publish it. I hope you don’t mind :)

  • kiran January 21, 2014, 7:16 pm

    hi rashmi i have started story telling in my condominium recently and i have seen how kids are glued to stories . It was on my search for stories online that stumbled on your website. I love and agree with all that you have written