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

by Rashmie on January 18, 2012 · 17 comments

in Read & Write

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... :)