Oral storytelling is a type of narrative dialogue that enables children to experience interpersonal sharing and relating while they improve their understanding of word choice, sentence structure, and fluent speech. Children who hear and tell stories gain critical practice in using and adopting a language that carries over into their ability to read and write in that language. In an extensive description of her use of storytelling in her literacy instruction, Katherine Massa of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, who is a second grade dual language teacher, explains that she introduces storytelling by telling an interesting story herself and then engaging students in a discussion of what storytelling is and why it is important. Next, she has the students become storytellers by pairing them up: “I put one student with high language skills and one student with low language skills together in a group. This allows for the higher skilled student to act as a model for the lower skilled student.” Students can give their first oral story presentation with their buddy at their side and then become more independent with teacher provided scaffolding over time.
Participating in these types of oral language narrative experiences in school benefits children in many ways. Through hearing and then telling stories, children become more adept in working with language input and output; with hearing and speaking. As NAEYC shares, “storytelling promotes expressive language development—in oral and written forms—and presents new vocabulary and complex language in a powerful form that inspires children to emulate the model they have experienced.” Children who learn through storytelling can absorb new vocabulary in engaging contexts and also become familiar with new language patterns.
When kids are asked to verbally describe and analyze a story, or to make up a new ending to a story in a supportive setting, their creative thinking and problem solving skills are also challenged and developed. All of these experiences benefit an early reader; over time, they gain confidence in their own voice and language abilities, and this gives them the confidence and tools to venture into working with the written word. In the Journal of King Saud University, a study on the effects of storytelling with elementary aged students states that when students cannot read written texts, storytelling become a vital bridge to reading, and “is one of the factors that may motivate students to read and improve their reading comprehension.” Using and learning storytelling in school along with other important areas of language development instruction, such as phonics and phonemics, a child can progress from hearing a story to illustrating or acting out a story, telling a story, and later writing their story down and reading it aloud.
The Latino Family Literacy Project understands the importance of storytelling as a way to build language skills, and has developed a bilingual literacy program based on research for parent involvement. The program uses award-winning bilingual books in the curriculum, and training will help teachers to understand how to work with Hispanic parents at their schools.