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Universität Koblenz – Landau Children’s Literature & Area Studies Campus Koblenz

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Universität Koblenz – Landau Children’s Literature & Area Studies

Campus Koblenz Dr. Isabel Martin

Institut für Anglistik Storytelling

IFA (Integrierte Fremdsprachenarbeit) Simone Mülligann und Alexandra Weber

SS 2003 27. 06. 2003

  1. Definition: Storytelling

Storytelling is "relating a table to one or more listeners through voice and gestures."1 (Definition of The National Council of Teachers of English)

Most storytellers define storytelling as "an interactive process involving the teller who shares the tale and members of the audience who listen and let their imaginations take over."1

  1. Purposes of storytelling2

  • to remind following generations of the history and cultural heritage, wisdom and values of their ancestors

  • to describe and explain supernatural phenomena (fire, lightening, storm, etc.)

  • to satisfy a need for play and entertainment

  • to communicate experiences to other humans in order to make life easier (life messages, putting chaos into a structure)

  • to satisfy the intrinsic need for religion in human beings (to honour or propitiate the supernatural force(s))

  1. The history of storytelling2

Storytelling is one of the oldest professions. Since man began speaking, he has passed on stories of fact or fiction. Every culture has its own set of stories. The early artists tried to tell their stories by painting pictures on the cave walls or rocks. They told of encounters with their ancestors, of imaginary adventures.

Eventually some imaginative storytellers invented Gods with special powers to control certain phenomena such as thunder, lightening or storm. The reason for that was that people in former times could not explain these supernatural incidents because they did not understand it or it was too difficult to explain. Anything they did not understand they rationalized with a fabricated story.

These stories were passed on from generation to generation, embellished and changed and lately became the great stories of the tribes.

In order to make a greater impression on their audience some storytellers even claimed to have talked to their 'Gods'. This gave the storytellers a special power because they were able to talk to their 'Gods' and so they became the priests of the tribes. This power elevated them above the other members of the tribe and they enjoyed a very special standing.

As every culture told its stories from generation to generation even the Greeks did. The terms 'myth', legend' and 'tale' have their roots in the Greek language.

In the Middle Ages there were storytellers, too. In those times they were called bards. A bard was a storyteller whose function was "to create and/or perform poetic oral narration"2. "So a bard was a storyteller, a poet and a musician in one person"2.
Even Shakespeare relates to stories in his work 'King Richard II': "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of Kings."
To sum up: The roots of storytelling can be found in ancient times. There are documents from many cultures, e. g. Old German, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Icelandic, Sanskrit, Old Slavonic.
One of the first records that has survived was found in the Westcar Papyrus of the Egyptians: The sons of Cheops had to tell stories to their father in order to entertain him.
The oldest surviving epic tale is considered to be 'Gilgamesh' which deals with the story of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh and his friendship with Enkidu, a half-beast half-man creature that should destroy him.

Besides Gilgamesh, there are some other ancient epic tales form different cultures:2

- The Iliad. Greek epic. Story of the Trojan War.

- The Odyssey. Greek epic. Story of Odysseus on his homeward journey form Troy.

- Story of Sigurd (Siegfried). Norse. The Volsunga Saga tales of the adventures of Sigurd, including the killing of a dragon, Fafnir.

- Merry adventures of Robin Hood. English. Robin Hood and his band fight oppression.

- ...
So, long ago, in primitive times, stories were passed on by word of mouth. Since the invention of printing, stories have been written down and now they belong to the world's literature. The fairy-tales, legends and fables written down by famous storytellers like the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen have often come from far in the past, but always remember that "the written text is not the story – it is only what someone has written down after hearing the story." (Richard Martin, 2003).

Storytelling in the Religious Traditions
For hundreds of years the Hebrew tribe's storytellers spun their tales, created traditions, etc. They were passed down verbally from generation to generation and finally collected and written down in the Bible as the word of God. Later the followers of Jesus Christ added their own stories to the Bible as the New Testament. These were also accepted as the word of God by the Christians but not by the Jews.

If you look into the Bible, you will find many excellent stories.

According to Hinduism and Buddhism, "both religions made use of storytelling for teaching purposes".2
The world's great religious philosophies and moral codes which are followed by billions of people today go back to stories of ancient times.

  1. Why should teachers do storytelling in class

All that unknown language just comes alive for them the children in a story. They don’t need to know all the words, they just know what is happening.”

(MARTIN, 2003, p.20)

  • Teachers can easily catch the attention of pupils by telling a story

  • Primary school children prefer all kinds of story and they really need them to develop their imagination

  • Pupils can develop their speaking and listening skills

  • Teachers have the opportunity to use authentic language

  • Children become familiar with foreign language

  1. Basic rules of storytelling

Telling a story can be learned.”

(translated from KLIPPEL, 2000, p. 159)

    1. Choosing a story

  • Teachers should like the story they want to tell

  • All kinds of stories are possible (tales, picture books, stories of the everyday life, …)

  • The story should be easy to understand (short text, easy sentences, repetition of structure of sentence, ..)

  • Teachers can reduce the plot of a story which is to difficult

  • Pupils don’t have to understand every word.

    1. Preparation

  • Teachers should practise to tell a story:

  1. Don’t learn them by heart. Use a skeleton of the story.

  2. Firstly, concentrate on the plot (words, sentences, grammar, ..)

  3. Then add voice modulation, body language, dialogues, etc.

  4. Tell the story to someone of your friend or family.

  5. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They are natural.

  6. Try to tell without text. Otherwise you will be in danger of losing contact with the audience.

    1. Excitement and curiosity

  • Teachers should try to create an atmosphere of excitement and curiosity before telling a story

  • Nonverbal signals are helpful to start a story

    1. Voice and body language

  • Voice is the most important equipment of a storyteller

  • Facial expressions and gestures help to underline the plot of a story

  • Teachers should speak slowly

  • Comfortable position for telling the story

    1. Audience

  • Teachers have to look at the audience (Do they like the story?, Do the children understand the plot?, etc.)

  • The audience should be involved in telling the story

  1. Storytelling – a first attempt

  1. Professional Storytelling: Richard Martin:

The Strongest of Them All”

  1. Group work



- KLIPPEL, Friederike (2002): Englisch in der Grundschule. Berlin: Cornelsen, p. 159 - 195

- MARTIN, Richard (2003): The Frightened Mouse. How to Tell a Participation Story in Class 4. In: Primary English 1/2003,

p. 20 – 22.

- MARTIN, Richard (2002). First steps in storytelling. In: First Steps Frühjahr/Sommer 2002

- MARTIN, Richard (2003): Storytelling for Young Learners. Handout of a workshop by Richard Martin.

- (Richard Martin's homepage)

- (recommended by R. Martin)

- (recommended by R. Martin)

1-, 19/06/2003

2-, 19/06/2003

-, 19/06/2003

- (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Group 1

1) Read the skeleton of the story “The Noisy House” and keep the plot in mind.

2) What do you have to take care of if you tell the story to primary school children? (mime, gesture, body language, etc.)
3) Practise re-telling the story in your group. Remember that you should tell the story to primary school children.
4) Choose one of your group who tells the story to ‘the audience’ at the end of the lesson.
Skeleton: The Noisy House1
Old woman – bed –heard clock ticking, wind in trees. Couldn’t sleep.

Next day, told neighbour. “Get yourself a cat – will help you to sleep.”

Bed – heard cat purring, clock ticking, wind in trees. Couldn’t sleep.

Next day thought cat might be wrong animal –bought dog.

Bed – heard dog barking, cat, clock, wind. Couldn’t sleep.

Next day bought pig.

Next day – cow.

Next day – elephant.

Next day “Perhaps all are too big.” Bought mouse.

Bed – elephant saw mouse, jumped on chair!

Chair broke, all animals made their noise.

“Stop! This is stupid. Get out of my house!”

She lay in bed. Could only hear a very quiet tick from clock. Very gentle wind in trees.

“Oh, my house is so quiet!” And she went to sleep.

Key words

noisy – couldn’t sleep

clock ticking

wind in trees

animal vocabulary, with sounds

she was looking forward to going/getting to sleep


Group 2

1) Read the skeleton of the story “Giant Carrot” and keep the plot in mind.
2) What do you have to take care of if you tell the story to primary school children? (mime, gesture, body language, etc.)
3) Practise re-telling the story in your group. Remember that you should tell the story to primary school children.
4) Choose one of your group who tells the story to ‘the audience’ at the end of the lesson.
Skeleton: Giant Carrot2
Farmer – field of carrots. Wanted to pull up a big one (was very big).

But so big, he couldn’t pull it out.

Called for wife. But was so big they couldn’t pull it out.

Called for son.

For daughter.

For grandma.

For dog.

For cat.

Still couldn’t pull it out.

Then little mouse came by. “I’ll help you.”

“You? You’re too small.”

“I’m small, but I’m very strong.”

So one last try. They all pulled – and at end of line the mouse pulled. At last the carrot came out.

All had carrot for dinner!

CHORAL: Now pull together, pull together, pull together – pull!

Key words

biggest carrot in the world

wife/Mrs Farmer





pull together now

Group 3

1) Read the skeleton of the fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood” and keep the plot in mind.

2) What do you have to take care of if you tell the fairy-tale to primary school children? (mime, gesture, body language, etc.)
3) Practise re-telling the story in your group with the help of the equipment. Remember that you should tell the story to primary school children.
4) Choose one of your group who tells the story to ‘the audience’ at the end of the lesson.
Skeleton: Little Red Riding Hood3
Mother has basket with sandwiches and cake. She says to Little Red Riding Hood “Take basket to your grandma.! Be careful of dangerous wolf.”

Little Red Riding Hood walks in forest. Does not see wolf.

Wolf meets Little Red Riding Hood and asks where she is going. Little Red Riding Hood answers: “To Grandmother’s cottage”.

Wolf wants to know where it is and goes away.

Wolf runs to Grandmother’s cottage, knocks on door. Grandmother wants to know where it is. Wolf says: “Little Red Riding Hood”. Grandmother answers: “Come in, dear.”

Wolf eats Grandmother, gets into bed and waits for Little Red Riding Hood.

Then Little Red Riding Hood comes to Grandmother’s cottage, knocks on door. Wolf ask who there is. Little Red Riding Hood answers and goes into cottage.

She looks at wolf and asks: “ What big ears you’ve got, Grandmother!”

Wolf answers: “I want to hear you, my dear.”

... eyes – see

... teeth – eat

Wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood.

A man comes with axe and kills wolf. Grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood jump out of wolf.



3 Wright, A.: Storytelling with Children. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 19962 , p. 96/7

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