storytelling in the classroom

the hows and whys

storytelling and story dictation

"We can be known only in the unfolding of our unique stories within the context of every day events." -Vivian Paley

Stories are how we learn. We use stories to learn about people we will never meet, places we may never go, and things we had not yet heard of. And, through story, we learn a lot about ourselves. Children use stories to learn about the great big world they are growing up in. They learn how to be, how to do, and what to say through story. It's a cultural experience.

Through a process of shared storytelling, children can bond. They learn to listen to each other, to consider a different point of view or discover shared interests, they develop imagination and creativity, realize humor and drama, learn phrases they've never heard before, and independence right along side community and collaboration. It's a beautiful process that must be invited into children's lives.

The tips below walk you through how to take story dictation from kids, things to consider and to say, and how to bring their stories to life through dramatization. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy it.

"honor their voices..."

A Rice University program teaches English to English Language Learners

10 tips for story dictation in your classroom

tip 1

Set up a table designed for story dictation. It's crucial that the child can see exactly what you write as you are writing, so be sure that if your right handed, the child sits on your left side so that they have an unobstructed view of the writing process. It's a good idea to take stories while the other students are in stations or free play activities. With a reluctant storyteller, it's okay to catch them in a station or an area of the room they love to get a story more easily from them. But, it's best to write them at a table with minimal distractions.

When you begin, start by having the student write their name at the top, noting that they are the author of this story, and then write the date. Then begin the story by asking "can you tell me a story." Write down exactly what they say.

Part of the beauty of the story dictation process is the inherently organic way of teaching concepts of print, phonological awareness, the idea that spoken words can be written down to be read and reread over time, and the list goes on.

(Gadzikowski, 2007; Cooper, Capo, Mathes, & Gray, 2008)

tip 2

As much as it is embedded into your brain as a teacher to do this, don't correct the child's grammar. I know, it's going to be hard! But we are truly honoring their words and trying to create a safe place where students feel free to share. When rereading the story, read their words exactly as they are.

It might be a good idea to keep a mental note to add to anecdotal records if you notice a child has a pattern of grammar issues. Later be sure to model proper grammar as much as possible for the students.

(Nicolopoulou, McDowell, & Brockmeyer, 2009; Gadzikowski, 2007)

tip 3

How you scaffold the story is important and will take lots of practice. Some students will respond negatively to any adult direction given while they are telling a story. Other students are okay with this and could benefit greatly. Start small. A simple question of, "can you tell me more" or "what happened next" can do wonders for a student who is hesitant.

Be sure that you aren't interjecting your own ideas into the story. Remember we are honoring their words, so if you add ideas, it's no longer the student's story. A short, one sentence or even one word story is just fine, especially at the beginning. You will see progress soon!

Once students get used to telling stories, it's okay to prompt them or ask them to be sure everything makes sense. Often times characters pop in and out of stories in a way that is very confusing to the audience. We want our students to become better storytellers, so it's okay to ask them to clarify and edit.

(Cooper, 1993)

tip 4

A few logistical tips while taking a story dictation are:

  • echoing the student as they are talking to slow them down so that you can be sure to get every word they say down on the page.

  • stopping to reread parts of the story can help students who get sidetracked or to help them along with thinking of a logical next step in their story.

  • rereading the entire story once it has been completed to make sure you got everything right and editing anything that the student may want or need to change.

(Cooper, Capo, Mathes, Gray, 2008).

tip 5

During the writing process, it's a perfect time to develop writing and phonological awareness skills. When writing, you can ask students to tell you the beginning sounds, spell words they may know, point out double consonants, rhymes, or anything the student may know or is developing at that time. This is an authentic and highly engaging way to teach these skills.

(Cooper, Capo, Mathes, Gray, 2008).

tip 6

Once you've got your story dictated, now it's time to act it out. The final step in the story dictation process is to choose the cast. Go back to the story and identify all of the characters. The student can assign classmates to play those roles.

Dramatization is not only a great way to introduce reading comprehension skills, it serves as a motivator for students to dictate stories.

The first step is to gather students on the carpet. Read the story first without the actors on stage so the students have already heard it once before acting. Next, announce the cast and have them come up on stage. Review their roles and ask any logistic questions about the stage and where things might take place. Then read the story as the students act out. If there's dialogue, encourage actors to say what the author wrote. It's also okay for actors to interject their own dialogue as long as it's okay with the story author.

"Stories that are not acted out are fleeting dreams" (Paley, 1990).

(Nicolopoulou, McDowell, & Brockmeyer, 2009; Paley, 1990; Cooper, Capo, Mathes, Gray, 2008)

tip 7

Retrain your brain to consider "copying" a good thing, and start calling it "collaboration." Students will often "borrow themes" in their stories. One student might tell a story about a ninja turtle going to get ice cream, then all of a sudden you get several stories with the same scene after that. This means nothing more than your students are listening, learning from each other, remembering, and selectively creating stories they know will please their audience. This is not copying, it's collaboration, and it's a good thing.

(Nicolopoulou, McDowell, & Brockmeyer, 2009)

tip 8

As a final step, you can link the story dramatization to independent journal writing. This is especially useful for older (1st-3rd grade) or more mature students with greater writing ability who can begin to write their own stories.

Students who participate in story dictation and dramatization are more inclined to participate in journal writing, even the boys,who are often uninterested in this activity were engaged. Their journal writing tended to be more engaged and better quality journal entries after having participated in storytelling frequently.

(Nicolopoulou, McDowell, & Brockmeyer, 2009)

tip 9

Classroom storytelling presents an opportunity to have a huge impact on your classroom culture. The act of storytelling and dramatization is inclusive by nature, building positive teacher student relationships and creating a community of students as players in each others stories and inevitably in their lives.

Storytelling is an easy way to get students intrinsically motivated to practice vocabulary and literacy skills in the most authentic way. And, because the students have a stronger relationship with the teacher and other students, they will learn and love school that much more.

(Cooper, Capo, Mathes, Gray, 2008; Dyson, Genishi, 1994)

tip 10

Finally, there's curriculum and testing to consider. But rest assured that when classroom storytelling and dramatization is done regularly in the classroom, students significantly outperform their counterparts, whose classrooms did not facilitate storytelling, in reading and writing skills. That fact is pretty hard to ignore.

(Cooper, Capo, Mathes, Gray, 2008)


Meet Jason. He is a painfully shy 4-year-old who speaks extremely limited English. The first couple of months he rarely spoke, not even in Spanish. He was one of the last students to have his first story taken, giving him the opportunity to hear as many stories as possible before it was his turn. The first story was taken in November and, as you can see, it's one word. Interestingly, but typical for how shy he is, he doesn't play a character in his own story until his 3rd story. Most noticeable, however, is the fact that his story went from one word in November to 40 words in March. And, not only is it 40 words, but it's a coherent narrative with actions and description words, prepositions, and pronouns.
Big image
source: personal photo

5 tips for getting parents involoved

tip 1

A huge focus for story dictation is to develop oral language skills. As a parent, make a conscientious effort to ask you child open ended questions. It's so easy to get into a habit of asking "yes" or "no" questions, which doesn't allow for much elaboration.

Instead of asking, "did you have a good day," try something along the lines of "what was your favorite part of the day?" This gives them a chance to use all of that language that they are so rapidly taking in, they can express themselves more, and have the chance to be more creative and even problem solvers.

tip 2

Parents can take stories, too! Why not let story dictation into the home? Children can dictate their stories to mom, dad, grandpa, or big sister, and then the whole family can help act it out. What a great way to continue the learning and bond with family time.

tip 3

Read, read, read, read, read. How do you become a great storyteller? Take a note from experts. Exposure to great stories leads to great storytelling. Read to your child at least once a day. Read favorite books over and over and over again until the pages are falling out. This builds vocabulary and the concept of a story structure.

tip 4

Let your child read to you. The pictures in stories tell a great deal of information. Flip through the pages together and let your child tell you what's happening. Encourage them to take their time and notice as much as they can about each picture. Notice the characters and notice the setting. Ask them questions like "how do you think the character feels" and lots of "why" questions. There's no wrong answer here!

tip 5

Head to the library for an adventure and don't forget a big bag! You can check out about 50 books from the library at a time for free. So, let your child browse for anything on the cover they think looks interesting. You might learn a little bit about what they are curious about!


  • Here is a tip sheet for engaging young students in story dictation. Tips range from how to give the story dictation and how to keep the stories together, allowing time for students to share stories with their classmates and how to dramatize.

  • The following link is to an online article with amazing tips on how to cultivate great young authors. Story dictation is included in this article, but not limited to it. This article discusses everything from English language learners, maintaining a home-school connection, and understanding the progression of kid writing and inventive spelling.

  • Reading rockets is a tried and true resource for teachers. This particular link is all about dictation. What I like most about this website is that they introduce ways to honor students words through dictation in all subjects in the classroom, not just language arts and not just through story. Strategies for differentiation are included as well as a recommended book list with ideas of how to implement them into the classroom.

  • Toontastic is really cool app to facilitate independent story telling. It's usage is super kid friendly and walks students through the steps of creating a story using a story arc. Students can pick a huge assortment of characters and settings for their story. Once they have selected these options, they can record themselves telling the story or performing the dialogue while moving the characters around. In the end, they have created a movie of their story that they can save, re-watch, and share with friends. What I love most about this app, besides the bright and fun images, is that it specifically uses vocabulary like character, setting, rising action, climax, and resolution.

  • Another fantastic app for students to become storytellers and authors. There are two options for students to create books using this app. The first it to create their own book using actual pen and paper. They can then go in and take photos of each page and insert them into the app and record their story for each page. Another option is to take pictures of whatever they like, and then record a narration or type on top of the photo itself. This app is slightly more difficult for our youngest students, however students can independently be highly successful in Kindergarten and beyond after some modeling and instruction.

storytelling must reads


Cooper, P. (1993) When stories come to school: Telling, writing, & performing stories in the early childhood classroom. New York, NY: Teachers and Writers Collaborative.

Cooper, P. (2005). Literacy Learning and Pedagogical Purpose in Vivian Paley's Storytelling Curriculum. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 5(3), 229-252. DOI: 10.1177/1468798405058686

Cooper, P., Capo, K., Mathes, B., & Gray, L. (2008). One authentic early literacy practice and thre standardized tests: Can a storytelling curriculum measure up? Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 28, 251-275. DOI: 1080/109010207015555

Dyson, A. H., & Genishi, C. (Eds.). (1994). The need for story: Cultural diversity in classroom and community. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Nicolopoulou, A., McDowell, J., Brockmeyer, C. (2009) Narrative play and emergent literacy: Storytelling and story-acting meets journal writing. In Singer, D., Golinkoff, R., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds.). Play = Learning. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Paley, V. G. (1990). The boy who would be a helicopter: The uses of storytelling in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.