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The McMillan Magazine Online


Tell me a story! 

(Infants and Primary)


Jeanette Corbett pulls out some great ideas from the story bag to help our young learners get the most from their story time.


These storytelling suggestions for young learners are based on a modern children’s story, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler, published by Macmillan Children’s Books, and the classic tale The Three Little Pigs. However, you could adapt them for use with any stories which you enjoy reading with your pupils. The activities are both fun and memorable for pupils and they allow them to take away something from the story, as well as learning new structures or vocabulary.


Suggestions for successful storytelling

1) Use a ‘story bag’ to generate interest before telling the story. Put clues, such as pictures of the characters or significant objects, realia, or important words from the story in the bag. The pupils pass the bag around, taking turns to pull out a clue and trying to guess what the story will be about.


2) Employ a variety of tricks when telling the story to keep your pupils interested. For example:


• Use different voices for different characters.

• Point at the pictures in the book to guide your pupils’ understanding.

• Use actions to encourage pupils to participate in the story.

• Cover an important picture with a post-it note and slowly reveal it.


3) In order to ensure that pupils have something to take away from the story, get them to create their own story envelopes. (This is based on the idea of getting teenage and adult students to recycle vocabulary by putting words into a bag.) Give each child their own envelope and get them to add pictures to it every time you read a new story. After reading the story for the first time, ask pupils to create character or vocabulary pictures. The pictures below are some of those that my pupils created for The Three Little Pigs. 


Here are some ideas for ways to use your story envelopes:  


• Use the pictures in pairwork activities such as Snap, Guess which one or Mime and say. In Snap, pupils work in pairs. First they each shuffle their cards and place them face down on the table. Then they both turn the top card over at the same time and say the word. If they are the same, they shout 'Snap!' The first pupil to shout 'Snap!' wins the cards. The game continues until all the cards have been used.


In Guess which one, pupils work in groups of three or more. First, the teacher displays flashcards of the vocabulary on the board so the whole class can see them. The pupils then place their cards face down in the centre of the table. Pupil 1 takes a card, looks at it and keeps it secret. The other pupils have to guess which one it is by looking at the teacher’s cards on the board and saying the words. If they guess correctly, they win the card. Pupils take turns clockwise. The winner is the one with the most cards by the time all the cards have been taken from the centre.


Mime and say is similar to Guess which one, but the teacher doesn’t display the flashcards on the board. When the pupils take cards from the centre of the table, they must mime the pictures by doing an action of saying the words silently, only moving their lips. Again, the first pupil to guess the word wins the card.


• Ask the pupils to put the pictures from the envelope in the order in which they appear in the story. When they have done this, ask them to re-tell the story.


• Get your pupils to hold up the relevant pictures as you re-tell the story.


• Play Story bingo. I normally use this activity to revise the story after my pupils have heard it a couple of times. Imagine your pupils have nine pictures from The Three Little Pigs. Ask each of them to select six. Then tell the story again, but quicker than before. When they hear a word relating to a picture card, they can turn that card over. When they have turned over all six, they shout 'Bingo!' This activity works well because you often repeat words in a story, so if they don’t hear the first time, they’ll always have a second opportunity.


• Ask your pupils to make sentences about the pictures.


4) One way to ensure that pupils remember vocabulary from a story is to create a chant. This is exciting for the pupils and they love doing the actions. Click here to see one that I have made for The Gruffalo. Here are the steps to follow:


• First decide which vocabulary to include from a story which your pupils are already familiar with. For example, from The Gruffalo, I chose the body parts, such as terrible teeth, terrible claws, etc. My pupils had already learnt actions for these vocabulary items.


• Next, look at the story again and focus on a repetitive structure to form the basis of your chant. I used I’m going to… and added various different endings. This structure appears a lot in the story.


• Prepare a worksheet for the chant in which pupils can recycle something from the story. The example worksheet has two stages. In stage 1, pupils draw pictures in the boxes next to the chant of the characters from the story who say the words. For example, the main verses are said by a mouse, so the pupils draw a mouse in the box, and when we come to do the chant, they put their hands on their heads as if they have got mouse ears and say these words in a squeaky voice. The mouse then meets a fox (verse 1), an owl (verse 2) and a snake (verse 3). For each animal they draw a picture and decide on a suitable mime and style of speaking. In stage 2, pupils complete the missing lines with the Gruffalo’s body parts – they have to remember the order in which they appeared in the story.


• Use a well-known tune to create your chant, combining actions, structure and vocabulary.


• Finally, perform the chant with your pupils and enjoy yourselves!


Jeanette Corbett is a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She currently words as Assistant Studies Co-ordinator at International House / Academia Británica, Huelva.


This article was first published in ETp Issue 56 (May 2008) and is reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders, Pavilion Publishing (Brighton) Ltd. 



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