Delivering your story…

Posted on 10th May, 2020, under Projects, Research

Storytelling Tips

Would you like to become a source of entertainment for your child?

During these unpredictable times, the most important message I can offer is to enjoy your time with your children. Stories are a great way to do this because people are hardwired to listen to stories.

We all know how to tell a story, in some form. From sharing accounts of our daily experiences to telling a tale like little red riding hood. However, the art of storytelling, where a teller recites a tale to a listener, will have the greatest impact when you learn a storytelling strategy. So given the current situation, what better time than to indulge in the playful, creative art of storytelling. So where do we start?

Step 1.

Story Message

What message or experience do you want your listeners to leave with? Is your storytelling about supporting intellectual development, social and emotional well-being, or a means of entertainment? The good news is, all stories offer all of these benefits, however, the trick is to engage your listeners. Therefore, when selecting what story to tell, you must know your audience. What is your listener’s age group? This will influence how long the storytelling may last, the complexity of the storyline and the language you use. The story also needs to be relatable to the group. Therefore, knowing the children’s interests and background is helpful. And how can you do this? Ask them, there are no better storytellers than children themselves. Action stories that encourage lots of participation are great for young children. Recap: know your audience and invite them to participate.

Step 2.


You can help the listeners visualise and identify with the stories characters by describing their characteristics and using their five senses. Is the main character an animal, human, objects or something else? Are they happy, evil, rich, poor? Do they have fur, wear clothes or are they invisible? Next, ask your listeners, ‘what do you think the character smells like, sound like, taste like (It could be a banana), and what do you think he/she/it feels like? Tip: it is always best to pause here and allow the listeners ‘thinking time’ to develop their version of the character in their minds. Recap: engage the listener’s five senses to help them connect with the story characters.

Step 3.

Once upon a time

What is the best way to begin your story? You want to take your listeners on a journey, therefore, you need to dive right in and grab their attention. With young children this can be challenging because the world is full of fascinating creatures that will distract them, for example, they might spot a spider crawling across the floor or simply want to talk instead of listening. So to help children concentrate, be dramatic, over the top, and use your whole body in the telling of the story. At first, this can feel silly, but children love being silly, even more so when the adult is being silly too. So have fun in the telling, and try to use different tones of voice to help children make sense of the emotional or dramatic elements within the story. It is often fun to have quiet moments in a story; you whisper, the children huddle in to hear, then something dramatic happens and you let out a shout (the children can join in). Recap: expressive storytelling, using tone of voice and gesture engages listeners imaginations.

Step 4.


Every storyline needs conflict. In story form, conflict refers to binary opposites such as life and death, good and bad, hate and forgiveness and so on. For example, little red riding hood met the wolf who encouraged her to take the forbidden shortcut, taking her off the familiar path, then, add to this her conflict with the wolf himself! The conflict I am referring to here is good vs evil. It is these elements of your story which engage your listeners as they wait to see how it all turns out. Now, do not be mistaken into thinking conflict needs to be dramatic, when entertaining the little ones, conflict is what makes them ask questions, it gets them thinking and draws them into the story. So for example, conflict can take the form of, ‘the greedy mouse ate all the cheese and left none for his friends’. You could allow the children to ponder: was he greedy or just hungry? Why are they his friends if he did not share with them? This simple example demonstrates how we can use stories to provide children with a wide range of possible scenarios as they begin to think critically and engage in intellectual conversation with other listeners. Recap: Conflict is what makes your story interesting.

Step 5.


Stories can share messages of sadness or messages of happiness. In early childhood, we strive to portray how life’s challenges can provide a powerful lesson to be learned. I advocate that every story for young children provide lessons of growth and empowerment. An example of a positive-message story is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), a story about an alien left behind on planet Earth, saved by a young boy, who with his family confronts many obstacles before eventually succeeding in helping him find his way home. This example shows how a story can have many ups and downs, but it is important, especially with young children, to end your story with messages that inspire, motivate and support well-being.


So what can we take away from this? Step 1, the story message is where you will engage your listeners and deliver your message of wisdom. Step 2, the characters, bring your characters to life by allowing your listeners time to discuss and visualise them. Step 3, once upon a time, draw your listeners into the story using expressive storytelling. Step 4, conflict, use binary opposites to highlight the conflict and add excitement to your story. Step 5, positive-messages, leave your listeners on an emotional high.

I would love to hear any of your storytelling tips and ideas please visit – thank you for reading

Kitty O’Reilly Early Childhood Education and Care Consultant and Researcher

For an example of an interactive traditional story see:
To view further resources for parents visit:


Karia, A. (2015). TED TALKS Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks. Available [].

Dr Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly
Dr Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly Collage

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