Traditional Storytelling

Posted on 26th April, 2020, under Research

Once upon a time…

The art of storytelling is one of the oldest cultural universal tools used to share knowledge between humans. Everyone everywhere loves stories. This blog briefly describes the difference between traditional oral storytelling and contemporary storytelling.

Traditional Storytelling

Traditional storytelling is the art of telling a story to an individual or group without the use of a book or text. The storyteller conveys a story to the audience from memory. The storyteller engages and captives the audience’s interest using tone of voice, gesture, and expressive body language. It is widely accepted that a well-told story will capture the imagination of an audience and take the listeners on a magical journey. Egan (1986) explains, the story then is not just a form of entertainment it is a powerful form in which we make sense of the world.

Contemporary Storytelling

Contemporary storytelling, in its simplest form, is the telling of a story using a picturebook or text. Research demonstrates that when children grow up hearing stories and have the opportunity to explore quality picturebooks they are often inspired to become passionate readers and writers (Roche, 2015).

Storytelling as Pedagogy

Both forms of storytelling, traditional and contemporary, are often carried out on preschools with the aid of props, such as puppets, to help engage young children. The difference between the two models, however, is quite distinctive.

Traditional storytelling requires the story to be told from memory, the teller new to traditional storytelling may worry he or she will forget the lines. However, this is a myth, yes it takes practice, but an oral story can change with each telling of the story. It allows the teller to adapt and change the story as the tale develops.

Whereas, contemporary storytelling allows the children to experience beautifully illustrated images allowing them to imagine the characters easier by following the pictures as a guideline. However, in picturebooks the plot is created and set out in set steps by the author, leaving less room for the child to imagine what the creature could have looked like if the picture was not available.

A good storyteller will often use a mix of traditional stories and contemporary stories if the audience requests it. However, by focusing on one story form you can become expert at using the art of storytelling to help children learn about their world and understand their experiences.

I would love to know: what model of storytelling do you use most and why do you choose this method?

Traditional Storytelling

Contemporary Storytelling

Storytelling as Pedagogy


Egan, K. (1987)b. Literacy and the oral foundations of education. Harvard Educational Review, 57, (4), 445-473.

Roche, M. (2015). Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks: A guide for primary and early years’ students and teachers. Oxon: Routledge.

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

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