Oral Narratives for Reading Development

Reading is a fantastic skill. Books are gateways to new universes of stories and fascinating knowledge. How can oral storytelling help students to read more?

After writing an article about the Goals of Oral Storytelling in the Classroom, I wanted to give you some practical advice about using oral narratives to help students develop a love for reading.

The problem with reading

We would love all students to read books because they have discovered how great an experience it is. We wish them to be drawn in by the characters, touched by the story, laughing from the humor, and shivering from the tension.

The reality is often different.

After children have learned to read, we often push them to read more and to read faster. We have the best intentions, but somewhere on this road, they often lose the fun of reading.

For those children who struggle with learning to read or who are dyslexic, it’s tough to enjoy reading.

The connection between oral and written narratives

It’s hard to imagine, but for most of the existence of mankind, there was no reading and writing. Until the 20th century, being able to read and write was a highly prized skill that only a select few mastered.

The rest of the population grew up with stories that were told and songs that were sung. Out of this wealth of oral narratives grew the great collection of literature we have nowadays.

The books we read are built on centuries of oral storytelling.

Storytelling as a precursor to reading

Almost all of us learn to listen before we learn to read. We get the story concept by listening to what happens around us and what our parents read to us.

Oral storytelling in the classroom gives children some of the foundational building blocks of reading a story: the concept of a story, the structure of simple stories, and what to expect next. They might not need this in the beginning stages of learning to read, but when they can read well enough, they will need this understanding.

Equally important, with oral narratives, students can experience how wonderful stories are. They experience how stories can deeply touch you and show you how to travel to imaginary worlds full of adventures.

Inspire your students to read books by telling a part of it

Storytelling can help recapture the magic of the world hidden in books. Telling scenes of books might make students enthusiastic enough to read them for themselves.

For three years, I ran a program at a library. The central part of this program was retelling a few chapters of a great book. I always ended this telling with the question: “Who wants to borrow the book to know how it ends?”

“Invariably, all of them jumped forward.”

Why not do something like that each Friday morning in your classroom? Read the first chapter of a book and retell it. Get them curious, hype up the story, and stop at an exciting moment. Never tell how the book ends.

It doesn’t matter if you tell it a bit differently than the book. Choose a book you have in your classroom so more children can read it afterward.

💡 Because they are curious and their imagination is on fire, many children will want to read that book. When a student who struggles with reading raises his hand, that’s the one you want to give it to.

Or let some children read the book together.

Let children present the books they have read using cliffhangers

When children need to present a book they have read, don’t let them tell the class the whole story.

Instead, teach them the concept of cliffhangers. They know this from TV series and movies. It’s the most exciting moment, often just before the commercial break.

Let them tell a part of the book until they reach a cliffhanger.

Children will be curious about how the story ends and want to read this book.

💡 Make this more interesting, let students record little video clips in which they show the book and tell a little about the story, stopping at the cliffhanger. These little clips you can collect in a digital school library. They could even watch some of these clips before choosing the next book to read.

Keep telling stories for the students who will never like reading

A great oral narrative is a great adventure. You only need to be able to listen to the story to come along. It is refreshing for the students who aren’t that good at reading.

💡 Often, students who are not very good at reading have a really active imagination.

As a teacher, you can inspire your students with your fascination for language, stories, and reading. What books are you enthusiastic about? You are the one they model, especially when you are not consciously thinking about your behavior.

I wrote a few articles on how storytelling can help with other language skills. You might like them too:

Photo by Rendy Novantino on Unsplash


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