Oral Tales: Enriching Vocabulary Skills

Oral tales can help students learn words and their context. A vast vocabulary has everything to do with reading, speaking, and writing.

After writing an article about the Goals of Oral Storytelling in the Classroom, I wanted to add more information about how storytelling can help enrich students’ vocabulary.

You can’t express yourself through speaking and writing when you lack the words you need. You have trouble understanding what you hear and read.

Understanding how a student’s vocabulary can limit them is not difficult.

How can oral tales help?

1. Oral tales provide a context for new words and phrases

Our brains connect new knowledge to already existing knowledge. Offering words in a context helps us to connect them to the words we already know.

Oral tales provide an excellent context:

  1. The structure of an oral tale is familiar to our brains, so it is easily digested.
  2. The story itself is a rich context of the word and often provides the meaning of the word.
  3. Not only do students understand the meaning of a word through the story, but it also gives them an example of how to use the word and which words can accompany it.

Last but not least, an oral tale is an easy hook for a teacher to remind students later of the use of the word. They will also more easily remember the word as they remember the tale.

2. Oral storytelling provides direct feedback

You are in direct contact with your students when telling an oral tale. You can see in their eyes whether they understand what you are telling them. You will notice which words are unknown and which ones everybody understands.

While telling the story, you can explain the specific words you want your students to learn. You can give a definition but also insert a more elaborate description.

3. Oral tales help with the needed repetition

We need to hear words and concepts many times to remember them. Researchers found that reading the same storybook three times gave excellent results.

Overall, then, we found a dramatic increase in children’s ability to both recall and retain novel name–object associations encountered during shared storybook reading when they heard the same stories multiple times in succession.

Source: Get the Story Straight: Contextual Repetition Promotes Word Learning from Storybooks (2011), J. S. Horst, K. L. Parsons, N. M. Bryan

Oral tales can help with this needed repetition in a couple of ways:

  1. You can repeat the target words throughout the story.
  2. You can tell the same story many times (especially with younger children)
  3. Students can retell or rewrite the oral tale. You can explicitly mention the target words they need to use.

Using images, picture books, and movies

When you tell a story, students need images for your words.

Example: When they have never seen a castle, they won’t be able to picture it in their imagination.

Picture books, movie clips, and other imagery can give the students the images they lack.

When you tell a story, you will notice when students don’t understand a word. Some will ask it out loud, but most will have this ‘question mark’ in their eyes. That is your queue to explain the word.

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

Image by Lubov Lisitsa from Pixabay


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