Jenni tells to families at the Tweed River Regional Gallery

Storytelling has an enormous number of applications. Millions of people worldwide are rediscovering it’s power. They are also creatively adapting it for modern needs: in education, business, health and social welfare.

Internationally there are storytelling organisations, celebrations like World Storytelling Day, festivals, conferences, storytelling competitions and storyslams, storytelling recordings on CD and as digital downloadsyou tube sites (labx), blogs, podcasts, facebook pagesdigital stories, itunes, radio shows and university courses. There are also movements and organisations dedicated to storytelling in particular professions. Here are just two: The Healing Story Alliance and Organisational Storytelling.

Within Australia there are active state storytelling guilds in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, A.C.T. and Western Australia. Discussions are in progress for the development of a national website to link storytellers across Australia which may  include New Zealand. More links can be found on my Resources page. However, here I will focus on the benefits of storytelling in education. I will outline the benefits and talk about the ways stories can be woven through your classes.

Storytelling doesn’t need to be another thing to be squeezed into an already bursting curriculum. Rather, storytelling can be a valuable tool to heighten student engagement with almost any subject. While storytelling is a very worthy end in itself,  it can also be used as a powerful means to help a teacher achieve their educational ends in the classroom. Some stories lend themselves to more subjects than others, but with a little imagination it is amazing how relevant one folktale can be to different key learning areas. What follows are just starter ideas- the possibilities are endless and the books and links below can help you find more.

English: Talking and Listening Outcomes. Students can debate the ideas and ethics presented in a story. They can also sequence the storyline or create a story board or comic strips.

The Story Tree and other nature tales CD

History, Environment, Science and Geography: Children can explore different cultural values presented in tales from many lands. Older stories have historical facts embedded within them (e.g. famine, war) or portray the way people once lived and the beliefs they held. Stories can be used to inspire respect and care for the environment. My story “Shelley and Rustle” on ‘The Story Tree and other nature tales’ CD would be a great stimulus for researching sea turtles and the impact of plastic on the environment. This can be followed up with practical activities- like collecting litter.

Personal Development and Health: Outcomes like respect for others can be achieved with many stories. Storytelling can strengthen the trust and community spirit within a class. Elisa Pearmain’s book is a very rich resource (see below).

Creative Arts: Students’ imaginations are greatly stimulated as they listen and visualise. This can be followed by discussion and re-enactments.

Digital technology: Stories translate perfectly into the digital realm. Students can make digital stories with simple programs available on the web like PhotoStory or imovie, or even animations. This can be far less confronting than standing in front of a whole class for shy students and so makes a great warm-up to telling to a group. They can also watch international storytellers via You Tube or labx. Storytelling enhances imagination and visualisation, increases vocabulary, improves listening skills, models speaking skills, nourishes a students’ intuitive side and enhances writing skills. (Collins & Cooper)

Gardeners Multiple Intelligences: Storytelling engages students because it can engage them via many of Gardeners Multiple Intelligences. Storytelling can stimulate and enrich not only verbal and linguistic skills; but also interpersonal (sensitive to facial expressions, gestures and voice); intrapersonal (learns from stories about kindness and compassion); kinesthetic (as students join in with movements); musical (when songs are woven into the story) and naturalist (likes to hear and retell environmental stories). (Chace) Research confirms that without established context and relevance, the human mind is unlikely to remember new information, and is even less likely to ever recall it.

  • Coles (1989) “Stories enhanced recall, retention, application of concepts into new situations, understanding, learner enthusiasm for the subject matter.” and “Stories enhanced and accelerated virtually every measurable aspect of learning.”
  • Engle (1995) “Children learn storytelling many years before they master logic, persuasion, writing, and other forms of information delivery. Story is an essential precursor to mastery of expository and logical forms.” (Haven via Chace)

So many reasons to use storytelling, yet teachers are busy, busy people! If your school is in or near the Northern Rivers area of Australia, you can invite me to lead a workshop for teachers and/or parents. If you are not from my region, contact your local storytelling guild or association (above) and book a storyteller. Or follow some of the links on my resources page to learn from home, especially The Art of Storytelling podcast. Finally, I will leave you with a short 4 min video of me explaining ‘Why stories are so powerful’ by my fireside.

I am currently a member of the team for the Storytelling Unit at Southern Cross University (Australia) originally written by Susan Perrow. (It is offered externally through the School of Education, but is open to students from other disciplines and some partner Universities.) This clip is the first in a series of ten available to students of the unit. It forms part of the Week 1 material for the unit. You’ll need itunes on your computer to watch it. Enjoy!


Sources and Recommended Reading:

Collins R  & Cooper P. 1994, The Power of Story: Teaching through Storytelling  Waveland Press: Long Grove USA.

The National Storytelling Association (USA). 1994, Tales as Tools: The power of story in the classroom, National Storytelling Press: Jonesborough, USA Hamilton,

Martha & Weiss, Mitch. 2005, Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom, Richard. C. Owen Publishers, New York. See the You Tube showing extracts form the DVD. An extremely readable, user-friendly and comprehensive guide for teachers.

Pearmain, Elisa. 2006, Once Upon a Time: storytelling to teach character and prevent bullying: Lessons from Multicultural Folk Tales for Grades K-8, Character Development Group, Greensbooro, NC, Library of Congress Number: 2007934445

Perrow, Susan. 2008, Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour, Hawthorn Press, Gloucesteshire, ISBN 1-85230-339-5 Susan is Australian and has Steiner teaching  background. Her website is

Thanks also to  Karen Chace’s Storybug site for many of the storytelling research facts which were compiled and generously shared by renowned storyteller and educator, Kendall Haven in his new book Story Proof – The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, available through Libraries Unlimited