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Telling stories

Why it’s important

All children and adults use storytelling to communicate with others, store memories and build relationships.

Young children learn to tell stories by listening to the stories of others. They begin in their early years when and learn to develop imaginary play sequences which link events or actions together. Children reproduce familiar life events in pretend play and gradually learn to attach spoken language to these events.

Young children also learn about storytelling through picture books. The pages of the book represent a sequence of events including a beginning, middle, and end. The reader’s spoken description of events and relevant vocabulary teaches young children how to tell stories and that sharing a story together is enjoyable and fun.

Good storytelling skills help older children to produce interesting, engaging accounts of events from their live. For example, talking about a film they saw, or a funny situation they experienced.  Storytelling skills also underpin written work at secondary school. The ability to include key information in well planned and organised written work is crucial in essay and report writing.

How children learn storytelling skills

Sharing books with adults and engaging in imaginary play scenarios help build key foundation skills for developing storytelling.

Later on when children talk about what they have done at school, or tell you what happened at the park, they’re giving a factual recount of their experiences. This is also storytelling.

Often children need a good imagination to create fictional stories. The most effective way for children to develop storytelling skills is by listening to and re-telling familiar stories to family and friends. Opportunities to expand or change familiar stories can help children to build confidence and develop their own ideas for fictional stories.

Strategies and tips to help build storytelling skills

Enjoy sharing books together, not just reading the words

Take turns to talk about the pictures, and have fun guessing what might happen next. If the child knows the story really well, ask them to tell the story to someone else, even a pet or a toy.

Talk about what you do during the day

Use sequencing vocabulary, for example:

“First we mixed the pain.”

“Then we painted a big picture”

“Last we washed our hands.”

Talk about the sequence before you do it, what you’re doing whilst you do it. Recap again after the event.  See if the child can then tell you what you did.

Take photos of key events and days out

These will help the child talk about them with someone else when they return from the trip.

Holiday scrap books are another good way of helping children retell what they experienced and can encourage support with storytelling skills.

What to expect at each age milestone

Choose the age range below to find out how children develop their storytelling skills. You’ll also find suggested activities that will help your child/a child you’re teaching/caring for to develop their skills.


What to expect

Babies and toddlers learn to listen to short stories during early interaction they have with their carers.

Activities to help develop their skills

You can:

  • talk to babies about the simple events of the day using interesting intonation (change the pitch of your voice)
  • speak to babies face-to-face so they can watch your facial expression
  • repeat phrases linking to events, for example, ‘we played in the sand today and sang pat-a-cake. We sang pat-a-cake didn’t we?’
  • look for signs of imaginative play in toddlers, for example, pretending to feed or dress a doll or teddy.



What to expect

Children enjoy listening to familiar stories repeatedly. They may have a favourite book which they ask an adult to read or re-tell frequently.

They begin to enjoy imaginary play and acting out real life scenarios.

Activities to help develop their skills

You can:

  • share picture books which are interactive if possible, for example, lift the flap and tactile books
  • follow your child’s lead as they show an interest in the book
  • encourage your child to anticipate what comes next in the story
  • attach commentary to children’s imaginary play, for example, ‘you’re feeding teddy dinner. Teddy feels tired now, he’s going to sleep.’


What to expect

Children learn some familiar stories and may try to join in with repetitive lines in the story).  They’ll use spoken language in imaginary play.

Activities to help develop their skills

You can:

  • encourage the child to re-tell parts of a familiar story
  • begin a sentence and pause to give opportunities for your child to join in, for example ‘once upon a time there were three little pigs…’
  • join in with the child’s imaginary play and include some questions or forced alternatives, for example, ‘is teddy hungry or thirsty today?’


What to expect

Children start to produce short narratives, for example:

  • telling fictional stories
  • recalling a story they heard
  • recalling an event that happened to them
  • talking about something they’ll do.

Activities to help develop their skills

Encourage the child to talk about the day’s events in sequence. For example:

 “First we had breakfast, then we got in the car to go to the shops. At the shops we bought some milk and then we went to the park. We had lots of fun on the slide at the park!”

You can also:

  • use interesting intonation to talk about the day’s events
  • re-tell the storyline of a favourite TV programme
  • encourage the child to tell a story to a favourite toy
  • encourage the child to use visual and/or gestural prompts when re-telling stories and events
  • use objects or pictures to help the child remember and give you extra clues to help you understand what the child says.



What to expect

Children can:

  • list events with some detail, for example, ‘we went to the seaside and I made the biggest sandcastle ever and we ate fish and chips’
  • re-tell favourite stories with some exact repetition and some in their own words, for example, ‘going on a bear hunt’, ‘going to catch a big one’, ‘we’re not scared’, and ‘he chased them all the way home.’
  • add something that’s gone wrong in their own stories, for example, ‘..but the little boy dropped his big ice cream on the floor and he was very sad and crying’

Activities to help develop their skills

What happened next?

Read a story and then go over the story asking what happened next.

Your day

Ask questions about their day, for example:

 “What did you do at school/Gran and Granddad’s house today?”

Extend the activity by asking for more specific information, for example:

  • when you played in the playground?
  • when you had lunch?
  • when you did P.E?
  • when you went to the park?

Also, talk about the pictures in their school reading book and discuss the sequence of events in the picture or story.


What to expect

Children can:

  • tell a story with important key components, for example, set the scene, have a basic story plot and sequence the events generally in the right order
  • describe their own experiences in detail and in the right order
  • accurately predict what will happen in a story
  • be aware of what the listener already knows and checks while telling a story, for example, ‘you know Mr Jones, he’s our caretaker, he always wears a hat, well he wasn’t in school today…’

Activities to help develop their skills

Tell me what to do

Ask the child to tell you how to do something, for example, make a cup of tea, or clean your teeth. Use necessary equipment and follow the child’s instructions.  This gives important feedback about the need to include all the necessary information in a specific order to carry out the instructions.

Move on to use pictures of sequential instructions. Ask the child to give the instructions from memory.

‘Wh’ questions prompt

Download our Wh-question prompt cards .

Encourage the child to talk about a story or event using ‘wh’ questions as prompts, for example:

‘when and where did it take place?

who was there?

what did they do?

why did they do that?’

You can also create your own prompt cards using symbols to help prompt the child when asking each question. For example, using a picture of a clock for ‘when?’

Continue the story

Begin a story and at a strategic point ask the child to take over.  Take turns or move around a group if you’re a teacher in a school. Start with familiar stories before trying to make your own up. You can also read a story and get the children to offer alternative endings.


What to expect

Children can:

  • put interest into their voices to make storytelling exciting
  • add or remove information according to how much the listener already knows
  • tell stories with a distinct plot, an exciting event, clear resolution and conclusion
  • tell elaborate entertaining stories filled with detailed descriptions
  • include a subplot when telling stories and recalling events before resolving the main story line

Activities to help develop their skills

Change words in paragraphs

If your child over uses one adjective, such as ‘nice’ or ‘good’, ask them to think of different adjectives. Offer some suggestions, for example, ‘she had beautiful long hair’ (instead of nice).


What to expect

Children can:

  • tell interesting, entertaining and original stories
  • explain the rules of a game or a sequence of events in a simple but accurate way.


Activities to help develop their skills


Give each other instructions for everyday activities, such as making a cup of hot chocolate, or loading up a computer game. Then try slightly harder instructions, such as how to play a new game  or how to get a bus into town.

Young people may still benefit from a structure to help them give each step clearly. This could be a piece of paper with a space to draw each step, or a crib sheet with ‘first’, ‘next’, ‘last’, or 1, 2, 3.

Story starters (in a school setting)

Everyone starts with the same story starter and has a set amount of time to make up the rest of the story.  This can be written or told to a peer verbally. Compare as  the different endings students have come up with as a group.

Commentator/journalist (in a school setting)

Give the student a commentary of an event. Ask them to re-write it in the past tense ready for a newspaper report. Alternatively, you could ask them to describe what happens as they watch a DVD/You Tube clip. Ask them to write it up as a
newspaper report.



What to expect

Young people and students can:

  • tell interesting, entertaining and original stories
  • explain the rules of a game, or a sequence of events accurately
  • develop report writing skills linked to the curriculum.

Activities to help them develop

Plan out the structure of essays, reports and coursework to include:

  • an introduction
  • structured paragraphs
  • summary
  • conclusion.

Use mind maps to sequence and organise ideas and develop arguments within a piece of writing.