young students listening to teacher telling story
Inside the Classroom

The Value of Storytelling in the Classroom

The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser

As individuals and parts of a society, we are made of stories. It is through the telling of stories that we share with people who we are, and thus, the value of storytelling in the classroom cannot be overstated. Stories often act as strings that connect us to our past; our ancestors, our culture, why we do things the way we do. Stories are a strong connecting force, and as we explore further, we’ll see the value of storytelling in the classroom.

Sharing stories is a wonderful way to build community and help us to see that we are not alone. Students love sharing their own stories and hearing stories about what came before. Would a class be as interesting if stories were not included? One of my favorite myths involves a giant throwing up the Earth. It makes me laugh every time I hear it, which made the myth section of my class more interesting (so of course it was always included!). The students found it amusing and wanted to write their own, which helped them practice their writing skills and stretch their creative muscles.

a giant throwing up and creating planet Earth; illustrated by Skylar Mowery

These are the connections and the community we want to have within the walls of our classrooms. By building community, you are encouraging students to identify with and learn about one another. You are also encouraging them to want to explore their stories and to learn more about a topic. Storytelling can also open the door to the community outside. Where I live, stories are told frequently about the land and the people. Giving these experiences and tools to our students can increase their desire to explore the world around them more.

Do not underestimate the power of reading aloud. Most people love being read to no matter how old they are. For so many children, being read to was a favorite activity, and our students do not grow out of that. By reading aloud, you’re helping students to make connections and build community, learn new vocabulary, and use their imaginations.

Many students practice words they learn while reading, but if they’ve only ever read a word, they may not know how to pronounce it. Let us not show them they’re pronouncing the word wrong, but let them hear how it should sound! Using character voices and emotions, you can help students find reading and learning more exciting. Try removing the read-aloud portion of your class. Doing so can create anxiety and quickly foster a dislike of reading. Next, try having them read to each other in groups, and see how they respond to that. Reading aloud to three or four people is far less intimidating to a student than reading aloud to the entire class, and that can be true for adults, too! By building community in your classroom, students will find it to be a safe space to share stories, including more personal ones.

fairy tale setting with a princess and castle; illustrated by Skylar Mowery

Storytelling encourages the imagination, especially when it’s collaborative, and often, many stories within a family are passed down orally. Think about the stories your grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles shared with you, some of which are now family lore. Your students have had this experience with oral storytelling, too, so they will definitely have ideas in mind when you start telling a story. Let them go with it! You can incorporate visuals, but it can be fun for your students to create the visuals themselves. When you tell a story, ask them to draw their favorite character or what they think the land looks like. When you have them write their stories, encourage them to include drawings. It is so fun to explore these stories with your students and to see how they see the characters.

When we allow others to tell their stories or include them in ours we often hear, “I thought that was only me!” How wonderful to know that we are not alone! Knowing this can put us at ease, and the same is true for students. And when students know they aren’t alone, learning and opening up can become easier, showing us the true value of storytelling in the classroom. Encourage your students’ learning and the building of community by giving them the space to become storytellers within your classroom.

About the Author

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Chelsea Van Klaveren

Born and raised in New Mexico, Chelsea graduated from the University of New Mexico with her Master’s in Secondary Education. Chelsea also has a BA in History, where her passion for school was born. After having her first child, Chelsea knew she wanted to be a teacher. She has taught Social Studies, ELA, and Family and Consumer Science for four years in various settings. In addition to teaching, a few of her favorite things include her kids, arts and crafts, baking, reading (lots and lots of reading), coffee, music, and trying new things.