The Storytelling Club


   Marilyn A. Kinsella


Storytellers know a secret…children are natural storytellers! However, our education system seems to downplay the importance of storytelling and of letting our children’s voices be heard. How can we squeeze one more thing into the school day, when there are state standards to meet and state testing around the corner? One way is by forming a storytelling club. As with anything worth doing, it is worth doing well. Below are some ideas that others and I have gathered to help facilitate the concept of a "The Storytelling Club."

Getting Started:

Permission from the Administration


Before you meet with students:


Beginning Meeting

The First Meeting

Establishing Rules

Everything runs smoothly, if the students understand the rules of behavior. Elicit from the group the behaviors that are needed for good storytelling to take place –

  1. Good listening skills (keeping eye contact with the teller, sitting quietly, keeping expression appropriate to the story, not talking to others or making comments, applause, etc,) Write these behaviors on big sheets of paper and hang them around the room.
  2. Creating a "safe environment" where the students feel accepted for the talents they have and feel safe to try something different. Some will have to work harder than others to learn a story. There is a difference between criticism/compliment and a put-down. Respecting the teller (respond with positive comments and ask if they want "suggestions;" don’t discuss the story with others outside the club unless the teller gives permission)
  3. Listen to the moderator…let the students know that you are in charge and what the consequences will be if the rules are broken. Some tellers have a contract that the students sign agreeing to the above. Have a place where the unruly can go, if they continually break the rules. Also, let the class know your comfort range in telling a story. Older students may want to put something sexually explicit or meaningless violence or curse words, etc. For younger students this probably won’t even be an issue because you will be the one who ultimately okays the stories.
  4. Attendance: If someone continually misses the meetings, find out why. They must understand that, if they don’t come, they will not be chosen to perform the stories to other groups.

Meeting Structure

Students like structure whether they know it or not. Although the structure will vary according to the focus for the day, this is one way to line up a session.

  • Work on stories – story selection or telling stories in pairs, small groups or to the whole group (see below)
  • Feedback (see below)
  • Closing (see below)

Choosing a Story to Tell

The best way to find a story is to listen to storytellers. Perhaps you know a storyteller who would come to your group on occasion. They may be working on a new story and need the opportunity to practice it. Listen to CDs or watch DVDs of storytellers who are telling stories that you think would be good for retelling. Some storytellers have audio and video on their websites. And, of course, you can read, read, read to find that story that pulls at you.

Look for the following traits when trying to select a story (from Storytelling Art and Technique by Baker)

      • A single theme, clearly defined
      • A well developed plot
      • Style: vivid word pictures, pleasing sounds and rhythm
      • Characterization
      • Dramatic appeal
      • Appropriateness to listeners
  • For really young children (first thru third), it will be easier to work on one story that they all will learn. Find a story that is repetitious such as "The Little Red Hen." Tell the story to them. Take a big piece of poster paper and fold it into 8 squares. Ask them to tell you about the scenes in the story and draw the simple scenes in the squares. Using that piece of paper ask a few of them to tell you "about" the story. Do this again another week with another story such as "The Three Little Pigs". Let the kids have their own piece of typing paper, fold it, and draw the pictures. Retell the story with the children doing the dialog as you narrate the story. As the kids become more adept, they will no longer need to draw the pictures. They will tell the stories on their own. As you go on…encourage others to tell the stories that you already learned.

  • For older students, have a variety of stories at their disposal – books, DVDs, CDs, computer sites, paper copies of stories. Give them enough time to read through a variety of stories to find the one they want to tell. This can take a long time, but remind the students that whatever they choose, they will be working with it for a long time. Discuss with the student why they like the story.


Telling the Story

The process of being able to tell takes a lot of beginning steps, listening to feedback, trying again and again until the story becomes smooth. It is not a quick process. It takes sometime days and weeks to get a story ready. Here are some ideas on how to proceed…

Learning the story

Some storytellers teach storytelling by using the six-step method: Raising Voices:

  1. Choose the story.
  2. Read it aloud.
  3. Create a storyboard or story map.
  4. Now, put the printed story away. Visualize the story – use all the senses while "seeing" the story. See the whole story through…don’t do just the beginning over an over. Try to get through the story each time.
  5. Tell in pairs, and then small groups, and then to the whole group. Give Feedback (see below)
  6. Prepare to tell in performance.

Giving Feedback

Encourage positive feedback from the group. Harsh criticism at this age can squelch a child’s natural storytelling. There are three main kinds of feedback

  1. Teacher evaluation: Tell them what worked…what you liked. Then, ask if they want some suggestions. Normally, you can do this in front of the group so everyone learns. However, if there is a major problem, try to do this privately, not in front of the others. Try avoid saying things like, "I didn’t like way you said how Jack said…" Instead, try this approach. "Tell me a little about Jack……Okay, Jack was very stubborn, right? Now, say that line again."
  2. Self evaluation: Some questions the student can ask…What did I like about my performance? What do I need to work on for my next performance? How did the audience respond as a whole? What went over really well?
  3. Student Evaluations: Some things the students need to think about before they make comments…
    • Is my question about the story?
    • Are there parts of the story that I don’t understand?
    • What parts of the story did I really enjoy? Why?
    • Describe the stories strong or weak points.
    • Comment about basic speech techniques:

Dialog should make use of different voices for different characters and using the Storytelling "V" - where you will shift your facing (or posture) as the dialog switches from character to character. Use your voice to create the atmosphere or tension as the story progresses. Project your voice whether whispering or speaking loudly Use gestures and facial expressions add much to the visualization of the story. Be sure they are appropriate and natural. Practice them! Pacing involves both the volume and rate at which you speak, and the progression of the action in the story. Dialog slows a story's pace down, while narrating action speeds it up. Repetition and Exaggeration have always been basic elements of story telling. Eye contact – look out at your audience making contact with their eyes.

Ending the Meeting

Come together in a circle and discuss what you did during the session. Reflect on what worked well or why something work as well as it should have. Discuss ways to improve for next time.

Closing: have a little ritual – read a poem or sing a song, thank group or individuals for their contributions, if time, tell another story, turn off any special lighting, put the chair back and clean up.



Take out some books on starting a storytelling club. You can find them at your library or order them from the library. Amazon and other book sites have some terrific deals. Here are some titles to get you started:

Useful Websites

And go to this website specifically for youth tellers

  • Kendall Haven- Author of Super Simple Storytelling and many others -
  • Beauty and Beast Storytellers – authors of Children Tell Stories and a website with ideas for activities to get children involved in storytelling
  • National Youth Storytelling Showcase – find out how your students may qualify. Contact Kevin Cordi (above)
  • Lesson plans and story activities from Heather Forest
  • Aaron Shepard’s website is full of stories and ideas – student friendly!
  • Kids’ Storytelling Club – lots of useful info about stories for students

Where to go from here:

  • Mentorship: Setting up a one-to-one mentor with a professional storyteller. Check with individual storytellers for availability and prices. Here is a link for St. Louis tellers:
  • Ensemble Story Teaching:Where Students Learn and Tell Together See -
  • YES – Special Interest Group (SIG) for youth and educators alike.
  • National Storytelling Network – for storytellers but it has lots of info
  • St. Louis Gateway Storytellers – local guild with opportunities to tell
  • St. Louis Storytelling Festival – a city-wide festival with a youth concert

Opportunities to Tell

Besides telling for you club members, your students will want to continue telling stories. Here are some places for them to think about:

  1. Campfires – There’s nothing better to conjure up the night spirits than by telling a story. Imaginations go wild!
  2. Slumber parties – Be the hit of the party. Tell some urban legends. Turn off the light and put a flashlight up to your face and tell a short jump tale.
  3. Classroom telling – Telling to your pals in front of classroom can be daunting, but a good "how and why" story will add something extra to a unit on Native America
  4. Public Libraries – See if the children’s librarian will work with you to provide space to tell to young children or to come in to tell a story for a particular story time.
  5. In the car – Going on a long trip and the DVD gets boring, spice it up by telling a story in the round, that is stop the story and pass the story on to the next person.
  6. Family Gatherings – Some families are really into letting their kids "show-off" in front of others. Be sure that the family takes the story time seriously to avoid hurt feelings.
  7. Babysitting – Gosh…you’ve got 4 hours with the same kids! What to do! Aha! Tell that story you’ve been working on. Try to add some participation to the story to keep them involved or have them put on a puppet show afterwards…you’ll be surprised how much those little ones can remember.
  8. Scouts – Many organizations either have a storytelling badge or storytelling is a requirement for another badge. Tell at meetings, Blue and Gold Banquets, campouts, and other activities.
  9. Nursing Homes and Senior Centers – You will need some experience here. You need a mic and to slow down for the seniors to understand you. Keep the stories short, but they will love you for coming and giving them some special time.
  10. See if there is a local storytelling guild in your area and see if they encourage youth to come to tell stories.
  11. Youth Storytelling at storytelling concerts or competitions.