Storytelling & Language Acquisition

Much has been written about the importance of storytelling; bedtime stories form a part of our first contact with books, with language, as well as forge bonds between parent and child, storyteller and story listener, both engaging in a type of communication that goes beyond the narrative itself.

Very wisely, teachers of young learners, have been replicating this model of learning in young learner classrooms around the world.

Stories help children acquire…

… language
… values
… knowledge
… cultural identity
… cultural awareness

Stories help children develop…

… cognitive abilities
… oracy and literacy
… numeracy
… ability to concentrate
… auditory ability
… multiple intelligences
… critical thinking
… creative thinking

Moreover, all this is done naturally, in a way that appeals to the child echoing the process of L1 acquisition when stories and images play such a strong part in developing language skills.

Storytelling & Educational Objectives

Storytelling and story creation cover a wide spectrum of educational objectives. In the revised Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive domains, creating appears at the very top of Higher Order Thinking Skills and remembering – according to this taxonomy, appears as a Lower Order Thinking Skill. Even in Bloom’s own ordering. In the original  model creating did not feature but instead “Synthesis” was mentioned a higher order thinking skill which is very much an alternative way of describing creative thinking.


With the exception of ‘analyzing’, which is perhaps not suited to young learner classes, I would suggest that by using story telling activities which lead to storymaking by the learners,  you satisfy most of the educational objectives shown in Bloom’s taxonomy* – both lower and higher order cognitive domains.

Even if ‘remembering’  and ‘understanding’ are seen be at the lower order end of the cognitive abilities scale, they are equally important and vital in the process of learning anything; recalling language and concepts is a necessary building block for language acquisition.

By engaging your learners in digital storytelling activities you take care of more than just language forms; you also integrate the language skills in a most natural way.

  • Listening to stories can very naturally lead to story telling 
  • Reading stories can equally naturally lead to story writing 

Storytelling and making appeal to our affective domain as well – we connect with other fellow humans and to the collective human experience through storytelling

And, finally, by engaging your pupils in digital story telling activities, you are not only helping their language acquisition processes but also preparing them to be digitally literate and more successful 21st century learners .

Digital Storytelling & Adult Learners

We feel compelled to tell stories.

We tell each other stories every day of our lives, stories meant to help us connect, stories that echo our friends’ stories which makes us feel closer to them, stories that amuse or stories we invent – literary would exist without this strong human need.

Stories are a major part of how we communicate and how we teach – often, they are more powerful than direct instruction. They seem to reach parts that lecturing or direct instruction often are unable to!

Narrating & Adult Communication

Whether learning English on a general purpose course or on a specialist language focus programme, narration is an important part of developing fluency.

Personal narratives or anecdotes can motivate adults to produce long turns, to sustain talk for longer than the disjointed fragments of question and answer conversations common to a language lesson.

  • They can be rehearsed and satisfy the adult learner’s need for meaningful and motivating controlled practice
  • They provide more concrete evidence of progress to the teacher (and the learner herself/himself)
  • They are great for homework which can be recorded digitally in some way – adults are more likely to be motivated by this time of homework assignment.
  • They can build the basis for great presentation skills, which seems to be a skill more and more in demand in a world of online conferences, google hangouts, product presentations and online tutorials uploaded on you tube.
  • They can form the basis of good report writing
  • They can help the adult user establish and maintain better personal and business relationships with other L2 users.

Stories help adults with …

… language
… cultural awareness
… social awareness
… motivation
… oral & written fluency

Stories help adults develop…

… confidence
… social relationships
… ability to sustain talk or writing
… ability to concentrate
… auditory ability
… multiple intelligences
… critical thinking
… creative thinking

Some tools for digital narration

There are too many tools to include in just one post. Digital narration/storytelling is truly worth exploring and to that end I have included some great links for further exploration at the end of this post.

Example 1 – with Voicethread

In this Voicethread, the image  serves as a prompt for prediction. The learners record their version of the story before they hear the teacher narrate what actually happened

The image/prompt is a Word Cloud, another great tool which can lead to  written or oral narration. The students study the phrases, attempt connections, create episodes and sequences before they embark on their own story.




Comment:  The students could equally well be asked to write their own version before they hear or read the original story; thus the prompts can lead to speaking, writing or both

Example 2 – with Creaza

A story animation created with this tool to show how you can use familiar themes with a twist to get adults to narrate. The story of Little Red Riding Hood has been used as an example as it was rewritten by American humorist James Thurber in 1932

N.B. The original version can be used with younger learners (though that one is pretty scary too :-) )



You can find more ideas on how to use this type of animation – or similar ones that you can create with Xtranormal, GoAnimate or other similar tool, by reading a previous blog post of mine on Animating  Stories. 

In my original post, I used Jing – a free screencast tool – to capture  the story animation and to record my voice narrating it, something which the students can be shown how to do.


The ‘digital’ aspect of storytelling is not a must to make a storytelling lesson a great success, although some of the tools – if available – will create an enhanced experience for younger and older learners alike, and may motivate further.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 


Marisa Constantinides runs CELT Athens, a Teacher Development centre based in the capital of Greece, and is a Course Supervisor for all courses, including the DELTA Cambridge/RSA Diploma, the Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation and off-site seminars and workshops on a variety of topics.

This post originally appeared on the blog TEFL Matters and was republished with permission.