Story telling – a key to activity based learning

In our School Readiness Programme story telling is a key dimension in activity based learning within a competence based pre-primary curriculum.

With the Tanzania Institute of Education 12 stories were written, guided by the competences defined in the curriculum.

This is the guidance given to national facilitators:

Using stories and story telling in the School Readiness Programme.

“Storytelling is many things to many people,” Mr. Faq replied, “It is entertainment, a way of passing on a culture’s history, or a way of teaching to both the young and the old. It is something that must be experienced and tried before you can fully understand it, as its live intimacy has a unique power and magic which creates community. More than anything else, storytelling is an art. An art that anyone can participate in. We all are storytellers, whether we realize it or not.”

 What is storytelling?

Storytelling is one of our oldest art forms. It stimulates the imagination and builds a sense of community between tellers and listeners.

Stories are everywhere – in newspapers, books, on TV and the Internet. Every day conversation is full of anecdotes and real life stories. Storytelling helps us understand our environment and personal experience. 

Many older stories are originally traditional folktales. They represent the richness of oral patterns of telling and are the product of a community experience, as well as the art of individual storytellers. Historical stories, legends and contemporary stories can also be the subject of the storyteller’s tale, and they too embody a strong element of community or collective experience.

The emphasis of traditional storytelling is as much on the telling as the story itself. Stories are recreated by the teller at each telling and passed on through generations.

Why are stories used in education?

Research tells us that:

young children who are read to and told stories from a very young age have considerable advantages later on at school, not only in the development of literacy skills, but also in the development of social skills, such as being able to relate to others. Conversely, children who are not exposed to stories at an early age tend to do less well later, both in terms of literacy and in terms of integrating with others at school.

Stories exercise the imagination and are a useful tool in linking fantasy and the

imagination with the child’s real world.

  • Listening to stories in class is a shared social experience.
  • Children enjoy listening to stories over and over gain. This repetition allows

language items to be acquired and reinforced.

  • Listening to stories develops the child’s listening and concentration skills.
  • Stories create opportunities for developing continuity in children’s learning.


(Adapted from Ellis and Brewster 1991:1-2)

The story itself is the vehicle for developing skills and children can also make associations between language and context. The words in the story are supported by the pictures which provide the visual context to help children’s understanding of language.

Children can store new knowledge more easily and retrieve it when they find themselves in a similar context.

The different activities for each story may also act as a guide for the organization of individual/pair/small group work. Thus the story also structures learning opportunities.

Story telling:

“The story teller has to become the character of the story, so voices change, facial expression, gestures everything change and the story teller is actually living the story for the children and the intonation of voice and the expression attracts the children and they become very quiet and enjoying the story because story telling is for children to enjoy, some stories teach a moral, values and skills but the utmost point is that children will enjoy that story.”

Eleanor Carrillo- Early Childhood Educator



Before telling a story the teller should learn the story well – you don’t have to read every word, try to make it your ‘own’ story.

 Use of pictures

Pictures have a central role to play in the story-based curriculum and the learning to-learn process. They can be a stimulus for forming hypothesis, predicting, sequencing and exercising memory. Words are better associated with pictures. In addition, a story is more memorable if it can be related to a sequence of pictures.


They can help in practicing speaking and writings skills. The story can be reconstructed orally or on paper (e.g. new drawings arranged in a sequence) with the help of key-visuals from the story book.

Characters can be drawn and cut out – give out to some of the children who can be involved when each character is active in the story. After the story telling simple puppets can be made and groups can re-tell the story using the puppets.

Other activities that can go with story telling:
* Give each pair a picture that depicts the events of the story and have them line them up in order of the events.

* Children can make up different titles for the story.

* Repeat quotes from the story and ask the children “Who said it?”

Stop reading before turning the page and ask ‘ What will happen in the story on the next page?’
Stop reading and let the children predict what they think will happen at the end. Let children (in pairs) draw a picture showing how they think the story will end.

* Teach them a song that goes along with the theme of the story. Teach them actions to go along with the songs. Introduce new vocabulary into the same song once children know the song well.
 Role play
* Let children act out parts of the story using role play. Use masks to extend role play.




* Give the children three events in the story and ask them which came first.
 Draw and tell
* Let the children draw a picture about their favourite part of the story and then explain it to the class, perhaps even act it out with a friend.

Pictures in this article were taken during zonal and district training for facilitators and Community Teaching Assistants in the seven regions of the TIE/EQUIP-Tanzania programme.

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