National Storytelling Week – Jan 30th – Feb 6th 2016

emmaby Emma Sewell

StorytellingThe image on the right is probably the sort of thing that springs to mind when someone talks about storytelling. Most of us can remember sitting in a circle around our teacher while they read the next installment of a classic story.

National Storytelling Week gives us the opportunity to expand and explore some other, non-traditional, ways to share a tall tale or two.

Written Word

The written word is actually the youngest of the three types of storytelling we mention here, but it is probably the most adaptive one. Stories thrived (and still do) as serial magazines, hooking the readers in and getting them back for their weekly/monthly installments, and now phone apps will be bringing back this tradition. In classrooms we use novels and textbooks to engage the students. Every day we read a news story online. Storytelling is all around us. Making a boring presentation at work? Even then you’re telling a story, hopefully that thought will make it slightly more bearable!

If anything, storytelling has become a lot more concise over the years. With the reach of social media, people are sharing stories and jokes in their status updates and tweets. It became such a popular past-time that #twitterfiction swept across the literary world. Authors like David Mitchell, Philip Pullman and Margaret Atwood have all given it a go.

Melissa Terras (professor of Digital Humanities, University College London) said “With Twitter fiction, people are taking the limitation of 140 characters and doing something creative. It’s a slightly different art form and it creates a different experience of fiction.”

Here’s John Niven’s piece of Twitter fiction: “Not the ideal living arrangement, but it would do for now. He closed the trapdoor and heard it scuttling away across the floorboards above.”

Spoken Word

Every time grandad tells you he caught a fish THIS big, with outstretched hands getting further apart, you’re getting a new story to tell for yourself. The spoken word is the biggest game of Chinese whispers to ever be played. No two people can tell the same story in the same way, which is why it’s so important to encourage a diverse range of storytellers. Each culture and gender brings their own little tweak to a story that will each appeal to different listeners.

Audiobooks are a great way to share stories, there’s nothing quite as luxurious as listening to someone read you a book. Narrating books is far from an easy job. The best readers have smooth steady voices, easily switch between characters and they can create the atmosphere without once seeing them. A great reader will leave you unable to read the physical book without hearing their voices in your head.

We mustn’t forget acting, on stage or on screen. With actions, sets and costumes, actors draw from everything around them to tell you a story. This visual storytelling is much more accessible than audiobooks, as you can convey emotion and importance with your actions as well as your voices.


“Class, today I want you to draw me a picture about what you did during your holidays.” Another familiar line that you might remember. Within the space of a lesson you’ll have 30 A4 stories that everyone can interpret. You can create a vivid story in your head alongside an image that’s shown to you, whether you know the subject of it or not.

Entice readers to make their own stories about these 14 images.

Chris Van Allsburg created the book “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick“, inside are 14 intricate drawings with simple descriptions underneath. Who was Harris Burdick, and what were the stories he wrote to go with these images? Illustrations are the detective investigation of the story world, you have to use your imagination and personal experiences to help you decipher the tale from the image.

Illustrations used on their own make for a fascinating creative reading experience, each writer might have several different ideas leading to hundreds of different stories. When you combine drawings with text though, you get a new understanding of the original words. Text can often be a difficult thing for some readers, and complex text will be lost to some… but a complex picture? You find things in them, that you can’t within a body of writing.


“Once upon an if” is filled with multi-cultural stories and a complete guide on storytelling.

For National Storytelling Week why not explore other ways to share an experience?

  • Create storyboards with sequential pictures.
  • Record your own audio books of class written stories.
  • Perform some of your own plays.
  • Make a class magazine.
  • Write some songs to perform.
  • Create a short story in braille.
  • Write some Twitter fiction.
  • Try Storyteller Interactive in your primary classroom.

National Storytelling Week is a wonderful way to develop new communication skills, and have fun while doing it. Holding your own innovative storytelling week? Why not share some of your successes with us below?

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