When I taught in the classroom and as a homeschool adviser, I saw a lot of bad writing. We’ve all heard that reading quality books helps create good writers, but don’t forget the classic art of storytelling.
Being able to envision stories in your head without an accompanying illustration, is an important skill that can lead to a growing imagination, and increased reading comprehension.
Books on CD are a great way to introduce the idea of storytelling. We love to listen to stories in the car. Our current favorites are almost all from Barefoot Books. Our library also has a great selection of audio books. Usually we listen to the story uninterrupted the first time (as uninterrupted as a story can be with a two and four year old;) The next time we listen to the story I may occasionally pause it and ask questions, such as “Ooh, I love how they described that dragon! Do you think it looks nice or mean?” At the end of stories I usually ask questions, to see how much they were able to follow the story. I have found that they have a harder time with these comprehension questions with the audio books than they usually do with visual books.
After introducing storytelling through audio books I started to fabricate stories for the kids. I model good stories by making sure that I use vivid descriptions, and include a beginning, middle (with some sort of climax), and an end. They especially love when they are characters in the stories.
Including fun variations has had us telling stories almost all day long! The kids love choose your own adventure type stories where I ask them questions and their answers dictate the direction of the tale. For example, “Ryan and Ella soon came to a dark cave. As they stood outside peering in, they saw a faint light flickering deep inside. Should they go inside or keep trying to find the castle?”
We have also enjoyed a lot of round table story telling lately. We take turns each adding a few lines. These stories get pretty silly!
My favorite story telling activity is telling the same story from different points of view. For example, I could tell the kids a story about a group of kids hunting for a dragon and then tell the story a second time speaking as the dragon. This is a great tool for helping kids think from other peoples point of view. [This less egocentric thinking is developmentally appropriate around age four.]
Of course this is all leading up to having the kids create their own stories. If they have a hard time coming up with ideas you could brainstorm together, or even give them some props to use. Don’t be surprised if in the beginning the stories sound a lot like the ones you have been telling, or tend to ramble on forever. You can ask questions to illicit more details or more vivid descriptions. You can talk about their story at the end saying, “I like how at the beginning of your story ___ happened, then in the middle ____ happened, and then it ended with ____.” Though the best way to keep improving their stories is to keep reading to them and telling them great stories.
We are just starting to turn our stories into fun puppet shows :)
Remember, great story tellers grow into great writers!