Which - Reading or Telling a Story?


What's in a term? Most young children need to match an activity to the language that goes with it, if they are to get meaning quickly and feel confident. Without some clear classification in their mind of what is going on and what language is used to talk about it, they can be confused although they rarely say so and we may not realise it if we are not down at their level.


To help children understand more rapidly, we can start by making sure our terminology for stories is clear. Are we telling stories or are we reading them? Primary trained teachers with experience in English language mainstream education know the dangers of not using precise language with young children. They may have been embarrassed on occasions getting what they asked for from children and not what they thought they had requested! Although the differences in some case for adults maybe blurred, if we are working with young foreign learners it is important to see our use of stories through children's eyes and use clear language to describe it.


 To quote iatefl YL's SIG journal CATS Issue 2/00 Summer 2000  ISBN 1026-6747

The Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers -PENGUIN

'This title is misleading.it is really the best book on the market offering ways of integrating the use of particular published story books into the whole curriculum. It is not really a book about storytelling.'

A new edition of this book, Tell it again. The new story telling handbook is to be published in Spring 2001.  In fact this book is not about storytelling but reading REAL picture story BOOKS, all  published by Penguin/Pearson. The text explains how to use each storybook as the basis for 6 to 8 lessons of 45 minutes each, so that a teacher can use the REALBOOK to replace a course book.



Storytelling is an oral tradition as old as the hills. Many of the best-loved western folk-tales like Grimm, and Anderson were originally told as oral stories and were only later recorded in books.

Useful expressions may include 'Would you like me to tell you a story. It's storytelling time.'


In the eyes of the child, the main criteria for describing storytelling as opposed to story reading is the form of the activity. How does the story activity take place and how is the child involved?

A story is told when a storyteller tells a story aloud as opposed to reading it from a text. The storyteller may support the activity with props like a hat, a toy animal or even some pictures providing these were not pictures of the story from a story book as these would be considered to be reading the pictures. This is the same as reading a story. (Issue 6 Feature Article - Visual Literacy)


Reading a story - Story reading

This activity involves a storybook from which either the story text or the pictures are read. In the case of books without words, the reader decodes just the pictures.

Useful expressions may include 'Shall we read a story ''Get the book and we'll read the story'

The complete story text may be read without any changes or the reader may improvise cutting or simplifying the text to fit the language level or needs of the class and classroom situation. The child may not realise that the adult is making any change to the text and even if they do, to the child this improvisation is still reading a story.


Writing a story or story writing

Some children enjoy writing their own stories. Children's story writing tends to be sparked by regular story reading activities and access in their own time to REALBOOKS  in a class book corner or at home. If a story is to become their own and deeper learning is to take place, children need to get beyond hearing stories at the speed of the adult to controlling their own speed of reading, turning each page when they are ready. Children need their own space with a REAL story picture BOOK if they are to enjoy their own 'dream time'.                    

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