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Research title

“Storytelling is an act of love.
Sharing stories connects us to each other.
When I tell my story, it connects to your story." 

Njoki McElroy, teacher and storyteller    




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The Challenge:

 The relationship between the skills with which children enter school and their later academic performance is strikingly stable. For instance, research has shown that there is nearly a 90% probability that a child will remain a poor reader at the end of the fourth grade if the child is a poor reader at the end of the first grade.”

The Carnegie Foundation report, Ready to Learn, A Mandate for the Nation


"On the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 32 percent of fourth graders were reading at the proficient level or advanced levels, and only 31 percent of eighth graders were at the proficient or advanced levels."

Institute of Education Sciences - U.S. Department of Education


“No skill is more critical to the future of a child, or to the future of a democratic society than literacy. Unfortunately, California students’ reading scores rank among the lowest in the nation. In Southern California 4 out of 5 third graders cannot read at grade level. 70% of the students have limited English proficiency.”

John P. Perner , Publisher and Chief Executive Officer , The Los Angeles Times. Launched Reading by 9

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The Solution:

“…the Hispanic, Native American , African American, Irish American, and many other cultures in the United States have long histories of storytelling. Teachers can learn from these cultural traditions of storytelling and providing an important home-school link. The child who is consistently exposed to an oral tradition of stories gains skills that prepare him/her for readingSome of the most important skills children gain are:

Concept of story
The many strands of plot
Comprehension of vocabulary
Internalization of character
Natural rhythms and patterns of language
Figures of speech and metaphors
Prediction skills
Concepts about the world
Listening and attending skills
Internalizing their culture
Healthy self concept.”

Storytelling and the Emergent Reader
Eve Malo, Julie Bullard

Presented at the International Reading Association World Congress on Reading, 2000

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"The emotional connection which storytellers make with children seems to help them maintain focus and remember details even after a long period of time has elapsed.

Areas of impact may include but are not limited to the following: motivation to read and/or write; the ability to remember a story and retell it clearly and articulately; the growth of self esteem through storytelling; the ability to visualize and either describe or draw what is in the imagination; the ability to discuss issues raised in a story and relate them to one’s own life and the world.”

Princeton Education Profiles
Storytelling Arts, Inc.
Susan Danoff- Executive Director.


“A final and integral area of impact of storytelling … is the enhanced vocabulary, intonation, elaboration, and use of voice that was recorded in this research.”

Enhancing The Kindergarten Language Experience Using Storytelling Props
by Debbie Seidel: Research Study at Deer Park Elementary School


“Stories can enhance intercultural understanding and communication and:

allow children to explore their own cultural roots

allow children to experience diverse cultures

enable children to empathize with unfamiliar people/places/situations

offer insights into different traditions and values

help children understand how wisdom is common to all peoples/all cultures

offer insights into universal life experiences

help children consider new ideas

reveal differences and commonalties of cultures around the world.”

From: "Storytelling –Benefits and Tips"
Adapted from a workshop by Paula Stoyle, British Council, Jordan


Storytelling also contributes in important ways to literacy . . . one area reading researchers agree on is that oral-language competencies are essential in literacy development. Storytelling requires listening and visualization-key oral-language and comprehension competencies and strategies. It also provides vocabulary development, in context. Talking with children and encouraging talk among children is another facet of oral-language; storytelling stimulates both.”

From Jane Gangi, Encountering Children's Literature: An Arts Approach.
Summer 2004 issue of HearSay


“… listening to stories build vocabulary; enhance memory, imagination, and listening skills; help children think in more complex, abstract, and creative ways; broaden children’s range of experience; and help children develop phonemic awareness through rhythm and rhyme. Sharing stories with very young children . . . lays the foundation for a lifelong love of reading."

(Barclay, Benelli, & Curtis, 1995; Gottschall, 1995). From Thirteen Core Understandings About Learning to Read, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (Language & Literacy Team)

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“One parent in my class comments, "Anna (pseudonym) often recalls verbatim, 'Once upon a time...' or she will remember the inflection of the teacher's voice and attempt to imitate it.... although Anna is an emergent reader, her oral language/retellings are more sophisticated than they were in September." With this example of progress as a goal for all students, it is undeniable that storytelling… do indeed, enhance the language experiences and increase the prior knowledge of culturally diverse and educationally diversified early childhood students in the areas of motivation to engage literacy, comprehension of story elements and sequence, and elaborative language development.”

Enhancing The Kindergarten Language Experience Using Storytelling Props
by Debbie Seidel: Research Study at Deer Park Elementary School


“Watson concludes that participating in communicative events facilitates the acquisition of competence to succeed in literacy in school. Development of this communicative competence through immersion in oral language becomes an important building block for early success in literacy.”

From S.B. Neuman and D.K. Dickinson, Editors:
Handbook of Early Literacy Research: New York: Guilford Press Publications (2001)


“…the extent to which a child's word recognition departed from the level predicted from their decoding ability correlated with their oral language skills. These findings suggest that children's oral language proficiency, as well as their phonological skills, influences the course of reading development.

Nation, K. & Snowling, M.J. (2004).
Beyond phonological skills: Broader language skills contribute to the development of reading.
Journal of Research in Reading, 27, 342-356.


“Children's ability to mark the significance of narrated events through the use of evaluation at age 5 predicted reading comprehension skills at age 8. Children's ability to represent informational content in expository talk at age 5 also predicted reading comprehension at age 8. Control of discourse macrostructures in both narrative and expository talk at age 5 was associated with written narrative skills at age 8.
These findings point to a complex and differentiated role of
oral language in supporting early literacy.

Griffin, T.M., Hemphill, L., Camp, L. & Palmer Wolf, D. (2004).
Oral discourse in the preschool years and later literacy skills.
First Language, 24, 123-147.

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Storytelling is an essential, perhaps the essential activity of human beings. It serves a myriad of functions for the young child. Stories allow children to learn about their culture, but also serve as a kind of passport into the culture.”

From the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory Language & Literacy Team


Developing Literacy Skills Through Storytelling

By Linda Fredericks
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL); National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASCC).
Reprinted by permission.

Storytelling, once viewed by many educators as being a pleasant way to spend time at best, and a complete waste of time at worst, is now being recognized as a powerful tool that can help build literacy and critical thinking skills.

Author and educator Joseph Chilton Pearce, in his book Evolution's End, asserts that the repeated exposure to stories and the subsequent triggering of mental images stimulates appropriate neural development in the brain. It is the reason that children will insist on hearing the same story again and again--the hearing of a story causes neural pathways to form and strengthen within the brain, and the strengthened connections between the different parts of the brain allow the child to more easily incorporate additional learning.

Researchers who study brain and behavioral development have identified imagination, not only as the essence of creativity, but as the basis for all higher order thinking. With imagination, with the ability to understand symbols, create solutions, and find meaning in ideas, young people are more capable of mastering language, writing, mathematics, and other learnings that are grounded in the use of symbols.


Improvement of Reading, Writing, and Speaking Skills

Children who listen to stories are exposed to many new words. They may not know what all the words mean, but hearing or reading a story helps them to understand the meaning of the words through context. By developing vocabulary lists based upon the story, the teacher takes advantage of children's natural curiosity to understand the story, and children are more motivated to consult a dictionary or use the new words in stories of their own creation.

Symbolic Learning

Researchers who study brain and behavioral development have identified imagination, not only as the essence of creativity, but as the basis for all higher order thinking. With imagination, with the ability to understand symbols, create solutions, and find meaning in ideas, young people are more capable of mastering language, writing, mathematics, and other learnings that are grounded in the use of symbols.

Strengthening of Critical Thinking Skills

Traditional stories from throughout the world address many difficult issues of life; they teach how to face adversity and move through it. A close look at traditional stories from any culture reveals stories dealing with death, loss, separation, abandonment, fear, and anger. The stories also show that love, compassion, understanding, and courage can be a part of stories as well. Students grapple with painful realities of life: parental divorce, poverty, substance abuse…and stories can help them negotiate these difficulties of life and can be of inestimable value.

Stories are also effective in increasing tolerance and understanding of people from other cultures. Through the medium of story, the listener can safely explore what all human beings have in common as well as how they differ from each other. Stories have the power to gently remove the child from his or her usual reality and for a time immerse the listener in a different time and place. Through imagination, each child can venture beyond the boundaries of individual experience and know what it is to share in another person's travels or feel another's sorrow or celebration. No one could return from an imaginative journey to another culture without retaining a greater appreciation for the unique wisdom and experiences of its people.


The capacity for imagination has profound implications, not just for academic learning, but for behavior as well. Several recent studies have shown that children who lack imagination are far more prone to violence. Such children cannot imagine alternatives to their immediate perceptions of anger or hostility; they are able to react only to what they believe is the situation in front of them. On the other hand, children who possess imagination have a very different experience. They can be exposed to the same hostile situation as an aggressive child, but with their ability to imagine, different solutions can be reached.

Literacy and Critical Thinking

Stories are not just incidental to the development of literacy in young people--they are essential. They are a powerful and indispensable tool to teaching literacy and critical thinking skills to students.







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