Storytelling for Little Learners: Tips for Enhancing Vocabulary Skills

Caylie Gaccione
Curriculum Specialist
Blog on November 15 2022

At a young age, children have a love of listening to and telling stories. Whether it’s hearing a bedtime story at home or listening to a read aloud in school, stories are the perfect way to take students beyond their own world. Teachers, parents, and caregivers can all agree that it isn’t always easy to take children to new places or give them all of the experiences that we would like to, but with storytelling, we can open new doors, teach key skills, and increase academic vocabulary.

Why storytelling?

As an educator, one of my favorite classroom experiences was reading stories to my students. I loved the way that I could engage with my students through words, pictures, acting out different characters, and creating supplemental activities to continue the story experience. For little learners, letters and phonics can be overwhelming, but storytelling helps children to explore language skills without academic pressure. Storytelling is the foundation that is used to build speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills.

Storytelling can take on so many different forms from traditional books, to videos, spoken word pieces, comics, and more. As an educator, you can read to your students or even have them start to develop their own stories to take their creativity and vocabulary skills to the next level. Storytelling is a great launching point for so many other key areas of learning such as communication, comprehension, and enhancing academic vocabulary.

Ways to build academic vocabulary:

One of the biggest storytelling benefits for little learners is the acquisition of academic vocabulary. Here are a few ways to get started with building vocabulary:

  1. Identify the target vocabulary – Determine what key terms and academic vocabulary you want to teach children. You can even sort each vocabulary word into tiers (Tier 1 – words used commonly in spoken language, Tier 2 – higher level words that are transdisciplinary, Tier 3 – domain-specific words). You can then pre-teach the words and choose a story that uses them so students have a tangible example.  
  2. Use stories to identify new words – Rather than pre-choosing words, discuss important words as they come up throughout the story. This allows for a more organic way of teaching and acquiring new vocabulary.
  3. Create stories using keywords – Task children with the challenge of writing their own stories that include specific vocabulary words. These words can be pre-determined or students can have the creative freedom to write their own stories and discuss any words that they included.
  4. Take vocabulary beyond a story – Have children complete additional projects that use vocabulary words from the story. Keep reading for some more interactive storytelling activities!

Interactive storytelling activities:

The interactive component is key to help young children develop verbal and written expression, and of course, enhance academic vocabulary. The goal is to embed the vocabulary with a light-hearted and memorable activity that helps children make connections. Storytelling can be multimodal to include reading, writing, speaking, listening, and drawing. Let’s take a closer look at some activities!

Getting Started: Stories are a great launching point to get children thinking and talking about different concepts. A gallery walk is a perfect way to get children engaged in what a story might be about. For example, display pictures from a book throughout the classroom. They can walk around the room with clipboards or notebooks and write down ideas about what they see in the pictures to brainstorm what the story will be about.

Art & Game-Based Activities: These activities are typically very simple, yet incredibly meaningful! Children can draw pictures or use objects/figurines to retell a story or even play a game that accompanies a story. When reading stories to students, I always have them “act out” different scenes to reinforce key concepts. This allows for them to really dive into the story and get to know the plots and characters on a deeper level.

Create Your Own Stories: This is where we can really get creative. Students can write their own stories from scratch or based on a given topic. I always recommend starting with a storyboard. Give children designated space to write down ideas or draw pictures to help them build the flow of their stories.

An example of a storyboard
Have students fill in a storyboard as they go to create the basis of their stories.

Another way to get students writing their own stories is to have them use a “build-a-story” template. This template provides different story starters in various categories. Children can choose one word or phrase from the character, setting, and event sections on the template, and then begin writing their stories. I like this strategy because it teaches new vocabulary words and also serves as a first step for students who might have trouble getting started..

"Build A Story" chart with multiple aspects to choose from.
By using a “Build-A-Story” chart, your learners can customize their own stories using different categories.

Storytelling platforms to try

Another amazing thing about storytelling is that it can happen with or without a screen! Of course, physical books can be read, or stories can be written with pen and paper, but digital platforms can also be used to take storytelling and vocabulary building to a whole new level. Here are a few of my favorite storytelling platforms:

No matter how you incorporate storytelling into your instruction, you will be amazed at how much your little learners can achieve. I hope you all enjoy trying out these new storytelling strategies for your little learners!  Be sure to check out our accompanying OTIS course, Using Interactive Storytelling to Build Academic Vocabulary, as well as many other courses in the OTIS Course Library to learn about other pedagogical best practices and resources.

For more tips, tricks, and tools for teaching in and out of the classroom, check out more content on the Teq Talk blog or our YouTube channels OTIS for educators and Tequipment.

We also offer virtual professional development, training, and support with OTIS for educators. Explore the technology and strategies that spark student success — no matter where teaching or learning are happening!

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