Preschool ESL Classroom Activities: Storytelling

One of the fun preschool ESL classroom activities is storytelling. At their age, pre-schoolers are in the process of personal, social and emotional development; they acquire knowledge and begin to understand the world. As folk art, storytelling is accessible to all ages and abilities, and as a learning tool for pre-school lesson themes, it can encourage early language learners to explore their unique expressiveness and heighten their abilities to communicate thoughts and feelings.

Children love storytelling!
Children love storytelling!

Benefits ESL storytelling

Storytelling is especially useful in language teaching and learning. Children engaged in the activity of storytelling learn about history and culture, they develop emotionally and gain a better sense of self-esteem. They are very fond of listening to fairytales and stories, but in ESL teaching and learning, it is very important to decide on the right story to tell.

ESL storytelling includes visualization (looking at images) and body gestures. As a teaching method, telling a story doesn't require accuracy, it aims to make a symbolic point and to make it easier for children to start producing a foreign language. Maybe a good choice would be one of the tales from the Grimm's Fairy Tale Collection: Cinderella, Snowhite, The Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel etc. Also, one might choose between the famous children's stories by Hans Christian Andersen: The Snowqueen, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl or The Ugly Duckling.

Of course, these stories are used in the abbreviated form as a preschool classroom ESL activity. The chosen story should be rich with dialogues and pictures. You'll find the Aesop's story The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse with detailed examples further in the text. This story has several versions and it's widely used by teachers employing the method of storytelling.

Interaction in ESL storytelling

Storytelling with children assumes the interaction between the teacher and the learner, that's why we don't say storytelling ''for'' children. It is implemented in phases or sessions through a longer period of time. This ESL activity can be performed every third lesson or it can take 15 minutes of time from every English lesson – this depends entirely on the organisation of the teacher. It's important that the teacher makes a good introduction, maybe tell the children they are going to another place without leaving the room and that both the teacher and the children are going to be different people or creatures.

Interaction means that the teacher guides children through the story, they have their roles and they repeat their part of dialogue after the teacher. In time children learn what they need to say as their part in the story and at this point it's possible to pass from storytelling to role playing and drammatization. After storytelling, these two techniques are the basis for making a little theatre play. Each child or a group has its role according to the story, the teacher is the moderator and they act together producing a foreign language. These activities take longer time and a lot of preparation, but with provided costumes and masks the result could be an excellent theatre play for parents which pleases both children and their parents, and of course, this is also a very nice event and big success for the teacher.

5 tips on proper ESL storytelling

Keep in mind the following 5 rules when telling a story:

  • Innovation – Employ a unique or creative use of language, sound, or body language.
    Creatively present the sequence of events.
  • Voice Mechanics – speak with an appropriate volume for the children to hear. Use a non-monotonous, vocal expression to clarify the meaning of the text. Speak loudly or silently or whisper when you need to, make onomatopoeic sounds. Differentiate your natural voice from character voices.
  • Body talk – Expressively use non-verbal communication to clarify the meaning of the text, make gestures, include vivid facial expressions. When you are telling a story mime and follow your words with actions (knock on the door, walk around the room, ''go to sleep'' and other actions depending on what you're saying).
  • Focus – Bring concentration to its highest. Eye contact with audience is engaging. Maintain a charismatic presence in space (stage presence). Use pictures to remind the audience/participants about the sequence of the plot.
  • Characterization – Employ dialogue for characters to make them believable to the listener.

The Little Red Riding Hood says, "My, what big teeth you have!" (pause) The wolf replies, "The better to eat you with," and ... swallows her whole.
The Little Red Riding Hood says, "My, what big teeth you have!" (pause) The wolf replies, "The better to eat you with," and ... swallows her whole.
A hunter, however, comes to the rescue and cuts the wolf open. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother emerge unharmed. They fill the wolf's body with heavy stones, which drown him when he falls into a well.
A hunter, however, comes to the rescue and cuts the wolf open. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother emerge unharmed. They fill the wolf's body with heavy stones, which drown him when he falls into a well.

Pictures in ESL storytelling

Pictures are very important in storytelling; first, the teacher reads the story aloud and simultaneously shows the pictures to children so that they could memorize better the sequence of events and to stimulate comprehension. Storytelling improves language skills such as vocabulary, prediction, sequencing, comprehension, story structure and recall. Pictures are of key importance once children learn their part in storytelling: some parts are for the teacher to ''tell'' and some parts are for the children to ''tell''.They don't read the story, they tell the story!

The difference between reading aloud and ESL storytelling is that the act of storytelling is always active and inventive. The teacher must concentrate on the intonation because storytelling is not just reading aloud; one must be a little bit of an actor and introduce all sorts of emotions present in the story, occasionally making sounds that reveal fear, happiness, sadness and similar.


In the book Storytelling with children by Andrew Wright, along with many other interesting chapters, you'll find one version of the story The Town and Country Mouse. The author also provides a set of class activities you can use in the process.

The following text is an example of the story with two suggestions on (ESL) classroom activities offered by this author and free printable masks by Jen Brett which can be very useful in characterization or drammatization (unless you decide to engage children in making their own masks).

Town Mouse and Country Mouse: ESL story

A Town Mouse visits a Country Mouse.

He says, ''What a lovely house!''

But he thinks, ''This house is not a nice house, it's a hole in the ground!''

He says: ''What nice food!''

But he thinks, ''This food is not nice food, it's corn!''

The Country Mouse visits the Town Mouse.

He says, ''What a nice house!''

The Town mouse says, ''Thank you. Now come and eat. You can have Brie cheese, Gorgonzola cheese and cottage cheese. You can have sausages, potatoes, beans, carrots, or lettuce. You can have honey, bread, cake…''

''What's that noise?'', says the Country mouse.

''Quick! It's people! Let's run!'' says the Town Mouse.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse run and they hide in a little hole.

The Country Mouse says, ''It's very nice food.''

But he thinks, ''It's a pity we can't eat it!''

Preschool ESL activity suggestions:

(1) Invite children to compliment each other:

  • What a lovely dress!
  • What a lovely picture!

(2) Divide the class into four groups (A1, A2 and B1, B2);

  • A1 is the Town Mouse speaking and A2 the town mouse thinking.
  • B1 is the Country Mouse speaking and B2 is the Country mouse thinking.

The ''thinking'' part of the class is supposed to whisper.

Storytelling may be a great learning tool and a very interesting preschool ESL classroom activity. This activity needs a little more preparation on the side of the teacher, but the effort pays off in class.

Free preschool ESL printables

Mouse masks by Jan Brett:

Storytelling in Classroom

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Comments 18 comments

gnrao profile image

gnrao 6 years ago from 37,west periasamy road,r.s.puram coimbatore 641002 tamil nadu india

this blog deserves compliments. nicely done. gone though many items .thanks a lot on behalf of parents and kids around the world.

vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 6 years ago Author

To gnrao:

Thanks for your comments! It's very nice to receive compliments especially if you find my small contribution useful :-) !

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

I think you have great tips here. It look easy to do, but if we don't practice a lot the result is not good. And the audience will not give attention with our story. The important thing we have to keep the storytelling culture for the next generation.

vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 6 years ago Author

I agree with you prasetio30. Don´t worry, stories were interesting to kids and adults for centuries and I believe the interest will continue in the future.

KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

Wonderful hub - you have the teching down pat. Storytelling is the most exciting, attention grabbing way to teach. Great job.

Kristine Manley profile image

Kristine Manley 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

This is a wonderful Hub. I so enjoyed listening to stories as a child.

puddingicecream profile image

puddingicecream 5 years ago from United States

great hub. especially important for teachers and parents

ubanichijioke profile image

ubanichijioke 5 years ago from Lagos

I find this hub practical and up to date with the latest information for teaching children. Thanks so much

vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 5 years ago Author

@ubanichijioke: Thanks for commenting. The hub is written based on personal teaching experience and I'm glad people find it useful.

linda 5 years ago

wonderful hub

Leona 4 years ago

Excellent....teaching kids can be horrific if you fail to prepare and don't have the right materials thanks for this website you have provided me with some fantastic ideas!!!!

vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 4 years ago Author

Thanks, Leona! I'm really glad you found the article useful for your work :) I remember my first day in kindergarten when I taught ESL to pre-schoolers for the first time - that was a disaster. I was practically done after 15 minutes and had no idea how to continue. There was nobody to teach me, but I loved working with kids and after a year of experiments and research, I started developing programs, methods and techniques to help kids learn more, better, and faster. Hoping to write a manual for teachers soon :)

eslinsider 4 years ago

This is good to see. I found story telling to those tiny kids to be quite a challenge when I first started teaching ESL. I think I pretty much sucked.

The tactics of storytelling don't sound so different from teaching and being a good speaker. That is changing the tone and pace of your voice, using body language and making eye contact.

vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 4 years ago Author

@eslinsider: Yes, telling stories to very little children really is a challenge. It has to be interactive in order to be successful. They won't listen too long unless they can say something lol However, I think it's more fun the way they want it :)

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA

What a great hub for ESL teachers -- or tutors. I will bookmark it so that I won't forget it if I write on this topic. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

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vox vocis 4 years ago Author

Oh, now I see that you used to work as an English teacher, too :) I've just checked your profile again - impressive! Thanks for stopping by :)

PowerCom ARS 2 years ago

We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and our whole community will be thankful to you.

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vox vocis 2 years ago Author

Thank you very much! I'm glad my work has been helpful to you.

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