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English Lessons: How to Teach Stories

Updated on March 27, 2017

Why Use Stories to Teach English?

Stories are a good way to show English in action.

There are many benefits to storytelling. If you choose carefully, a story can showcase the vocabulary or grammar you want to teach. Listening to a story helps students to get used to the sound and rhythm of English, even if they don't understand a word. Stories can improve general comprehension. When told correctly, they can teach students that they don't have to be perfect and understand every word; students can learn to use visual clues, expectations, and patterns to understand what is being said.

Stories can also share culture. Telling stories is human; it's what we do from the moment we learn to speak. We share with each other what happened, what we saw, what we know. Stories reveal our similarities, our differences, our belief systems. Sharing an English story doesn't just teach English, it teaches about English speaking people. Every English child knows the story of 'Snow White'. Every child knows 'The Three Bears'. When two people know the same story, it unites those people.

Most importantly, stories are fun. It's important to have fun, for both the students and the teacher. Fun motivates and inspires. Having fun means creating memories of the experience. Play games, sing songs, create art, and tell stories. Give your students something to remember about the lesson. Give your students a full, colorful, action-filled, hands on experience that immerses them in the English language. Your students will not only be learning, they will be begging to learn more.

Teaching Children VS Adults

Fairy tales aren't just for children. Neither are picture books. If your students are mostly children, you probably already see the value in using stories to teach. If your students are adults, you may find yourself more reluctant.

For those who hesitate to use stories to teach teenagers or adults, first consider what a story is. Stories tell us about bloody battles and darkness and death. They tell us about love in all its forms. The tell us what it is to be human, how to face the darkness, how to come together, how to find our way to 'happily ever after', whether such a thing exists or not. We tell stories when we share what happened on our vacation, what our cat did this morning, what we saw over the fence, who we saw kissing who. To tell stories is human, and it isn't confined to children.

That said, telling stories to adults might have different requirements. Adults are already used to a certain style of learning. If they learned by rote all their lives, they may be resistant to change now, even if the new methods are more effective. Or they may embrace the change and love it. Introduce it as part of English culture. Reading picture books may be for babies, but learning culture is for adults.

Where to Find Stories

There are several places to find stories to share with your students.

  • Create your own PowerPoint story. PowerPoint is a good medium to use because you can easily go from page to page in a presentation. You can also make your own book by hand. Creating your own has the benefit of being custom made to fit your lesson. On the other hand, if you are bad at art, you may find it difficult.
  • Local library. Even libraries in non-English speaking countries often have an English section, and most libraries cost less to join than buying every book you need. The downside is that most English picture books aren't written with English lessons in mind. Finding just the right book takes time.
  • Local or online book store. If you go online you might find what you want quickly, but you'll probably have to pay.
  • Free online libraries. Books that are in the public domain can be found online for free. This includes children's picture books. Some websites I found that contain free online children's books are The Rosetta Project, Children's Books Online, and Project Gutenburg.

Wherever you find your stories, there are a few things to look out for. Try to find a story that is appropriate to your student's English level. If it's too wordy and long and hard to understand, even with pictures, most students will find it boring and discouraging rather than entertaining and fun. If it's a story your students already know then you can worry less about the difficult level of English. Remember that simplicity is not the same thing as juvenile. An adult will not appreciate a toddler's book, but an adult can enjoy a timeless classic like a fairy tale. A small child will enjoy a story with many bright and interesting pictures even if they don't understand a word, so long as the story isn't too wordy. Know your students.


How to Tell a Story

You have found the perfect story. Now What? There is an art to storytelling. Using a story as part of a lesson has it's own difficulties. The first step is to introduce the story.

  1. Pre-teach vocabulary. This doesn't mean drilling every word the story uses into your student's heads. Read through the story yourself. Unless this is your first lesson with your students ever, your students may already know some words. You don't need to pre-teach known words. Find the new words that are relevant to your lesson. If you are teaching about colors, find all the color words. If you are teaching about feelings, find all the feeling words. These are the words to pre-teach. Look at what is left. Perhaps you see the word 'castle'. Your students don't know the word 'castle'. Now look at the story picture. There's a castle in the picture. This lesson isn't about buildings or castles; you have a visual aid to point at when you reach this word in the story. You don't need to teach your students 'castle'. They will understand in the moment, in the context of the story. Only pre-teach the important words, and words that you feel need to be understood and won't be.
  2. Share the story. You can do this by showing a video of the story being read, or read it yourself. If you are reading yourself, enunciate. Share in the stories excitement. Act it out. Point to relevant pictures. Whisper the quiet parts. Shout the loud parts. Cry, laugh, frown, glare, gasp, scream, wink, yawn, drop your jaw, cover your eyes, plead with your hands, stomp your feet, reach for the sky, fall to the ground. Do everything in your power to make the story come alive. Put on a show. Does the story repeat a lot? Get your students to join in. Does the story have a lot of action? Act it out. Does the story have a lot of characters or objects? Remember to point to the pictures when you say a word.
  3. Check comprehension. However you tell the story, follow it up with some questions. Check your students' understanding. If you understand your students' native tongue, you can ask them to tell you what happened in the story in their native language. If you don't speak their language, ask simple questions in English. Offer option answers if your students don't seem to understand the question. Act out actions when you say them. Point to objects. Here are some good questions:
    (Point to pictures of main characters) Who is she? What's his name?

    (Show certain story pages) What is she doing? Is she sleeping?

    If you see something you taught in a past lesson, it's always a good idea to bring it up again:

    What color is this?

    How many hearts? Let's count...

    What shape is this?

    What's the weather like?

    Basically, make sure your students understood at least some of the story.
  4. Share the story again. You can read the story a second time. Or you can have your students read the story. Or you can have your students act out a part of it. How much goes into a second sharing depends on your students, the amount of time you have, and whether you feel a second reading is necessary or not. If your students obviously understood everything perfectly the first time, a second reading probably isn't necessary. Or you could let them tell it themselves the second time. If they understood only a little, or only some of the students understood, then a second reading, after reviewing the first reading, can help your students to catch more the second time around.



Stories are a great source for English learning. They are fun, they showcase vocabulary and grammar, and they teach more obscure things like culture, how to use visual and audio cues to aid comprehension, and the basic rhythm of English.

Stories can also make great tie-ins to other English learning activities like role play, art, writing, and games. Use stories in your next English lesson, and your students will learn to love English.


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    • Angela Knight profile image

      Angela Knight 

      16 months ago

      In a sense, short stories cannot be taught. Instead, one can instill the taste for it on others. Short stories open up an array of experiences. Hence, one should really experience it.

    • wiserworld profile image


      2 years ago

      Great ideas for teaching younger language learners. Hope all is well!


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