How to improve your storytelling in English

Storytelling30 January to 5 February is National Storytelling Week 2023. During this time, teachers will share stories with you, their tips for storytelling, and encourage you to read more in your free time. But why is storytelling important, and why is there a whole week dedicated to it?

Why storytelling in English is important 

By reading and listening to stories in English, we can become better storytellers ourselves. 

In everyday conversations, we often tell someone a story about something that happened to us or someone we know. Listening to stories can help us express and explain ourselves better. We can understand the structure of a story and learn new language in context. We can also learn how to make our own stories engaging and enjoyable.  

Storytelling allows us to practise important skills such as understanding and making conclusions. Sometimes, the message in a story may not always be 100% clear, so we need to use our prediction skills to understand the true meaning of the story.

Storytelling can also teach us about different cultures and traditions and gives us the opportunity to share our own experiences. 

Tips for storytelling in English 

There are some storytelling techniques you can use to make your stories fun and interesting. Here are our top tips for storytelling: 

1. Make sure your story is an appropriate length 

Think about the age of the audience. 

  • Will they be able to listen for 10 minutes, or would a shorter story be more appropriate? 
  • Will they be able to read a whole page of your story, or would a short paragraph be better?

2. Make sure the reader/listener understands the language 

Whether you’re telling a story about yourself or reading a story to someone, think about the language you’re using. 

  • Will the listener understand? 
  • Will you have to explain some of the words? 
  • Will the reader have to look them up in an online dictionary?

3. Use pauses 

You can pause before you say a funny or surprising part of your story so the listener can think and guess what you’re going to say, before you say it. That way, the listener will feel engaged and a part of the story. They will also want to continue listening, as they’ll be interested in what happens next.  

If your audience is reading your story: 

  • use to add suspense
  • use ! to show excitement or surprise

You can also ask the reader questions to think about, e.g. Can you guess what happened next?

4. Make it fun! 

Choose stories that are interesting for the listener, and that they will enjoy listening to. If you tell a story about yourself, don’t be afraid to make it funny. You could use your body language and facial expressions. Many people say they understand a story through showing as much as they do telling. 

You can also use your voice to show your emotions and add fun. For example, you could speak at a higher pitch to show surprise, or speak in a deeper voice to add fear. 

5. Read and listen to stories 

An excellent way to practise your storytelling skills is to listen or read other stories as much as you can. By doing this, you can pick up some storytelling techniques from other people, to use next time you tell a story. 

Now, it’s your turn! Share a story about yourself or someone you know. It can be a true story or made up. Use your creativity and the tips above to make your story fun and engaging. 

Read more about creative writing in English to help you structure and plan your story. 

Billie Jago is an ELT writer and teacher trainer, specialising in digital & assessments. She is the founder of the professional development podcast ELTcpd and co-founder of the digital ELT content agency, otterelt.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and learners top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help people around the world to learn English.

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