If you have selected a storybook to share with your class and you’re looking for some help on how to do so, then this article is for you! Earlier, we’ve written about how to pick good storybooks for classroom and why we think storybooks are critical in language class.

What’s Your Objective?

While planning your sessions, it’s important to keep your objective(s) in mind – Why are you introducing these storybooks in classroom? Is it for fun or is it a teaching tool – to introduce a particular theme and/or for language improvement. Your objective may be tied to your audience – is it tiny tots, primary kids or middle-grade ones? Or a mixed bag?

Whatever your reasons for selecting the book, we will assume that your first primary objective is to get the children to read the book by themselves. Before you distribute copies of the book to your children, you will have to “introduce the book” and get them to want to read it.

Ways of Introducing 

There are many ways of introducing a storybook in classroom:

  • Reading:
    • Read aloud – Just read from the book. This works particularly well for books written in rhyme and rhythm like Gruffalo or our very own Ramu and Ramya series. If you know how to do it well, read aloud can work for any book. Mem Fox goes in-depth into read aloud in her book Reading Magic.
    • Read along – Get your children to read with you.
    • Read in turn – Ask your children to read the storybook out in turns, one paragraph at a time.
  • Using AV: 
    • Audiobooks/podcasts – You could use an audio clip to hook your children onto your book. Karadi Tales has a lovely collection of audiobooks, and there’s always the internet.
    • Videos / Movies – Youtube is a rich source of material you can use in the classroom to introduce a book. For example, watch this lovely video of author BJ Novak reading out his book in a school.
  • Creative Ideas:
    • Context-setting – You could start a conversation around the book by introducing them to the theme or the story via writing / art-based activities, or a game, or a discussion, etc.
    • Picture walk – With very young kids, you could take your children on a journey by showing them each illustration and talking to them about each item. For more information check out this pdf on picture walks.
    • Roleplay – One way of getting all the children engaged with a book is to ask some (maybe all) children to act out a few scenes from a book. This gets everyone off their desks and works great for some books, like those of Roald Dahl.
    • Songs / Rhymes – Tell the story as a song, and your class will never forget it. I still remember the ‘Sa sing the Sunflower’ rhyme I learnt in preschool!
    • Narrative storytelling – At the Book Lovers’ Program, we believe that there’s nothing more effective in getting children excited about a book than good old storytelling. With no book in hand, no digital distractions – just the storyteller and a bunch of kids.

Narrative Storytelling

Oral storytelling can be incredibly powerful. I’m sure you fondly remember the times your parents or grandparents or teachers told stories to you. What did you like about those sessions? Was it the story or the way it was told?

The first thing to learn about narrative storytelling is “The Hook” – the first two minutes. You have to have a great opening in order to pique your class’ interest and keep them invested for the rest of the session. It could be a weird question, an unusual sound, a funny expression, an exaggerated action, etc. 

After the hook, comes the hold. This is the long middle of the story, where emotions go up and down, where events that change the plot, and also the section which is the hardest to tell. Pro tip: Make sure you remember the sequence of events in the story. Don’t mess it up!

Very few people are born storytellers. Most people have to learn it. Like any other art form, there’s no substitute for practice! It gets easier if you break it down into individual techniques and practice each one separately –

Voice Modulation

Modulating your voice as per changes in the mood in the story is a very basic storytelling technique. You could even try different voices for the characters – an old woman could have a warbly voice while a 5-year-old kid could have a squeaky high-pitched voice. Listen to how Craig Jenkins uses his voice, for example.

Body Language

The most common use of body language is to differentiate between characters. A simple change in posture can denote who’s talking. For an 80-year-old man, you could hunch down and pretend to hold a walking stick! If you’re a child talking to an adult, you could look up.

Movement

Because of the association with bedtime storytelling and grandmother tales, a lot of people imagine that storytelling must be done sitting down. No! You could use all the space available to you. Jump, run, or move. Walk to the back of the class and notice how the children crane their heads to follow you (It’s fun to make them work for it!).

Props (Puppets, Masks, Costumes)

Storytellers who are good with arts and craft often use puppets, masks and even costumes. Check out this lovely stick-puppet rendition of one of our favourite stories, Gajapati Kulapathi!  You could also improvise and be minimal. Perhaps you could use a dupatta for a superhero cape?

Exaggeration

Kids love funny faces. They love it when an adult bawls like a baby or screams in frustration (while acting, of course). Push past your comfort zone and magnify your actions as much as possible. 

“Show Don’t Tell”

If your character has just entered the jungle, then take a moment to describe the jungle – possibly the air is still, the earth smells musty, and there is a gentle sound of rustling leaves.

Audience Interaction

Involve your audience! Ask them questions. Get them to repeat a phrase or an action. Make the storytelling come alive, like how Janaki Sabesh does.

Mime / Non-verbal

This is a tricky technique to master, but a very effective one. While you may or may not choose to paint your face white, you could always establish imaginary objects in your space like how a mime does.

Your Unique Strengths

It’s not easy to master all of these skills. It’s easier to pick one or two that you think you’ll be comfortable with and hone those to perfection. I grew up dancing, so movements and body language came naturally to me, while I struggled with voice modulation. I started using more and more actions to my storytelling, which worked for me.

Your journey to becoming a great storyteller could start with a workshop. Some of the country’s best storytelling workshops are conducted by the Book Lovers’ Program (BLPS)team (500+ workshops since 2012). There’s also Kathalaya (100+ workshops since 1998) and Your Story Bag (20+ workshops since 2016). All of these workshops are good – the main difference is that the BLPS workshop is meant for school teachers for using storybooks in classroom. The other two are general – could be for storytellers or parents or teachers or lawyers or doctors, etc.

The Actual Reading

Now that you have introduced the storybook to your class, the next step is to get the children to read the book themselves. You might want to consider a few points here: Are the children reading the book at home? Or in class? Is someone helping them while reading? Are they reading alone or in pairs or small groups?

Some of these decisions might be affected by how many copies of the chosen title you have and what the school policy for book borrowing is. At BLPS, we recommend that you have 1 copy per child at all times.

Summary

There are many ways to introduce storybooks to children. Narrative storytelling is the most powerful of those techniques. Storytelling can be hard but can be learnt by practice. Oh, and the point of introducing storybooks to children is to get them to read it by themselves. Only then is the objective actually achieved.