There’s something magical about storytelling. You choose a book, gather the class around you, and begin:
Coco’s family loved to sing and dance. But Coco’s father wanted to play his music to all the world. He said goodbye, and…
And what? What exactly did Coco’s father do?
Can you feel yourself getting pulled into the story? That’s because we are curious creatures by nature. It doesn’t take much for us to become involved in the lives of others, which is what stories are, after all.
While good storytelling seems natural and effortless, there’s actually quite an art to it. Read on for six practical tips to ensure that your story time sessions are fun, engaging—and yes, even magical.
1. Choose the right level for the class
As every teacher knows, there’s always a range of English abilities in any class. It’s important to target the comprehension level of the weaker students in the group. This ensures that you grab—and keep—everyone’s attention as you read. The stronger students will enjoy following the story with ease, while students who need a bit more support will feel a sense of accomplishment at understanding a story in English.
If you’re not sure how to choose the right book, use the leveling chart on the back cover of our Disney Kids Readers. The GSE chart and Lexile® measure can help you select the right level reader for your group of students.
2. Consider the interests of your students
Some book titles may remind you of things the children have chatted about in class: their hobbies, interests, their pets, family members, or the types of books they’re reading in their first language.
Let’s take an example. You’re teaching a group of 7- to 8-year-olds at A1 level. Several of the students have a pet and so you decide to read the Disney Kids Level 3 Reader 101 Dalmatians with the class. You preface the storytelling by asking about pets:
- Who has a pet? Raise your hand.
- Who has a pet dog?
- Nilsa, what’s the name of your dog?
- Let’s read a story about dogs.
By doing this, you’re tapping into your students’ interests. It also helps them anticipate what the story will be about, which is an important pre-reading skill.
3. Learn the story beforehand
Once you’ve selected the book, read it through to familiarize yourself with the characters, plotline, and settings. Then read it aloud several times to practice your pacing and delivery. The better your delivery, the more your class will enjoy listening and reading along with the story.
As part of your preparation, listen to the Disney Kids Reader enhanced Audiobook to hear the pronunciation of names and places in the story. It always helps to hear how the professionals have chosen to read the story, which words they stress, where they pause, etc.
In fact, you may prefer to use the Audiobook for story time rather than read it yourself. The music and the dramatic sound effects will certainly help to establish meaning and context.
4. Predict which words will be new to the class
Inevitably, there will be words and phrases in the story that are unfamiliar to your students. Since we’re aiming for maximum comprehension, decide ahead of time which keywords (words that carry meaning: nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) to pre-teach before you read the story.
To make this task easier for teachers, we’ve selected key story words that learners might struggle with. These are listed in the back of each Disney Kids Reader in the form of a Picture Dictionary in levels 1–3; in levels 4–6, you’ll find a Glossary. We’ve also included a set of handy, photocopiable flashcards.
Word Swat: Here’s a fun and simple activity using these resources to pre-teach vocabulary:
- Show each flashcard in turn. Say the word and get students to repeat it. Stick the cards on the board as you introduce them.
- Split the class into two teams and give each team a fly swatter.
- Say a sentence that includes one of the keywords, e.g., Sometimes my dog barks loudly.
- One person from each team races to the board, swats the correct card, and says the word: barks.
- The fly swatter is passed to the next person on the team and the game continues until all the cards have been swatted.
5. Establish a story time routine
After all the excitement of games and activities, it’s time to settle the class down for story time. Clear away books, stationery and any other distractions. If possible, have everyone sit around you either on a rug or on chairs. When everyone is quiet and settled, you can begin the storytelling.
6. Build curiosity and context
Show the front cover, read the title and ask questions to spark curiosity and to predict aspects of the story, e.g.
- How many puppies can you see?
- What’s a Dalmatian?
- What kind of story do you think this is?
Then turn to the In This Book page at the front of the reader and introduce the characters. Say the name while students repeat, and then read the description for each character.
With the book facing the group, read the story aloud, using your voice and facial expressions for effect. Alternatively, play the Audiobook. Pause to ask questions and to point things out in the picture.
Questions are a great way to engage students of different abilities—and to check that they are following along, e.g.
- Look! What’s Cruella wearing? (a fur coat)
- Is Cruella a kind person? (No, she’s horrible.)
- She has an idea to get the puppies. What do you think it is? (accept all ideas) Let’s find out.
Only use this approach at key points in the story. Don’t break the flow and the magic by over-analyzing each page when you read the story for the first time.
Story time is a pleasurable, stress-free activity for learners. It’s the first step in building a love of reading. Yet, you can be assured that a lot of language learning is taking place as you read together: vocabulary building; making the connection between the printed words, spelling patterns, and pronunciation; seeing language structures in context, and using critical thinking skills. Even better: there’s a wealth of research showing that reading not only improves reading skills but listening, speaking and writing skills as well.
Now that you’ve captured your students’ interest in the story, there are endless ways of using it as a springboard for learning. I’ll be discussing some of these ideas in upcoming blog posts.
And in case you’re still wondering what Coco’s father did after he said goodbye, might I suggest that you read the book? (Disney Kids Readers Level 3: Coco) It’s a great read!
About Disney Kids Readers
Disney Kids Readers are graded readers that combine the magic of Disney stories with the rigor of the Global Scale of English. They help young learners expand their reading skills in a fun and motivating way, in and out of the classroom. Learn more about Disney Kids Readers.
Do you have reluctant readers in your class? Read our post on how best to motivate them.