How to Teach Story Telling With Picture Books

Welcome to the fourth post in The Story Time Series. Posts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here:

1.     How to Have Fun and Games With Picture Books

2.     How to Teach Maths With Picture Books

3.     How to Explore Critical Thinking With Picture Books

But on to story telling...

So, you’re probably thinking that simply reading a story is going to teach kids about story telling. This isn’t wrong. If you want to know what a story is, you need to read/hear one. But there are some core components to stories that are important to learn, and there are fun ways to teach them.

These are the components I consider to be essential for story telling. There are more, but these are my top four: 

  1. Structure: stories must have a beginning, middle and an end
  2. Hero: a story needs to be about someone/something
  3. Goal: the hero needs to want something
  4. Opposition: something needs to be standing in the hero’s way (or the story will be boring).

Seems complicated, but you can start introducing these concepts even to very young kids. And if they understand what makes a good story, it will help them in their own story telling.

And a love of story telling and stories usually helps kids to love books. And kids who love books read more. And kids who read more tend to enjoy school more. And… the benefits go on and on.

Teeny Caveat: There is such a thing as a 'concept book'. A concept book teaches broad concepts and often do not have storylines. They usually cover things like colours, emotions, counting and opposites, and they often (but not always) do not feature the core elements of a story.

So let’s look at each of these four things in turn, and I’ll cover my ideas for using picture books to introduce them:

STRUCTURE

Stories need a beginning, middle and end. They do not work without all three and they need to happen in that order.

Fun ideas:

  1. Turn to the back of the book and start reading. You watch what happens. The kids will laugh and call you crazy and tell you you’re doing it wrong. Ask them why? They’ll likely tell you it’s not the start of the book.
  2. Read until the middle and then stop. Super young kids may not notice, but even my three-year-old will tell me I haven’t finished the story and there’s more.
  3. When the kids get a little older you can start asking them questions like: Why can’t I start at the end of the book? Why can’t I stop in the middle?

These ideas allow you to talk about how a story is structured and why structure is important.  Remember: beginning (introduce the problem/goal) + middle (tackle the problem/goal) + ending (resolve the problem/achieve the goal) = story.

HERO

Every story needs to be about someone or something. Sometimes the hero (also known as the main character) is a shape or an animal, and sometimes there is more than one hero, and that’s fine, but a story (a good story) always has this component.

Fun idea:

When reading a book, ask the kids who the story is about and see if they can recognise the main character.

GOAL

In a story that works, the hero always has a goal. They want something, they need something, they have to have something. It could be to save the day, or run away from something, or find something or become something.

Whatever it is, this is what the story will be about: the hero trying to get their goal. It’s what makes stories interesting and engaging.

Fun idea:

Ask the kids what the character is trying to do in a story. Ask them what the hero wants. Little ones likely won’t get this, in which case just mention what the goal is and maybe ask the kids if they think they are going to be able to achieve it.

OPPOSITION

My favourite part of any book is the opposition. This is what is standing in the way of the hero reaching their goal. It could be a person (baddie), a thing (mountain to climb) or an internal problem (hero is really shy). Without opposition a hero will just get what they want straight away and the story will be over before it starts. Pretty boring right?

Fun idea:

Ask the kids if there is a baddie in the book. Ask them what the baddie is doing to get in the hero’s way. If there is no baddie, ask them what are the problems or challenges the hero is facing to reach their goal.

These ideas will likely work the best with stories the kids are more familiar with, but every child has favourite books, so start there.

And it’s no big deal if they can’t answer the questions or aren’t interested in answering them. The point is to get them thinking about things. It will all sink in eventually.

And remember to have fun. That’s the whole point!