Educational Impact of Storytelling

Through listening to and telling stories children make dramatic gains in literacy skills, as well as emotional and social development. Here are some of those gains. Below the list you'll find various references which testify to and document this claim.


Both telling and listening to stories instill a sense of joy in language and words that makes children want to read.

  • Listening to and telling stories stimulate the powers of imagination and visualization.
  • In telling stories students develop their oral communication skills, which are a great tool for real world success.
  • Students who struggle with writing can build on oral language strengths to improve their writing skills.
  • As student storytellers dramatically convey plot, characters  and emotions to an audience, they develop a visceral understanding of story structure.


  • Through learning and sharing tales, then coaching each other in a positive manner, a class develops a spirit of community and cooperation.
  • Many folktales teach about compassion, courage, honesty and other important qualities in a form that helps children build stronger character.
  • Students increase their confidence and self esteem as they work to develop a story, then receive positive attention from peers.
  • As they read, learn, tell and listen to international folktales, students students grow in their appreciation of different cultures.


from Richard Marsh's blog,

“The Effects of Storytelling Experiences on Vocabulary Skills of Second Grade Students”: A research paper presented to the faculty of the Library Science Department, University of Northern Iowa, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts by Gail Froyen 1987.
“Second grade students at Lowell School, Waterloo, Iowa, were taught storytelling techniques and given opportunities to practice these techniques for 35-40 minutes per week for six months. This activity, held during lunch, was self-selected and conducted in small groups (8-9 students in each group, with 43 students total). …
After six months, these students significantly increased their performance on vocabulary and reading comprehension tests beyond what was expected for that six month period, as measured by pre- and post- Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

 “Children’s hunger for stories is constant. Every time they enter your classroom, they enter with a need for stories.” … When children create and tell a story in their own or a second language, the language becomes theirs.
Wright, A. Storytelling with children. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Oral language is an important tool for the cognitive growth of young children.
Van Groenou, M. “Tell me a story”: Using children’s oral culture in a preschool setting. Montessori LIFE 1995, Summer.

Critical thinking skills, vocabulary, and language patterns are enhanced through use of stories.
Zabel, M. K. Storytelling, myths, and folk tales: Strategies for multicultural inclusion. Preventing School Failure, 32, 1991, Fall.

Oral and literate are not opposites; rather, the development of orality is the necessary foundation for the later development of literacy…. Indeed, a sensitive program of instruction will use the child’s oral cultural capacities to make reading and writing engaging and meaningful.
Egan, K., Literacy and the oral foundation of education, The NAMTA Journal, 18, 1993, Winter 11-46.

Cliatt & Shaw (1988) “The relationship of storytelling and successful children’s literacy development is well established.” and “…this process (storytelling) enhanced children’s development of language and logic skills.”

Coles (1989) “Stories enhanced recall, retention, application of concepts into new situations, understanding, learner enthusiasm for the subject matter.” … “Stories enhanced and accelerated virtually every measurable aspect of learning.”

Schank (1990) “Storytelling has demonstrable, measurable, positive, and irreplaceable value in teaching.”

Snow and Burns (1998) “Recently the efficacy of early reading and storytelling exposure has been scientifically validated. It has been shown to work.”

One area reading researchers agree on is that oral-language competencies are essential in literacy development. Storytelling requires listening and visualization-key oral-language and comprehension competencies and strategies. It also provides vocabulary development, in context. Talking with children and encouraging talk among children is another facet of oral-language; storytelling stimulates both. The personal nature of the transaction between the storyteller and story-listener encourages the active construction of meaning. …
The importance of fostering motivation for reading and learning cannot be underestimated. Skills and worksheet-driven classrooms cannot teach or motivate, as storytelling can, the love of language, stories, characters, and ideas. Nor can they, as storytelling can, foster curiosity. …
Additionally, sharing stories from various cultures makes geographical knowledge more meaningful. Without them, names and lists of countries may be memorized for test-taking purposes, then quickly forgotten. When connected to story, geographical locations and characteristics are more apt to be remembered.
Jane M. Gangi, an Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, author of Encountering Children’s Literature: An Arts Approach. Pearson (Allyn and Bacon). 2004.

“Storytelling and Story Reading: A Comparison of Effects on Children’s Memory and Story Comprehension”: A thesis presented to the faculty of the department of Curriculum and Instruction East Tennessee State University by Matthew P. Gallets, May, 2005 (ETSU is the only university in the United States that offers a master’s degree in storytelling.)
“The population studied consisted of kindergarten, first, and second grade students. Half the students were read stories aloud, the other half were told the same stories by a storyteller. Students in both the reading and storytelling groups improved on most measures. However, on some measures, notably those regarding recall ability, students in the storytelling group improved more than students in the reading group.

Reading, Writing, and Storytelling: A Bridge from the Middle School to the Preschool”, by Joseph Sanacore and Al Alio, 2007 (no publication source given)

Students aged 11-14 at Hauppauge Middle School (Long Island, New York) write original stories, learn storytelling techniques, and then tell their stories to preschool children.
“Findings show that most of the preschool children read more books, select a wide variety of materials, maintain a desire to read, and tell their own stories. The middle school students increase their sensitivity for communicating with a unique audience and they report an improved awareness of children’s ability to use and appreciate language.

Storytelling improves listening comprehension, a vital pre-reading skill for children, introduces us to literature we may not be familiar with, whets our appetite for further literary experiences, introduces us to characters with whom we can relate, has been the best tool for passing on the values and morals of families and peoples for centuries, increases our understanding and awareness of our world’s diverse cultures, develops mental imaging ability, another skill necessary for reading comprehension.
Susanna Holstein, Librarian and Storyteller, USA

Libraries Unlimited, Westport CT, 2007

by Kendall Haven, internationally renowned expert on nerulogical effects of story


The book focuses on the benefits of reading and telling stories to children in the classroom, concluding that reading to children is good, but telling is better. These quotes and paraphrases are typical of the results of the 350 studies consulted by the author for the book.

p. 4. “Canadian researchers found a strong positive correlation between early storytelling activity and later math abilities. … 350 studies from fifteen separate fields of science … agree that stories are an effective and efficient vehicle for teaching, for motivating, and for the general communication of factual information, concepts, and tacit information.”

p. 67. “Information is remembered better and longer, and recalled more readily and accurately when it is remembered within the context of a story.”

audience for twist

p. 86. An 8-year period of telling stories to kindergarten through fifth grade (class) in New Jersey, a one-hour session once a week or once a month, resulted in 1000 teacher feedback reports agreeing that the programme “had a major and lasting impact on student behavior and language arts achievement”.

p. 90. A 1999 study showed that “telling stories to primary-grade students improved their vocabulary faster than did reading to them but that both oral activities significantly improved student reading comprehension.”

p. 98. Based on classroom experiences of tens of thousands of teachers, the National Council of Teachers of English Committee on Storytelling concluded in a 1992 report:
“Story is the best vehicle for passing on factual information. Historical figures and events linger in children’s minds when communicated by way of a narrative. The ways of other cultures, both ancient and living, acquire honor in story. The facts about now plants and animals develop, how numbers work, or how government policy influences history – any topic for that matter – can be incorporated into story form and made more memorable.” [See full NCTE statement below.]

p. 101. “Once we recognize story structure as a prominent feature of human understanding, then we are led to reconceive the curriculum as the set of great stories we have to tell children and recognize elementary school teachers as the storytellers of our culture.” K. Egan, The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding, University of Chicago Press, 1997.

p. 104. “… children process the world in story terms, using story as a structure within which to create meaning and understanding.”

p. 121. “Storytelling creates excitement, enthusiasm, and more detailed and expansive images in the mind of the listener than does the same story delivered in other ways.”