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Learning through storytelling

There’s no better way to bring people together than through storytelling. Whether it’s a chance to read their own poetry, explain the meaning behind their favorite lyrics, or listen to a classmate share their family’s lore, students can strengthen bonds with their peers and flex their literacy skills anytime through sharing stories.

close up of student writing in a notebook

Literacy and storytelling as developmental tools

“Literacy is about much more than just what we read,” says Allison Thompson, City Year’s national literacy specialist. “It’s an opportunity to be a storyteller—elevating the stories of others and writing our own. We want students to engage with something that brings them joy, while sharing who they are and what they can create.”

Bringing storytelling to life in all its forms supports student literacy. Take advantage of these ideas and resources from the National Education Association to celebrate students’ diverse backgrounds and voices throughout the year!

Listening to a famous narrator

Listening to a famous narrator can be a relaxing way to soak up new vocabulary. Storyline Online has called on celebrities to narrate their free online books, mainly aimed at younger students. Billionaire talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey reads Hula-Hoopin’ Queen; Oscar-winning actor Viola Davis shares Rent Party Jazz; and late Grammy-winning actor Betty White brings to life Harry the Dirty Dog. Another alternative: do you listen to free audio books through your local library? Encourage students to sign up, too, and share what audio books they listen to and what they recommend.

Share your favorite book

Create a book “shelfie” by taking a picture with your favorite book and sharing with the class. Ask students if they’d like to do the same, and talk with their classmates about why that story speaks to them. Another option: ask students if they’d like to take a picture with the best storyteller in their family and talk about what makes them—and their stories—so memorable.

Invite guest storytellers to share their stories

The concept behind a “Storypalooza” is that everyone is a storyteller. Do students have traditional stories that are part of their culture that they’d like to share with the class? What similarities or differences can students spot between different stories? When are these stories usually told? You can also use this space to invite a guest storyteller—including a student’s parent or grandparent or another member of the school community—to share a story that’s meaningful to them and talk about why.

Browse book lists with your students

What stories interest your students the most? They can pick both a story that’s a mirror reflecting their own identity, or a window that gives them insight into someone else and share why they made those choices. The National Education Association has book lists that celebrate the diversity of student backgrounds and experiences, including Hispanic heritage booklists, lists of Black authors, books with women leaders and more. While the website looks old school, the International Children’s Digital Library offers free digital books for children and young teenagers in languages including Spanish.

Link music and storytelling

Music and storytelling have gone together for thousands of years, so help students explore ways to weave them together. You can invite students to use a favorite story as inspiration to create their own lyrics and melody by themselves or in a group. Or maybe they have a favorite song they’d like to write different lyrics to, or a story they’d like to turn into a rap by rewriting it with a new speed and rhythm. Students can share their pieces if they’d like, or what they learned during the process about storytelling.

Learn more about City Year’s work to strengthen schools and address systemic inequities in education.

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