Storytelling tips


Children of all ages love stories, and being read aloud to can be a special treat,

particularly for older age groups. We hope the following storytelling tips will help you

and the children to get as much out of the experience as possible.




Selecting books to read aloud

Try and ensure that the stories and activities you have planned are appropriate for

the age group you will be reading to (for example, picture books with limited text are

likely to appeal to children between 4 and 7, stories with short chapters to 6 to 8

year-olds, ‘choose your own adventure’ work with 9 to 11 year-olds). A list of tried

and tested books for reading aloud can be found at the end of this document for

inspiration, but feel free to find your own.

The most important thing to remember is that enthusiasm counts for more than



Practice makes perfect

Make sure that the stories you choose are ones you yourself like and will enjoy

reading. Also be sure they are good stories to read aloud. It is essential to

practice reading any books you intend to use aloud a few times in advance

of the session. This will make your reading voice more confident and improve

the children’s experience of being read to.


Try them out several times on your own first – how do they read? Imagine the

characters, their intonations and so on. If you feel you need to differentiate

between the voices of different characters, you need not change the accent or

pitch of your voice, but instead might want to talk more hesitantly for a timid

character, more confidently for a hero, and so on. You could try to think about

yourself telling a favourite anecdote to your friends, and apply that style to the

stories you’re reading. Practising on friends, colleagues or younger relations will

provide you with valuable feedback.


Once you start to gain your confidence in front of children, try a bit of dramatic

acting – if there’s a scary moment, try gasping and looking frightened – children

will think it’s funny if you look more frightened than they are. You could also use

silly voices for different characters (kids will love it) or change the tone of your

voice (shouting, whispering, singing) wherever relevant. This really keeps the

children’s attention and should be more fun for you!


As you practice reading, look for parts of the story that children can join in with –

for example, repetitive phrases such as “There’s a shark in the park!” or “I don’t

like peas!” Also, look out for themes you can ask questions about – for example

“Who’s seen a shark?” “What’s your favourite thing in the park?” and “What food

don’t you like?” (More suggestions can be found in the ‘START STORYTELLING’

section below).


If you have a long story and some sections seem

unnecessary, it’s fine to skip them, but decide

exactly what you’re missing out in advance. Try and

find stories that are no more than five or ten

minutes long, to keep children’s attention. It is

easier to read three stories of five minutes each,

than one of fifteen minutes.



Make sure that there are as few as possible distractions around you – if inside,

sit in front of a wall rather than an interesting bookshelf or a window, if outside,

find a spot on the grass away from fountains, picnic benches or similar if possible.

Place your chair on a level slightly above that of your audience and make eye

contact with everyone. You should be able to see all the children from where you

are sitting or standing. Move them around if necessary – ask the teachers if there

are any particularly disruptive children, and sit in the front row so you can keep an

eye on them. Paying them attention before you begin the story can help them to

feel less like they need to compete with you for attention during it.


It is important to let children know whether and how they are expected to interact

with your story. Some storytellers like to have complete silence before they

begin, so that the children are concentrating and focused on the story and the

person reading it. For small children, you can encourage them to be quiet by

using imaginative props – for example, a little bell can be effective. Say that

before you begin, you’d like everyone to be able to hear the story, so you’re going

to try a “quiet spell”. Get children’s attention and cooperation by saying that

everyone needs to concentrate for the magic to work, and once you have relative

silence, ring the bell and begin the story.


Alternatively, if you prefer the children to feel relaxed, or you have a very quiet

group, you can begin the session by letting them make some noise! This will

help children to feel less shy and more confident about speaking up with

questions and comments later in the session. A great opener is to introduce

yourself by name, then ask the children to shout “Hello James!” (or whatever your

name is). Afterwards, tell them you think they can do better, and get them to try

again, louder this time. If you’re feeling very brave, you could try telling them that

you have incredible hearing, and that they should all shout their name at once –

count them in; one…two… three…. and prepare to be deafened!



Generally speaking, the more interactive you make the session, the more children

will enjoy it. They will love being given the chance to speak out, and this will also help

keep their attention focused. Be as expressive as possible – if you’re having fun,

the children will too!


Don’t feel that you have to stick purely to the text on each page. Talk about the

pictures, what they can see (take time to hold the book up for everyone to look), what

they think is going to happen on the next page and so on before you read them the

actual text. You’ll find this very easy once you get started. For example, when

reading Marvin Wanted More by Joseph Theobald (ages 4 to 8), you could try asking

children what their favourite foods are, if they’ve ever eaten so much they felt sick,

and if they can name some of the famous landmarks that appear as Marvin

regurgitates the world!


Sound effects, actions and repetition

Farmyard or jungle stories are an obvious opportunity for sound effects – ask

children to make the noises of each animal as they appear in the story. Other good

sound effects to demonstrate for children before asking them to help are the wind

(whistling and blowing), somebody or something running (stamping of feet), sudden

loud noises (hand clap or shout “bang!”), aliens (high pitched beeps and gurgles) or

cars (brrrm brrrm sounds) – use your imagination or even any props you might have



Some good books that encourage sound effects include:

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (ages 4 to 6). As a small child receives various boxes

of potential pets from the zoo, children can make the noise (and action) of each

unsuitable offering as you lift the flaps. After trying out all the jungle animal noises,

see if children can guess the pet that will be kept at the end of the story, and let you

know just by making the animal’s noise. You can also ask children what their ideal

pet would be, or ask them to draw a picture of it (if resources are available).


Books that have actions that children can join in with include:

There’s a Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt (ages 4 to 7). Jonathon Pope goes

to the park with his new telescope but each time he looks through it he thinks he can

spot a shark. Repeated throughout the book is the line “He looked left, he looked

right, he looked up, he looked down, and he looked all around…” accompanied by

pictures of Jonathon doing just that. Get the children to make their own telescope by

forming their hands into a tube they can look through, and off they go! (It helps if you

do the actions too so they have something to follow.)

A lot of books for younger children contain repetition. Children will love being asked

to join in with these phrases, especially if they’re told to shout them as loud as they

can! Books that work well for children aged 4 to 8 include:


Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray. Daisy’s mum promises no end of rewards if Daisy

will just eat the last few peas on her plate. Get the children to pretend to be Daisy as

she dismisses each bribe with a cry of “I don’t like peas!” You can also ask children

what their favourite dinner would be, or ask them to draw a picture of it if resources

are available – this works really well on a paper plate!


Good News, Bad News by Colin McNaughton. As a young boy’s day turns from

good to bad to worse, get the children to cheer and boo in response to each page’s

opening phrase “Good News” (hooray!) or “Bad News” (booo!). If the children really

enjoy this book, you can show them how to make up their own version of the story

called ‘Luckily/Unluckily’ afterwards. Begin with a first line like “One day, a little girl

called Ruby woke up and found a horse staring at her from the end of her bed.

Luckily, it looked like a very friendly horse…” before passing on the story to the next

person, who starts their line with the word ‘unluckily’ (for example, “Unluckily, the

horse seemed to be eating her school uniform!”). You can involve the whole group

(including teachers and other adults) or children might prefer to do this in smaller

groups of twos and threes.


Dirty Bertie and Pooh! Is That You, Bertie? by David

Roberts. Bertie has a lot of nasty habits. Get the children

to join in with his family’s disgust as they repeatedly tell

him, “No Bertie, that’s dirty, Bertie!” or “Pooh! Is That

You Bertie?” Be aware that some adults may not

necessarily approve of the type of humour in these books

(but most children love them!)


Storytellers’ Top


“…any books in which

the storyteller has to

do funny/rude noises

always go down well!”


Good books to read aloud

The following list includes a selection of titles that NYRP project coordinators have

recommended, the NYRP team have enjoyed reading aloud, or titles that are

recommended on the Great Books to Read Aloud website

Please note that all age ranges given are approximate – many children will enjoy hearing stories

for younger children (or extracts of stories for older children) read aloud.


Ages 5 to 8

Cinderboy Laurence Anholt

Revolting Rhymes Roald Dahl

Diary of a Killer Cat Anne Fine

Wonder Goal Michael Foreman

Eat Your Peas Kes Gray

The Tiger Who Came to Tea Judith Kerr

Good News, Bad News; Goal! and Suddenly Colin McNaughton

Big Bad Raps Tony Mitton

The Worst Witch Jill Murphy

The Adventures of Captain Underpants Dav Pilkey

The World Came to My Place Today Jo Readman

Mixed Up Fairy Tales Hilary Robinson and Nick Sharratt

Squids Will Be Squids or The Stinky Cheese Man

and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

John Scieszka

Shark in the Park Nick Sharratt

Horrid Henry’s Big Bad Book Francesca Simon

The 100 Mile An Hour Dog Jeremy Strong

The Story of Tracy Beaker Jacqueline Wilson


Ages 9 to 11

Awful End Philip Ardagh

Seriously Silly Stories collection (Cinderboy and

Rumply Crumply Stinky Pin are particular favourites)

Laurence Anholt

Cloudbusting Malorie Blackman

Artemis Fowl Eoin Colfer

Millions Frank Cottrell Boyce

The Giggler Treatment Roddy Doyle

Aesop’s Funky Fables Vivian French and Korky Paul

Falcon’s Malteser, Granny and Stormbreaker Anthony Horowitz

The Thief Lord Cornelia Funke

Thirteen Unexpected Tales Paul Jennings

The Killer Underpants Michael Lawrence

Wolf Brother Michelle Paver

Short and Shocking Maggie Pearson

Clockwork and I Was a Rat Phillip Pullman

Mortal Engines Philip Reeve

The Bad Beginning Lemony Snicket

The Story of Tracy Beaker Jacqueline Wilson