Top 5 Tips for Telling a Great Story

Storytelling

Don’t you sometimes wish that the missionaries you are highlighting in Mission Friends could just stop by and visit with your preschoolers? Well, the next best thing is for you as a Mission Friends teacher to introduce those missionaries to your preschoolers through stories.

Here are 5 top tips for taking the words off the printed page and turning them into fun and enjoyable times of learning.

(And I’ll let you in on a little secret: These ideas are taken from Storytelling 1-2-3: Creative Ideas for Telling a Story, which is packed full of more fun ideas, and happens to be on Clearance Sale right now, reduced to $1.99! Quantities and time are limited though, should you want a copy!)

 

Tip #5. Know your story

Reading the story from the magazine is not story “telling,” it is story “reading.” Which do you think is more engaging, especially for preschoolers?

But knowing your story doesn’t mean you have to memorize it, like an actor memorizes lines. Just have in mind the basic sequence of events. Write a few notes on a note card, if you need to—names of the missionary children, important elements you don’t want to forget in case you lose your train of thought, etc. Then you can put the magazine away, and just tell the children what happened, the same as if you were telling them what happened that time you saw a horse at the grocery store.

(Bonus Tip #4.5). It will also help a lot if you get to know the missionaries. Read the “Meet the Missionaries” page in Mission Friends Leader. Check out Missions Focus on this website. The same missionaries are being studied in all WMU age-level organizations, so read more about them in your copy of Missions Mosaic. Then you will feel secure in introducing preschoolers to your new friends, Mr. and Mrs. Missionary.

 

Tip #4. Use your eyes and your face

Keeping eye contact will go a long way in keeping preschoolers engaged in the story. Eye contact allows you to draw in the preschoolers, so you can enjoy the story together. Be surprised with them, be delighted with them, be sad with them, whisper secrets to them.

Sometimes, it helps to move around a little—deliberately, in control. That way, you can make eye contact with each preschooler, and you can even move toward a restless preschooler and engage her eye-to-eye, if you need to.

Next, add some facial expressions. Some exaggeration is fun, but don’t go overboard—that’s just distracting. But try raising your eyebrows, scrunching your lips, narrowing or widening your eyes, nodding or shaking your head.

Then some gestures will want to come along, too—so cross your arms or stretch them out wide, pat your foot, give a thumbs up, put your hands on your hips, hunch or shrug your shoulders.

Here’s an exercise: Stand in front of a mirror, and without using any words, communicate these phrases:

  • “I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life!”

  • “Yes, I can see how that might be a problem.”

  • “Oh my, I wasn’t expecting that.”

 

Tip #3. Involve the preschoolers in the storytelling

  • Ask them to demonstrate a phrase or motion. (“They walked to the park. Pat your knees and show me how they walked.”)

  • Ask them to add a sound. (“There were some cows nearby. What does a cow say?”)

  • Older preschoolers especially like listening for a clue to make a motion or sound. (“Whenever you hear me say ‘basketball,’ pretend you are making a basketball goal.”)

  • Occasionally, if it fits the story and your situation, ask preschoolers to take the parts of various characters and pantomime the actions as you narrate them. (“Charlie, would you be Mr. Smith? He was walking to the village. The village is over here. Can you show us how he walked?”)

(Bonus Tip #2.5). This is a lifesaver, true story: Before you start a motion or a sound, establish what your “stop” gesture will be, so preschoolers will stop and you can go on with the story. Examples might be an umpire’s “safe” gesture or holding up your hand in a “stop” motion.

 

Tip #2. Consider adding props, a story bag, pictures, puppets, simple costumes, music, etc.

(There are lots of ideas for these things in Storytelling 1-2-3!)

The more you become comfortable with telling stories, the more you will have ideas for making them relevant for preschoolers. But remember, the point of adding props, puppets, etc. is to help the preschoolers understand the story or concept better, not just because it would be something cute to do.

These “add-ons” can help explain a place or concept that is difficult to visualize. They can keep preschoolers’ attention focused. They can help preschoolers (and you!) love what happens in Group Time. But they can also become distractions, so use them to make a point and then put them away.

 

Tip #1. If you are into the story, your audience will be into the story

Keep your storytelling energy up—not to be confused with hyperactivity, mind you, which can distract or even frighten young children. By energy, I mean effort.

  • Vary the pitch of your voice—higher pitch for excitement, lower pitch for thoughtfulness or sadness.

  • Vary the speed of your telling—a moderate clip in general, so you don’t lose your audience, but faster for exciting moments, slower for thoughtful moments.

  • Vary the volume of your voice—softer in general (though still high energy), as it keeps preschoolers listening better than constant loudness, but do get louder for excitement or increased movement, or really soft like a secret, for emphasis or to bring back their attention.

  • Use facial expressions and gestures, as mentioned earlier.

  • Remember that your purpose is not to dazzle them, but to engage them.

 

You don’t have to be an expert to tell a good story! And preschoolers don’t have to remember everything you say to catch an attitude of missions.

But you’ll know you’re making good story connections if you have them wondering, And then what happened?

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