Support children’s story-telling skills

Tips for professionals: supporting story-telling skills in children aged five to eleven years.  

Why is story-telling important? 

Story-telling skills (also called narrative skills) means how we tell or write about something that has happened. We do this every day, for example in conversations with friends or when a child tells us about their weekend or holidays. It’s a really important communication skill; it helps us to connect with others, to make sense of events that have happened and to predict what might happen next.  

How does the skill of story-telling develop? 

Story-telling is a skill that develops over time. Here are some of the skills children will learn as their story-telling develops. 


Age  Story-telling skills 
By 5 years  Most children are able to re-tell some of their favourite stories in their own words. They can make up their own short stories about something simple.  
By 9 years  Most children can tell interesting stories using different tones of voice. They can use lots of different words to make their stories sound exciting. 
By 11 years  Most children can tell even longer stories and use more complicated words to join sentences together, such as ’meanwhile’ and ‘therefore.’ 

How will I know if a child finds story-telling tricky?  

Some children find it hard to tell or make up stories. This might show in their written work at school as well as in their talking. Their stories may be muddled, making them difficult to follow.  

How can I support children who find this difficult? 

You can help children who struggle with story-telling by letting them know when you’re confused and helping them to include all the important information in the right order. Using pictures or photos can help with this. There are lots of ideas below that will support children with story-telling. 

Beginning, middle and end. Stories need to be told in a particular order with a clear beginning, a middle and an ending. Some children struggle with understanding these concepts (beginning, middle and end) and need to be taught them specifically. Start by talking about these concepts in the ‘here and now’ with things that the children can see. For example, ‘This toy is at the beginning of the line. This toy is in the middle of the line, and this toy is at the end of the line.’  

Then, you can move onto using these words to talk about stories or about things you have done. When you can, use pictures to help children understand. For example, ‘At the beginning of the day, it was sunny. In the middle of the day, it rained, and at the end of the day, it was sunny again!’

Talk about daily routines and activities. An early part of telling stories is being able to talk about daily routines and activities in the right order. So, practise this skill with children by talking about things like brushing your teeth or making a sandwich. Use simple sentences to talk about what you are doing and in what order.  

Use photos to tell stories. Try taking three or four photos during an activity at school (like cooking, making playdough, washing their hands) or on a school trip. The photos should show what children did at the beginning, middle and end of the activity. Use these photos with the children to tell the story of what happened. You can tell the story first and then see if the children want to have a go at telling it back to you. 

Reading books to children helps to develop their story-telling skills. Talk about who is in the story, where it is and what happens. Find out what children like or dislike about the book. See if they can answer questions about what might happen next or what they would do in a similar situation. If some children struggle to answer questions, try commenting on the story then waiting to see if they tell you something. You could say, ‘I liked the bit where…’ and then wait to see if they make a comment themselves.   

Retell stories together. See if children can retell you a story they know well. You could use puppets or toys to act out the story with them. You could also draw some of the things that happen in the story together to help them remember everything.  

Encourage children to talk about things they have done. Stories are not just found in books. Talking about something that has happened is an important part of story-telling/narrative skills. Help children to talk about things they have done, such as such as a science experiment or what they did at lunch time. Help them to talk about what happened at the beginning, the middle and the end. Ask open questions that encourage children to give you lots of information, for example, ‘Tell me about what you did at the weekend’. 

Home language: If a family speak a language other than English at home, their child will benefit from hearing them tell stories in that language. See our factsheet on children learning more than one language for more information. 

Useful Websites:  

The Literacy Trust

Storytelling Week Activity Packs | Words for Life