Storytelling Residencies Enhance Literacy

Storytelling Residencies Enhance Literacy

Connecticut non-profit places storytellers in schools to offer interactive instruction methods that are increasingly critical for today’s young learners.

By Ann Shapiro and Susie Scheyder

Educators are often frustrated with the unhealthy focus on screens that constantly demand our students’ attention, while arguably shrinking their ability to pay it meaningfully elsewhere.  Elementary and preschools across the state of Connecticut are finding a helpful solution through the Connecticut Storytelling Center. [] Side-stepping screens and celebrating story are central to the CSC’s mission and purpose! We use storytelling as a means to promote literacy and to encourage face-to-face communication across generations and cultures.

We’ve been doing this for thirty-three years, and yet people continue to be surprised and delighted by our hands-on, action-packed approach to literacy enhancement. Why?

Perhaps, because of this new generation’s tendency away from social interaction and toward their ubiquitous screens, (not all of which serve an uplifting educational purpose!) what we offer is meeting an increasingly critical need, and educators are starting to notice.

Our goal is to extract our fellow, potential story lovers from those screens and invite them to experience the unfolding of an engaging and wonder-filled tale!  Our eclectic queue of professional storytellers [] is on hand to entertain, uplift, and celebrate culture, all the while instilling a love of language, its rhythms and sounds, and the delight of stories.  Ideally and invariably, they help children develop a love for the spoken and written word that will serve them for a lifetime.

We reach the “Littlest Listeners” through our preschool storytelling program, where our arts-based methods promote listening, speaking and visualizing, the first three components of literacy.  This program, designed to develop and support emergent literacy, is based on state benchmarks for school readiness.  []

We “Start With Stories” for our elementary-age students, sparking interest in oral and written literature, while focusing on other school goals like multicultural knowledge and respect. The students learn about various cultures, expand their vocabulary, and spend time in conversation, role-playing and retelling stories. Our storytellers work with teachers to design a program that is age-appropriate and in line with Common Core Standards.

In both of these programs, professional storytellers make repeated visits to the classroom, using multicultural storytelling, folksongs, puppets, felt board stories, books, and music to help students focus and stretch their attention spans.  This residency approach is critical to helping students build on their listening and comprehension skills, their fluency, and their visualization. By listening to multicultural folk tales, with audience participation and follow-up activities related to the stories, students learn about different cultures while improving a variety of literacy skills.  Story-related games encourage students to retell parts of the story and to talk about problems and solutions that arise in the story.

These lively presentations are an intentional, and much-needed break from the screen time to which so many of our young children are constantly exposed. Our storytellers not only model creative, arts-based literacy methods through multicultural stories, but their lively, entertaining approach to teaching draws the children in and makes them want to play and learn along!  These interactive instruction methods are increasingly critical for today’s young learners.

“Kindergarten and preschool teachers are saying that 45-minute storytelling sessions are too long.  They didn’t used to be too long.  I’ve been noticing for years that children’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.   I used to attribute this to too much fast-paced television.  Now add computers, smart phones, and social media.  Even more horrifying, add parents who hardly talk to their children, much less, read to them!  Loss of the ability to listen for any length of time is only part of the problem.  Because of so much screen time, kids lose eye contact with the people they are communicating with.  They do not know how to read facial expressions or body language.  These kids feel isolated and no one seems to know why!”

Executive Director, Ann Shapiro

It’s part of the story-teacher’s job to help to extend children’s attention span through entertaining, challenging, fun activities, i.e. interactive storytelling.  The storyteller uses vocal, facial and body expression and reacts to audience response.  The traditional folk tales that are told communicate the wisdom and humor that has been passed down to us.  Students listen, connect, and empathize. Ideally, teachers model behavior and keep students focused. The more the teachers are involved and encourage connections, the more the students gain from our sessions, and the better equipped the teachers are to use storytelling arts for language enrichment after the residency is ended.  In fact, we strongly encourage teachers and administration to consider our residencies as an opportunity for professional development.

Interactive literacy experiences such as storytelling are the cornerstone for increased language awareness and understanding.  The more children can experience language in the oral form, the better they will be able to read and write, and this will help them achieve school success in the long run. School success translates into healthy individuals, schools, and communities. Through the multicultural stories and songs, which form the backbone of the literature used by our teaching artists, children come to appreciate differences in languages, families, and lifestyles of other parts of their community and the world.


Authors’ Bios

Jane (Susie) Scheyder
Connecticut Storytelling Center
Children’s Book Author

No stranger to the classroom (wherever it may be), Susie Scheyder has spent the last thirty years raising her five children, having home-schooled, tutored, substitute taught, and teacher-assisted (officially and otherwise) along the way.  She is the author of two children’s books, How Will You Change the World? and One More Thing (Andres & Blanton).  Her current focus with the Connecticut Storytelling Center is promoting the important work they do with literacy in the classroom and connecting people through story.

Ann Shapiro
Executive Director, Connecticut Storytelling Center

Ann Shapiro is a Teaching Artist with the Connecticut Office of the Arts and has been entertaining and educating children for fifty years.  She and her husband, Tom Callinan, have been featured tellers at the National Storytelling Festival, and have been tellers in residence at the International Storytelling Center, both in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  Notable among her storytelling awards, is the National Storytelling Network’s Oracle Award that she received in 2005 for leadership in the Northeast.


Contact the National Storytelling Network

c/o Woodneath Library
8900 N.E. Flintlock Road
Kansas City, MO 64157
Telephone: (800) 525-4514

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