Category Archives: Story Telling Training

A series of articles to be followed in order taking the reader through some key areas where they can improve their strory telling techniques. This is aimed at stories for children, bedtime stories, reading kids’ books and group story telling.

Completion of the storytelling technique course


You’ve completed 15 weeks of storytelling training!

You’ve had 19 separate sets of homework!

Thank you for sticking with it and we hope your kids and you have discovered some awesome new ways of sharing story time together!
If you missed a week or you would like to revisit any of the ideas and homework, here’s the full list of articles and guides you have been sent:

Good storytelling technique leads to happy, peaceful children and happy, rested parents

We truely hope you got a lot out of this free course and we would love to hear about any story time experiences you’ve had or changes you’ve noticed as a result of reading and practicing the content here.

If you’ve had any ideas or think there’s stuff that should be added or raised questions in your mind, we’d love to know.

There’s more to come!

Please stay tuned and keep an eye on the site for new articles and content. Here’s a few things you can expect to see going up:

  • Great articles and advice for specific areas of storytelling (storytelling with autistic kids for example)
  • Instructional articles from choosing books to creating your own stories.
  • Recommendations from us and other parents and childcare professionals
  • Guides and How-to type information
  • Exclusive/Special offers for stuff that is relevant to the site.
  • Free children’s stories and poems to share with your kids

Learning can be tough and wading through armfuls of stuff you already know or isn’t of interest can definately take the fun out of it. Putting this course and website together has certainly had its tough moments I can tell you. One thing always got me back on course though: Why I am doing it.

I want the time I spend with my daughter to be the best I can make it. I want to be a great dad and storytelling is both a fantastic way of entertaining her and also an amazing way of teaching her about the world, it’s ideas, difficulties, issues and how to deal with all of those.

The stories that I share with my daughter, be they made up or read from a book, bring us closer together both physically and emotionally. For me, there’s no greater pleasure, after the bustle of the day and the stresses and strains of working or entertaining my daughter than to snuggle quietly and comfortably together on the sofa and spend twenty minutes engrossed in a story or two.

The amazing thing about putting all the stuff from this course into action is that it’s actually made me a better play mate as well. I’ve managed to shake off some of my adult-ness and engage more in the made up characters and roll-play that makes up a lot of my daughter’s (and her friends) play time.

Stay in touch

I’m open to guest posts and discussions, so please do get in contact if you would like to share your own stories or ideas.

Thank you and see you on Twitter, Facebook or here on the Kidmunication site.

Tools of the Tale – getting to grips with how to speak with our body

Tools of the Tale – getting to grips with how to speak with our body

Your entire body tells the story with you which is why learning about body language is so important

Body language is generally mostly an unconscious process, but with some simple understanding you can quickly create huge changes in your story telling by consciously bringing in some key gestures.

The discipline of controlling our gestures can be quite challenging. Most of our movements are reflexive in nature, automatically matching up to what our minds are thinking at any given moment.

“We speak with our vocal organs, but we converse with our entire bodies; conversation consists of much more than a simple interchange of spoken words.”

Elements of General Phonetics. David Abercrombie

There are three different ways that we use body language to communicate with others

  • As a direct replacement for words.
  • As a reinforcement of our words – we gesture to emphasize speech.
  • As a mirror of our inner emotions and attitudes – people read our faces, body angles, distance etc.

In the art of storytelling, you can use all three of these ways to communicate effectively with your audience, be they your dearest offspring or a class of sullen teenagers.

By now, you are aware that you are always communicating with your children through body language.

Think about what you’re communicating to a child when you give them a big smile, crouch to their level and open your arms wide.

  • You are pleased to see them.
  • You are going to give them some of your time.
  • You are offering a place of safety, warmth and comfort in your embrace.
  • You are going to give them a dose of love and affection.
  • You are telling them that they are good, appreciated and a joy to know.
  • You consider them an equal.

I’m sure you can think of more, and you’ve not even said a word!

There are lots of subtleties to the language of the body.

If for example, you’d bent at the waist instead of crouching, you’d be telling them that you don’t consider them an equal, you’re not going to give them much time and the incoming hug will be brief and a little distant.

You’ve probably seen such hugs in action.

Thinking about it, what do you read from that sort of hug?

You don’t need to verbalise the invitation for your child to understand.

By focusing on your voice and facial expression, you’ll probably find that you naturally start to gesticulate and use your body more, so why not put even more focus on dramatizing the story?

By adding in this element you quite literally bring movement into the story.

Your story moves into a new realm of expression, similar to acting where everything you are communicating to your audience is congruent and their young minds can absorb the story and let any lessons sink in.

Think what an open and fluid kind or person they’ll think you are and what an amazing role model you’ll be for them.

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Storytelling homework

  • Observe. Now that we’ve introduced body language in storytelling, the first piece of homework is to keep an eye open in your everyday encounters with people (adults and children alike) and notice what kinds of body language gestures accompany different situations. Pay particular attention to the body language of people sharing stories of events or things they’ve done.
  • Think. Consider the gestures you use with your kids. What do you notice about them? What do you think your kids will get from your gesture?

Head back to the start of this chapter on using body language in storytelling and keep an eye on your inbox for the next section on how to use your head as a prop in your stories.

Using your head as a prop in storytelling

An old head on young shoulders – Attitude and using your head as a prop

So far, we’ve looked at why body language is important and the three main ways we need to aware of it in terms of telling and sharing stories and books with our kids.

This next section starts off with a recommendation that many will find difficult to do. Do try it though, even if it’s just in a small way : it will make a huge difference to story time with your kids.

When telling a story to your son or daughter, the first thing you need to do is shrug off the ‘adult’ in you.

Put away your sense of decorum and your maturity and embrace your inner child!

We were much more fluent in body language as children. The first lesson in learning to master it is to let go.

Cliché as that may sound, the most successful part of telling a story to your child is to become over indulgent to your humorous, silly side.

No matter what genre of story you want to tell; horror, adventure, mystery or fairy tale, all require you to be willing to pack away your inhibitions and put on your playful side.

If you are unwilling to do this, then you are unlikely to be able to successfully manipulate your body language for your tale, and any actions you do attempt will come across as rigid and stiff.

Children love to see their parents turn into this crazy ridiculous person who will ‘become’ a monster, a witch or a cowboy.

It fills them with giggles to see this complete change in you.

Even teenagers love to see their parents try to seriously impress them with convincing acting during a story (though they’ll deny it all of course, mostly because they’re too busy trying to learn to hold it all in like real “adults”, but that’s somewhat off topic).

focus on speaking with your head as a body language skill when telling stories

Let’s take a closer look at how you can use your head during your story

  • How would you show a dog is listening to something with curiosity or interest?
  • How would you show that Pinocchio is ashamed when he is caught lying?
  • How would you show that you that are thinking deeply about something?
  • How would you show that the student is feeling inspired?
  • How would you show the nervous excitement of Lucy as she discovers that there is no back to this cupboard?

The way you move your head combined with your facial expression is an excellent way to dramatize your movements and make them more pronounced.

Subtle movements and expressions should be used deliberately, when the time is perfect for them, such as during a scary scene or when your character is up to mischief.

A superhero who tilts his head back and narrows his eyes conveys deep suspicion…

Father Christmas throws his head back with a deep bellowing laugh…

A bored, slouching school student propping up their head on one hand

A princess resting her head on her hand with fluttering eyelashes and a smile for the prince…

Captain Flint might quickly flick up his head to express a surprised interest into a discussion he overhears in the sailors’ tavern about a journey to a Treasure Island…

Your characters can even impress a range of meanings and attitudes into simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ by using head gestures.

  • A powerful king may give just a curt nod of approval (my mother is particularly good at this one), retaining distance and words from his lowly subject, who bows their head low in a gesture of submission.
  • A panicking girl may give her friend a very subtle shake of the head with wide eyes to silently discourage her from telling the secret truth to the mother looming over her with arms firmly folded.

Don’t forget that your hair (if you have any – I have sadly run out) is also a useful device that you can incorporate into your body language brilliance.

  • A woman’s deft flick of the hair can indicate a sense of superiority or even arrogance. Even if you don’t have any hair, kids will know what you mean and a man pretending to be a woman in a story is always guaranteed a laugh.
  • A teenage girl chewing and twirling a lock of her hair immediately conveys attitude or stupidity depending on the accompanying facial expression.
  • Become the mad scientist or crazy person with wildly messed up hair.
  • Tossing your head and hair back with arms folded gives a great impression of stubbornness (think Princess Fiona from Shrek).
  • Scratching the back of your head is a typical look of confusion or uncertainty which can be hilarious when combined with a hapless expression of bewilderment.

When telling your story, try to engage as many possible head gestures into your characters.

They don’t necessarily need to be speaking; they could be performing an action such as searching for something or simply sitting exhausted with a sagging heavy head.

Include a head gesture into the action and accompany it with an appropriate facial expression (you can learn more about these in the chapter on facial expressions) and you will imbue life and energy into your characters.

When your children see you not only telling a tale but acting it out colourfully, they will be truly ‘in’ the tale.

Storytelling homework

  • Try it out. Quite simply try out the above ideas when telling stories and as you come across particular characters with certain traits or attitudes, see if you can compliment the words (and possibly pictures) on the page with some dramatisation using your body.
  • Share your results.
    • What have you observed?
    • What have you experienced?
    • How do you overcome the adult and release the inner child?
    • What do your kids think about it!?

It’s really not as hard as you think and it can be a lot of fun to bring into every day fun and play with your kids.

Head back to the start of the chapter to find the next section on using your hads, arms, legs and feet as storytelling props.

Reach out to your kids – Using your arms and legs in storytelling

Reach out to your kids – Using your arms and legs in storytelling

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In the last section, we talked about using your head in storytelling. Now we’re going to bring some of your other appendages into it.

Have you ever punched the air with delight for winning a race or beating your competition?

Have you ever patted your child on the back in pride?

Have you ever stood angrily with your hands on your hips?

Have you found yourself holding your hand in front of your mouth in nervous reservation?

You are already armed with the best body language tools in the business of storytelling and you unconsciously use them all the time in your life to exhibit your emotion, even just gesturing normally during a chat with your friend.

Your arms and hands can be very versatile tools for communicating your emotions during a story. Exploit these tools during storytelling and you avail of a huge opportunity to elevate your story into real entertainment.

Use your arms more in the stories you tell. You hands and arms convey a huge array of messages

You can use your arms and hands to invite, reject, persuade, control, comfort, approve, ask or accuse and to show fear, anxiety, aggression, domination, submission, boredom, pride, joy and love. They’re pretty handy for playing animal characters too!

Imagine how you might use your hands and arms to convey any of the meanings listed?

A nervous criminal is wringing his hands, while having a finger pointed at him accusing him of the crime.

A demanding princess might be crossing her arms and stamping her foot when she doesn’t get her own way.

The football legend might clench his fists and punch the air in satisfaction as he scores another winning goal.

The forgiving mother might open her arms wide, inviting her child into her close embrace.

The scared little piglet might be shaking and trembling, afraid that the farmer is coming to take him away.

The exasperated teacher might throw her hands up in the air, palms up, while glowering at the mischievous child.

  • The big brother might put his hands on his hips and berate his little sister for telling lies about a snow covered land she found in the back of the wardrobe.
  • The happy child might clap excitedly, delighted at the magician’s trick.
  • The angry tiger might whip out his claws to scare the little mouse away.
  • The baby bird might flap its wings madly as it plummets out of the nest for the first time.

You can effectively embody almost every emotion conceivable using your hands and your arms.

Your audience will love your physical expressions, not only are you the teller of the tale but you transform into each and every character effectively.

You’ll also make the story unforgettable so they can share it with their friends.

A step in the right direction

A rarely considered facet of body language in storytelling, your legs and feet are just as capable of expressing emotion, albeit perhaps through a more limited set of movements.

You may wonder how you could possibly incorporate any leg gestures into your stories but here a few suggestions.

stamp your feet, cross your legs, hop on one foot. There are a million things you can communicate through your legs and feet when telling a story
  • Tapping your foot off the floor is a great way to convey impatience.
  • Sitting with your knees tightly together indicates anxiousness.
  • Give your peg leg pirate a limp and increase his authenticity.
  • Shifting your weight from leg to leg will show how nervous or confused your character is.
  • Stretching your legs out in front of you when sitting shows your character is relaxed and care-free
  • Your Wild West cowboy may slap his leg in satisfaction when he finally figures out a problem.
  • Stamping your foot shows frustration or stubbornness.
  • Kicking the ground can show frustrated defeat.
  • If your character is dragging his feet, it shows his unwillingness to do something.

By involving your legs in your body language you can create some pretty convincing or hilarious effects for your child.

You are become an actor, not just a storyteller.

Storytelling homework

  • Practice. As for the section on using your head as a prop when telling a story, practice the ideas above and keep an eye open for opportunities to use your arms, hands, legs and feet to make the story you’re sharing with your kids that much better.

Oh, and remember to have fun!

Now head back to the chapter summary or wait for the final part of this storytelling course to arrive in your inbox.

Using Body Language in children’s stories and storytelling

Altogether now – Using Body Language in children’s stories and storytelling

In this chapter on body language and story telling with children, we have covered:

Remember that you can convey so many feelings, attitudes and actions with your body.

Apart from expressing emotion, you can use your body to act out character’s descriptions or episodes within the story.

Bring your whole body into the story and you are onto a winning storytelling technique.

For example, how would you act out a cowboy galloping along on his horse?

This would probably involve your legs, your arms and moving your whole body in imitation of the rider.

Bring your pirate to life by closing one eye to illustrate his patched eye, clench your fist and stick out a hooked finger for his ‘hook’ hand, and limp along for his peg leg.

How would you act out a Ninja? You might do karate chops and raise your leg into the air as well as jerky head movements.

If in doubt, why not ask your kids!?

Engaging your whole body in storytelling requires a little time and effort, but is very fulfilling for your child as it creates dynamic, dramatic, larger-than-life characters who are fun to watch and whose actions become far more convincing.

By including body language and a bit of theatre into your story, your child will really feel you are communicating with them on their level of understanding, no matter how old they are.

By teaching your child how to understand and recognise body language and emotive gestures, you train your child to have the necessary social skills that will guide them through the social experiences they will have outside of their home.

You can teach them to understand how people act and what they really mean, despite the words they use.

Teaching children positivity though body language and story telling

You can also teach them how to become a more successful person, by using body language to express positivity.

“The use of nonverbal signal for expressing positive attitudes is an important social skill. Those people who say that they are lonely or who are rated by others as socially unskilled are found in laboratory encounters to look, smile and gesture less than other people.”

Bodily Communication, Michael Argyle

 You want to do right by your child. You want to teach them to be the best that they can be and to realise their full potential.

Children learn to work with successfully with others through the interpretation of body language.

Give them a strong foundation and show them how to harness this valuable social skill.

Your child can take these social skills into the playground, into school and later into their teenage years when the sense of ‘self’ and the relationship to others becomes magnified and scrutinized, on into their professional lives.

In Summary

Remember, your body language is a multi-faceted tool to help you entertain and teach your child. Turn your time with your child into an entertaining and educational experience that they will never forget and keep gaining huge reward from.

You can do it. Have faith in yourself and your kids.

There is one final email in this course and that is to congratulate you for completing it and it also gives you links to all the articles in the series so you can dip in and out and remind yourself of the storytelling homework you skipped.

The use of Body Language in telling a story

Put your best foot forward – Using body language in storytelling

“It was THIS big!!”

I think that everyone is pretty familiar with that stereotypical fisherman’s story complete with hands-wider-than-physically-possible-to-reach gesture.

While our response is undoubtedly a “oh yeah…” accompanied by a roll of the eyes and sideways smirk at our companion listener or a chummy dig in the ribs of the boastful fisherman, there is also no denying that the gesticulation and vehemence of the way the story is told is certainly a contributing factor of how much we believe the person and regardless: It absolutely makes the fisherman’s tale more fun and engaging to listen to.

Telling a story with the addition of body language is a very powerful storytelling technique

Dramatisation is the secret ingredient that boosts good storytelling into great storytelling.

When something is important to us, we want to make sure that our tale and accompanying point is understood, believed and incorporated.

Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, deep down, we know the lasting impact those gesticulations have on how people understand us, even if we’ve hardly said a thing!

Actions (can) speak louder than words in the right story setting

We don’t want to lose any opportunity to convey our desired meaning, and we deliberately adjust our own body language and actions in order to do so.

Equally, we too read people’s body language and gestures to help us understand the real meaning of what they’re communicating to us.

Body language encompasses the movement of arms and legs, body posture, the manner in which you sit, walk, your facial expressions, eye movements and regular gestures such as stroking your hair, touching your nose, etc.

Over 50% (yes, fifty) of any communication between humans is done through gesture and body language

The precise figure tends to vary depending on which study you read, but they all agree that more than half of the meaning and substance of a human to human interaction is done through the language of our body.

Interestingly, these studies also generally agree that less than 10% of the meaning of a conversation is conveyed through the words that we use.

That means that around 40% of the meaning of any conversation is down to how we use our voice: Its tone, volume and pitch.

With body language we capture attention, create atmosphere, emotion, and draw in our audience.

The grimace on a storyteller’s face and their recoil from the floor in front of them tell you exactly how unpleasant stepping into the pig sty was!

The inflating chest and wide arms tell you just how deep and thunderous the breaths of the big bad wolf are as he huffs and puffs!

It is the dainty way you hold out your hands and the standing-on-tip-toes and hunching over that tells you just how quietly the town mouse and country mouse crept into the kitchen.

It’s the nonverbal part of storytelling that ensnares the imagination and engages the senses.

It also happens to be a lot of fun to do!

In this chapter we are going to discuss the following techniques:

“I speak two languages, Body and English.”

Mae West

Toning down your storytelling technique

Toning down your storytelling technique

So far in this series, we’ve spent a lot of time encouraging you to build your storytelling techniques. We told you to make your facial expressions bigger. We told you that you need to make yourself clear because your children are mirroring your experience. We told you to make your voice louder and faster (or slower) and to bring in sound effects and even when to perform an evil, high pitched cackle. Now we’re telling you to tone it down. WTF!?

Do you remember being told ghost stories while camping in your garden growing up?

Do you remember the time when Dad over did the scariness of the story and you spent the whole night awake, jumping at the slightest sound or even having to give up on the whole camping idea for the safety of brick walls and your duvet? I know I do.

When you can see your children are approaching their limit before they become truly frightened and you have overdone the suspense factor, change your ‘scared’ face from a serious one to one of flair and ridiculousness, and he or she will be in no doubt that you are acting it up for their benefit.

This is a great way to disarm the intensity of feelings without stopping the story.

In this way being a ‘caricature’ will distinguish your ‘storytelling’ face from your ‘natural’ face so your audience can differentiate between your ‘real’ emotions, and ‘story time’ emotions.

Finding the balance of storytelling techniques is where true mastery comes in

Kids love to find that line between what is comfortable and what is not.

It’s why they are disobedient or seemingly deliberately break the rules.

An audience of young people will be absolutely desperate for you to terrify the wits out of them.

But they don’t really want to be scared witless.

They want to find the edge.

That invisible and elusive no-mans-land between comfortable, uncomfortable and too-far.

Judge it right and you’re the ultimate story teller and will hence forth be known in your kids’ circle of friends as said weaver of worlds and caster of dreams.

Judge it wrong and you’re either rubbish or too intense/scary/silly (you can put your own extremes in here).

Control the intensity of your story by using exaggerated or caricatured expressions.

You have been warned.

You are the best judge of your own kids, to know when they will be emotionally ready to deal with whatever emotion is involved in the story without being overwhelmed by it.

As a side point, even as adults we don’t cease to continue to find that balance point. Take the strange western obsession with horror films for example. Why would someone watch that stuff voluntarily? It’s terrifying! Personally, I’d much rather jump out of a plane…

Storytelling homework

This is perhaps where true storytelling mastery comes in. If you can find a balance in all the techniques we’ve talked about and tailor them to the specific situation, specific story, specific audience and leave them thrilled (but not terrified or over excited or sobbing with tears) then you have no need of this series and you can move on to creating your own stories to tell.

  • Practice
  • Practice
  • Ask for feedback. What did your kids think of the story? Was there anything that stood out for them?
  • Experiment. Try something completely different or off-the-wall and see what kind of response you get.
  • Practice
  • Share your experiences so that we can all learn from it and similarly, checkout others’ storytelling experiences and learn from their mistakes/triumphs.
  • Re-read all the Magical Storytelling series. I bet you there’s stuff in here you’ve already fogotten or somehow missed the first time round.

Have you learnt something new over the past few emails? Leave us comments and tell us what’s changed in your storytelling.

In case you were wondering, this is not the end of the course!

There’s more!!

Just wait for the next chapter on using your whole body in your stories!

Eye contact in storytelling

Eye contact in storytelling

Eye contact is a strong storytelling technique and a great one to use when telling a story

Your son has done something naughty.

They are angry and confrontational, with fists in little balls and feet stamping in protest.

You crouch down to their eye level and inform your child that their behaviour is unacceptable.

He shakes his head, tears flying, eyes on the floor and arms folded.

The natural reaction in this scenario is for your child to avoid eye contact you.

Avoiding eye contact is the natural human reaction when we don’t want to communicate with someone.

Have you ever deliberately avoided eye contact because you didn’t want someone to notice you or to talk to you?

Now you can see the impression you will give your audience, if you do not create or maintain eye contact during story time.

You may not intend it, but withholding eye contact will only serve to tell them that you are not interested in communicating with them.

While your child is snuggled in close to you during storytelling, they want you to be a weaver of dreams.

If you’re staring over their head at the wall, or your eyes are zoned only on the pages you are reading, they won’t feel fully connected to either you, or to the story.

It is easy to assume that because you’re snuggled together and you’re both looking at the book together that they don’t need eye contact. They do.

Eyes can glare, smoulder, gaze, twinkle, shine and show sincerity.

There is a completely separate level of communication coming from your eyes. So reach out to your child by maintaining eye contact.

It’s equally important for you to be monitoring and enjoying your audience’s reaction to your story.

Storytelling is an activity that is a bonding exercise for both of you. If your child is truly engaged in your story, they will mirror your facial expression, reflecting those expressions they see on your face. You also need to ensure your child has not become afraid or confused.

If you are asking your child to participate in the story, maintain eye contact with them as they speak.

If your kids are young, they may still be trying to find the words they need. They will look to you for encouragement, so ensure you are keeping supportive eye contact, as it will encourage your child to keep going, and ultimately help your child to successfully contribute to the story.

Your child needs your affirmation and approval, even as they stumble over words or phrases.

A supportive look is as warm to your child as a bear hug.

Storytelling homework

You know that eye contact is important. Sometimes you can make eye contact, other times it’s not practical. Practice it. Make it part of your conscious effort at making the most of the stories you’re sharing with your kids.

  • Telling a story to a group of children, ensure that you regularly make eye contact with each child.
  • It may not be obvious, but if you are constantly excluding one child from your gaze unintentionally, that child will notice your behaviour and feel that exclusion.
  • If you’re reading to more than one child, try to spend equal time making eye contact with each child (though there’s no need to take out a stop watch!)
  • If your child is speaking, make and maintain eye contact with them.
  • While not strictly a storytelling technique, if your child is crying or naughty, wait until they’ve calmed down enough to meet your eyes before telling them the right way to do whatever it is.

Head back to the chapter introduction and keep an eye on your inbox for the next section on toning down your dramatics having just told you to beef them up. Confusing? It’s all about mastery. Just wait and see!

Storytelling Technique – A picture paints a thousand words

Storytelling Technique – A picture paints a thousand words

What you might spend three sentences explaining, you can often convey in a single expression.

A flirtatious glance speaks volumes – louder than any words that could possibly be said.

in storytelling for children, a picture paints a thousand words. Learn to make those pictures through your facial expressions

Don’t we all recognise the look of love?

How would you define the emotion jealousy to a child, distinguishing it from the emotion wanting something?

How easily jealousy can be conveyed with a facial expression!

Try it now.

(OK, maybe that’s not such an easy one, but I’m sure you get the idea)

Think of how you would show a “jealous” face. Draw upon your experience and memory to find an example of when you’ve seen someone looking jealous.

Can you replicate it?

Maybe take advantage and pull a jealous face next time you pass a mirror. Your friends will think you have issues and if they wonder what you’re doing, tell them to sign up to the course and try it for themselves!

Instead of breaking the charm of your story, you can improve the clarity and simplicity of your tale as you focus on sowing the story, instead of explaining what the characters’ feelings mean, since your child has already understood by implication from your expression.

Remember too, that facial expressions are not just for dialogue.

The tone of the story is also set by your facial expressions in the parts between the characters speaking.

Your child should be engaged and enjoy the whole story, from beginning to end, so make it magical by telling what happened next with as much vigour and expression as have for the speech of the characters.

When you tell a story, try to get a good range of emotions into the story, but particularly opposites. Most often as human beings, we understand something better when in contrast to its opposite.

Fairy tales are particularly successful at using this tactic, having an evil unhappy queen and a good happy princess, moving from a dangerous situation where the emotions reverse, to a safe resolution.

Contrast makes for a more interesting plot and colourful characters.

Ghost stories for older children are a great place to practice the facial expressions of terror and surprise

As your child grows out of fairy tales, you may move on to telling adventure stories or ghost stories.

These stories offer the opportunity to explore another range of social situations, emotions, reactions and facial expressions.

For these types of stories, you can use facial expressions to build suspense, drama, danger, conspiracy, and to heighten shock, awe, suspicion, and incredulity amongst others.

The facial expression you adopt will automatically influence the tone of your voice.

Since we as grown adults have our expressions and emotions thoroughly matched and rehearsed, your voice will naturally change according to your facial expression.

Try saying something truly angry with a smile on your face – it’s extremely difficult! So vary your facial expressions by character and by emotion.

Consider the phrase:


  • If you say it with a wide eyed shocking face, your voice automatically follows with a “shocked” pitch and tone and it becomes a mechanism to scare, shock and delight.
  • If you say it with a sad face, it becomes the voice of a not-very-scary sad old bear who’s a bit fed up and needs cheering up by his friends.

Having a neutral face will make your voice sound… Well, neutral and expressionless.

Even when narrating a bland character doing ordinary things, you can spice this up by giving that character a crazy expression so that everything they do becomes funny, ridiculous or strange.

The timing of your facial expressions is extremely important within the context of your story.

As you reach the climax of your story, and the suspense is at its highest point, you may pause to excite your child and savour the moment.

This is a great time to adopt an appropriate expression, be it shock, surprise, fear or even a deadpan expression if your story is funny.

Storytelling homework

Hopefully you’ve read the previous section on mirroring and social referencing as a storytelling technique and you’re ready to try putting some of the ideas from this section into practice as well.

The homework from this section adds to the previous, so spend more time getting this right with your kids. It’s really important.

  • Identify the emotions and think about how you can represent them in a single face.
  • Practice (or play, depending on how you look at it) pulling faces for different emotions and characters.
  • Start noticing the subtle differences between types of emotion or even within the same emotion (scared vs terror as an obvious example)

Once you’ve read this section, head back to the chapter intro: Why facial expression is important in storytelling

Storytelling technique – Telling the story with your face

Storytelling technique – Telling the story with your face

Telling the story through your facial expressions is a fantastic storytelling technique and one that forms this article and the second part (painting a picture using facial expressions)

We (well, most of us) don’t speak like an expressionless robot.

We already communicate with a set of natural facial expressions that we invoke involuntarily, but we become particularly expressive when we voice our emotions.

So, if it’s a natural process, why do you need to learn anything about how to do it?

Well, a story is a pretend scenario and since you are putting on a special voice, you suddenly have to become aware of conscious and deliberate expressions, which can be difficult to do, since your natural facial expressions are unconsciously done.

Using your face is essential in getting the essence of the story across to your kids

A young child is inexperienced and is still learning what it means to be happy, sad, frustrated, bored etc. Your natural facial expressions may be quite subtle; it may be difficult for them to discern a happy smile, from a sad smile.

They may just see a smile, and the sad tone of your voice may then confuse the child.

When your child is confused, they will tend to ask you to clarify:

“Is the boy scared, mummy?”

Exageration and clarity in your facial expression

When telling your tale, think of yourself as a “caricature” of the character you are portraying.

Your facial expressions should be over-exaggerated and dramatic.

This is as much for the entertainment factor as the educational one.

Combine volume, pitch, speed and your expression to make a chilren's story come to life. OH MY GOD ARE THOSE MAGGOTS!!???

Remember that your child’s face is like an exaggerated version of the truth when they portray a strong emotion.

Children are full of drama, scrunching up their faces and noses when they are angry or grinning from ear to ear if you agree to play with them.

Your dramatic and exaggerated facial expressions will bring your story into 3D for your child.

As your child grows older, you can use a set of more complex emotions in your storytelling – disgust, shame, embarrassment or satisfaction, for example.

These are more complex to visualise and understand and will progress your child’s education of emotional intelligence further.

Think of some faces you could pull right now. Go on. Set yourself a challenge: think of five different faces you could exagerate to really show what you feel.

It’s harder to come up with faces with no reference, so the reading stories with your children is where you’ll really get the most benefit as you’ll have an almost constant stream of emotional concepts being given to you from within the book.

Storytelling homework

In the next dew stories you tell your children, focus on:

  • Exagerating your facial expressions to make it really clear what the emotion looks like.
  • Think about making different characters have different permenant facial expressions so that as they talk your face is pulled into different shapes depending on the attitude of the character you’re representing.
  • Think about exagerating specific expressions to make them funny or particularly dramatic
  • Have fun and enjoy making silly faces with your kids!

 Done your homework already? Head back to the start of the chapter or keep an eye on your inbox for the next part: A picture paints a thousand words.