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.

Using your bodylanguage and facial expressions to teach children – Mirroring

Using your bodylanguage and facial expressions to teach children – Mirroring

You are telling your child a story in which you are hoping to teach them a lesson in acceptable behaviour.

Your child is watching you intently.

She is mirroring your emotional reaction to the story, and learning from it.

 A great way to teach children what response is appropriate to a situation is to show them so they can mirror your response and learn.

Social Referencing

Children learn how to react to situations based on their parents’ facial expressions.

This is known to psychologists as “social referencing”.

Apart from “emotional intelligence” as the correct assessment of the emotion being conveyed, social referencing is another hugely important aspect of children’s learning from facial expressions.

In storytelling, children use the emotional intelligence skills that have been developed to identify what your reaction to a given social situation is. This identification will often be by means of your facial expression.

The expressions you portray in reaction to the events of a story as you narrate it, help your child to socially reference that situation and understand how they too, should react to it.

They follow you, their social and emotional guide.

Once your child has correctly assessed your emotion and identified your emotional reaction with a social situation, they start to accumulate a mental “toolkit”.

These are behavioural tools that they use when presented with these social situations in a real environment.

Children do not look to everyone to provide social referencing.

Most often they look to you, their parent.

“…children are more likely to accept information from a trusted source; when a novel ambiguous object, a remote-controlled black spider, was introduced…children were more likely to respond appropriately to their mother’s reactions of fear or of happiness than they were to respond to the stranger’s reactions. That is, they considered the source of the information when deciding whether to accept it.”

Social referencing as a function of information source: Mothers versus Strangers. Infant Behavior & Development.
Zarbatany and Lamb.

You provide the most important visual cues to your child, and so you need to be aware of yourself, and constantly ensure that your emotional reactions to episodes or characters of the story are what you want your child to learn from you.

When your child is very young, stories based around simple emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear and anger and common social situations will teach your child what is OK and what is not Ok.

To play with other children makes the character, and you by proxy, “happy”. However, to refuse to share toys makes the character, and you by proxy, “unhappy” – but when this character eventually agrees to share, happiness is restored.

As your child grows older, and you use more complex emotions and more complex social situations, your child will learn specifics around how to act and react.

If, for example, in your story, the little girl steps on a piece of trash, her reaction may be “Eeew! Yucky!”

Here your facial expression will indicate that this is disgusting, and your child will learn that rubbish in turn is disgusting. Equally, her reaction to the little boy who threw the rubbish might also be disgust. Your child has now learned that rubbish and throwing rubbish onto the ground, are both unfavourable things. The little girl may tell the little boy that throwing rubbish is not allowed, with a happy smile and a kind voice. Your child now understands what attitude to adopt when faced with someone who throws rubbish.

Utilize this knowledge of social referencing as a means to teach your child about situations and emotions they have not yet encountered.

Studies show that a child will not necessarily accept your social referencing response as their own response if they have some experience of the object in question already.

According to one study, children “accepted [social referencing] only when the information did not contradict their own understanding of the situation and of their own abilities.”

Children’s Selective Learning from Others.
Nurmsoo, Robinson & Butterfill

The implication here is clear:

You as a parent need to mold your child’s attitudes and perceptions before they encounter the situation for themselves.

Make sure they adopt your reaction as learned, rather than forming their own opinion first and then rejecting your attitude.

Following on from that, it becomes apparent how important the continuation of storytelling and the use of social referencing is as children grow, as you try to keep apace of their past experiences and attitudes and the attitudes you want to teach for likely future experiences.

Storytelling homework

There’s a lot of evidence to point to just how important facial expression and your ability to remain consistent and believable is to your child’s development and I can put some of the difficulties and arguments with my daughter down as direct consequence of where I/we haven’t been consitent in our attitude/approach and she (quite rightly) is confused or has made up her own mind as to the proper attitude.

In the next couple of weeks:

  • Become aware of the facial gestures you use. Feel when you raise your eyebrows or furrow your brow. Notice when you smile with your mouth and when you smile with your face.
  • Keep an eye open for whom your child seems to trust and use as reference (who do they look/go to when they’re not sure of the situation). This will tell you who your child is using as a social reference. By The Way, this applies throughout life – can you think of a friend/aquiantance who could be described as a “do as I say not as I do” kind of person?
  • When you’re reading books or stories with your kids, notice who the social references are in the book. Which characters seem to take the behavioural lead and which follow? What could you take from those characters and use in your own stories?
  • When telling stories, remember that your response is the reference for your audience, so make sure you’re clear about what you want them to learn from it.

Remember you can head back to the chapter introduction on facial expression and masks in storytelling any time.

Facial Expressions and Masks in Storytelling

The story is written all over your face

Making faces while telling stories is an absolutely essential skill to master as a storytelling technique.

Let’s set the scene…

A great storytelling technique to master: facial gestures and masks

It’s holiday time and the family are camping in the forest, enjoying nature, the outdoors and the fresh air.

As night draws in, the kids wrap themselves in their coats and gather round, closer to the snapping and crackling camp fire; marshmallows speared on the ends of freshly cut sticks from the afternoon’s walk.

Your children gather close, feeling the camaraderie of each other’s presence as they huddle together in anticipation for that timeless camping classic: the ghost story.

As the breeze makes the trees around them shush gently, a hush falls over them and your eyes twinkle as you gaze intently at each of them in turn, setting the mood for the tale.

Your face is a picture of danger, drama and suspense.

You draw a breath, and begin…

 In this chapter on facial expression in storytelling

  • Facing the truth – How and why using facial expressions, gestures and masks are important for our children regardless of them being included in story time.
  • Watching and learning – The importance of facial expression as a way of teaching emotional intelligence.
  • A picture paints a thousand words – How ours and our children’s faces show precisely the emotion behind it and how you can master this to bring a story to life.
  • Toning it down – A cautionary reminder that while we’re aiming to bring our stories to life, sometimes not being real is the just as important. Also a side note on storytelling with children with autism
  • Eye Contact – As a storytelling technique to engage and draw in your audience, eye contact is essential and surprisingly easy to master.

Introduction

Paul Ekman's books are seminary in learning about facial expressions

Paul Ekman’s books and “Facial Action Coding System” (FACS) are well worth finding out more about if you’re interested in bodylanguage and learning to read people (children and adults) more easily.

It is a widely held that the most important and common, and strongest, nonverbal communication is through your facial expressions.

In the art of storytelling, facial expressions are a most crucial companion to how you use your voice.

Lucky they are an innate characteristic of human expression as we speak. So, in this chapter we will explore:

  • Children’s perceptions of facial expressions and why it is so important to use them.
  • Emotional Intelligence – teaching your child to identify emotions from facial expression.
  • Social referencing and how to use it – how your child learns from your facial expressions.
  • Using your face to tell the story and maintain the flow of your story
  • How becoming a caricature of yourself will improve your story and your child’s sense of security.
  • Eye contact – the effects of neglecting this important means of facial expression.

Information at face value

The importance of facial gestures, expressions and masks as storytelling techniques

You’ve just found out you are going to become a parent…

You – you – are going to become a parent!

A waterfall of emotions flood you; excitement, fear and everything in between.

Your partner’s eyes are fixed firmly on you, scouring your face for your reaction, gleaning everything they can from your eyes, your mouth – your expression.

There are tears glistening in your eyes.

Your partner is wondering – are they happy tears or sad tears?

You smile.

Facing the truth

Our emotions are naturally drawn out on our faces and thus are the most important form of non-verbal communication.

Often, words cannot even do justice to the complexity and strength of the feelings you can express with your face.

Facial expressions are such a giveaway to a person’s emotions that sometimes we even try to hide our true feelings by restraining our facial expressions

Without facial expressions, a story becomes a flat, limp narration instead of a magical and engaging tale.

You will look just plain bored and disinterested.

Apart from perhaps feeling a perceived unwillingness to spend time with them, your child will be concentrating on you telling the story, instead of being ‘in’ the story in their imagination.

They will be aware that a story is being told to them – seemingly begrudgingly – instead of being transported off in their imagination, out of their bedroom and into the magical land you are describing.

If your face shows no wonderment, you can’t expect to convince your child that it is wonderful.

Read about the specifics of facial expression and gesture in storytelling

The following are all sections in this chapter. Keep a close eye on your email inbox and read each one in turn and practice the storytelling homework. You’ll never realise just how much goes into a the telling of a story. We have linked in the first section on why facial expression is important in stories and children’s growth for your interest.

  • Facing the truth – How and why using facial expressions are important for our children’s growth.
  • Holding it up – Understanding mirroring and social referencing and their role in storytelling.
  • Watching and learning – Teach emotional intelligence through facial expression in your stories.
  • A picture paints a thousand words – Use your face to paint a picture richer than words in your children’s stories.
  • Toning it down – Finding the balance between story and reality and storytelling with autistic kids.
  • Eye Contact – Master this storytelling technique and you’ll have your audience in the palm of your hand.

Why facial expression is important in storytelling

Why facial expression is important in storytelling

Everybody knows that your facial expression is important in making your stories come to life, but why?

According to a Harvard University study, the ability to understand emotions, known as emotional intelligence, is linked intrinsically to being able to understand facial expression.

“Emotional intelligence—the ‘accurate appraisal and expression of emotions in oneself and others and the regulation of emotion in a way that enhances living’… encompasses a set of interrelated skills and processes. Because the face is the primary canvas used to express distinct emotions nonverbally … the ability to read facial expressions is particularly vital, and thus a crucial component of emotional intelligence.”

Emotional Intelligence and the Recognition of Emotion from facial Expression. Elbenfein, Marsh & Ambady

There are many ways to work with your child to increase emotional intelligence.

For children, one of the optimum ways of learning this skill – the correct appraisal of the feelings of others – is through learning the meanings of facial expressions in stories.

This allows the child to practice identifying and ‘trying on’ facial expressions in a safe environment. They can experiment with fear, with danger, with surprise, with confusion; with jealousy…the list is endless.

Encourage your child to show you the face of the angry lion, of the sad swan, of the happy bear finding the pot of honey.

By doing this, you are teaching and preparing your child for the world around them.

You are helping them to ‘read’ the faces of the people around them, and this in turn helps your child to understand what social behaviours should be encouraged in these situations.

According to a recent study,

“The ability to recognize facial expressions at age 5 has been found to predict later social and academic competence.”

Recognizing Emotion from Facial Expressions: Psychological and Neurological Mechanisms. Ralph Adolphs. University of Iowa College of Medicine.

We all want our children to go out into the world best prepared to deal with the people and society around them.

Therefore we should use facial expressions in storytelling as a means of effectively educating our children to become emotionally developed and aware human beings.

OK, so there’s a lot of techniques and things to know about facial expression in storytelling, so keep an eye on your inbox for the following sections which break it down a bit and give you some key things to focus on:

  • How children mirror our behaviour and how you can use it in storytelling using the power of social referencing
  • How your face tells a story and how to use it (part 1)
  • A picture paints a thousand words – using your face to bring a story to life (part 2)
  • Eye contact in storytelling – can be difficult in a snuggle, but fine tuning it can make a great storyteller
  • Toning down your skills for your audience – you don’t want to overdo it
  • A note on storytelling and children with autism (relevant though not specifically part of this series on storytelling techniques)

You can also return to the chapter introduction – facial expressions and masks in storytelling – at any time

A Note on storytelling for children who have autism

Children with autism often cannot understand facial expression

There is much importance put on the ability of the storyteller to be able to make the right faces but it is a common feature of autism spectrum disorders, that children with autism not be able to discern the emotion from facial expressions, finding it hard to distinguish the meaning of a smile from a frown.

Storytelling with children with autism can be difficult. There is plenty of literature and places to find help however

Continue reading A Note on storytelling for children who have autism

An Easter poem for my daughter

My daughter is in Australia with her mum for the whole of April, so I thought I’d write her a poem in a card she could take with her and open on Easter day as I’m not going to see her for over a month!

I’m not a very good poet, but that doesn’t really matter. For me it’s that I’ve made the effort and, like the pictures I draw for her, it’s another way of communicating with her and showing her how important she is and what she means to me.
Tell stories and communicate with your kids through poems and pictures. These are also great storytelling techniques

 

Dear Olivia,

I hope you’re having a whole heap of fun,
Down in Australia, out in the sun.

I’m back in England missing my daughter,
And I hope youre being safe, out there in the water.

Speaking of which, what’s it like in the sea?
can you bring something nice from the beach back to me?

With all of my heart: I love you O,
I just thought I’d say, as I miss you so.

So come home soon and tell me all about it,
(your holiday that is, not the Easter Rabbit.)

Happy Easter Olivia!

Love you,

Dad

xxxxxxx

Does anyone else write letters or cards to their kids?

What do you say?

How awesome does it make them and you feel!?

Interactive Storytelling: How to get Children to engage in story time

Interactive Storytelling: How to get Children to engage in story time

Although bed time has traditionally been a big time for telling tales and reading to children, getting kids to participate in storytelling during other parts of the day is also important.

Children learn through stories, including everything from basic syntax and grammar to more complex concepts like moral and ethical behavior and concepts of cause and effect.

Kids learn through stories

Children’s ability to learn through dynamic storytelling is one of the reasons story time is a big part of daycare, preschool, primary (kindergarten in the US) and early elementary learning environments.

Making story time a consistent part of your home routine is important as well, and you can set the routine for storytelling activities at home for whatever works best for your schedule.

Engaging your children in the stories you tell them. Continue reading Interactive Storytelling: How to get Children to engage in story time

Storytelling and Life Lessons: Teaching Moral Themes with Story Books

Storytelling and Life Lessons: Teaching Moral Themes with Story Books

All the history books and in every culture around the world, storytelling is and has been used as a technique for teaching children very early on about the importance of morals and ethics.

Bedtime stories for kids have been a way to teach even the youngest of children about acceptable social norms, moral ways of behaving and the association between cause and effect since humans were able to draw on cave walls.

Children's stories with morals is a traditional technique for teaching our kids about life and how to live it

Of course, storytelling serves many other purposes as well.

These can include getting kids interested in literacy and educating children about family and cultural history and beliefs.

Children’s stories with morals then can serve multiple purposes and the life lessons children are able to glean from these tales will stick with them throughout their lives. What kids learn in their formative years have a lasting effect and instilling proper behaviors in beliefs in your children when they are young helps stage them for success later in life.

 Storytelling and Morals

Children’s stories can be very open about the fact that they are teaching an important life lesson. Equally, the moral of the story may be buried in the storyline itself. Books of both varieties can be very useful in teaching life lessons to children and parents often decide to use storytelling techniques which include both styles of writing.

Traditional Life Lessons

Classic life lessons like treating people equally, appreciating what you have, and sharing with others are common themes in classic children’s literature and many contemporary children’s stories. A few examples of newer books which teach kids lasting life lessons include:

Treating people like equals and learning about tollerance through childrens stories with morals

How full is your bucket? by Tom Rath and Maurie Manning. This best selling book focuses around the idea of how what we do, every day, affects those around us and how our behaviours and attitudes can impact the feelings of those around us. Similarly it can also help children understand how the behaviours and attitudes of those around them can influence too. Checkout this article on psychcentral if you’re interested in how and when children develop empathy.

Bullying and the bystander effect can be addressed through good stories for kids

For slightly older kids (I’d say five and upwards) The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up For Others by Maria Dismondy is a fantastic story about a new boy at school who’s trying to carve himself a space by being a bit of bully and how the rest of the class take a kind, but firm promise to help him to become a nice and kind member of the class. It takes the issue of bullying and instead of tackling the bully, it’s actually tackling the apathy and bystander effect and helps children learn to help eachother even if they possibly don’t deserve it.

Classic children’s stories which cover themes of central importance to building a strong character never lose their meaning.

Tales like those from Aesop and other fables teach children clear messages about right and wrong, moral or ethical and non-moral behavior, and the consequences of not exhibiting strong ethics and morals at all times and under all circumstances.

The Fables of La Fontaine: A Selection in English is a classic collection of children's stories with morals

These stories teach children in non-threatening ways.

They don’t use scare tactics to get kids to understand the consequences of bad behaviors.

They instead play on the positive aspects of doing the right thing.

Storytelling techniques which are positive in nature have a healthier and more lasting effect on children’s own moral compass development.

New themes in children’s books

While some life lessons which appear in classic and contemporary children’s stories are the same lessons human have been teaching to their children for generations, there are also many relevant moral and ethical themes for today’s society. Parents who wish to use storytelling techniques to educate their kids on environmentalism, multiculturalism, and other similar concepts now have many options available in today’s kids books.

Checkout this list on teachers.net for a long-ish list of evironmentally themed books (though note that some are out of print/only availabe in the US)

Incorporating ethical life lessons on these newer themes has never been easier.

Good bedtime stories can have somewhat complex themes that are broken down into easy to understand tales appropriate for young children. By making stories interesting and by parents employing good storytelling techniques, even complex themes are simple for kids to understand.

Don’t underestimate their ability to comprehend the moral behind the story.

Discussing Themes and Morals Outside of Story Time

Reinforcing life lessons learned during bedtime stories or other storytelling activities is also important.

The good bedtime stories you read to your kids are only the beginning of life lessons.

Use them as the jumping off point for a larger discussion on the topics covered in the stories and the moral or ethical lessons taught in the tales you read.

Storytelling Techniques – Controlling Pitch and Speed

Using pitch and speed in storytelling

Pitch is the height or depth of the tone used when telling a story.

So for example, a mouse might have a high pitched squeaky voice, but can still express their anger or happiness in their tone within that range.

An elephant might have a very low pitched voice but can still express their excitement or fear in the tone of their voice while retaining that low deep pitch.

Laughter

A great storytelling technique is pitch control - making your voice high or low.

Laughter within a story is very important and when combined with volume, really will illuminate the range of different emotions of the person laughing.

The witch’s laugh is either high pitched and loud, a confident and arrogant laugh.

The child’s high pitched but quiet laugh is a secret laugh behind their hand.

The low pitched loud laugh is the Father Christmas’ belly laugh.

The Gruffalo might have a deep and scary voice

Volume without pitch will only illustrate half the picture, so play with pitch to spice up your characters and give them defined personalities.

Generally, sloping the pitch of your speech up slightly can also bring a sense of mystery, or in dialogue, it indicates a question. It can also tell your child that you are looking for them to tell you what happens next, if it is a story they are familiar with.

Suspense and climax

Pitch is also a great tool to build suspense and climaxes.

We’ve all heard a horse racing commentary and if we put the speed of it aside (see the next section on speed), the commentator starts off at a reasonably gently tone and speed and as the horses gather speed and progress down the course, the commentary becomes higher and higher pitched as the speed of the horses gets faster and faster and as the tension gets tighter and tighter until the climactic photo finish…

…And we can all breathe again and allow our heart rates to start to relax.

This is the same strategy that can be reused in storytelling to build the suspense and excitement as an important event within the story approaches.

Children love this!

My daughter loves the story “We’re going on a bear hunt” which has a long and slow and fun build up followed by a rapid and exciting run away from the bear they find. It’s huge fun and one of her favourites and one she will recite to me on walks.

Similarly, in a story, when they hear a markedly increasing pitch they will begin to either giggle or sit up straight beside you in excitement as they become totally emotionally and mentally involved, anticipating the big climax.

Speed

A good story keeps a good interesting pace, but there are times when slowing your speed right down can do wonders for your story.

Controlling the speed of your voice when telling a story is a great technique

When your child hears you change from a regular to a markedly slow pace, they know instantly that something is afoot, and will listen attentively to your every word.

Slowing down your vocal speed emphasises the suspense, the fear, the sadness or the wisdom of an old granny. Speeding up your voice is a great and funny way to give a special character a funny voice such as a crazy squirrel, and will keep your child enraptured and giggling.

Variations in the speed of your story also keep your child engaged.

We all know children have relatively short attention spans, and they require variety so mix and match different speeds, tones and pitches to keep them interested or to refocus their attention.

If your child is as snug as a bug in a rug, it’s probably not the best time to tell them a fast paced story as this will make them more alert, and subsequently – awake. A regular or slow pace will encourage the atmosphere of calm, helping your child to relax and consequently, to sleep.

And just as the Big Bad Wolf was about to eat Red Riding Hood….

Pause…

Savour the moment as your child looks deep into your eyes, hanging on your every word and dying to hear your next one.

A well placed pause is a fantastic device for building suspense, intensifying their wonderment and their enjoyment of the story. Be careful though, if a story is “scary” to a young child and you pause, your child may in fact react badly as they are unable to deal with their nervous emotion building up.

Young children need a happy ending, to restore their sense of security and belief that the world is always set to right. If your young child is unsure that what follows the pause is going to do this, they may in fact start crying before you’ve even told them the ending.

You know your child best, so judge what age you believe they can cope with this.

Older children who have some experience of negative feelings cope far better with this, and love the “not knowing”. However, if your story is an adventure, a comedy or a fantastical tale, the well placed pause is your secret weapon and guarantees your child’s delight.

Storytelling Homework

  • Practice, practice practice. I know it’s stupid to say that, but by now you’ll have read quite a lot on here so it’s important that you practice as you go or your kids won’t get the full benefit of you doing this research and learning.
  • Choose a regular story or choose a new book and draw out those moments of suspense or quiet.
  • Can you also use your speed and pitch to emphasise different meanings in stories you’ve read before?

Chapter summary: Using your voice in storytelling – techniques to make the stories magical.

Storytelling Techniques – Using tone and Emphasis

Using Tone and Emphasis

Children are especially sensitive to tone when telling stories and we all carry the imprint of our mothers saying our name in a “you’re in trouble buster” tone.

Tone and emphasis are so important and even when you speak at a regular volume, the tone of your voice is the single biggest giveaway to your emotion and the emphasis you give an individual word or phrase can completely change the message.

Tone is how we insert sarcasm into an otherwise straightforward sentence.

A single sentence can take on a multitude of meanings when given different tones and when emphasis is placed at different points. Combined, they illuminate the speaker’s motives, feelings and desires. The last thing you want is for your child to be cuddled in close at bedtime, but feel no warmth from your voice.

What is Emphasis in storytelling?

Let’s start with a brief summary of what emphasis means. The dictionary defines emphasis in storytelling (although it could be in any form of communication) as “special stress laid upon or attached to anything”.

I don’t want to labour the point (would that put undue emphasis on it?), so I’ll just say that for the purposes of this chapter; I’ll be discussing the most direct form of emphasis: Stressing an individual word or phrase in a story using your voice.

Consider this sentence:

“I know how to do it.”

For this exercise to really work, say it out loud.

Now let’s play with the emphasis.

Put the emphasis on the first word.

I know how to do it.”

Notice the feel of the sentence and the meaning behind the communication.

Now put the emphasis on the second word.

“I know how to do it.”

Continue and put the emphasis on each word in turn and listen to how the meaning and implications in the sames sentence can completely change depending on which word you emphasise and what emotion you put behind it.

“I know how to do it.”

“I know how to do it.”

“I know how to do it.”

“I know how to do it.”

Lastly, repeat the sentence as you did at the start of the exercise. I wonder how much the meaning of that sentence has changed for you now?

Using Tone in storytelling

Tone is, I think, easier to get to grips with than emphasis because it’s easier to see how to put an emotion behind the story.

Let’s use the same sentence we used for tone, but this time let’s experiment with the tone.

“I know how to do it.”

Try saying it in an angry way.

“I know how to do it.”

Did you grit your teeth or pull a face? If you didn’t try it again and see what a difference that makes to the tone of the sentence.

Now say it in a happy way

“I know how to do it.”

Did you smile? Did you cock your head to one side? Maybe you sat up a bit?

Again, try those things and notice the difference. Body language in storytelling is another extremely important factor and there is a whole chapter dedicated to it, but right now, let’s focus on the tone of the sentece.

Lastly, speak the sentence in a monotone, with no change and no emphasis. You will find it is extremely boring as it gives no idea of the speaker’s emotion.

Putting tone and emphasis together as a storytelling technique

If you storytell in a monotonous way, your audience will quickly tune out and probably become unresponsive to your story.

The whole storytelling experience will become a frustration for them instead of a bedtime bonding experience for you and your child.

So you can see how important tone and emphasis are in bringing your story to life as each character varies in tone and emphasis, maintaining the interest in the story.

The tone in which you choose to tell the narrative part of the story will let your child know what type of story you are telling, it may be a somber or scary story, it may be an adventure, it may be a funny story. Your child will recognise it based on your tone.

Practise saying “Once upon a time…” with different tones, to try to set the atmosphere for different types of stories.

How to tell a story by focusing on the storytelling technique of tone and emphasis

Another interesting aspect of tone, is that if you use storytelling to help control your child’s behaviour. Children will very quickly learn to recognise that “warning” tone in your voice when they are misbehaving, as it appears when the bunny rabbit is misbehaving in the story.

Equally, the tone with which you present episodes within the story will inform your child on what behaviour is socially acceptable and encouraged.

Remember that things can happen in stories long before your children experiences them socially for themselves, (such as stealing, bullying or becoming aware of differences in appearance) so this is a particularly important point to keep in mind.

You can prepare your child to recognise social situations and learn how to categorise them as acceptable or not acceptable and how to react according to what they have learned from your presentation of this same situation with your tone in your story. This is particularly important for stories with a moral lesson.

Storytelling homework

Now that you’ve had a bit of experimentation with tone and emphasis, continue to take that awareness into storytime with your children.

  • Focus on the flow of the story and see if you can enhance or dramatise the tale by increasing the emphasis on the key words or phrases.
  • Keep an eye out for the feelings and emotional tones in the story and see if you can bring them out even further by enhancing the tone with which you deliver them.

Remember: You already do this naturally. You’re just tuning your skills and stretching your experience. You may not get these right first time and you may feel silly doing the exercises. Do them and you’ll really enhance your storytelling technique.

Remember, it is not ultimately how you tell the tale that will make it successful, it is how your child hears it.

So above all, use all your faculties to make it wonderful for them – we will discuss in further chapters other ways to do this  –  so bend your voice to suit their ear.

“It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear”

Italo Calvino

Chapter summary: Using your voice in storytelling – techniques to make the stories magical.

Next lesson: How to use pitch and speed as a storytelling technique.

Bonus: Checkout this arcticle on using sound effects in storytelling to get some ideas on another excellent storytelling technique.

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