Creating a Storytelling Routine: Incorporating English into Your Family’s Daily Life

You know the benefits of incorporating stories to aid your child’s English language learning. But how do you make the most of children’s books? What is the best way to read and discuss stories together?

Simply providing your children access to books at home isn’t enough to pique their interest and benefit their education. You need to be a role model and engage with the books yourself. Incorporate the use of stories with your children into your current everyday life. 

The best and most effective way is by creating a storytelling routine where you share the reading adventure. Experiencing the excitement of the pictures, the character’s journey, and the storyline’s progression.

Exploring stories with you offers a much more interactive and multisensory experience for your child vs. reading a book independently. With your support and guidance, they are more likely to ask questions, discuss elements of the story, attempt to read parts themselves and learn more vocabulary words. Not to mention reading together offers you time to bond with your children and create core memories with them during their childhood.

Let’s take a look at how you can create a storytelling routine at home with your family, whilst also ensuring that

  • you select the right stories, 
  • create a suitable learning environment, 
  • and you provide expansion opportunities to extend learning outside of reading together.
Text reads "creating a storytelling routine at home. Incorporating English language learning into your family's daily life". Behind the text is a faded picture of a mixed race family with a young child sitting on the mums lap and the dad behind the mum all looking at a story together

Table of Contents

Effective Family Storytelling Environment

Two crucial elements for creating a storytelling routine are setting up a designated reading area and establishing a strict reading routine. Without either, you are more likely to skip reading sessions or your kids might become distracted. Here are some tips to help create a beneficial environment and routine for your family:

Create a Designated Reading Area

There is nothing wrong with picking up a book at any time of the day and reading together anywhere in your home. I do this often with my own family off the cusp when we get the Eco Kids magazine through the door or they independently get a book they want me to read to them. 

However, when you really want your children to focus solely on the book and read it together, it is helpful to set up a designated reading area.

This doesn’t have to be fancy with a big tepee or large beanbags. It doesn’t have to be formal either e.g. sat at a desk together. A suitable reading area might be a cosy corner with some cushions on the floor away from toys and screens.

What makes a reading area effective is that it limits distractions and as you use this space more and more, your children begin to associate it with reading time.

It is also important to consider the space and lighting options, ensuring there is enough room for everyone to access the story and that there is enough light to be able to see the book.

Depending on your children’s needs, you may also wish to have a couple of baskets within your reading area. For example, you might wish to include a story basket filled with props that your children can use to act out parts of the story as you read it together. Or, maybe your children would benefit from a tools basket with items to support their focus and reading e.g. a coloured reading ruler if your child is dyslexic or fidget and sensory toys if your child has ADHD.

What appears to be a Caucasian mum sat on some colourful cushions (orange, green, and yellow) with her son looking at a blue book in front of a bookcase.

Establish a Reading Routine

Creating and sticking to a reading routine is important to help incorporate English into your family’s daily life. Without a regular, strict routine, life happens. An appointment might come up, extra work commitments, or even just choosing a different activity e.g. playing a family board game or watching TV together. 

A routine enables you to set up expectations with your family. Everyone knows when it is reading time, for how long, and what you will do during storytelling together. 

As an example, we always have reading time together at bedtime as a family. We sit comfortably and the children are given some books to choose from to read together. There are no other distractions, the only item within reach is a soft toy they have for bed that they can cuddle during story time. Otherwise, their focus is solely on the story.

Since implementing this routine, over time, my children have 

  • chosen books without any encouragement needed,
  • Offered to read familiar stories aloud to everyone,
  • Asked questions about new vocabulary words,
  • And discussed elements of the story without any prompting from me.

Setting a regular storytelling routine has encouraged my children to interact with more books and motivated them to independently discuss or read stories.

A regular reading routine offers just that. Setting up clear expectations will over time prompt your children to engage more during story time. 

Creating a reading routine is not only educationally beneficial for your children but also emotionally. Spending regular, daily story time together helps form a closer bond between you and your children.

Tips For Choosing The Right Stories and Resources

Selecting the right stories for your family can make a big difference in how successful your storytelling routine will be. With the right books and resources, story time together can be fun, interactive, and educational.

To help create an effective storytelling routine, consider:

Your child’s language and reading level

If you are reading full chapter books in English to your 5-year-old child who has very limited English proficiency, you will likely lose their interest in seconds and discourage them from learning English.

Verses selecting a bilingual picture book for your beginner language learner, where half of the pages are in their native language and the other half translated into English. This is a gentle introduction to learning English with bright, colourful illustrations and without the overwhelm of large sections of text in a foreign language.

Knowing your child’s reading level and their current ability in the English language can make a big difference in how well your storytelling session will go. 

Make sure to select stories that are only slightly above their current level. This way, you are still helping to expose your child to a new language, whilst ensuring it isn’t too challenging that it discourages them altogether.

A story theme

What might pique my children’s interest could be completely different to yours, and this is key in motivating them to interact with stories during your daily routine to learn English. 

For example, my children love anything and everything to do with animals. Animal picture books, animal rescue stories, and even non-fiction animal magazines. As soon as I select a book about animals, they immediately start asking me questions about the story, sharing facts they know about that animal, or interacting with the pictures in the book.

Whereas if I were to pick up a book about famous explorers, they wouldn’t be as interested and would not independently interact with the story.

This experience happens to all children. Your children will more likely engage with a story during story time if you have selected a book that features something they are interested in e.g. a particular topic, character, or theme.

Try to have a range of stories and resources available as part of your storytelling routine for your children to choose from. Rotate these books regularly so that they have the opportunity to read different texts and book formats, but also retain their interest.

Story length and format

The length and format of your stories can also impact how much your children will remain focused during storytelling.

For younger, beginner language learners, picture books and short stories are perfect choices. The shorter book-length, colourful illustrations, and larger font not only make it easier for younger children to access but also helps to retain their focus and attention.

Whereas older children with a higher language proficiency may prefer chapter books without pictures. This will help them listen to the story and create images using their imagination.

A young child in a stripy black and white top is sat down with their hands holding an open book. Inside the book are pictures of animals and simple text for the child to read

Techniques For Effective Storytelling

With a set storytelling routine in place and the right stories to use, you are well on your way to incorporating English into your family’s daily life. But there is more to effective storytelling than simply reading the story out loud. As you will know, it takes a bit more than simply opening a book to engage your children’s attention, retain their focus, and improve their participation.

Here are some techniques you can implement as you create a storytelling routine to help your children gain the most out of story time:

Reading Techniques 

Altering how you read to your children can help gain their attention and retain their interest throughout the story.

Try to be more expressive as you read, bringing yourself to your children’s level and helping them relate more to the text. You can do this by:

Altering your voice: change your tone of voice, pitch, and/or volume to help bring characters to live and highlight different emotions and moods. My children love it when I include character voices, especially if I make them silly e.g. a high-pitched, squeaky voice for a big dragon or a deep, strong voice for a tiny fairy. 

Add expressions: incorporate hand movements or facial expressions as you read. Actions can be associated with words to help your child remember new vocabulary.

Change the pace: adjust your reading pace during the story to match what is happening e.g. an action scene could be read faster to highlight the excitement whereas a sad scene would be read slower.

Add effects: include extra sounds to help bring the story to life and keep your children engaged. For example, you could add banging sounds for someone knocking on a door, crashes for thunder, or dun dun duhhhh for added effect surrounding a mystery. 

5 children are sitting on chairs in a line interacting with a teacher who is reading a book. They appear to be shouting at the teacher in response to the story

Techniques to Improve Enjoyment and Interaction

Your storytelling routine is only effective if your children are engaged and interacting with the book. If you’re simply reading to your child but they aren’t engaged, then something needs to change. Your kids will get the most out of each storytelling session if they are actively participating. 

Initially, your children may be averse to the idea of story time. They may not engage much and might appear very distracted. But, with the following techniques and creating a routine, your children will start to show interest, ask questions, and enjoy storytelling sessions.

Be a role model: if storytelling is new to your kids, they won’t know what is expected from them. Model for them by asking them questions about the story. What do they think is going to happen next? What’s the story about? How will a character solve a problem? Have they ever experienced something similar or felt how the character feels? Asking these questions prompts your children to answer and helps them understand that they can speak up and share their views and ideas during story time. 

Ready, steady, action: encourage your children to tell the story by acting out their favourite scenes. They could also participate in hot seating with the whole family. This is where one person is a character from the story and everyone else asks that person questions for them to answer from the character’s point of view. 

Multisensory experience: many studies suggest that children retain more information when they experience learning in a multisensory way. This means aiming to incorporate different senses such as hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. This is highly possible to achieve when you create a storytelling routine. Here are some ways to achieve a multisensory learning experience:

  • Create a story box, tuft tray, or basket. This could be generic and include items you could use for any story e.g. scented candles, coloured clothes, or music. Alternatively, you could change it to match each story e.g. gingerbread scented play dough for the Gingerbread Man, wheat and bread for the Little Red Hen, or porridge oats and a wooden spoon for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
  • Incorporate sounds for different elements of the story. For example, perhaps you have a rain stick for when you turn the page, a shaker for the start of the story, and a tap on the drum for dramatic effects.
  • Offer a range of tactile materials. My children can become distracted very easily. It actually helps them focus on a book when they have something to touch and manipulate. Different fabric squares, bubble wrap, a teddy, or even play dough are good items for children to explore during story time.
A sensory tray with sand, some plastic tools, and plastic bugs is being explored by two children.

Cross-curricular activities: learning through stories doesn’t stop when the read-aloud finishes. Storytelling sessions can extend much further than sitting and enjoying the story together. Stories are not just a means for learning English but can incorporate many different subjects from science to history, geography to art. This is known as cross-curricular.

Upon finishing your read-aloud session, encourage your children to extend their learning through cross-curricular activities. This might include designing their own character from the story, completing a related science experiment, cooking and baking, painting an alternative front cover, researching facts about a nonfiction character, watching a documentary about a place the book was based on, and so on. These activities enhance your children’s learning experience and are even more effective when their hobbies and interests are incorporated. 

Text reads "How to create a storytelling routine for ESL families". The picture underneath shows a small teepee with a family of four in front of it. They are using their hands to create shadow puppets on a white screen in front of a light.

Following this guide will help you to create a storytelling routine with your family that is effective, engaging, and enjoyable. Remember to try and take into account your children’s interests and the method of learning that works best for them. One family’s storytelling routine might be completely different to others, and that’s ok. It’s important to create one that works best for your family and will help them in improving their English language skills.

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