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Te kōrero pūrākau me te reo ā-waha

Storytelling and oral language

"Oral storytelling gives knowledge a soul." 1

(Trent Hohaia)


“Whenever we tell a story, we open ourselves to others, we communicate and share something about ourselves, and invite a response, either spoken or unspoken from our listeners. Stories always give rise to other stories.” 2

(Tanya Batt)


“Storytelling is valuable for children's language, emotional development, coping, self-concept, and sense of belonging.” 3

(Professor Elaine Reese)


A selection of objects with a sign saying what stories will you discover in these materials?.

Telling local stories

Storytelling is a way for tamariki to learn local history and whakapapa. Knowing local stories introduces meaningful vocabulary such as place names. It also contributes a sense of identity and relationship to people and land.

Get to know stories about the local history and people, including pakiwaitara/stories and pūrākau/ancient stories. Make these a regular feature of your curriculum.

Listen to a kaiako from Kidsfirst Kindergartens Lyttelton tell a local story about Tamatea Pōkai Whenua and their maunga. Tamariki use different props, objects, and drama to tell the story.

  • Transcript

    Transcript Transcript

    Tamatea Pōkai Whenua sailed into Whakaraupō in his waka with his whānau and friends.

    They were looking for a place to rest and were enjoying the beautiful, calm, and sunny day.

    At the front of the waka was Tamatea’s toka ahi which was used to create fire at each of their stops.

    After some time the weather began to change. It started to drizzle and Tangaroa sent some big waves their way.

    Before long the rain got heavier and the waves got bigger.

    The waka rocked from side to side and the toka ahi fell out and into the moana.

    Tamatea and his whānau fought against the storm.

    Finally they were able to pull the waka up onto the beach at Rāpaki.

    But they were makariri and hungry. Kei te matekai ia.

    The days went by and Tamatea saw his whānau and friends becoming ill and unhappy.

    He decided something must be done.

    Tamatea climbed te maunga nui behind the beach.

    When he got to the top, he called to the atua to send him some fire, “Homai te ahi tapu!”

    The atua heard him and sent a fireball through the air.

    A little bit of fire fell off at Maruia Springs and a little bit dropped off at Hanmer Springs before landing on the beach at Rāpaki.

    Tamatea and his whānau were overjoyed.

    They were able to build a fire and keep warm. And they were able to cook their kai.

    From then on te maunga nui behind Rāpaki has been known as Te Poho o Tamatea.



Find out more about this pakiwaitara on the Tuia mātauranga and local histories page.

Using props and objects

It’s often easier for tamariki to tell stories with the help of props.

  • Shells or stones can be used to sequence events.
  • Clay shapes can be used to act out simple stories.
  • Puppets: even less confident children will usually tell a story to a puppet – especially if the kaiako uses a special or funny voice for the puppet.
  • Magnet board characters and dress ups can be used.

Two children and a kaiako using puppets.

Encouraging confident storytellers

Renowned storyteller and author Vivian Gussin Paley developed a particular sequence of steps to encourage children’s creativity in storytelling. By including storytelling in the curriculum almost daily, children became very confident, adept, and creative storytellers.

The steps are:

  1. Inviting children to tell kaiako a story, which is then recorded.
  2. Using particular prompts, such as "I’ll write down what you tell me. I’m ready, how does your story begin?" and “Is there any more to your story?”
  3. Reading the story back to the child with drama and excitement.
  4. Inviting the storyteller and other children to act out the story in a performance space as the kaiako reads it line by line.

Storytelling encourages both receptive language learning (listening and understanding) and expressive language learning (gesture and talk). It is an opportunity for tamariki to learn about performance voices and how voice intonation helps to convey a story.

As tamariki get older, encourage ways in which the spoken story can be recorded through drawing and writing and on digital devices. This helps tamariki see the connection between the spoken word and the recorded word.

For accomplished storytellers, introduce strategies like storyboarding so tamariki can experience planning and sequencing of their stories. Stepping stones in oral language provides further information on children’s growing storytelling capabilities.

Story of practice: Storytelling using traditional stories

Drawing by child from a traditional story showing Sita and the mermaid.

At an inner-city early learning service kaiako introduced traditional stories to foster a love of storytelling and to connect tamariki to their cultural heritage and that of others at the centre.

These stories are often introduced to coincide with particular cultural celebrations, for example, introducing Ramayana (an epic from ancient India) during Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights). Kaiako made a point of reading or telling these stories daily for one or two weeks using different means – books, pictures, puppets, drama, and iPads. This helps the tamariki become very familiar with the characters and importantly the concepts or values portrayed.

Further strategies

For further strategies see: