A Framework for Planning Story-Based Lessons

Stories have played a major role in early childhood education for a long time and are a key element in any good English program for young children.   There are so many benefits for the language learner.

As more Young Learner teachers adopt classroom practices which focus on teaching the whole child, stories have become a key resource for providing a natural, engaging context for learning language. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to make storytelling with your English language learners a regular part of your routine.  

In this post, I’d like to share how I incorporate stories into my lesson plans for very young children in a way that will create memorable experiences and instill in them a love of books, of reading and of story!

The story used in the example lesson below is one the the Our World series readers, based on an adaptation of a classic folktale: The Little Red Hen Is CookingYou can watch me reading this story here.

This story provides the perfect context for introducing and practicing a range of vocabulary and structures.  Equally as important, are the concepts and values that we can explore after telling the story. 

What may be immediately obvious to the children after listening to this story is that the cat’s behavior was not kind or helpful.  However, we can also invite them to reflect on the response of the hen using the key questions for this lesson below.   In doing so, we enable learners to use their critical thinking and foster attitudes such as being helpful, kind and empathic towards others.

Lesson Stages and Instructions

1. Greeting

Say hello! Use your gestures and facial expression to show how you are feeling today. Can the students guess? 

This is a moment when you can interact and build relationships with your students. It marks the beginning of the lesson and prepares them to switch to English in a non-threatening and enjoyable way. We can not underestimate the value of these moments. 

When introducing this routine, start with a lower level of linguistic challenge and use mainly non- verbal communication.

2. Lesson Schedule

Go through the main activities that the students will do in today’s lesson.  Name each one and ask them to find the corresponding Picture/Word Card and hold it up.  Place these on the wall/board in order of the lesson and encourage them to do the same (on the table).

In young learner classes, most of us start our lessons with a visual schedule. 

It is equally important because:

– it develops receptive language by providing language support for talking about the different activities that take place in the lesson

– it is particularly beneficial for language students who may feel anxious about what is coming up next

3. Ready to Learn?

Do you have your….?? Check to make sure the students have all the materials they need with them for the lesson. Never start a lesson without making sure you have all the materials you need.

In online classes with children, this becomes even more important. Any interruptions to go and grab something they need can cause big disruptions to the flow of your class.  Make sure you send families the list of things they need before the lesson and go through this with them as part of the regular routine.

4. Introducing key language

Bring out the supermarket bags that you prepared with grocery items before the lesson. 

I have been ….

Holds up the bags and says:

To the supermarket!

Open one of the bags and begin to take things out, holding them up to and eliciting or teaching the name of each item.

The famous Mystery Box (or in this lesson the Mystery Supermarket Bags) can work perfectly to spark their curiosity and introduce vocabulary or a concept they will hear in the story.

Teaching online?  As well as using the bags, you can also slowly reveal the objects from around the edges of your screen.

5. Storytime: Pre-Reading “The Little Red Hen Is Cooking”

You can play the video in the link but you can also use the following guide to tell it yourself using the Reader.

Smile and sing a song to indicate the transition to Storytime.   For example: It’s storytime, storytime, story, story, story time!  In 5 4 3 2 1….and 0!

Hold the book up to reveal the picture on the front.

Point to and read the title and the name of the author.

This is today’s story.  Here’s the title – “Little Red Hen is Cooking”.
And the author is Bob Arego.

It’s based on a folktale.

And look, here is the Little Red Hen! Point to the hen.

Point to the pot and spoon. 
Look! What is the hen cooking?

Pause and wait for a few answers. Hmmmm… maybe!

Let’s read and find out!

Make sure to sit where you can be easily seen and heard.  They should all be facing the book, so if in a classroom with a group of children, make sure they are in rows and not in a circle for storytime. 

If online, make sure to sit close enough to the camera while still showing your facial expressions and gestures.

Never start reading the story without first exploring the cover.  Teach children about the parts of a book, including the cover, title, author, and use the images on the front to get them curious, activate their prior knowledge and prepare them to listen to the story.

6. Storytime: General Tips for Reading Aloud to Children

  • Always read the story to yourself (or in front of a mirror) before going public
  • Decide how you will read it, what voices and actions you will use
  • Get a feel for the rhythm and speed
  • Use plenty of facial expressions, gestures and make use of the images to support their understanding
  • Never use this moment to test them on their vocabulary with questions like “What’s this?”.  Instead, think of ways you will encourage participation with gestures and questions to have them reflect or predict.

7. Storytime: Post-reading Reflection

Follow up by asking the students to reflect on an aspect of the story. 

For example, in this book we could focus on the behavior of the two animals.  

Why didn’t the cat want to help?  

Point to the pictures in the book to support their understanding.

Then ask them if they help others.  Elicit some examples.

How do you feel when you help others?

Then turn their attention to the last page and have them reflect on the Hen’s behavior.  

Encourage them to think of other ways the story could have ended.

Invite volunteers to share their answers with the whole group.

It will be quite obvious that the cat’s behavior was not kind.  The immediate message that they might take away from this story is that you should help others if you want to enjoy the fruits of the labor.  However, if we encourage them to look a little deeper, we can see that the Hen’s behavior lacked empathy and was even a little spiteful.  

Without telling them the answer, encourage them to simply reflect and come up with alternative ways that both animals could have behaved.

Think/Pair/Share is a routine you can use with your students to encourage higher levels of participation and thinking.  First give them time to think of their answers individually.  Then they can pair up with a friend and discuss.  

Finally, invite volunteers to share their answers with the whole group.

Allow them to discuss in L1 but encourage as much use of L2 as possible when they share their answers.

Final Thoughts

The lesson outline above provides an example of how the story The Little Red Hen Is Cooking can be incorporated into a 45 minute lesson.  However, these same lesson stages could easily be used for lessons with other stories.  It can easily be adapted to a synchronous or even an asynchronous lesson.

Story-telling is one of my favorite things to do with very young learners and I know I’m not alone.  If you’ve tried story-telling before but without the desired results, I hope the ideas shared in this post encourage you to give it another go.

Author: Claire Venables

Claire Venables has a wide range of experience as a teacher, teacher-trainer, Director of Studies and materials writer. She spent a decade teaching in Europe, where she obtained her Trinity DipTESOL, before moving to Brazil in 2011. She now works exclusively as an educational consultant, writer, speaker and is the Director of Active English. Join her community of Young Learner Teachers on Instagram @activeenglishforkids.


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