1. Be Bold
As a Sunday School teacher telling a Bible story, you are telling a story that matters! You are telling a story about God! You are telling a story that has the potential to be life changing!
Be confident. Always remember why you are telling this story to this group of kids.
2. Know your story well
Know your story well enough that you are telling it, not reading it. When you know the story you are going to tell well you are free to make eye contact with the kids listening, to add details without getting lost, and to handle questions and interruptions without losing your place.
This doesn’t mean you have to memorize the story. Just be familiar with the characters and the plot and the key theme.
3. Focus Your Story
Know your one main theme. When you know what the key theme or point of the story is it will help you focus.
You will need to make the point of the story very clear for your students. Let kids know what it is and then repeat it often as you tell the story.
The longer a story becomes, the harder it is to keep it focused. Keep it short, simple, and focused on your main point. This will help you get rid of detail that isn’t important. Focusing on one key theme helps you decide what to keep in and what to leave out.
Focusing your story is also key for kids to be able to recall information in the story. When the kids know what the key theme is and can easily follow the short, simple story, they will be able to recall information more easily afterward.
Focusing your story will also help you from wandering off track. When you know the point of the story and the story itself well, you will be less likely to get distracted by tangents.
4. Set the Scene
“The desert of Egypt was hot and dusty…”
These descriptive words help kids imagine where a story takes place. These kinds of words also help draw children in.
Use words that describe the setting to help the children imagine the scene. This is especially important when the story is set in a location that is unfamiliar to children. The stories in the Bible are set in a time and place that is unknown for most kids in our Sunday School classes. So help the kids get a picture of what is happening by describing the setting.
This will also help children understand that the story is real and not a fairy tale.
Be careful in your use of descriptive words to set the scene. Children need to understand that this story is real. It happened to real people in a real place. Words like, “once upon a time in a castle far away…” set the scene and draw kids in, but may also cause confusion as kids relate these words to fairy tales.
When a teacher is telling a Bible story it’s important that they let the kids know that this story is true not pretend.
4. Introduce the Characters
Like the setting of a story, kids need to understand that the character were real people. Talk about the characters in such a way that children understand that they were real people living in a real place.
Help kids by putting the characters into categories kids understand – Mom, Dad, son, daughter, grandparent, friend, good guy, bad guy, etc.
Don’t ascribe feelings, thoughts, or actions to people that are not clear from the Biblical text. You may feel it will add more tension or help a child relate to a character, but you will also be adding to or changing Scripture and that is not right.
Tell the story in an engaging manner, but be careful to stay true to the Biblical text.
5. Grab Attention with a Hook
The beginning of your story is really important. Start with a hook; something that will draw your audience in. Start with something familiar to a child’s experience.
For example, you are going to tell the story of Jonah. One way to grab kids attention would be to show a picture of a fish (or use a toy, or a stuffed animal.) Say,
“This is a fish. What do people do with fish? [cook it and eat it.] There are lots of different kinds of fish that people eat. But I’m going to tell you a Bible story about a fish who ate a man!”
6. Build Tension with Pacing
Once you have their attention, move straight into the heart of the story. Describe the conflict or problem and the actions of the characters.
When considering how to tell a Bible story, look at pacing.
Pacing is how you move your story forward. It’s all about movement – taking your listener from the beginning to the end of the story.
You can speed up or slow down as you tell the story. Speed up a bit if it’s an action sequence for example. You are telling a story, so make it interesting.
If you have some action or want to speed up the story a bit, stay away from too much detail. Too much extraneous detail slows down the story, losing any of the tension that has been building.
7. Know How You’re Going to End
The end is the climax and denouement. You will reveal the resolution to the problem or event. It’s important to have an ending. Provide closure.
Sometimes people have a hard time finishing a story. They kind of ramble on, not sure how to get to the end. Kids will quickly lose interest if a story is finished this way.
Finish your story confidently. How do the characters resolve the problem? What happens to them as a result? Use your main point to help you finish your story.
When I was younger I took piano lessons. I enjoyed playing the piano, but I hated practicing!! Sometimes it felt so tedious. However, I only got better at playing the piano because I practiced.
The same is true here. Teachers will become better, more confident storytellers as they practice.
Practice the story out loud. Practicing out loud helps give you an idea of the length of the story and the pacing of the story. It also helps you work through words you may stumble over.
If you are using visuals get them ready beforehand. Practice telling the story using the visuals. Practice the order you will use them and where to put them so they are easily accessible as you tell the story. This is important because you don’t want to be fumbling with visuals when you are in the middle of the story.
Practice, practice, practice.
9. Be Creative in Use of Props and Visuals
When I was interning, I worked with a Children’s Ministry Pastor who had a unique skill (well, at least it wasn’t one I had!) She could tell and draw a story at the same time. She would stand in front of a whiteboard and start telling the story. As she spoke she drew. She kept drawing until the story and her picture were complete. She would use the entire whiteboard. The most amazing thing was that she could maintain interest and attention without actually looking at her class.
This was a unique skill that she possessed and she made good use of it. If you have a particular skill when it comes to storytelling, use it!
Props and/or visuals add another element to your story. They should enhance the experience for kids. If the story is set in an unfamiliar place or uses unfamiliar items a picture will help the kids understand without you having to take time to explain a lot of detail that may distract from your story. For example, if you are telling the story of Philip and the Ethiopian from the books of Acts, have a picture of a chariot. That way the kids can see it and you don’t have to take a lot of time explaining what a chariot is.
But don’t let the props or visuals you use be a distraction. Make sure they don’t take over your story. They need to be an enhancement, not a distraction.
Props and visuals are an important part of the storytelling process. They add interest, help to maintain attention, and engage another of the child’s senses.
When you tell a story, kids hear it. When you use props and visuals, the kids hear it and see it. When you get them actively involved, they hear it, see it, and do it.
Actively involving kids in your story is the next tip.
10. Involving Kids
There are a number of ways to involve the kids in your story.
Involve the children in the story by having your kids use their Bibles.
Look up the story together before you begin – this can be done from age 4 up. For the younger kids, encourage them to find the book of the Bible, giving lots of hints and encouraging them to look for the first letter of the book. Give them bookmarks so they can keep their place. Encourage older kids to be on the lookout for a certain word or phrase in their Bibles as you tell the story. Choose a word or phrase that highlights the main theme of the morning. You are helping kids focus on the main thing and be involved in the story.
Have the kids read something from the Bible.
Ask the kids to find a specific piece of information in the verse. This gets them engaged. They may be surprised by what they find, even kids who claim to be familiar with the story.
Involve kids vocally and physically in a story.
Encourage your class to listen for certain words and respond in specific ways. For example, when they hear the word sea they are to make wave motions with their hands or when they hear the word storm they are to make thunder noises.
Be careful of how much involvement you use. In some curricula the lessons include Bible stories that involve kids vocally and physically in a story. This can be a good way to involve kids in the story, but too much of it will end being a distraction. Kids will focus too much on what they are supposed to be doing instead of listening to the story. I previewed one lesson that included 6 different things for kids to say or do during one story. It was too much. Involve kids when you tell the story, but don’t let it become a distraction. However you choose to have the kids involved, make sure it helps them follow the storyline and focus on the main point.
Encourage kids to act out the story.
You tell the story and the kids act it out. Give simple instructions. Tell the story and let them know when they need to do their part. For example, give them each a part and tell them to mimic the action of that character when you tell that part of the story.
Involve kids by having them hold or be props.
For example, you may need one child to be a tree or another to be a throne and a child to be the king. Have fun with it, but don’t let it take over your story. Having kids hold props is also a good way to involve them. And it leaves your hands free to hold your Bible.
11. Inflections and expression
Two of the best tools a storyteller has are their voice and their face. Have you ever heard anyone telling a story in a flat, monotone voice with no expression on their face? Were you interested, engaged, or invested in finding out what happens in the story?
A good storyteller will use inflections and expression to enhance the story.
An inflection is a change in the pitch or tone of your voice. Ways to use inflection include whispering, building in pitch, lowering the tone of your voice, and raising the tone of your voice. If it’s an exciting part of the story, reflect that in your voice. Let your voice reflect the emotion in the story.
Along with your voice, use expression. Use your face and your hands. Facial expression includes your eyes and your mouth. If something confusing is happening in the story, show it on your face. If the character is sad, use a sad expression.
Use your hands as you tell a story. Add gestures that help kids understand the action of the story or the reaction of a character.
12. Teach from the Bible, Not your Curriculum
When you are telling a Bible story, use your Bible. Tuck your notes inside if you need them, but teach from your Bible. Kids need to see that you are teaching God’s Word.
Open your Bible to the story you are going to teach and show the kids where it is found in the Bible. Have the kids look it up and follow along with you. Clearly state that the story is true. It really happened to real people.
Sometimes a Bible story will include an unfamiliar concept for your students. It’s important to explain it so kids understand its significance without distracting from the story.
Be prepared ahead of time to explain the concept in a simple, clear manner. Once the story is over you can spend more time discussing the concept if necessary. During the story, keep it simple.
Kids can be easily distracted if a story is interrupted too many times for questions, explanations, etc. A well-placed question in the middle of a story can involve the kids and keep them interested, but in general questions should be asked at the beginning and at the end of a story.
Also, keep in mind that children are literal, concrete thinkers. Be careful of the vocabulary you use. Be a literal as you can and try and stay away from symbolic language.
For example, if you are telling the story of the 10 Commandments, rather than saying, “Don’t take God’s name in vain,” you could say, “Use God’s name with respect. God says we shouldn’t misuse His name.”
Put these 13 tips into practice and you will be well on your way to becoming a fantastic Bible storyteller!