10 Tips for Telling a Better Biblical Story

Teaching Techniques //

Think about the last time you heard a story told aloud. Perhaps it was a sermon given by a pastor, or a reporter talking on the radio or tv. What was the point of the story? Who were the major characters? Can you retell a joke or an interesting detail? You might not be able to answer those questions if your mind wandered to lunch or the traffic. Kids are even more distractible than adults (look, a squirrel!), but with a little bit of intentional planning, you can tell stories that capture kids’ attention and engage their curiosity, imagination, and memory.

  1. Know your goal. Why are you telling the story? What are you hoping they’ll remember about it? Framing the story for your specific audience from the beginning improves your chances that the kids will understand the takeaway you want them to remember from the story. Children are especially perceptive to your tone and language, so be intentional with your purpose from the beginning.
  2. Use personal examples. Share a story that only YOU can tell the kids. Sure, the internet is full of helpful anecdotes you can use to illustrate your point (and online resources can be a great jumping off point in your creative process), but stories about your own experiences show kids how Biblical stories can connect to everyday life. Personal stories also open you up for a more vulnerable and grounded relationship with kids.
  3. Tap into all five senses. Visual aids like pictures, maps, puppets, and costumes help kids see the world through Biblical characters’ eyes and allow them to visualize the story they’re hearing, an important part of memory formation. Sound effects, even silly ones you make yourself, activate a different part of kids’ brains and help them dig deeper into the story. Get kids involved physically by passing around a small prop or asking them to clap when you say a specific word or name. Taste samples of foods or smell oils, herbs, spices, and ointments featured in Bible stories to give kids a chance to experience parts of the biblical world. As kids engage their senses, they’ll experience the story instead of just hearing it.
  4. Use examples that kids get. Consider retelling the story in a modern setting that is familiar to kids (a classroom or park) with characters they know (family members, friends, or popular culture characters). This retelling does not need to replace the biblical story, but by telling the modern version first, kids are able to form connections to their lives and develop an understanding of the text. Modern retellings also show ways in which we can live out our faith every day.
  5. Focus on feelings. Kids are driven by emotions—fear, anger, desire, excitement, and happiness, just to name a few. Bring those emotions to life in your stories. Vary your tone of voice and the speed at which you are speaking. A high-pitched fast-paced story communicates intensity, panic, or excitement. A deep voice speaking at a slow pace can represent sadness or sleepiness. A simple reading can employ simple dramatic devices to draw kids in using a language they intuitively understand—emotion.
  6. Ask lots of questions. You don’t have to tell a kid the moral of the story for them to find one (as long as you took tip #1 to heart!). Don’t underestimate a kid’s capacity to think—they like to mull over a story and what it means, and they are more likely to do so if you tell the story, not the moral. Lead the kids to think about tough ideas by asking them lots of questions—and inviting them to ask questions too. Questioning is kids’ natural way of expressing their curiosity, and a curious faith is foundational for a lifelong faith. Encourage questions from kids of all ages, and don’t feel pressured to give a perfect answer on the spot.
  7. Harness the power of laughter. I once watched a slideshow about communion titled “Jesus Pizza—the bread of life, shed for you.” Was it silly? Yes. But I also remember a lesson about sacraments that I learned 14 years ago, so I am guessing my pastor would call it a win. Humor, when it is contextually relevant and age-appropriate, helps kids remember information longer than if the same information is presented without humor. Plus, smiling and laughing releases endorphins, which helps a child’s brain work better and faster.
  8. Make the kids a sandwich. A narrative sandwich, that is. Tell the kids what they will hear, tell the story, then tell them what they heard. In a book, you can go back and reread the parts you didn’t catch, but listeners can’t just rewind you to hear something again. Repeating and rephrasing your point, and asking questions throughout the story, ensures that the whole group is tracking along with you.
  9. Practice out loud. Read the story—your own writing or a book—aloud, including sound effects, special voices, and timing. Then, try not to read every word. Instead, make eye contact with the kids. It’s rewarding for the kids to see your silly or serious expressions and it is helpful for you to know if they are paying attention to and understanding you.
  10. Be confident. You are a storyteller with an important story to tell—the story of Jesus! Go boldly in faith.

 

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