Have you ever watched a professional story teller tell a story? You may have brought a child to enjoy the performance and then found yourself becoming more and more invested in the story being told. It was because master story tellers have learned what keeps listeners on the edge of their seats. They often practice for years to perfect the techniques needed to be considered a master story teller.
You don’t have to become a master story teller to hold the interest of your students as you tell them a story from the Bible. You can, however, make use of some of their techniques to help engage your students more thoroughly in the story.
So what are some of the top techniques used by master story tellers?
- They know the story they are telling very well. They spend hours and hours dissecting the story, putting it back together and telling it over and over until it is perfect. You may not have the time and interest in putting that much effort into the telling of a Bible story every week, but you need to know it better than a quick glance before class or reading it for the first time for your students. If you don’t know the Bible story well, there is a very good chance you will get the details wrong. Or even worse, leave out the rules and principles God wants your students to learn from the story. With no practice, your delivery will most likely be halting and you will stumble for words – not something that helps engage students. Take time to read through the story out loud several times before trying to tell it to students.
- They add details to help understanding and to allow listeners to picture the scene in their minds. Instead of just saying the shepherds were watching or herding sheep, think about what they were seeing or hearing. Describe the taste of the food being eaten. Be very careful not to add details that would change the meaning of the story or distract from it. Often the Bible includes a lot of this information, but we rush through it or skip it entirely. Children will have a hard time picturing the unfamiliar places and objects from the Bible without these added sensory details.
- They dress like they belong in the story or bring in items that are featured in the story. This is especially important in Bible stories that feature items not commonly used in the lives of your students. Having a replica item like a clay lamp can help students better understand the story. Dressing like Esther can help some students better visualize the story as you tell it.
- Change voices. Are different people speaking in the Bible story? Why sound like you are reading what Samuel and Saul said, when you can say those same words with different voices as if your students were overhearing the conversation? Don’t forget to add vocal expression for emotions that are given for the people speaking. If Moses is angry as he says something, don’t make it sound as if a bored person is saying those words – make him sound angry.
- Change the volume and pace. Telling parts of the story as slow and quiet while others are fast and loud will catch students’ attention. Storytelling is a lot like music. Where would it make sense for you to be louder or softer? What about telling some parts more quickly or more deliberately? Those nuances can make you sound more interesting.
- Don’t add unnecessary “excitement”. For some reason, there are people who believe they need to add fictional characters or incidents to Bible stories to make them more exciting. You may have heard the story a thousand times, but your students haven’t. The Bible has more than enough excitement in its stories without adding details God didn’t put in there and confusing students. (For years I had students claim Peter killed the rooster that crowed when he denied Jesus, because they had seen it told that way. It was impossible to convince them it didn’t really happen.)
- Be engaged in the telling of the story. If you are excited about the idea of sharing the Bible with your students, your excitement alone can add the enthusiasm that will engage your students. Don’t tell any Bible story as if you are bored with the story. Children catch attitudes very easily. Be excited that you are the one who gets to tell them this great story from the Bible!
If you want to really hone your story telling skills, there are books and classes on the topic. Just adding these elements though will help you tell Bible stories in such a way that your students will want to listen carefully to catch every detail.