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Once Upon a Time . . .

National Storytelling Week begins on 27 January 2018

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To mark National Storytelling Week and reflect upon the stories of our own lives.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Once upon a time...) and the means to display them.

  • Have available a copy of one of your favourite storybooks to show the students.

  • Optional: ask some students or members of staff to bring in a copy of their favourite storybook.

  • Optional: you may wish to play the song ‘Once upon a time’ by Frank Sinatra, in which case you will also need the means to do so. A version of it is available at: (3.30 minutes long)


  1. Optional: play ‘Once upon a time’ by Frank Sinatra as the students arrive.

  2. Show Slide 1.

    Ask the students, ‘What were/are some of your favourite stories?’

    Encourage the students to think for a moment about:

    - the stories that they loved to listen to or read as children
    - the stories that they read now
    - the stories that they hear from others

    Pause to allow time for thought.

  3. Optional: ask the students to tell the person next to them about a story that they particularly love.

  4. If available, ask some pre-arranged students or members of staff to share/hold up a copy of their favourite storybook, or hold up a copy of your own favourite storybook.
  5. Explain that National Storytelling Week happens in the last week of January every year. Stories can be powerful things. They help us to imagine. They can take us to strange and interesting places. They can enable us to relax and lose ourselves in the story. They help us to learn about the world, relationships, what we feel and what we believe. They don’t have to be true! Most fairy tales start with those famous words, ‘Once upon a time’. These words invite us to enter a world of imagination and discovery.

  6. Let’s look at some of the best-loved stories of all time. The books on the next few slides are all on Amazon’s ‘100 Childrens Books to Read in a Lifetime’ list. How many do you recognize? How many have you read, or heard being read aloud?

    Show Slides 2–10. For each slide, read out the title and author. You may wish to invite the students to raise their hands if they have read or heard the story.

  7. So, are stories good for us? The answer is definitely YES! Humans have been telling each other stories for a very long time. All of the religious traditions of the world convey important truths by using stories, or parables. Before the written word existed, stories were told, memorized and passed on from one generation to another. Stories play an important role in being human. Let’s look at some of the things that stories can do for us.

  8. Show Slide 11, and then read through each of the bullet points in turn.

    Stories have the power to motivate, persuade, inform and inspire.
    Listening to stories changes our brain chemistry. It helps to build empathy and develops our ability to concentrate.
    When we hear a story, the parts of our brain that we would use to experience the actual events of that story are activated.
    Stories connect us with others because they are universal and go across ages and cultures.

  9. Show Slide 12.

    This infographic also shows us just how powerful stories can be in developing and shaping our brain. Highlight the fact that various feelgood hormones, such as dopamine, are released when we hear or read stories.

  10. So, the evidence is in: stories are not just for Reception-aged children! All humans benefit from stories. This week, perhaps we can look out for a chance to pick up a book and read a story, or to listen to a story being read, whether it is live, through a podcast or via YouTube.

    Take the opportunity to advertise any clubs or events within school that promote reading and literacy.

Time for reflection

Let’s take a few moments to reflect on how our own lives can be a form of story. There will be elements of our life stories that are magical and wonderful, with a ‘happily ever after’ feel. However, there will also be parts of our life stories that feel more like tragedy. Whatever our story, though, it is not over yet. We are still writing our own stories!

Show Slide 13.

That is a powerful thought. It is within our power to change and adapt our story as we respond to what happens to us.

We can also choose the types of words we use in the story of our life. Words matter, and the words that we use to tell our story have the power to transform that story – and to change us. Consider the following questions.

- Will you describe yourself as a victim, or a survivor?
- Will you tell the story of your own life as someone who failed, or as someone who learnt from experience?

In telling the story of how you became who you are, and of who you are on your way to becoming, the story itself becomes a part of who you are.

When we look at our own life as a story, we can better understand ourselves. Some people do this by writing an autobiography, or a diary that they keep. Others chat through their story with a trusted friend, or even a counsellor. Others use prayer as a way of sharing the story of their day and their life with God. All of these ways help us to tell our story and in so doing, make better sense of our life, our feelings and our identity.

Let us pause and remember that we all have different stories that make us who we are. There are common themes - joy, achievement, loss and discovery - but our own story is unique. Our own stories are still being shaped and formed. We have the power to shape that story.

Dear God,
We thank you for the gift of storytelling.
Thank you for the way in which stories connect us, teach us and transform us.
Help us to find opportunities this week to find ways to enjoy stories.
We also thank you for the story of our own lives.
Thank you for the freedom to write and shape our own story.
Help us to reflect on our own story and to make good choices as our stories develop.

Publication date: January 2018   (Vol.20 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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