In the recent film, A monster calls, a terrifying tree monster uproots itself and strides across a graveyard towards the house of Connor O’Malley. It crashes through pylons and knocks down street lamps. Bursting through the window of Connor’s bedroom, the tree speaks to the boy and… says that it will tell the boy three stories.

What? Really? Isn’t this a bit of an anti-climax? It turns out that the stories the tree tells are almost as disturbing as the idea of a tree monster itself. They aren’t neat and they aren’t safe. They force Connor to confront the impending death of his mother and admit his most terrible truth: that he just wishes his mother’s suffering were over.

Stories can shock, challenge, teach and engage children and young people in a way that simply explaining an idea never will. The use of storytelling in your schools’ work, whether in an assembly, a classroom, a small group or just walking along the corridor speaking to a group of young people, should be something you are working on and developing.

When it comes to Bible stories, consider the history, the narrative, the allegory and the honesty of the Old Testament as well as Jesus’ parables, his life and the story of his followers in the New Testament. These force us to ask serious and profound questions of our faith, our actions and God. Sometimes we try to sanitise these stories, to create something palatable for young people or children in assemblies or school groups. However, if we do this, we do young people and children a disservice. We take away the chance to engage with the Bible in its fullest, we shield them from the challenge and power of the story of God and his people in the Bible. We stand between them and a powerful spiritual experience.

Imagine if we were able to bring these challenging, life-giving stories to life for children and young people in schools. What would that look like? What impact would that have on the life and ethos of the school?


How often do you practise storytelling? Whether it is relating an experience you’ve had during the day to a friend at the pub, at home with your family or someone you work with, practising telling stories sharpens our skills and helps us become aware of any gaps in our skill set.

For example, you might become aware that you often forget details, the order of a story or perhaps you don’t vary your tone and pace and you find people switching off while you are speaking. Telling stories is a skill, whether you are doing so in a small group or in front of 300 children or young people in an assembly, and practising can only help you grab the attention of your audience and communicate the issues behind the story, as well as the story itself.

To help you develop your storytelling, choose a story which you like – it could be a Bible story, a traditional folk tale or a more contemporary narrative. Write down the main plot points of the story: what jumps out at you about the meaning? What are the characters’ motivations? Are there any repetitions or patterns that you can use in your retelling?

Once you are familiar with the narrative, make some decisions about how you are going to tell your story. There are plenty of options: with children, you might want to use sound effects, actions, repeated phrases or shouted responses. With young people, you could re-enact a story, rewrite a traditional tale in a contemporary setting or use emojis to visually tell the story.

Then all you need to do is practise! Tell the story to your team so that you become more confident, refine your ideas and check that your retelling and methods work.


Here are two story ideas for use in schools. We have just given you the story, so that you can be guided by the children and young people in your group as you make a response together.

Secondary school idea: the story of Randy Lewis

This story would be a great one for a session (be it small group, lesson or assembly) on equality, responsible citizenship or inspiring role models.

How can we follow Jesus in our work? How can the good news of the resurrection transform factories, work places and schools? We may have already heard the inspiring story of George Cadbury and his chocolate factory, but does this still happen today? Yes it does!

Randy Lewis was a Christian with a very influential job. He was the senior vice president at Walgreens in the USA. Walgreens is the American equivalent of Boots the Chemist and has over 8,000 shops and employs 176,000 people. It has a turnover of $76 billion!

Lewis has an autistic son, Austin, and he desperately wanted Austin to have a future and hold down a good job. Previously Walgreens had employed disabled people to do jobs like cleaning toilets and sweeping floors, paying them low wages. Lewis wanted to create meaningful and rewarding jobs for disabled people and so he persuaded Walgreens to change the workplace to suit disabled people. Walgreens has now designed warehouses where 40 per cent of the employees are disabled! These jobs pay an equal wage to the typically abled workers and hold all employees to the same standards. Employing disabled people has unleashed incredible creativity and imagination in non-disabled employees.

Walgreens employee Julia Turner has Down’s Syndrome. “I tell you what — I love this job!” Turner exclaimed. “I’m happy, I’m contented, I’ve got people all around me who are the best friends I’ve ever had in the whole world.”

Julie Willard, a deaf employee, said this about Walgreens: “It’s my dream to work here!”

Walgreens have also designed new technologies that serve and bless the disabled. In these ‘warehouses of wonder’ they use images rather than words, which help people who struggle to read. So instead of ‘aisle 14’, they have an image of a strawberry. This helps people who cannot read numbers.

The HR department has changed many of its policies. When applying for a job, a disabled person can bring someone to fill in the application forms etc. What is so exciting is that the company has discovered that disabled people can often outperform non-disabled people. Not only was performance the same (Lewis called in statisticians who studied 400,000 hours of work and proved performance is similar for those with and without disabilities), but in the warehouse, staff turnover was 20-to-50 per cent lower and absenteeism was also down.

Safety costs were also lower for people with disabilities. “Fears about more accidents had come up, but we discovered that deaf forklift drivers – who many companies won’t hire – are twice as safe as someone who can hear,” said Lewis. “If I could give everyone a piece of advice, it would be to put plugs in the ears of their forklift truck drivers.”

What questions might you ask young people about this story? What questions might they ask you? What does this story tell us about life? About faith? About God?

Primary school idea: the greedy dog

Retold Bible stories are a mainstay of assemblies and lessons, but there are lots of other tales from different traditions that can also start conversations in RE, PSHE or SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural education). This is a retelling of one of the fables of Aesop, a Greek writer active at the end of the seventh and start of the sixth century BC (around the same time that Jeremiah was alive).

Once there was a dog who had found a big steak. He was so happy as he raced through a forest, on his way home. He gripped the juicy steak in his mouth and bounded between the trees. He hadn’t been running for very long before he came upon a river. The only way across that the dog could see was a wobbly plank that spanned the water.

The dog put one paw carefully on the plank, then another, then another and then another. He paused as the plank shuddered, but then he steadied himself and carried on walking. Halfway across the river, he looked down into the water and was surprised.

There was another dog, staring back at him. This dog also had a big, juicy steak in his mouth. He couldn’t believe it. This new dog’s steak looked as good as his! Maybe, thought the dog, I could have my steak and this dog’s steak too. All I have to do is grab it with my mouth.

The dog opened his mouth to snap at the new dog and grab his steak. But as he did, his own steak fell in the water and was carried away by the river.

The greedy dog thought he could have two steaks. But now he had none.

What questions might you ask children about this story? What questions might they ask you? What does this story tell us about life? About faith? About God?

Mark Roques is a storyteller and leads RealityBites, part of the Thinking Faith Network.

Amy Tolmie is a schools’ worker based in Luton and director of SchoolsworkUK.

Alex Taylor is resources editor of Premier Youth and Children’s Work.