Every picture tells a story

Kamishibai, literally ‘paper theatre’, is a form of storytelling that originated in Ancient Japan. It became very popular in the twentieth century when the Kamishibai man would travel around on his bicycle with a set of brightly coloured images to go with each of his stories. As he told the story to groups of eager children, he would show the pictures that went with it, one by one.

It seems to me that this form of storytelling is a useful way of working with children who are learning English as a foreign language. In the same way that mime is a powerful way to clarify meaning, so too are pictures. In fact, with a good set of pictures, children could imagine a story even without understanding anything at all of what is spoken.

Now I’m not a Kamishibai man, (and I don’t even have a bicycle!), but I’ve made a video to demonstrate how the technique might work using my version of the traditional Palestinian story Tunjur! Tunjur!


If you want to use the kamishibai technique in class, and you have a projector available, you could simply display pictures for the story and click through them as you tell it. Alternatively, large versions of the pictures could be printed off and shown instead.  On the resources page of this blog, I’ve added the pictures that were used for Tunjur! Tunjur!, as well as the pictures for the much simpler story – The lion and the mouse. Also included is a script for both these stories. These can be used as models for telling the stories, but they can also be performed by the students working in groups, with different learners taking on different roles.

Kamishibai is also a technique that could be developed as a class storytelling project, with students telling their own stories, using pictures that they’ve drawn themselves. This is something that I’m looking forward to trying out when my online sessions restart in the next few weeks. Is this something that could also be done in your classes?

19 thoughts on “Every picture tells a story

  1. Hi Nick . I like this idea of story telling and l think students will like it too . I am going to try it with my own students . Which ages do you think are the most suitable ?


    1. Happy New Year Samar and congratulations on being the first person to comment on my blog in 2016! That’s a good question. I think it depends on the story that you use to a certain extent, but mainly it depends on the way that you tell it. When I made the video, I didn’t really think about about pitching it at a particular level, or age group of students, so my version isn’t that good (this is also perhaps partly because I was up most of the night before at a new Years Eve party 🙂 ) When you do a story with your students, face to face, in this way you’ll make a much better job of it because you’ll be able to tailor it to their needs, interests and level much more effectively. You’ll be able to pitch the English you use at a level that is right for them, and you’ll be able to set the story very firmly in their context. You’ll be able to make eye contact with them and gauge how well they are following you, and make any necessary adjustments as you go along. All of these things work better in my opinion when a story is told to students face to face by a teacher who knows them. Good luck!


      1. Thank you Nick . Happy New year . I am lucky to be the first to comment on your blog in 2016 . Where can I find the book in the video ? Does it have pictures that could be displayed on lcd ? THANK YOU


        1. Hi Samar. I bought the book on Amazon. It’s a really nice book but it doesn’t have any pictures and the version of Tunjur Tunjur in the book is much more complicated than my one in the video, and uses very complex language. It’s aimed at adults rather than children. You are welcome to use the pictures that I used in my telling. They are available in the resources section of this blog here https://wordpress.com/page/handsup4.wordpress.com/15


    1. Thanks Sirin. If you do try it out maybe you could record it. I’d be really interested to see a video of it being done in a classroom in Gaza.


  2. storytelling is accessible to all ages and abilities. Both telling a story and listening to a well-told tale encourages students to use their imaginations. I used this technique to introduce the past simple passive through role play with storytelling . I started by narrating the story while the students were acting . A student was walking in class . Another one came furtively and stole his wallet . Then the student said ” My wallet was stolen ” . Another student asked : What happened ? ” Someone stole his wallet ” Then I derw a comparison between the two forms and Ss elicit the change and steps .Anyway , I think that before doing such activities we should revise the require forms ( words – expressions ) to get the Ss familiarized with them . Also , we’d better choose tales that are appropriate to their age , interest . Concerning adult learners , real – life like tales may be preferred to imaginative ones .


    1. Thanks for your comment Khalid. I like the way that you have used a a narrative framework to contextualise a tricky area of grammar for your students. What’s particularly powerful about stories like this is that they are inherently memorable. Stories stick in our minds when other forms of input go in one ear and out the other! In fact Chip and Dan Heath (2008) list story as one of the six ways to make things memorable. It’s what the first S stands for in their Acronym SUCCES. I’ll leave it to you to work out what their other five ways to make things memorable are!

      If using my story in the video with a real class we might be able to stop and ask the students to predict what the rich woman put in the cooking pot, both when it was nice things and when it was rubbish. The fact that they are involved in the story like this might make this lexical set of household vocabulary even more memorable.

      We could think that we might need to revise the forms before the story, as you say above, or we could think that, because the story is memorable, we can use it as a way to contextualise the language and focus on the forms later. Both ways can work in my opinion.

      Reference: Heath, C and Heath, D (2008) Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck; Arrow Books


  3. Hi, Nick! I’ve just shared the story with 2 different classes (13 and 15-year olds). It was a great success – especially the chants, i.e. the rapping part, as they put it. 🙂 We watched the video first and then we read the transcript from the screen. A nice activity for the first day at school after a long holiday. Thanks for sharing.


    1. That’s great Hana. Thanks for the feedback. Yes you’re right, the chant for this story could be a rap and for teenagers that’s probably a better name for it 🙂 Something I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to make a video of some teenagers performing this chant (and eventually the other ones that I’ve written for the stories Alive material) to use as a model for kids in Palestine to follow. Is that something that your students might be interested in creating?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Nick,
    🎆 🎁🎉 🎀🎂🎇 🎈🎋✨🎊
    🎆 🎁🎉 🎀🎂🎇 🎈🎋✨🎊
    As always you’re doing great.I’ve one suggestion if you please upload the video content on the facebook in such a way that it can be easily accessible and down-loaded.
    As a learner fb is a good medium to access on mobile phones.And can be used as an audio, video aid anytime anywhere.
    Although your work is mind-blowing yet many people aren’t able to get benefit of it.It’ll definitely increase the learners’ outcome.
    God bless…..
    Kind regards,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re most welcome Nick.
      Yeah! you are right because of unavailability of youtube.Just saw your uploaded video of the Palestinian university students.Looking forward to seeing more and more…
      By the way thanks for your consideration.
      God bless…..


  5. Hi Nick,
    I watched the story clip with my kids and my 7 year old really enjoyed the story. They wanted to know if there were more stories like this. The chants are also very easy to remember.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s