Every story tells a picture..

This week we have a post from Hands Up Project volunteer and professional storyteller, Michael Loader. Over to you Michael…..

I’ve been volunteering with the Hands Up Project since 2018 after meeting Nick in Bristol where he was giving a talk at the Palestine Museum. This coincided with my ‘recent interest’ and ‘lengthy ignorance’ of the situation in Palestine and the Middle East.
I had been asked by a Bristol friend to get involved with a new music, song and word project in 2017 that was going to mark the 100th year since the Balfour Declaration, organised by a Quaker who has a knack of exposing the darker sides of British history that lie concealed under the veneer of decades.

With his expertise and persistence he managed to get an Arts Council grant that brought our group together to create, rehearse and tour the show called ‘Longing and Belonging: Balfour’ around the UK. The following year we were granted funding by the British Council to take the show to Palestine and Israel, which was to become my first visit.
You can find more about the trip at…


As for everyone, these last few months have been difficult for lots of reasons and for many of us work has disappeared for the foreseeable future – how long for no one knows. So when I was contacted about offering a 1:1 storytelling session with a teacher in Italy last week I was delighted to accept the offer.

She chose to work on reading and telling the story of the Gruffalo, which she uses with young children learning English as a second language. She first told it using voice, actions, characterisation, sound effects, physicality and the book, all skills that she has a good command of.

I then asked her to re-read/ retell it without physicality and the book, concentrating on the words, letting them be her guide… “How do you feel about that?” She said “Er okay” showing signs of uncertainty. After she had retold it we discussed the differences… Post session I ruminated… rumi rumi rumi…

It reminded me of the essential component of storytelling – that is the storyteller creates WORDS and the listener creates PICTURES… taking away the book created stronger images in my mind as the listener/ watcher, and focussed my attention on the pictures she was creating with her facial expression and voice.
Her vocal skills were also sharpened ‘painting’ more vibrant tones without having to concentrate on the skills of physicality and the book, thereby bringing the telling down to the essentials.

In essence the exchange is between the teller and the listener and as both parties draw from their imaginations, an alchemical magic occurs when a single imagination appears. If we are not careful the introduction of a book or something outside of this ‘private and personal’ communication can sever this bond and break the spell that has been already established. Seeing the pictures on a page, however beautiful they are does not have the same effect as the listener creating the pictures in their own imagination. When the listener starts translating words into ‘seeing pictures’, this is when the true magic happens.

I was glad to be taught and reminded of this invaluable lesson… teacher becomes learner

Michael Loader


6 thoughts on “Every story tells a picture..

  1. Thanks a lot for this great post Michael. We’re so pleased to have you as part of our team of Facebook live storytellers. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Michael tells stories at 5pm Palestine time on Wednesday afternoons) It’s wonderful to see a master storyteller at work and to see the images in our minds that you help us to create through your storytelling.

    I think when this is working the teacher and the learners get to experience the kind of flow I was talking about in last week’s post. (https://handsupproject.org/2020/05/29/going-with-the-flow/ )

    Mental imagery is, in my opinion at the very heart of learning. Here’s what I wrote as part of the introduction to one of David Heathfield’s books https://www.deltapublishing.co.uk/book/storytelling-with-our-students-9783125013544/?page_id=1

    ‘The more I teach, the more I’m noticing the link between learning and mental imagery. Storytelling -the most powerful kickstart for imagination that I know of -is the fuel by which images are born and flourish.’

    But I guess, like with most things, there’s another side to this too though, right? If children don’t know the meaning of a word they can’t imagine it of course. I’d say images can help hugely in this case. I think too that there’s a difference between just showing a few central images as in a picture book or in Sue’s storytelling style (https://www.facebook.com/917350095017969/videos/958450181273833/ ) and watching a cartoon. In the former the imagination is still activated – in the latter it may be barely activated at all.

    What do all you storytelling teachers out there think?

    Or maybe if kids don’t understand something they just imagine something different? I’m reminded of the first time I went to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan to tell stories to Syrian kids. I was telling ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ to a group of about 50 boys. One boy got up and stood next to me and seemed to be translating everything I said into Arabic for the rest of the group. ‘Wow!’ I said later to the woman from the British Council, ‘He has a great level of English to be able to translate the story’. She smiled and said ‘He wasn’t translating at all. He was just telling his own story based on whatever came into his head!’


    1. I love your story about the boy in Zaatari camp Nick. At the beginning, when I told stories to speakers of other languages I was a bit worried: “are they understanding ‘correctly'”? But seeing their faces, and the connection that I would have with them, I soon realised it doesn’t matter, most of the time. (“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Maya Angelou)


  2. Thank you Michael and Nick.for.sharing.this.wonderful piece!
    I think the storyteller is an artist . He/ She draws the input ( story) inside the listeners.brains.and.the.listeners.have to.paint this using their own colours . I mean it’s great to.help.the.listener.imagine their own.pictures , but it’s also.useful.if.the storyteller.helps.them.to.be on.the proper.track.of.the events ( as Nick said.showing.central images ) . This issue of.showing the pictures or.not has to.do.with many things along such as : the level of.learners and their interests..
    Storytelling is a perfect.world that gives the learners the kick to.learn the language , to.be who they are and.who they want to be .


    1. Nice comment Haneen. I agree with your last sentence. very nice. Storytelling helps people be who they are and who they want to be. Lovely!


  3. I agree Michael. As a storyteller, I feel storytelling is closer to cinema than theatre. We have images in our heads and hearts and then our words, body language, tone of voice etc, express those images and new ones that appear as the words come out; this then produces images in our active listeners which are based on our ‘transmission’ as well as their past experiences. From the beginning of the story to the end, mental/heart images which then produce feelings, emotions, experiences.

    As for telling stories to listeners of another language, it can be useful to use some simple physical images before telling the story for a bit of vocab, but in my opinion, the least possible; I even prefer using L1 if I can. I am not against using physical images in general, but we and our students are constantly bombarded with them, and I feel storytelling is the one time we can move away from them and let our students’ imagination soar without limitations.


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