Storytelling is the act of telling stories, which are narratives with a beginning, middle, and end.


5 - 8


Social Studies, World History, Storytelling


Homer's The Illiad

Homer's The Iliad is an ancient epic poem, which is among the most celebrated of its kind and in the long history of human storytelling.

Photograph by Prisma/UIG/Getty Images
Homer's The Iliad is an ancient epic poem, which is among the most celebrated of its kind and in the long history of human storytelling.

Storytelling is the act of telling or writing stories, or narratives. Typically, stories are told for entertainment, for informational purposes, or for educational purposes.

Storytelling is universal to the human experience. Indeed, although it is likely impossible to prove, it has been suggested that storytelling developed not long after the development of language itself.

We do know that all cultures have told stories. Some of the earliest evidence of stories comes from the cave drawings in Lascaux and Chavaux, France. The drawings, which date as far back as 30,000 years ago, depict animals, humans, and other objects. Some of them appear to represent visual stories. It is even possible that the scenes depicted on those cave walls were associated with some kind of oral storytelling.

Oral storytelling is telling a story through voice and gestures. Like storytelling itself, the tradition of oral storytelling is ancient and crosses cultures. The oral tradition can take many forms: epic poems, chants, rhymes, songs, and more. It can encompass myths, legends, fables, religion, prayers, proverbs, and instructions.

Epic poems, like the Greek The Iliad and the Sumerian The Tale of Gilgamesh, were first recited and passed down by word of mouth, and only later written down. Similarly, Aesop—who, if he existed at all, hailed from around the sixth century B.C.E.—was probably a teller of tales. Later Greek writers mention him and his animal fables, but they originally belonged to the oral tradition.

Other peoples, such as the Native American Choctaw, similarly have animal fables that were traditionally passed down orally. Like those of Aesop, the Choctaw animal fables are used to impart lessons. The Choctaw also historically told religious tales, like their creation stories, via the oral tradition.

Today, of course, stories can be told orally, in printed or handwritten text, and via recorded sound and images. Regardless of the media, we are all consumers of story and always have been.

Why, then, are people drawn to stories?

One reason may be that it helps us feel in control. That is, it helps us to find order in things that have happened to us and make sense of the events of a random world.

Stories can also let us see how others think and feel. In other words, they can allow us to empathize with the people around us. In fact, studies suggest that the more compelling the story, the more empathetic people become in real life.

Stories also allow us to share information in a memorable way, which might have helped our ancestors cooperate and survive. By telling a story rather than merely reciting dry facts, we remember the details more clearly.

Regardless of the reasons, stories are everywhere. Much of our lives are devoted to telling stories about what we did, where we went, and who we spent time with. We have been telling stories for as long as history can see, and we will likely continue to do so for the rest of our lives.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources