Interactive Storytelling

    An Interactive Story is a way of engaging the children in multi-sensory experiences.  It includes storytelling, playing instruments, making sounds, movement, craft making, etc.  

Here is an example of how to create and present an Interactive Story for and with young children. 

The Three Billy Goats Gruff 

The story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff  has been a great resource for demonstrating how Interactive Storytelling can be a wonderful learning experience for young children, their teachers and parents.  Whether you are in an early childhood setting or at home with your child, you can use this as a theme for a day or a week. If it’s the theme for the week, each day the story is expanded upon, including art projects and activities.  It can be used as a springboard for many activities.   

The Three Billy Goats Gruff is originally a Norwegian fairy tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in their Norske Folkeeventyr, first published between 1841 and 1844.  Since then, there have been many versions published.    

Your first step is to read several versions of the story.  Get to know it so well so that you can tell it in your own words.  Telling the story, as opposed to reading it, allows you to keep eye contact with the children, gauging how they are responding and involving them in the drama.    Of course this does not preclude sharing the books with them.  If you  are doing this with your children at home, first read it together with your child and discuss how you might dramatize it.  

As I contemplated this story, I came up with an instrument for each goat to accompany his trip-trap across the bridge:  for the youngest goat, wooden blocks or sticks; for the middle goat, a small drum; and, for the big goat, a larger hand drum or tambour and mallet.  For the Troll, I found what I call a thunder rattle.  When you shake it, it can be very loud.  

I also chose some instruments that could be used in a “sound scape” to give a sense of the environment: birds, insects, breezes.  This included wood blocks, bells, recorder, tambourine, chime bars, wood blocks, wood rasp (frogs), rattles.  To this we added mouth sounds and clapping, or rubbing hands together, tapping fingers on knees.

To set the scene for the first telling of the story, I gathered up some fabric* – a length of blue to represent the river and another colour for the bridge.  These pieces are about 3 – 4 meters long.  On one side of the river, where the story begins, I placed some green and a little brown fabric.  On the other side was a lovely shimmery inviting green.    I set the instruments in place so it was easy to access them during the story.

The Telling:

You are going to tell it at least three times, each time adding more opportunities for involvement by the children, eventually inviting the children to play the characters.  

In preparation, I choose a few words or phrases that the children can repeat as a group, such as the Troll’s “Who’s that walking on my bridge?” and “I’m going to eat you up!”   In the first telling I ask them to help me tell the story by speaking the above lines with me.   When we get to that part, I ask them to imagine what kind of voice the Troll would use.  You’ll get lots of suggestions!

I will give you an example of a telling of the story, but you will do it in your own words.  Your audience will be a big factor in how you present it, in your vocabulary and the details you want to include. 

I had the instruments ready to play for each goat as he went across the bridge, and for the troll.

“Once upon a time,  there were three billy goats who lived on the side of a hill eating the lovely green grass and flowers.  Their last name was Gruff, so they were called the Three Billy Goats Gruff.  There was the Littlest Billy Goat, the Middle Billy Goat and the Big Billy Goat.  Now, they had been eating the grass from this meadow for quite a long time and it was starting to look brown and eaten away.  Just across the river there was a lovely lush looking field with green grass and flowers.  The three goats thought it would be good to cross the river to the new pasture.  Now, there was a bridge across the river, but the goats knew that a scary Troll lived under the bridge.   

After a few days the Little Billy Goat decided that he was going to cross the bridge.  So away he went, onto the bridge with a trip trap, trip trap, trip trap, (Tap the wooden sticks in the same rhythm as you say the trip traps.)  When he got to the middle of the bridge, a Troll jumped up (Shake the thunder rattle.)  He shouted, “Who’s that walking on my bridge?”   (Ask the children if they will help say the Troll’s lines.  Get them to repeat it after you.)  The Little Billy Goat said, “It is I, Little Billy Goat.”   The Troll said, “I am going to eat you up!”   (Ask the children  to repeat.)   The little  goat said, “Oh, please don’t eat me, I am very small and my brother goat is coming soon.  He is much bigger.  You can eat him.” The Troll thought for a  minute, then said, “O.K.”  (Everyone says, “O.K.”)  The little goat continued on his way with a trip trap,  trip trap,  (Tap the wooden sticks.) until he reached the other side.  He went up into the beautiful pasture and started eating the lush grass and flowers.  He was very happy.

Soon the Middle Billy Goat decided that he was going to cross the bridge.”  (Using the instrument for the middle goat, tell the story exactly the same as above.  Prompt the children to say the Troll’s lines.)

“Soon after, the Big Billy Goat decided that he was going to cross over the bridge.  (Use the drum with the trip trap.) 

When  Big Billy Goat got to the middle of the bridge, the Troll jumped up (thunder rattle) and said, “Who’s that walking on my bridge?”  “It is I, Big Billy Goat.”    The Troll said, “I am going to eat you up!”    The Big Billy Goat  said, “Oh, yeah? Just you try!”  And he put his head down, on which he had big horns, and pushed that Troll over the bridge into the flowing water of the river.  The Troll was never seen again.    The Big Billy Goat continued across the bridge (trip trap with the drum) to join his two brother goats.  There they lived for a very long time, enjoying the fresh grass and flowers.”

 Second telling of the story:  This could be immediately following the first telling or the next day or the next week. 

The scene will be set as before.  Ask for volunteers to play the roles of the three goats and the Troll.  Have the goats stand on the first side of the river.  Place the Troll in the river, beside the bridge.   Ask for volunteers to play the instruments for the characters. 

You will again narrate the story, prompting the children with their instruments and the choral speaking.  You may have the characters saying their lines, or save it for the next time.   

Third telling of the story: 

With the scene set, talk about the landscape and the sounds they might hear, such as birds singing, breezes blowing, insects humming, etc. Pass out the soundscape instruments. Listen to each of  the instruments, and invite suggestions as to what creatures they represent.  

Direct the group in developing a sound scape.  Let’s hear all the birds, then the insects, then put the two sounds together.  Now let’s hear the soft gentle breeze.  Add mouth and body sounds to get a little louder, then softer.  Direct them in a sound scape which can now be the beginning of the story.  

Again enrol the characters and the musicians.  There might be a budding storyteller in the group.  You could invite three different children to tell a part of the story, corresponding to the three goats.  In this case, I would tell the beginning and the end, finishing with a quiet sound scape. 

Another activity that is fun after the third telling, is to try telling the story with just the instruments.  Everyone is offered an instrument, or are prepared to make mouth sounds or body sounds for the sound scape.  I direct this by pointing to the people with the particular instruments.  We  start with the sound scape, then the instruments as they appear in the story: the little Billy Goat going across the bridge, the Troll, the Little Billy Goat going to the meadow. The same sequence will happen with the Middle Billy Goat and the Big Billy Goat.  After the drama of the Troll being pushed off the bridge, finish with the sound scape, bringing the drama to a quiet peaceful ending.  

 The children might want to exchange instruments and repeat the whole thing.

A while ago, I was presenting this story to a group of 4 & 5 year olds. After the story, one little boy asked why the goats didn’t swim across the river.  This started a lively discussion with suggestions about alternative ways of crossing the river, ending with “Why didn’t they just build a catapult?” 


Related activities: 

Have this verse printed out on a large piece of paper attached to the wall.

Trip trap trip trap see the little goat.

Trip trap trip trap in his fine coat.

Tripping across the bridge he did go,

Then up jumped the Troll and shouted “Whoa”.

Use rhythm sticks or short wooden dowels.**  Each student will have two. Sitting in a circle, say the verse as you all tap the sticks together in the same rhythm.   Then, vary the rhythm; for instance, tap on each word of “trip trap trip trap” then tap on each syllable for “see the little goat.” Repeat the pattern for the next line.   For the 3rd and 4th lines tap on every syllable, and on “Whoa” tap both sticks rapidly on the floor.  Think of other ways of combining the sticks and verse, inviting suggestions from the group. 

You could start to add some movement, as in a game.  For example, one child could walk around the outside of the circle tapping his sticks, while the “Troll” is crouched down in the middle of the circle.  On “Whoa” the child jumps up.  

Research other verses and songs related to goats, crossing a bridge, flowing rivers.  

If you are fortunate enough to have access to the wild outdoors, the children will want to make a bridge and play the story outside.

Art Ideas: 

  • Make puppets for the story.
  • Draw and colour pictures for a felt board story.
  • Make instrument, such as shakers, percussion instruments.  There are lots of resources online for all ages.  Most can be made from household items.   

Have fun!  Share your experience and creative ideas!   


*A collection of fabric pieces has become a  staple for my storytelling and Creative Arts programs.  It includes lengths of about 3 – 4 meters, many are sheer curtain material, mostly solid colours, which makes them very versatile in becoming a river, a green meadow, the inside of a castle, a cape for a Queen or King, a house when it is draped over a chair or table.  You get the picture.   The fabric has been collected from fabric store sales, used clothing stores, friends’ downsizing, etc.  

**If you don’t have rhythm sticks you can make your own and the children can help.  Get  

1.5 cm dowels from the hardware store, cut them into about 1 foot lengths. Sand the ends, (this is where the children can help) then oil the dowels with a light cooking oil to keep them smooth and to protect them from gathering fingerprints.  The oil can be put on and rubbed in with soft cloths, another fun job for the children.