How to actively engage learners in storytelling
Storytelling is a teaching tool used with great success in any classroom, let alone the foreign language classroom. Students are fascinated and give their full attention when reading and listening to stories. For this reason, teachers, linguists, psycholinguists and researchers have been trying to investigate the art of storytelling, to find ways to capture this fascination and determine how it should best be used for the benefit of both students and teachers. Their aim is not just to catch the students’ attention and get them to listen to a story but to develop their foreign language competence through stories.
The benefits of using stories when teaching young learners are numerous. Children love listening to stories and when they find the story interesting they give their full attention. That is a great tool in the hands of the teacher, because when a teacher has the full attention of his/her learners, he/ she can teach them so much. Learners can develop all their language skills through storytelling and story reading. They can enrich their vocabulary with words that give colour and special meaning to a text, they can visualize what they are listening to, which nurtures their imagination and enriches their mental world. This mental process gives way to creative writing in the long run, as learners are subconsciously influenced by what they read or listen to and that is reflected on their written language. Eventually, their progress might be such that they may become fluent and self confident speakers, too.
How I use stories in my lessons.
In my classroom, every student gets his/her own whiteboard and markers. I choose a story they have never heard of and I read it out loud. The first time I read the story I ask them to close their eyes listen to it and make mental pictures of what they hear. I read it using the appropriate intonation and stressing the words that actually matter in the plot. I minimize gestures and I do not show them any illustrations so as to give way for their own images to take shape. I do not use any props because over the next lesson I ask them to listen to the story again and draw on their board whatever pictures come to their mind. They draw without hesitation because they know this is not an assessed activity and they do not care about what their drawing looks like, as they do not have to show it to anyone. They know it is just their thoughts taking shape. When I ask them to show me their pictures if they want, they do so eagerly because they are proud of their creations and the fact that they understood what the story was about. I praise each and everyone so that they feel their effort is appreciated and praise them again after every stage. Over the following lessons I ask them to draw more specific parts of the story. For example, I might ask them to draw only the words I stress, or only the words that start with an “m” or the words of a particular word family for example, furniture, animals and so on. Over the final sessions of a story, I ask them to write a story of their own and read it out in class so that their classmates can draw what they are listening to. Then, the student who has read his/her story chooses the best illustrations for it. When they write a story for this particular reason they pay special attention to the content of their story as they want to make it “drawable” and they do not feel reluctant to read it out loud because they know their classmates will not pay attention to their grammar mistakes but they will be absorbed by the content of the plot. In addition to all that, I ask them to write and publish their story in https://www.mystorybook.com/. On this website, learners can publish their stories adding their own content and illustrations.
How learners benefit from this technique
The benefits of this technique are multiple and they have all helped me achieve my goal in engaging my students in storytelling and developing their language competence. Through this technique students do not only listen to a story, but they also have to concentrate on what they are listening to, visualize it and depict it instantly. This helps them coordinate their thought with their hand, something absolutely necessary in listening comprehension activities, where students are required to write down the correct answer while listening. This gives excellent practice to visual learners who have to see something before understanding what it is and face difficulty in all listening comprehension activities. This technique helps them speed up the time they need to visualize what they hear and through practice they manage to minimize the time they need to do that. This technique also helps my learners who have difficulty in writing texts. Through this procedure, they see stories from a different perspective. They have to think of something that will fascinate and amaze their classmates, so they pay particular attention to the content and the vocabulary of their stories. Kinesthetic learners also derive pleasure and feelings of achievement as they actually do something instead of merely listening passively. Many times some (the more fearless ones) try to add unknown words to catch their classmates by surprise, which adds an extra element of excitement to the whole procedure. Another benefit of this technique is that it enhances my students’ oral skills. That is because they try to read intelligibly, paying attention to intonation, word stress and pronunciation. Over time, they start reading in a dramatized way which is reflected in their reading in any text they encounter, without even noticing it. The final part of the procedure with the book edition, gives them an incomparable sense of achievement and a feeling that the whole process has been worthwhile. All in all, my students have progressed a lot through this procedure and they have improved their overall language skills and memory retention.
Story telling should undoubtedly be part of any school curriculum and teachers should take advantage of its benefits. Through stories, learners can develop their oral and written language, enhance their listening skills and they can become more understanding towards other cultures while having fun. The outcome is remarkable with the students’ enthusiasm, their eagerness to participate and their language skills development. Every teacher should take into consideration some important factors before choosing a story, so that the instruction goals are fulfilled and the outcome is satisfactory both for the teacher and the learners.