What is storytelling?
- Storytelling is a skill that can be effectively directed to improve other skills, such as writing, grammar, listening and speaking. Donald Davis, a noted storyteller, teaches storytelling as a bridge between a child’s ‘first language’ [gestures and speech] and ‘second language’ [writing].
- Storytelling is the oldest form of education. Cultures around the world have always told tales as a way of passing down their beliefs, traditions, and history to future generations.
- Storytelling in any form is a natural way for students to build literacy skills. Learning how to tell a story by writing it down, talking about it, and learning to actively listen to someone else’s story. All these activities teach essential language skills in vividly meaningful contexts.
Why use storytelling in the language learning classroom?
Teachers use storytelling in language teaching for several reasons. One of the preliminary reasons is the funny and entertaining atmosphere storytelling creates in the classroom. A teacher of English needs to be imaginative, creative; and telling stories in English Language Teaching can surely assist to make the process of teaching and learning more motivating, interesting and interactive. These are some of numerous reasons for using storytelling effectively in your classroom:
- Promotes a feeling of well being and relaxation.
- Increases children’s willingness to communicate thoughts and feelings.
- Fosters awareness of one’s unique imagination and creativity.
- Builds verbal self-confidence.
- Integrates multiple learning contexts (reading, listening, speaking, writing, grammar, vocabulary) into a single instructional input.
- Builds community chemistry.
- Enhances reading, listening and critical thinking skills.
- Fosters teacher-learner collaboration (Fitzgibbon & Wilhelm, 1998).
- Enthralls empathy.
What ways can we exploit using storytelling?
Storytelling provides a valuable source of authentic language materials and there are hundreds of ways to exploit it in ELT. Listening to stories can develop important skills such as prediction, guessing, hypothesizing, and message decoding, etc. There are lots of different fun activities that spin off from stories: story completion, summary writing, discussion, role playing, story experience, the narrative approach, story act-out, spinning stories, group story, story interpretation, story writing, change the story, picture story, jigsaw story, strip story, tell a story, etc.
Pros and Cons:
There is strong evidence to support the use of storytelling in the ESL/EFL classroom. This provides learners with a comprehensible input that facilitates language acquisition (Hendrickson, 1992) in a fun way. Using storytelling in the classroom has pros and cons. What are they?
- Gains the students’ attention
- Enables the students to be exposed to a moral dilemma
- Enables the students to be exposed to a problem-solving exercise
- Shares stories of success
- Develops a sense of community
- Explores personal roles
- Makes sense of learners’ lives
- Contains linguistic information including vocabulary, grammar, and language sense
- Reduces learners’ intensity of the language-learning phobia
- Invokes learners’ curiosity, concentration, imagination and critical thinking
- Enhances facilitation
- Develops rapport and respect
- Provides moral lessons
- Time (Rosen 1988)
- Proportion of session
- Students require a ‘safe’ environment.
- Topic may be threatening if it challenges personal values (Fairbairn 2002).
- If students are being asked to write, they may need direction.
- Previous exposure.
- It requires visualisation skills.
- It may not suit the learning style (Davidson 2003).
- Dependant on the enthusiasm of the lecturer (Weimer 2002).
Storytelling serves many functions; it will always be the cornerstone of teaching. It is the task of a teacher to find out how to use it effectively, skillfully and develop student’s competence. A teacher can excel and train his/her students to be good story-tellers using good breath control, careful enunciation, appropriate gestures effective pauses and other speech techniques that make a good speaker.
Storytelling can be stimulating not only to increase students’ interest, motivation, creativity, critical thinking skills, imagination and verbal self-confidence in language learning, but also to maximize their authentic self-involvement, community-interaction, and prolific production. Using storytelling has always been my passion and I have always been happy, both as a learner and a teacher, to take the challenge of using it whenever possible. I would strongly recommend using storytelling in ELT as I know students will also enjoy it a lot! Good luck and have fun!
Davidson MR. (2003) .A phenomenological evaluation: using storytelling as a primary teaching method. Nurse Education in Practice 3: 1-6
Fairbairn GJ. (2002). Ethics, empathy and storytelling in professional development. Learning in Health and Social Care 1: 22-32
Fitzgibbon, H.B. &Wilhelm, K.H. (1998). Storytelling in ESL/EFL Classrooms. TESL Reporter. Volume 31-32. P.21-31
Hendrickson, J.M. (1992). Storytelling for Foreign Language Learners. (Eric Document Reproduction Service No. ED355842).
Rosen B. (1988) And None of it was Nonsense: the power of storytelling in school. London, Mary Glasgow Publications Ltd.
Weimer M. (2002) Learner-Centred Teaching: five key changes to practice. San Francisco, CA; John Wiley & Sons.
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