Using ESL Stories

Using ESL stories for teaching English is a very good way of helping students learn language more deeply and naturally. Here are ideas on TEFL storytelling in the classroom...

There are so many reasons for using stories in the classroom. Just as salespeople and politicians attract people to their products and ideas using stories - if they are wise - so too, can English teachers attract students, particularly young learners, by using stories.

It's not just a matter of using ESL stories to attract students; better and deeper learning takes place using this very natural method. Adults might be attracted to true stories, or interesting incidents in people's lives. When teaching English to kids, both interesting true stories and fiction work well. Poems and rhymes also work well, but I plan to write about these separately.

Below are some activities and approaches to using esl stories in the classroom. These activities are mostly aimed at teachers who are teaching English to kids, but some are suitable for adult classes as well.

Circle Story

A very simple technique which focuses on accuracy of language. The class create esl stories word by word. You can begin by saying: "One Monday morning I was" or whatever beginning you like. Then go round the class in a circle [not randomly]. The first student must repeat "One Monday morning I was" and then add a single word that makes sense and fits in grammatically. The second student repeats all the first student has said, adding one more word. The third student repeats all and adds a word, and so on, until a story develops around the class.

This technique can be fun, requires no preparation and focuses on the accurate use of language. It can make a good warmer. With a small class it's possible to go round the class twice. The teacher can choose whether the story is to be told in present tense [if they are beginners] or used to practice the simple past tense, or with no restrictions on the language used.

Question Story

Write 4 or 5 questions on the board. For a very low level class these might be: "What's his/her name?" "Where is he/she?" "What's he/she doing?" "What does he/she say?" Run through a few possible answers orally with the class. Then give a piece of paper to every student. Tell them you want them to write an answer to the first question only. Encourage them to be creative.

They then fold back their paper, so the answer they've written is folded away from the page and not visible when the paper is flat on the desk. All students then pass their paper to the student on the left. They all then write the answer to the second question, fold the paper again, then pass to the next student on the left, and so on, until all the questions have been answered. The students can then unfold the papers, correct where possible, and then read aloud the slightly crazy stories to the class.

Retelling Stories

Another way of using esl stories which requires minimal preparation, yet is a very powerful learning tool, is to have the students retell stories. The best stories to begin with are interesting anecdotes from your life, or interesting or unusual news stories. Once this esl activity is familiar, the students can then contribute with their own stories. This activity works well as a warmer and as practice or review of the simple past tense. I go into more detail and give examples of retelling stories in the following articles: ESL short storiesand short stories for ESL

Choose a short story that can be told in several sentences. Write a title on the board as an introduction. Then write the appropriate verb [in the present tense] for each sentence of the story. Do not write out the story. Adding pictures helps, as long as the pictures can be drawn in a few seconds. Then tell the story, sentence by sentence, pointing to the verbs and eliciting the correct past tense from the students.

The students then retell the story. This can be done by asking individual students to retell separate parts. The students can also retell the story to each other in pairs. When the students are familiar with this method of using esl stories, have some of them prepare a short story for homework. They can retell it to the other students the following class.

Cassette Dictation

This is an effective listening and writing practice, and not really a technique for creating ESL stories, but it can be adapted when teaching English to kids, to help give them templates which can help when they do begin creating stories.

Draw a simple control panel of a CD or cassette player on the board: 3 squares with stop, play, go back, written on them are enough. Tell the students that you will read a story - which you have already prepared - at natural speed. The students must tell you to stop, go back and play. They are also allowed to ask "How do you spell ___?

Then tell the story, and the children write. They will need to ask you to stop and go back many times. The story should be quite short; perhaps five or six sentences - or less for younger children. By doing this several times they will begin to understand how to structure a story. The last word can be left out for the students to choose themselves. After they have some experience, they can complete the final sentence.

Reading Aloud

A traditional method that works well for ESL stories as well, is for the teacher to read a story aloud from a book. Children enjoy listening to stories being read. With young children parts of the story could be acted out. For example, verbs within the story could be acted. Or they could just listen for enjoyment.

As a follow up the students can be given cards with sentences written on, taken from the story, which they have to put in order. Some cards can have sentences with the endings missing. The students can then create their own endings. Another way to follow up is by preparing an outline of the story [which can be photocopied] with gaps in it, which the students will fill.

A list of characters, places, other creatures and situations can be created by you, or by the children. Then the students choose their favorite characters, places, brief action scenes, and any other things you have decided to create, and copy them into the gaps in the story template you have given them. As always with esl stories, it can be fun for the students to read aloud their creations to the class.

Freer ESL Stories

The above ideas for TEFL storytelling give the students support when they haven't yet developed the ability to create their own stories. Encouraging reading for pleasure will also help future creative writing, as will using a class reader. Eventually the students should develop the ability to write their own stories more freely.

Many students enjoy creating their own story book, or story poster, illustrated by themselves. These can be put on the wall in the school for other students and parents to see.

Here are some related articles:

from esl stories to esl activities

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