Volume 31 Number 1
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STORYTELLING IN THE ESL CLASSROOM
Faisal Shamali

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. Students learn how to tell a story by writing it down, talking about it, and actively listening 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 and creative, and telling stories in English language teaching can surely make the process of teaching and learning more motivating, interesting, and interactive. Following are some of the 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

IN WHAT WAYS CAN WE USE STORYTELLING?

Storytelling provides a valuable source of authentic language materials and there are hundreds of ways to use it in ELT. Listening to stories can develop important skills such as prediction, guessing, hypothesizing, and message decoding. Lots of different fun activities 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, to name several.

PROS AND CONS

There is strong evidence to support the use of storytelling in the ESL/EFL classroom. It 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?

Pros:

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

Enables students to share 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

Cons:

Requires a lot of time (Rosen, 1988)

Requires much preparation

Takes up a large proportion of the teaching session

Requires a “safe” environment for students

Topic may be threatening if it challenges personal values (Fairbairn, 2002)

If students are being asked to write, they may need direction

Students may have had previous exposure to the stories

Requires visualisation skills

May not suit the learning style (Davidson, 2003)

Dependent on the enthusiasm of the lecturer (Weimer, 2002)

CONCLUSION

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 and skillfully and develop students’ competence. A teacher can excel and train his or her students to be good storytellers using good breath control, careful enunciation, appropriate gestures, effective pauses, and other speech techniques.

Storytelling can be not only increase students’ interest, motivation, creativity, critical thinking skills, imagination, and verbal self-confidence in language learning but also maximize their authentic self-involvement, community interaction, and prolific production. Using storytelling has always been my passion and I have always been happy, as both 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!

REFERENCES

Davidson, M. R. (2003). A phenomenological evaluation: Using storytelling as a primary teaching method. Nurse Education in Practice, 3, 1-6.

Fairbairn, G. J. (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, 31-32, 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.

USEFUL WEB SITES

www.thestoryteller.ca/index.html

www.thestoryteller.ca/index.html

www.uoregon.edu/~leslieob/pizzaz.html

www.uoregon.edu

www.uoregon.edu/~leslieob/pizzaz.html

www.storyarts.org/lessonplans/lessonideas/

www.proteacher.com/070163.shtml

www.shambles.net/pages/learning/EnglishP/story/

www.shambles.net/pages/learning/EnglishP/story

www.creativekeys.net/storytellingpower/article1014.html

http://www.storytellingarts.org/teacher-guide.html

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type1430.html

http://www.manythings.org/proverbs/proverbs1.html


Faisal Ibrahim Al-Shamali, shamali288@yahoo.com, received an MA in Linguistics from Yarmouk University in Jordan. He is an English Language Instructor at Pioneer Center for Gifted Students in Jordan, a member of TESOL, and has presented at numerous international conferences.

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