Story telling in a second or a foreign language classroom: Pedagogical considerations

That story telling is a very important pedagogic tool in a second or a foreign language class is an axiom. If you are a language teacher for young learners, you must be a good story teller. Story telling is the original form of teaching and there are still societies in which it is the only form of teaching. Story telling is a living art and like music and dance, it is brought to life in performance. A good teacher is a good performer, isn’t she?
What are the advantages of storytelling to young learners? Story telling develops children’s imagination, provides exposure to the target language and serves as a powerful communication tool ( Augusta Baker and Ellin Greene, 1977:17). Besides helping the young learners in developing listening skills, storytelling helps children to develop a sense of structure. The narrative structure of a story has a magnetic attraction for children and as language teachers of very young learners we should exploit this magnetic field. While discussing the characteristics of a narrative, Michael J Toolan has remarked, “Narrative typically seems to have a ‘trajectory. They usually go somewhere, and are expected to go somewhere, with some sort of development and even a resolution or conclusion provided” ( Toolan, M.J, 2001:4) The moment you start a story, children are impulsively drawn to its narrative structure. If you try to deviate from the normal structure of a story or its sequence, children will immediately catch you for distorting the structure or disturbing the sequence!
Story telling is conveying of events in words, images and sounds. It is an authentic and creative use of language. Colloquial or literary, traditional or modern, standard or non-standard, unaffected or flowery, prose or poetry…. the full range of language with its diverse manifestation is present in stories and therefore, story telling exposes the young learners to the language in its totality. Pedagogically, you may call it a ‘whole language approach.’
A resourceful language teacher can use stories for enhancing the linguistic as well as the cognitive abilities of her young learners. Story telling provides ‘experience with the interpretative mode for learners even at a very early stage of language acquisition’( Curtain,H and Dahlberg, C.A, 2010:73).
Depending on the age and the background of the young learners, I have used different techniques to make story telling pedagogically useful. For very young learners of English as a second language, the first choice is the use of stories which have songs or repetitive expressions so that children get a chance to participate in the story telling sessions. It’s a community event, you are a facilitator, not an all knowing narrator. Let the stories grow with the active participation of your young learners who may be more resourceful than their language teacher! Dramatisation, pantomime, using visuals and relia to illustrate the content of the story, supplementing the story with non-verbal expressions, relating the stories to their immediate experience… these are some of the techniques I used to make the story telling sessions a meaningful learning experience for my young learners learning English in a non-native context, Asking the young learners to express the story line with drawings and paintings and to role play the characters of the story using the target language is another useful technique.
To sum up, stories use a holistic approach to language teaching and they support natural acquisition of the target language. They help children develop critical thinking skills in a very unobtrusive manner. One story a day, make the language learning a play. Happy story telling!!

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