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Guest author Richard Martin & Fabian Stober write: Stories are something to remember…

…so why not use them as a teaching device?

In the summer semester of 2017, Prof. Isabel Martin offered a seminar called “Children’s Literature: Reading and Telling stories”. When I signed up for this course, I did not really know what to expect.

I think everyone has some image in mind of what a story is. To start with, for me it was basically a collection of words that become something meaningful when put together. That collection has a meaning or a message to convey to the audience. After quick reference, one discovers multiple dimensions: “A narrative or story is a report of connected events, real or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or still or moving images, or both” (en wikipedia).

Editor’s note: Reasons why future teachers should learn to employ children’s literature (oral and written) in their lessons:

  • humans have a need for stories (motivation, positive mind-set towards the subject of English)
  • humans want to find meaning in stories/life/the world (relevance)
  • story sharing builds community (communication)
  • stories allow learners to experience language in its original function (authenticity)
  • stories help to build fluency in the four skills in risk-free situations (fluency)
  • stories help learners to become aware of the sound of English (language awareness)
  • stories provide opportunities for cultural learning and cross-cultural comparison (cultural awareness)
  • stories can be linked to other subjects (cross-curricular teaching)
  • stories invite further imaginative work (creative stimulus)

The seminar turned into a hands-on experience after a theoretical start: During the first part of the semester, we heard 25-minute-presentations on “The History of Children’s Literature”, “The History of Storytelling”, “The History of Picture books”, “Picture Book Authors”, “Postmodern picture books”, as well as “Pre-, While- and Post-Storytelling Activities”, “Language Activities with Crafts”, and “Digital Storytelling”. Furthermore we learned about structure and characteristics of stories and picture books.

After spending a very informative session in the American Library’s children’s books section around mid-term, we divided our group into teams of two to four students. Each group picked one book from five different categories: Traditional, Toy books, Concept books, Wordless, and Postmodern picture books. Over the next three sessions, our task was to create a teaching sequence (pre-, while-, post-activities) around our chosen book, as well as a digital story/movie.

We had been shown various movie-making software and were now lucky to be able to use several ipads as well as an “i-theatre“, which Prof. Martin had procured for the department a few years before by acquiring two large donations. We therefore had total freedom in what to use and how to make the movie. What can I tell you? It was A LOT of fun to record the scenes and do the voice-over. In the last two sessions, the seven groups micro-taught their teaching sequences with the class and premiered their films. You can see the results of our didactic work on the STORIES blog (ed. by Prof. Martin/M. Kiefer).

When the “Teaching English in Laos” project started in November 2015, a Lending Library was installed at the school in Sikeud, where teachers have since been able to borrow picture books, flashcards and other diverse teaching material. The teaching material provided on the STORIES blog can now be added to the existing collection – pick’n choose!

Storytelling may well have been the earliest art form. We, the students of the University of Education Karlsruhe, were fortunate to be able to take part in a Storytelling Workshop organized by Prof. Martin towards the end of term: She regularly invites Richard Martin, an internationally renowned storyteller, to work with her students. We were first asked to study Richard’s body language during storytelling:

 

Then he involved us in a “participation story”1 and step by step led us through the inevitable barrier of initial embarrassment until we were ready to try ourselves. Here are some impressions:

The Laos applicants in Prof. Martin’s “Global English” seminar are also invited to the workshops, so you may recognize some familiar faces:

 

After the four-hour workshop we were tired but really happy to have made our first baby-steps in the rather challenging art of storytelling: No book, no pictures, no flashcards, no props – just you and your voice and your face and your body!

On one of his Southeast Asian tours, Richard visited the school in Sikeud in February 2016 to deliver one of his storytelling performances, as he had found Prof. Martin’s account of the project interesting. Unfortunately, Prof. Martin and the volunteers were not present at that time and thus could not prepare our Lao partners or the conditions for the performance. This is when one encounters “excitement but limitations“.

After the workshop in Karlsruhe, I asked Richard to describe the key to a good story:

“You ask about the power of storytelling. Well, perhaps I should tell you a tale.

Once upon a time there was a king who had three sons. Now the king, he knew that when he was dead and gone, his boys would have to be rulers after him. And so like all fathers he wanted the best for his children, and he wanted his sons to learn, to know the wisdom they needed to have as kings.

And so the king, he called for teachers. And now he thought, “At last my boys will learn to listen, and so they can learn.”

And the teachers began to teach. And do you think the boys listened? Of course they didn’t. You know what boys are like…”

“Now of course you want to know what happened in the rest of the story, right?
And you can watch me tell it all here: The boys who wouldn’t listen.”

Telling and acting out a story is fun, but also hard work for the storyteller. It takes more concentration than you may think. See how Richard takes the narrative lead and acts out the story with some of us participating:

Story: “The Strongest of Them All”

Story: “The Old Woman and Her Pig”

Stories can be a powerful resource in class to motivate and engage learners (of all ages!) in English as a Second language (ESL). That fact was utterly proved by Richard Martin on this memorable afternoon. After he had performed some more of his stories to us, in the second half of the afternoon it was our turn to practise and, in the end, even perform a story for the other students. What an exciting and fun afternoon we spent!

Through the power of words it is possible to transform a room into a fascinating fairytale scenery which envelops, even transfixes your audience and takes it on an imaginative journey with you, the storyteller.

“An amateur tells the words, a professional tells the story – but an artist tells the listener” (anon.).

And now we – the new Laos Team VI members – are getting ready for our very real journey, which starts… tomorrow!

Text by R. Martin & F. Stober
Photos & videos taken and chosen by I. Martin

Click here to read more about Storytelling in our project:

 

Note:

1 Martin, I. & R. Martin (2011). “Participation stories for your classroom. Enjoy the tales!” Grundschulmagazin Englisch – The Primary English Magazine 9 (2): 7-9.

References:

Martin, I. & M. Kiefer (2017): STORIES blog. https://picturebooksintefl.wordpress.com/ (last accessed on 16 February 2018)

Martin, R.: Tell a tale. http://www.tellatale.eu/ with teaching notes (last accessed on 16 February 2018)

Storytelling blogs. http://blog.storyandheart.com/blog/2015/1/5/9-best-storytelling-blogs-to-read (last accessed on 16 February 2018)

Storytelling course. https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar/storytelling (last accessed on 16 February 2018)

World Storytelling Day. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Storytelling_Day (last accessed on 16 February 2018)

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