First of all, I’d just like to say what a pleasure and delight it is to have been invited by the TeachingEnglish team to facilitate this discussion on stories and storytelling as part of a wonderful initiative to make more resources and materials for teachers of young learners available on the site.

Stories are central to our lives. For example, we often start off the day at work with a story to colleagues about why the bus was late, the film we saw last night, who we met by chance in the supermarket, the strange thing that happened on the way home. When we watch the news on television, presenters also very often refer to the main news of the day as ‘our top stories’. As Bruner has said: “we represent our lives to ourselves (as well as others) in the form of narrative”, and listening to, telling and sharing stories forms a fundamental part of our identity and how we are perceived by others.

For this reason, Bruner also believes that it is vital to create a ‘narrative sensibility’ in children in their own language(s) through giving them access to and familiarity with conventional stories, myths, fables, histories, fairy tales and folk tales that are part of their own culture(s). It is these stories combined with the child’s evolving powers of comprehension, analysis, discussion and imagination that can play an instrumental role in developing children’s sense of who they are.

Fisher, another key writer in this area, discusses the way that children’s ability to grasp the concept of narrative appears at a very young age and that stories provide a key means to understanding the world around them as well as other people and themselves. In addition to this, Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book on moral philosophy, and following wisdom from ancient times, has said: “Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted ...”. In other words, if we fail to expose children to a rich diet of stories and storytelling from a young age, we risk leaving them with an impoverished identity and reduced capacity for understanding and finding their way in the world.

The value of stories in children’s first language development is not just based on a series of beliefs or assertions but is also backed up by research. One classic example is the longitudinal study of children in Bristol described by Gordon Wells in his book ‘The Meaning Makers’. This provides strong evidence to suggest that young children who are read to and told stories from a very young age have considerable advantages later on at school, not only in the development of literacy skills, which you might expect, but also in the development of social skills, such as empathising and being able to relate to others. Conversely, children who are not exposed to stories at an early age tend to do less well later, both in terms of literacy and in terms of integrating with others at school.

The importance of stories in the overall development of young children is well-documented. The vital issue for us is whether stories can play a similar role in the context of children learning a second, additional or foreign language as well. From my own experience over many years of teaching, I passionately believe that it can! In our young learner classes, the power of stories seems to lie in the way that these provide shared contexts for natural language development, and potentially engage children’s hearts and minds, as people and as thinkers, with issues that are relevant, real and important to them.

What do you think? It would be great to hear your views!

Bruner J. The culture of Education, Harvard University Press, 1996
Fisher R. Teaching Children to Learn (2nd Ed) Robert Fisher, Nelson Thornes, 2005
MacIntyre A. After Virtue Notre Dame Press, 1984

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

I truly believe storytelling is crucial when learning another learning. As you said it provides a very powerful background or context for language development. And I truly believe it is the same with adult learners. I teach many business people and I've been using storytelling with them. Of course different stories, but stories. We are all day long telling stories about our lives, what we do, what we believe in and our students want to be able to understand these stories and also to tell their own. All the best, Mercedes Arq. Mercedes Viola Deambrosis Directora 4D Content English Circunvalación Durango 1429 of. 501 Montevideo - Uruguay Tel: (598 2) 9161496 www.4d.edu.uy

Dear MercedesThank you so much for writing and making this hugely important point. I couldn't agree with you more - stories provide a powerful learning context for everyone whatever their age. One of the things I've always found particularly powerful with adult learners is the use of story as metaphor, as metaphor can often be a very helpful way of exploring issues and problems in a way that is 'safe' in that it keeps them at one remove from yourself. I quite agree with you that it's also vital for us to develop our students' skills to be able to tell their own stories so thank you very much for raising that too.

Dear Carol & All
And I couldn't agree more with you both. Moreover, I'd like to say that I believe storytelling has also an important role in both initial and continuing ELT teacher education. Ask teachers to comment on their lessons or students and it is very likely that you will see them switching into story mode.
Narratives, fictional or otherwise, are an integral part of our lives and the reading and writing of stories and persaonal narratives can help teachers to reflect upon their meaning and upon the assumptions that underpin their classroom decisions and teaching practice in general.
Some reading suggestions
Frye, N. (1964) The Educated Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Kearney, R. (2002) On Stories. London:Routledge.

   Dear Carol ! Thanks a lot for such an interesting  and importatn topic.  Stories are necessary for the development of narratvie skills .In fact , teaching and practising story telling is a great push  for  developing other skills . If students get interested in story telling , they 'll become keen on reading   different stories,   feel like writing something  from the story or writing the story themselves  and expressing themselves in speech.My students like when I tell  them stories about my life. They become eager listeners and active participants.I would like to ask you and other  participants to share  some activities   dealing with story telling and developing drama techniques.                     Thanks alot , Neli Batumi , Georgia

Dear ChrisThank you so much for raising this invaluable point about the value of stories in ELT teacher education. You're so right about the power of personal narratives in helping teachers to reflect on and deepen their understandings of what goes on in their classrooms - and, as you say, this tends to happen naturally anyway when teachers comment on their lessons or students.I also sometimes like to use stories on teacher education courses to present ideas to teachers in a 'loop-input' kind of way. For example, one story I've sometimes used is an alternative version of the fairy story 'The three wishes'. In my story there's a primary school teacher who's given three wishes by the 'teaching fairy' who suddenly and magically appears one day as the teacher is preparing her lessons and which suggests among other things the importance of raising children's self-esteem.Many thanks also for contributing these useful reading suggestions - lovely to see the discussion broadening out beyond teaching children!

Dear NeliThank you so much for your contribution and for raising the vital role that storytelling plays in developing other skills, such as reading, writing and speaking.I'm so glad you've also mentioned how motivating it can be when we share stories about our own lives with our students. This often means something special to them and leads to 'real' communication in the classroom which is very often hard for us to achieve. When students hear our stories, it also helps to encourage them to want to tell their own.That's great to know that you're interested in hearing about storytelling and drama activities, and so will definitely be sharing ideas on this in another post soon!

Dear Carol
The three wishes from the teaching fairy...What a lovely idea! Now you made me think what my own three wishes would be... mmmmmmmm
Cheers - Chris

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