Stories are all around us, be it in oral or written form. Some entertain, some educate, some explain and many transmit our feelings, beliefs and values. Every day, every year, every meal, holiday, encounter, memory… tells a story. We think in narratives all day long, making up stories in our heads for every action and conversation. It’s how we understand the world.
Telling stories is nothing new, we’ve been doing it since ancient times and the power of a story is undeniable, but what makes stories so engaging?
When we hear and share stories our brain is much more active. As well as activating the language processing parts, stories awaken other parts of the brain that we we would use if we were actually experiencing the events. We are emotionally engaged and more likely to understand and remember the information we hear.
Sharing stories in the classroom not only improves listening and speaking skills, it can help students communicate their thoughts and feelings. It promotes active participation and cooperation and encourages the use of imagination and creativity.
Also, being able to identify, recall and sequence events is an important life skill. We understand the events in our lives by understanding the order in which they occur. It could be describing a day out, describing something which you saw or which happened to you, explaining a routine or how to play a game, giving instructions on how to do something or telling a joke, everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. Understanding sequence and being able to retell events in the logical order helps build reading comprehension and writing skills. Sequencing words such as, at the beginning, in the middle, at the end, first, second, then, next, after, later, after, finally… help learners make sense of time (what happened and when?) making events more memorable and comprehension deeper.
The benefits of storytelling are beyond doubt, but, are we telling enough stories in our classrooms? (by we I mean teachers and students) Are we giving our students enough opportunities in class to share their stories?
Since flipping learning and moving direct instruction outside of the classroom, I have had more time in class to allow students to tell their stories and students have been more prepared and hence empowered to tell their stories. Designing personalised activities to practise/revise the content delivered in the individual space (vocabulary, grammar, functional language…) provides engaging, motivating opportunities for storytelling in the classroom.
These are three activities I’ve used this week to encourage students to share their summer stories which can be easily adapted to tell any kind of story.
Listen and draw
- Give students a few minutes to think about their summer holidays. Provide prompts if necessary (What activities did you do? Where did you go? Who did you spend time with? How did you feel? etc.)
- Play one of the summer anthems or a song with a summer vibe (songs I have used are Happy by Pharrell Williams, Can’t stop the feeling by Justin Timerlake, Shotgun by George Ezra or alternatively let students choose a song which reminds them of summer (make sure their choices are appropriate if you are working with young learners!) While the song is playing, students transport themselves back and create a visual representation of their summer holidays.
- When the song finishes students use their drawings to tell their stories. This can be done as a mingling activity, pair activity or small group activity depending on class dynamics. Encourage students to interact and ask more questions about the things that interest them about their classmates summer holidays.
- Watch the video and sing along. Enjoy that summer feeling before it ebbs away… 😉
To give the activity an added purpose, the objective could be to find classmates who have something in common with you.
If you have to do a diagnostic test at the beginning of the school year, students could use their visual representation as their prompt for a writing task.
I wrote a blog post two years ago First day of class? 3-2-1 go about an activity I discovered from Shelley Terrell, an inspiring voice with lots of great ideas in the field of education. For a detailed description of how this activity works click on the link above. Here is an example of this year’s version…
- Give students (3) sentences about your summer with the superlatives removed. If you have photos to accompany even better (see presentation below) In pairs they discuss what the missing word(s) might be.
- The …………… thing I ate this summer was oysters.
- The …………… thing I did this summer was swim in the sea in the UK.
- The …………….thing I did this summer was go up a tower and walk on glass.
- Students feedback their suggestions and the teacher gives the right answers. At this stage the teacher can elaborate on the story and encourage students to ask more questions about the stories they are interested in.
- Students prepare their own sentences about their summer using a superlative in each one. Provide weaker students with a list of possible superlatives and the sentence structure if necessary (see presentation below)
- The next stage, telling our stories, can be done as a mingling activity, pair activity or small group activity depending on class dynamics. Encourage students to ask further questions about the things that interest them and react to their classmates’ stories.
An alternative is to collect students’ sentences, shuffle them and hand them out to different students. Mingling, students read their new sentences and the other students have to guess who they are. How well do they know their classmates?
Use stories to awaken students’ brains and engage them emotionally. I am always surprised how much effort they make (even the most passive, demotivated, disengaged students) to tell their stories that are relevant and meaningful to them.
If you are interested in hearing more about the benefits and effects of storytelling watch the TedEx talk The magical science of storytelling. David Philips, an international speaker, author and coach in modern presentation skills tells us some of his own stories to illustrate the power of storytelling based on neurological findings. Philips illustrates the effects of what he calls “The Angel’s Cocktail” (high levels of dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins) which storytelling can induce; the kind of effects we want in our classrooms.