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Storytelling in your TEFL Class

Storytelling is an ancient art that developed alongside the development of language and it is one of the earliest forms of folkart.

The story can be of a real event or it can be made up. Storytelling has been used over the millennia not only as a means of entertainment but also of education.

Storytelling techniques can be used to get TEFL students to practice listening‏‎ skills (and also speaking‏‎ if the students tell the story) and increase not only aural comprehension but also oral fluency and expressiveness.

Storytelling enhances speaking skills as it allows to share personal experiences, recount someone else’s story, tell jokes, etc. Students can tell the same story to a different person a few times, as they might do in real life, and each time, the story somehow improves and the speaker speaks more easily and fluently.

It also enhances listening skills as stories are intrinsically engaging and hopefully students will listen not because they have to but because they are genuinely interested in what is going to happen next.

Storytelling does not have to be limited to practicing certain aspects of grammar aspects or vocabulary. Try and use it as a fluency activity; use it to stimulate your students to read and write more; play with it to help them exercise their imagination, visualization and concentration; use it to get them to listen to language and language patterns useful in their own work.

The possibilities are endless!

Storytelling in the Classroom

To begin with you might like to tell a story to the class to get them used to the idea. Later on they can prepare and use their own stories (see the links below).

Often it’s useful to have students tell stories in small groups to begin with. This helps with shyer students and it also means more students get to practice at the same time.

Of course before actually telling the story, the students need plenty of time to find the story, develop it and work out how to tell it!

Which Story?

The best stories to use are those rich in repetition and cumulative sentences‏‎. Folk literature in general is a good source of these types of stories.

  • Short stories and endless tales (shaggy-dog stories) are great for beginners‏‎. Longer, more complex ones are better for students with a higher level of proficiency.
  • Funny anecdotes and jokes are a great way to get a class accustomed to storytelling. Their length and their appeal make them attractive to language learners of all ages and levels‏‎.
  • Unusual tales also are good because of their intrinsic captivating power.

Remember, stories can come from anywhere so as a teacher it’s a good idea to start collecting them now. This can mean if you watch a television show which has a good twist in a simple story then steal it and use it yourself; or maybe it’s a story your grandmother used to tell you; or why not just search the internet for five minute stories – there are plenty out there!

How to Tell a Story?

One of the main reasons why storytelling is often referred to as an “art form” is because of the essential part the storyteller plays in it. A good storyteller can make any story come alive, whilst no story can survive a bad storyteller!

In the TEFL classroom, it is important to prepare the students for the story so they do not get lost. This means pre-teaching possibly difficult vocabulary to the class before you begin. One other advantage of this is that you can teach the new vocabulary and then, before telling the story, have a general brainstorming session with the class to explore how the words are connected and what the story might be.

For example, suppose you wrote up on the board:

  • dragon
  • princess
  • king
  • knight

Then between you and the class you would probably be able to concoct a fairytale.

For this first time, once the class have together developed one story, get them in groups and working out variations on that story. Next break up the groups and have each person tell their story to another group, moving around the class getting lots of stories told while you circulate helping out.

As to the actual practicalities of storytelling, remember that voice, sound, language, props, mime, and so on are all part of storytelling and should not be neglected. Here are a few tips:

  • Make your voice loud and clear.
  • Use vivid, clear language to make your descriptions memorable.
  • Pause to create suspense, to underline an image or to invite laughter.
  • Play with sounds effects you can easily but effectively produce during your narration.
  • Add some type of music. A melody, a sound, a chant or a simple beat can quickly enhance a story.
  • Use props, especially with young children. A puppet, a toy, or something made out of boxes, paper, etc.
  • Use gestures – you can use your whole body, or simply raise a finger or an eyebrow.

See Also

The Story Telling Stick‏‎ – getting the class to tell a story.

Story Chain – an activity for the class to practice telling stories.

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