During my recent webinar on using stories with teens, I presented three story activities for teenagers. In each of these activities, the teacher becomes the story manager and looks for ways to get students involved and interacting.
I refer to this as teacher-led storytelling and here are some additional thoughts about the what, the how and the why:
1. Everyone is a storyteller.
Human beings are creatures of narrative. Stories define us. We use stories to entertain, stories to strengthen bonds, stories to persuade, stories to sell, stories to understand the world, stories to communicate.
As teachers, we can lead by example. By sharing stories of our own, we can encourage students to do the same.
2. Everyone can collect their stories.
Some people write down their dreams. I would encourage everyone to collect their stories. Whenever you recall a personal story, anecdote or experience, don’t lose it. Write it down in note form. Find a system – a notebook or an app like Evernote. Create a story bank and choose your best stories for the classroom – the ones that will connect best to your students.
3. Your students are naturally curious about you.
One thing that fascinates human beings is other human beings. And as the teacher, your students will be naturally curious about you. You may not have realized this before, but you may be the most valuable resource in the classroom.
Sharing stories with students does not mean trying to impress them. Often, the best stories for the classroom are the unremarkable ones – the simple everyday stories that are meaningful and worth sharing – the ones that allow use to remove our masks. After all, isn’t this what many of us expect from our students?
4. Teacher-led storytelling is not necessary teacher centered.
Images of teacher and learner centredness are vague. It is much better to judge an activity or an approach on whether or not it is learning centred.
5. Use storytelling to develop your teacher talk
As we all know, it is important that teachers don’t talk too much. But teacher talk should not be defined in terms of quantity alone. We should constantly pay attention to our teacher talk quality and look for ways to develop our classroom communicative skills.
There are many techniques and micro skills that we can become aware of that will help to improve our teacher talk. These include the following:
- Making good use of space (i.e. pause and silence)
- Slowing down your speech
- Making use of repetition
- Grading your language
- Using gesture to reinforce language
Teacher-led storytelling is a great way to develop your teacher talk.
6. There is never just one story
Next time you listen to a story, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did you think about somebody that you know/used to know?
- Did you judge someone in the story in any way at all?
- Did you bring yourself into the story?
- Did you visualise?
- Did you make any predictions?
- Did you ask any questions?
- Did the story unlock another story in you?
- Did you learn anything from the story?
Each person who hears a story, watches a film, reads a book, listens to a podcast, etc. will have different answers to these questions.
For any given story, we all interact with it in very different ways. We make our own meaning. We deconstruct and reconstruct plots and storylines. We make predictions and ask questions. We personalize and adopt experiences as if they were our own. We visualize and create mental images. We look for meaning and interpret symbols. We judge protagonists and evaluate their decisions. We identify with characters and form bonds with them. We put ourselves into the story. We find our own stories within the story.
In the classroom, this diversity is the real resource. Through storytelling, we can create a relaxed environment where individuals feel safe to express ideas or simply listen in order to learn from others.
7. Prepare and reflect
There is always more than one way to tell a story. Become aware of how stories are structured. Pay attention to details: what is relevant and what is not? Look for ways to make your stories interactive. Let your stories evolve. And always ask yourself what you want your audience to take away from your story. The better you can answer that question, the more developed your story will be.
The secret to good storytelling is preparation and reflection.
8. Allow language aims to be wider, more lexical and more personalized
When using texts that are not written for language teaching or language learning purposes, it can be difficult to identify language points other than the obvious narrative tenses. Look for ways to make your language aims and objectives wider, more lexical and tailored for your students’ own needs.