March 20th: World Storytelling Day – EFL Special

Most of us remember the stories, fairytales, fables and anecdotes our parents, grandparents and educators told us once. Ever since, quite a few of us have changed roles and become enthusiastic story-tellers. Today, on World Storytelling Day, we celebrate the rich and colourful heritage of an intercultural art, which also marks the first blog entry of our EFL Special “Literature in the (Elementary) Classroom”

Storytelling is a cultural practice, which already existed long before Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and Caxton’s introduction of printing to the British Isles. The history of oral transmission is probably as old as language itself but remains an essential tool for the preservation of shared values and the diverse history of cultures all around the world, as well as for entertainment and educational purposes. Skillful storytelling demands the speaker to unfold the text meaningfully. To make the listeners hang on every word, the story-teller must interpret the story. When accompanied by movement, gestures, mime and music, storytelling inspires the imagination of children and grownups. Acting skills, improvisation, the effective use of intonation and audience involvement can enhance the understanding of the listeners as well. Here is a perfect example of storytelling, performed by Mara Menzies at the National Storytelling Festival 2019, organised by the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough. Festivals, such as the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, offer a great insight into the variety of different storytelling methods, traditions and techniques. 

In school, storytelling is usually found in the elementary EFL classroom but can be used in all forms of schools and at all levels of proficiency. The method (1) provides your pupils with authentic literature, (2) introduces them to new words, phrases and grammatical structures, (3) invites them to interact and imitate, (4) motivates them and (5) opens up a great variety of creative follow-up activities. Before you start telling the story, your students must be familiarised with unknown grammatical structures and new vocabulary. Choral repetition is an effective strategy that will help your pupils remember important passages. It is appropriate to include all learner types (kinesthetic, visual and auditory) when applying storytelling techniques. Therefore, you may want to use sensory stimuli to fuel their imagination by making them smell, taste, hear, see and feel the story. Also, to activate your pupils, you may want to ask questions or make them imitate aspects of the story. You might also use the technique to introduce elements of a literary text: characters, setting (time, place, atmosphere), plot, themes, conflict and point of view. To learn more about storytelling this resource by the QUA-LIS NRW or these guidelines and examples by the Landesinstitut für Schule und Medien Berlin-Brandenburg might be helpful. 

Contrary to the assumption that literature in the EFL classroom is just for pupils with advanced language skills, age-appropriate texts are available for all levels of English. Beginners usually enjoy shorter and visualised forms that rhyme, which are introduced, read and explained by the teacher. Well-chosen stories will enhance the motivation of your pupils and spice up your English teaching at school. Here is a selection of our all-time favourite children’s picture books, which are perfect for storytelling:

You will be surprised that even in times of distance-teaching storytelling techniques remain effective tools for language teachers e.g. by using videoconferencing systems or taped readings. There are quite some stories that are waiting to be told by you.

Stay safe everyone!