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I hope you find these notes useful! The notes were produced as a handout for teachers attending my workshop (Please come to my workshops!)
The world of stories
Stories include: traditional stories, myths and legends and contemporary stories, stories written by the students and stories told about everyday experiences. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends and they have problems which are resolved. Rich descriptions of people and places and situations are also part of the story world and so are metaphors and memorable images. A rich world of stories!
- Stories give us a path to walk on.
- Stories help us to decide who we are.
- Stories determine our values, perceptions and behaviour.
- Stories guide us in dealing with daily experience.
- Stories can create daily experience.
- Good stories guide us well. Bad stories guide us badly.
- How are you helping the students to build their stories?
Why make stories?
- It is encouraging to find that you can make stories with the English you have learnt.
- Some people only use their full intelligence when they are creative.
- Stories offer an ideal way of developing fluency in all four skills
- and an ideal way of recycling language and presenting language. And stories are fundamental to living.
Which proficiency level?
Near beginners can make a story: see below. They learn to make something with the language they have…a fundamental aspect of ‘being fluent’.
The more advanced students benefit by having their language ‘stretched’.
Your role…in my opinion
Above all your role is to show that you value the stories the students make and that the mistakes they make are important but not as important as the story.
Extend their understanding of and feeling for what makes a good story: particularisation in their descriptions of character and place, an interesting desire/difficulty storyline, consistency.
Fundamental technique: Asking questions
Who? Where? When? What? Etc. Normally driven by the teacher, can be used alone or in combination with most of the many techniques given below.
Beginners and elementary storymaking
Technique 1: single word drama
How many ways can you say, Hello?
Technique 2: two words
Write an adjective. Add an animal making a strong image, raising question, etc. Eg Thin cat. Iron lady.
Technique 3: word lists
List words and phrases being parts of a story.
Technique 4: repeated phrases
Where’s Spot? Is he under the …etc.
Upper elementary to advanced
Technique 1: just writing!
Just writing and being encouraged to write.
An atmosphere in which stories are important.
Technique 2: re-telling
Re-telling a story exactly or with changes
Changing: geography, culture, history, roles, point of view, protagonists (the students?) etc.
Changing medium: speaking, writing, dramatising, video, audio, etc.
Technique 3: adding to and completing
Adding the middle, beginning or end or just another paragraph. Starting text can be one word, several or a fuller text. Orally or in writing.
Technique 4: bits of information
A sequence of bits of information is given OR just a jumble of information: questions, statements, single words, pictures (face of an angry man), bits of music, things to eat. objects (in a box)… .
The students use the info as a stimulus for their story.
Note: Information can be through any of the five senses.
Technique 5: starting with the medium
The students play with the medium and see what sort of images, ideas and feelings it suggests.
Examples of media: overhead projector, puppets, masks, box of random objects, audio recorder, video recorder.
Language is a medium: play with words and chance combinations of words and see what situations they suggest to you.
Technique 6: a set of characters
The students create a set of characters and then see what sort of stories happen. Characters can be based on: people (soap opera), one person, animals, puppets, masks.
Characters can be realistic (simple or complex) or comic or caricatures. Characters can be taken from an existing story.
Students can remain creators or can role play the characters.
Brainstorm 10 (ie a lot!) situations with summarised storylines (eg 3 to 5 lines). Put the characters into the situation and see what happens.
Technique 7: create the character of a place
And then put someone in it and see what happens.
Technique 8: starting with ideas, feelings and values
Think of an idea, feeling or value which is important to you. Think of an example of a situation in which it might occur, either to you or to someone you imagine. Examples: loneliness, jealousy, shame, jumping to conclusions, the idea of ageing but of seeing someone inheriting some of your characteristics.
Examples: start with 3 emotions…each emotion guides one part of a 3 part story.
Technique 9: starting with an experience
Brainstorm 10 desires/difficulties you have already had today! Each one is a story seed. Describe what happened or might have happened…that is a story.
Or take a longer set of linked experiences…a personal or family story…examined, reflected on and imaginatively expanded…before, during and after. Involving extreme emotions: shame, jealousy, happiness, sadness, embarrassment…problems, discord, change, etc.
Can be totally imaginative and simple: The cat wants to eat/play/fly but it can’t.
Technique 10: starting with drama
Improvise a drama situation. Re-tell it afterwards…as a protagonist..from different points of view.
Make use of various aspects of drama eg mime, gesture, scenery
Example: You are crying. Where are you?
Example: They mime and then weave a story around the mime…add other people to the mime…
Example: two chairs…one overturned…an open bag…some liquid on the floor.
Technique 11: starting with a visualisation
You or the students take students on a visualisation journey and then write it up as a story or focus on one part of it.
Technique 12: starting with, ‘What if…?’
Students take one thing they know and then imagine putting it into a new context…which they know (or can research fairly easily). Example: What if a boy got into the wrong car because it was like his family’s car?
Start a description of an ordinary incident in your life…stop…pick up a card (picture/word etc) and put that into the incident and see what happens.
Technique 13: an established story structure
An obvious story structure would be that of a fairy tale in which the hero befriends three animals who later befriend him/her.
Technique: starting with a flowchart.
Person. Place. Person. Person. Struggle. Crisis. Climax. Result
Technique 14: starting with grammar
Sounds horrible but it needn’t be…it is an intriguing challenge and a super way of practising and remembering grammar. Write it and re-tell it.
Technique 15: starting with music
Investigate sounds. Discuss and interpret them. Make a story illustrated by the sounds.
Listen to music and tell the story as if the music is the music score of a film.
Technique 16: starting with a story summary
Give the students a summary of a story which omits any reference to specific people, places or incidents.
Can be in flowchart form. Elaborate.
Technique 17: start with a proverb
Where there is a will there is a way.
Health is better than wealth.
Pride will have a fall.
When the cat is away the mice will play.
Every man is the architect of his own fortune.
Technique 18: newspaper article
Human story rather than polical review, etc.
Technique 19: Overheard conversation
Nobody liked the bird.
A few tips
1 Usually try to respond to the story before you respond to the language errors.
2 The story should come from the students…and they should not be trying to find out what sort you have in your mind! If you do this fully then they are responsible for their story and they feel that.
3 Do a lot of oral story creation with the whole class so that the students can experience how a story can be created (characters, desires and difficulties, interesting sequence of events, consistency). A variation is for the whole class to work on how to improve one student’s story….you lead with questions constantly provoking the students to re-think, to particularise, to make more consistant, etc.
4 Do a lot of group/class oral invention followed by each student ’travelling’ as a storyteller.
5 Developing and modifying the story orally and then writing it.
6 Do a lot of single paragraph writing: beginning, middle or end…Very useful to experiment with five alternative beginnings and ask at least ten other students to read them and order them into preference.
7 From beginners and elementary students be positive about even list stories in which single words or short phrases are used.
8 Brainstorming on the board as a class and/or on paper as an individual or pair…linking…underlining key ideas…sequencing them.
Individuals should talk about their brainstorming ideas before writing a story.
Publishing and performing
Students often like their stories to go beyond the classroom.
Conceiving, researching, drafting, redrafting and fashioning for the reader, medium and context of reading and hearing (if you know it) is stimulating, challenging and a great experience in communication…thinking about how to communicate ideas and feelings engagingly and clearly to other people…it is not just a matter of expressing yourself.
Books, leaflets, postcards, posters, exhibitions, plays, mime, audio, video, drama and now the Internet, emailing to twin schools, sharing in chat rooms or contributing to web sites.
My two books on stories in language teaching
Oxford University Press:
Storytelling with Children
(Helping children to respond to stories)
Creating Stories with Children
(Helping children to make stories)
Also six story books for children, OUP
The series is called: Spellbinders
Info about my work with teachers and with students
See: this site under Teacher Training
Web site: http://www.teachertraining.hu/