Using our life stories in language teaching
Andrew Wright
Summary notes to accompany a workshop

Food makes our bodies. Stories make our minds. Stories are central to society not a mere entertainment extra…and this applies to adults as well as children. Stories are needed by everyone and are full of words…obviously a central path for LT.

Stories are:

Descriptions of events containing desires, difficulties and struggles.
Non-fiction: storying of childhood experience; family history, community, school, business, state, church.
Fiction: traditional stories, myths, legends, literature
Verbal and non-verbal story maps: we are guided in our daily experience by the values, perceptions and behaviours put in our minds through stories but also through the way of life modelled for us in their actions by everybody we are in contact with. ‘The iron lady’ is part of the story world…
Bits of stories: ‘fat cat’, ‘iron lady’, contain character and are part of the storyworld…and relevant to language teaching.

Benefits of stories in Language Teaching are

Bonding with you and other students.
Experiencing language (involving emotional intelligence) rather than only studying it.
All skills.
Introduction and recycling of vocabulary, grammar, function, syntax.
Springboard to other activities.

Telling a story well:
Readers and listeners must be able to understand the story.
Desire and problem…with struggle and resolution.
Not a summary but descriptions of particular situations, people, moments, etc.
Richness of person, place, action through detail: see, hear, taste, touch, smell and including, action, things said, thought and felt.
Spend that extra moment on detail: how somebody walks, how they show their nerves, their peculiar personal habits. Heighten, emphasise, sustain and repeat a point…go beyond the generalities of most exchanges.
Through engaging content but also through form:
In writing: precision, alliteration, rhythm, formality/informality, metaphor and simile/fresh images rather than hackneyed images…
In speaking: precision, forms as in writing, voice, body, dramatic techniques. But speaking is informal, not literary, with all the hesitancy and repetition of normal speech.

Starting points for life experience stories:
Above all story sharing must NOT be experienced as language practice and testing! Story sharing must be experienced as an important exchange of experience and ideas between people. Note language errors for later practice…only give language support in order to sustain meaning and engagement of the listeners.
A story must be of a particular incident or series of incidents and not a summary.
Use random cues to open memory’s door: a scar, a number, an object, a first line eg I remember…I can see…
Brainstorm in bubbles or brainstorm in continuous writing.
Any situation in life in which there is a desire and a problem…followed by struggle and resolution…or aspects of these things….

Family stories about relatives
An important person for you
Earliest memory
Scary moment
Silly/cheeky behaviour
An incident which changed your life

Fiction stories

Traditional stories
Urban legends
Starting first lines….

Further reading

Andrew Wright. Storytelling with Children (second edition). Oxford University Press
Andrew Wright. Creating Stories with Children. Oxford University Press
Andrew Wright and David A Hill. Writing Stories. Helbling Languages.
Appendix of examples from my life
childhood experience: reading David Copperfield when I was eight
family history: Gt, gt, gt grandfather Daniel Farnsworth
important people for me: art master ambiguous teaching
community history: Captain Oates
business: The story of Ford
church: Good Samaritan
science: discovery of penicillin
personal daily experience: Kormi the cat being shot
Contemporary local news: woman who lost a barking parrot
Contemporary international news: man who cut off his own arm
traditional stories: Little Red Riding Hood
teaching stories: fables
myths: Theseus
legends: giant husband and giant wife in Yorkshire
literature: Roald Dahl


1 Response to “”

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