My somewhat idiosyncratic summary of the IATEFL YL SIG discussion of the role of stories.  (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language.  Young Learners Special Interest Group)
Andrew Wright
Feb 2007
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Teachers of children
I think we have two levels of responsibility: we must try to do our job as language teachers helping the children to develop their language skills and we must try to help the children to grow healthily and happily for their own sakes and for the sake of society as a whole.
All my notes below about the role of stories in language teaching to children relate to these two levels of responsibility.

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Stories are so fundamental to who we are
Of course, we have only touched on the topic…it is so big. Nevermind, it will keep on coming up. As a fundamentalist storyman I will see the topic in everything we say and do in future discussions!
For example: we went on to ‘fossilized errors’ at the end of the story discussion and agreed that a need to preserve self identity is a factor in the fossilisation of errors and identifying oneself and others is all wrapped up with the stories we live in. In my introductory notes I referred to the two uses of the word ‘story’ which concern me: a single rounded story and a life path made of bits of stories giving values, perceptions and behaviours to live by. The first kind of story builds up the second kind of story.
A favourite analogy for me: Our bodies are made of the food we eat and our minds are made of the stories we hear.

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What is a good story?
Taking the two perceptions of the word story above then a good single rounded story is one which engages the children and offers a rich experience of language use. Essentially that is it. This includes, you being able to prepare and tell or read the story without too much difficulty, and the children being able to understand it and lots of natural activities coming out of it which don’t destroy it.
In the second sense a good story is a rounded story which contributes to a good life path story. A good life path story is one which helps us to deal successfully with the onslaught of daily experience.
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Daily experience includes the notion of constant change.
Our acute need for a sense of identity tends to mean a fixed identity, a fixed set of values, perceptions and behaviours. So we turn to traditional values, perceptions and behaviours and stories. And then we have problems because traditional stories were evolved to deal with situations unlike those we have today…and that has always been the case…and so stories have been re-told in new ways with new emphases from the beginning of time. (If you want to study lots of different versions of Little Red Riding Hood see Jack Zipes, The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. Published by Routledge in 1993.)
In our discussions several colleagues agreed that children are less likely to feel interested in traditional stories than they were just a few years ago.
In these days, the whole perception of ‘be’ is undergoing change not within the comprehensible notion of cyclical change of the seven ages of man and the seasons of the year but a sudden change to things not yet clear to us. Children are not daft…they pick this up from TV, the internet and at school. They must feel so confused. They feel they have to prepare themselves for adulthood and independence but they do not know what to be (I am not talking just about jobs). They do not know which stories to turn to. What is going to help them to find a story path which will enable them to deal with such unknowns?
Storypaths given by religion can help but I imagine that even religious people feel challenged by the appallingly unknowable changes which face the planet. Perhaps that is why storypaths based solely on traditional perceptions of religion are leading people to such violent confrontations with other storypaths guided by other religions or other  perceptions of the same religion?
I don’t pretend to have any useful perceptions except the notion that we face constant and frightening change and we must have a storypath  which will guide us to survive these changes.
Willy Nilly, the language teacher is supposedly an agent in helping children to find a storypath to survive on.
The thought is enough to make you give up, and just to concentrate on language development, isn’t it? Impossible …but an understandable wish!
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The language teachers responsibility re language development
All kinds of practical issues came up in the discussion: finding a good story; telling or reading; supporting comprehension; useful activities. Some important issues came up which are not directly story issues, for example, the teaching of reading.
As far as all the directly relevant practical issues in the discussion are concerned may I please refer you to my blogsite, below, where I have gathered many practical suggestions together in the form of a number of articles.
I am also beginning to build up on the site a number of stories I have told to children (or adults) over the years which you may find useful.
You might also go crazy and buy a copy of each of my books:
‘Storytelling with Chilren’ (lots of stories and 92 activities for any story) OUP ‘Creating stories with Children’ (lots of ways of helping children to make stories with their limited English) OUP
As far as reading and writing are concerned then we couldn’t be better off! We’ve got Jayne Moon coming to lead the next discussion on these very topics!
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3 Responses to “Stories in Language Teaching”


  1. 1 Elsbeth Mäder November 9, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Dear Andrew,
    although I teach EFL to adults, I try to incorporate stories as much as possible in my teaching, because I fully agree with the points you make in your article on Stories in Language Teaching and because language is something interlinked with our identity as a human being and therefore with our life path stories.

    In my personal life I had an experience this past weekend which reminded me very much of your Golden Oriel Story. While a choir I’m a member of was performing in a church, a trapped butterfly was flying around above our heads. This happened during the Friday as well as during the Sunday performance in the same church. Afterwards colleagues said: this must be a sign from / the spirit of the lady who a couple of months ago had broken down during rehearsals and passed away shortly afterwards. When I heard this, I immediately thought of you and your mother and the Golden Oriel, which aptly illustrates how stories and story tellers accompany us on our paths.

    Our paths have crossed a couple of times at IATEFL conferences e.g. in the B&B in Exeter and in some workshops.
    Thank you for sharing your stories and your wisdom.
    All the best
    Elsbeth Mäder

    • 2 Andrew Wright November 9, 2009 at 12:24 pm

      Elisabeth, thank you so much for writing to me. I am very happy that you feel this way. We are all threads in the never ending carpet. At the moment our thread is in the shuttle. Andrew If you ever come across other stories or story ideas you would like to share with me I would be delighted.

  2. 3 Tawnya May 7, 2013 at 10:11 am

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