This is my working ‘storyboard’ for a power point talk I gave in Ankara in March, 2011.  Not really an article!

I am highlighting in red all the projected slides of text and picture….please forgive me for printing my informal notes to myself for when I give the talk.  I hope it will all make sense.

Using Stories in Language Teaching

Andrew Wright

The centrality of stories in our lives

Stories: a path to walk on; a map to live in

‘The stories CNN tell you today are the world you will live in tomorrow!’

CNN….BBC.. say…’top stories today are’…’the breaking story’…’the story I am working on’… they mean stories…it is not a homonym!

The CNN line is SO fundamentally true!  It applies to all story generators throughout history.

Stories: a way of communicating

“There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

Nokia…biggest supplier of mobiles…big commercial trouble…falling sales….CEO Stephen Elop…didnt choose facts and figures but chose a story to affect rather than merely inform the Nokia employees.

Surely this example of the use of stories by a top industrialist adn the example of CNN are enough to bring home that stories are not just for children!!!

Metaphors: a way of thinking

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.


This is the end of Stephen Elop’s speech.

The story is an analogy…the analogy is made up of metaphors.  Literary device?  No, we think in terms of metaphor to a significant extent: it is partly how we look for meanings in infinite information.  We are hard-wired for metaphor.

Metaphors are short stories and stories are long metaphors.

Hard wired for metaphor

Thinking metaphorically is a key way in which we think.

Metaphors are short stories and stories are long metaphors.

Broadly, to be able to cope with abstract concepts we compare them to more practical and material experiences.

Life …a journey

Love ….fire…plants…

Discussing difference…war…hunting

Business…a war…a game…


See: Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago University Press.

Stories are fundamental for all of us

The food we eat makes our bodies.  The stories we hear and tell make our minds.

I haven’t spent time on trying to convince you that children need and like stories!  I have touched on the centrality of stories in the adult world. But, are stories given an equivalent status in institutional education?  No!

Stories in life. Stories in school?

In a typical school day, how many times do the children hear or read a story which they can simply enjoy, absorb and reflect on rather than be tested on?

I assume your answer is, ‘rarely’.  Strange! Stories, so central to social and to private life, are hardly used in schools unless it is for analysis or testing!  Why?  Not intellectual?  Not testable? The autocracy of measurement…if you cant measure it then it doesn’t exist/is of no consequence, etc.


What do I mean by stories?

What do I mean by stories?

Non fiction:

daily anecdotes;  family stories;  institutional stories;  historical, cultural and religious stories; the news, etc.


traditional stories, literature, legends, fables, etc.

Expressive language:

metaphors, alliteration, rhyme, repetition, etc.

Non verbal:

values, perceptions and behaviours communicated non verbally, through drama, design, architecture, and social rituals, etc.

The story world is big and I claim it all!  The full richness and potential of this story world is not a central part of life in secondary education. In schools the expressive impact of stories is reduced to analysis and the regurgitation of perceived meanings.

That is the inheritance of a ‘classical education’.


Why use stories in language learning?

Why stories in language learning?


Language experienced in context.

Four skills.

Introducing new language and recycling old language.

Springboard to other activities.

Motivation: everybody wants stories…they are a key way in which we think.

Language experienced in context: Because they want to understand or to tell the story they must USE the language…and experience the stimulus of success or failure.

Springboard: making a personal response to the story…analytically or creatively.

What could be richer?  What more can a teacher ask for?  Why hesitate?

Stephen Krashen’s research

Shows that Free Voluntary Reading (also know as Sustained Silent Reading) is the single most successful path to language improvement in all areas: skills, accuracy, grammar, vocabulary.

What he has discovered about reading also applies to listening.

For a free copy of ‘88 Generalisations about Free Voluntary Reading’ go to

A few examples from Krashen’s research

Regular and frequent Free Voluntary Reading

(also SSR sustained silent reading)

(not chosen by the teacher and not ‘examined’)

SSR students did better in every aspect of language proficiency:

Comprehension, fluency, spelling, vocabulary, grammar

You want evidence for the power of listening and reading stories?  All of Stephen Krashen’s research shows there is an overall and overwhelmingly positive effect on all aspects of language learning.

See his email to me confirming that listening is the same as reading except that spoken language is less complex than written language.

The story of the old man and the Frog Princess.


Responding to stories

Picture  OUP…Storytelling with Children cover

Andrew pictures/publications/2 OUP books

This talk is an introduction to the immense depth and breadth of the potential contribution of stories in language learning.  For a hundred practical suggestions look in this book. That is what books are for!  But CAREFUL!  Stephen Krashen’s research specifically warns against asking the readers to respond…or, perhaps, requiring, readers to respond.

Storytelling with Children

Summary of the contents

How to choose, tell and read stories aloud

A store of activities for any story (about 100)

Stories and lesson plans (18)


Cross-curricular. Storyline. Personal development. Asking questions. Grammar. Visualising. Dramatising. Making stories for children. Chants and poems. Music.

Let me go through the contents and then you can see the rich variety of,  ‘things to do’.

Where can you find stories?

Where can you find stories?

OUP published readers…hundreds of titles at different levels and very professionally illustrated and presented.

The internet

Your own culture

Your own life

Creating stories for and with the students

Make sure you choose stories which you like or, at least, respect.  Make sure you are comfortable with the values and perceptions implicit in the story.

Speaking or reading?

Salt and pepper


No remembering

Correct English

See value of books


Give as a present from you

Use their English

Use redundancy

Look in their eyes

Use mime, pictures, etc.

Tips for tellers

Give as a present

Put your feelings into it, risk your vulnerability

Telling allows you to use ‘their’ language and to repeat key bits

Telling allows you to mime to clarify and to express meanings

Take time on creating story readiness

Tell so they can understand

Mime, draw, show pictures and objects


Use the full range of:  pace, pitch, stress, volume, rhythm

Take your time…

Do not introduce teacher authoritarianism…remain a giver

Stories are not a technique for teaching English…stories are bigger than the teaching of English.

in my story coat (Andrew pictures/Lydia photos/DSCF3902

My storycoat is a big commitment…but it exemplifies how to connect and how to communicate rather than just articulate words… give everything you have…risk yourself…isnt it generally true that you cannot reap unless you sow?

Picture of story set-up

Cloth. Candles. Box. Puppet, etc. (in camera)

Create an alternative reality

Creating story readiness is as important as good telling.

Activities the students can do related to stories

I have described 100 in the book!

Here are some of my favourites DURING activities

Listen and enjoy

Stop to look


Make sound effects


Look in my book for many, many more!  But be a teller with children and not a teacher with students!

Here are some of my favourites AFTER activities

Nothing…it is a present

Best bit

Act out best bit


Protagonists write to each other

Look in my book for many, many more!  But be a teller with children and not a teacher with students!


Creating stories

This is for me even more important than responding to stories!

Some good reasons for creating stories

Many students only come alive when they create.

Using the language for a real purpose.

Four skills.

Developing the skill of communicating: speaking and writing clearly AND expressively.

An excellent thermometer for testing teaching!

From Day 1.  Act out ‘Hello’, with different feelings!  Add an adjective to ‘cat’!

Let them do list stories.  Welcome any attempt to tell.  Note language needs and focus on these at another time.

You wouldn’t make the children wait for a year before playing a game of football saying, ‘Oh, no!  You must practise kicking the ball first and you must study passing and other techniques and perhaps then you can play an actual game of football.

Questions: a fundamental technique

Care about the story MUCH MUCH more than about the language points you are paid to teach.

Ask questions.

Tell and re-tell the story as it grows. Don’t ‘improve’ the content but make sure it is in ‘correct’ English.

Keep in mind the need for: difficulties and struggles to overcome them; the particularisation of character of person, place, action, situation, etc.

Keep in mind the enrichment of information relating to all five senses.

Care about their willingness to try to tell.  Be positive even about what you feel are poor additions.


Make your cat special: add an adjective.

Make your cat even more special: add two adjectives!

Go.  Who? Where? When? How?

The four basic questions:

Who? Where? When? What?

With these four words you can guide and support beginners and advanced learners in their story creation.

Christopher Booker’s, ‘Seven basic plots’.

The monster

Rags to riches

The quest

The voyage




Not essential but fascinating and they may help you in your hidden guidance.

Five bubble flow chart for ‘The Monster’

Hero introduced. First signs of the monster.

Hero prepares and sets off. Some limited success.

Confrontation. Disaster begins. Seems hopeless.

Terrible battle. Hero nearly loses.

Hero wins and receives the reward.

Not essential but fascinating and they may help you in your hidden guidance.

Picture of students flowchart

Designing a flowchart seems to help many students and it also helps YOU to see in a few moments if they have got a good plot to work on.  You might find it easier to keep to a five bubble flowchart like Booker.

Process writing

Reflect. Research.  Brainstorm. Draft. Try out. Re-draft. Try out. Re-draft. Modify. Hone.

Students alternate between being: writers and editors.  Process writing emphasises the idea that writing must be for communication ie for someone to be able to read, understand and feel.


Their pictures. Calendar pictures.

Picture postcards. Pictures from the Internet.

Toys. Puppets.

Existing stories.


Newspaper articles.



These stimuli can be related to the four questions and to Bookers idea of plot.

Once made, what happens to them?

Excercise Books?  No!!!!!!


Drama…plays YouTube…internet

Internet…web site

To put a genuine piece of creativity in an exercise book which is traditionally all about the regurgitation of information given by the teacher or the book is mad!  It is art and it must sing…for better or for worse!!!

Picture of Children’s books

I could NEVER throw these books away…but exercise books, once full ,go in the bin.

Picture of Lisa books

We don’t select the best!  What an obscene thought!  They are all published!

Picture of Alex’s books

People with autism are like the rest of us but more so.  We all need stories. Alex has written 700 books filling them with the friends which she does not know how to have.

Responding to students’ stories: simple

Always positive and constructive



Accuracy (errors?)

Always be positive.  See the language proficiency as a reflection of your teaching.  Stories are a thermometer in the mouths of your patients.  If you see inadequacies plan how to give them a focus but NOT at the risk of losing the good will of the students…later.

Responding to students’ stories: full

Always positive and constructive









If there is time I can gloss each one of these from Writing Stories.

Picture of the goose and the golden egg.

Text: don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs!

The ‘golden egg’ is the motivation and the sustaining of effort to use language to express things which really matter.

Don’t gun for grammar and kill this golden goose!

The goose is a chicken in Hungary…but goose alliterates with golden in English!

Honourable teachers of English so much want to do a good job…their inner agenda MAY be to teach grammar points and vocabulary.

Stories are NOT a technique for achieving this!  Stories are the fundamental sap of human trees…not a mere English teachers technique.  Don’t make the students mistrust you.  Don’t just pretend you value stories but gun for grammar!

At the most, use stories as your thermometer, for your achievements, as a teacher…and do focussed grammar practice on things which do not pretend to be important.  You don’t practise dribbling the ball when you are playing in a match but you might well learn in a match that you NEED to practice dribbling!

Help for you to use stories in the classroom!

Andrew Wright. (2008) Storytelling with Children. Second Edition. Oxford University Press

Andrew Wright. (1996)  Creating Stories with Children. Oxford University Press.

Andrew Wright and David A.Hill. (2008)  Writing Stories. Helbling Languages.


4 Responses to “Using Stories in Language Teaching”

  1. 1 sharing April 14, 2011 at 9:03 am

    You basically help to make critically content articles I’d state. This is the first time We frequented your own webpage and so much We?m impressed using the research you’ve made to make this particular publish incredible. Great job!

  2. 3 Gillian Claridge May 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Dear Amdrew,

    Have just read the Turkish article; so many of the things you say resonate with me. But I think it’s even harder to convince teachers AND students at the tertiary level of the value of unassessed response to stories than it is at primary level.. one of the roadblocks I encountered in my own research was that many students did not believe in reading for pleasure; unless it was hard, they did not value it. The irony is, unless they read fluently, they do not enjoy it, but unless they start with something they find easy, they are never going to develop fluency.SO they end up never enjoying a good story. We’re back to chickens (or geese) and eggs, not necessarily golden ones!

    The word redundancy also rings a bell.. it signals painless exposure many times over, and learning without trying.

    And I really felt for Alex the autistic girl.. creating friends she didn’t know how to have. In a way, I think that low level English students are rather like autistic people, because they haven’t got the language to create nuance and modification to suit circumstances. Does that sound mad?

    Anyway, I will work on the idea of you coming to NZ to speak. Meanwhile I’ll just have to read your articles.

    Thankyou so much


    • 4 Andrew Wright May 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      Gillian Most teachers have been clever at language when they were children adn that meant accurate. They grew up seeing themselves as ‘good at languages’ and being accurate. then some smart arse comes along and says, ‘Come on! What is communication about, for heavens sake? Isnt it the ability to be clear. to be expressive to make the moment live? Accuracy for its own sake is neither here nor there.’

      This is impossible for the ears of the poor langauge teacher because accuracy is who they are. Identity crisis. You mean I am no important?

      So we will never get past this…too many fragile identities are in the way.

      I just hope for the maverick teachers…the maverick outsiders who appear in the lives of children once or twice and say and do things they never forget. Andrew

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