How to use stories in elementary school English classes?

Using stories in English classes

Using stories in English classes

28.08.2022

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  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Stories, whether oral or written, have been a part of human interaction for thousands of years: as a means of communication, entertainment, and even a way to convey information.

Why do people tell stories? To convey a message, to carry on a tradition, to share an experience, to embody one’s own imagination, to impress other people, to share culture, for fun, etc. 

That is why using stories in English classes with young learners is a great way to immerse them in language learning. It’s also one of the ways to engage them and improve not only grammar and vocabulary but also develop 21st-century skills.

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Today we will try to find out what is behind the use of stories in learning a foreign language and offer ideas that you can immediately use in the lessons with your students.

Why use stories?

Stories are an effective teaching tool because they are believable, memorable, and entertaining. Children generally enjoy listening to, reading, and telling stories, which is why using stories creates a positive learning environment:

  • Stories motivate and entertain; they create a deep interest and desire to continue learning.
  • Listening to stories is a shared social experience; it evokes common reactions such as laughter, sadness, excitement, and anticipation.
  • Stories develop imagination; children can become personally involved in the story as they identify with the characters and try to interpret the story and illustrations.
  • Stories are a useful tool that connects a child’s fantasy and imagination with the real world; they enable children to understand their everyday life.
  • Children enjoy listening to stories over and over again.

Short Stories You Can Base Your Lessons On

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Frequent repetition allows both to learn and to emphasize certain language items. In the stories, there is a natural repetition of key vocabulary and grammatical structures.

This helps children remember every detail, so they can gradually learn to predict what will happen next in the story. Repetition also encourages participation in the narrative, thereby providing practice in a meaningful context.

  • Listening to stories allows the teacher to introduce or recycle new vocabulary and grammar.
  • Listening to stories helps children to understand the rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation of the English language.
  • Stories are written for learners with different learning styles and intelligences, so they make learning meaningful for every child.
  • Stories spread general truths and moral appeals from one generation to another.
  • Stories help children develop their own learning strategies, such as:
  • listening for gist,
  • predicting,
  • guessing at meaning,
  • and hypothesizing.

Develop your listening skills

In particular, they can develop the child’s listening skills and concentration through visual cues (high-quality pictures and illustrations that support children's understanding), sound cues (sound effects, imitation of nature sounds, etc), and their prior knowledge.

So, as we can see, listening and other types of activities with stories develop a range of linguistic, psychological, cognitive, social, and cultural skills. Therefore, it is quite logical that working with stories should become part of your routine in English classes.

How to choose stories for your classes?

There are so many wonderful children’s stories these days. However, not all of them are suitable for working with children. Before you choose anything, here are a few things to look for when choosing a book to use with young learners:

  • words and phrases that are repeated and help children learn new useful expressions;
  • rhyming and/or imitating the sounds of nature and the environment, which will support the understanding of the story, and children will enjoy imitating the sounds;
  • simple sequence;
  • a predictable or familiar plot;
  • illustrations that support understanding of the text;
  • interesting characters with whom listeners/readers can identify;
  • humour and liveliness; an exciting ending with an appropriate conclusion;
  • interesting content that motivates and captures the attention of children;
  • a clear message or moral;
  • an appropriate length for the age group/level, or one that can be broken down into parts;
  • topics or content related to the curriculum.

Of course, different storybooks have different characteristics, but all good books share a number of the above-mentioned traits. If, however, after you have chosen a story, you find that it does not appeal to your students in the way you intended, it is a good idea to adapt your plan of work or even to abandon it altogether.

The most important purpose of using stories is the development of understanding and enjoyment of literature in children.

What can be done with stories in English classes?

Reading lessons can actually be interactive and fun while developing reading skills. During our recent marathon for English teachers, TKT, CELT- P/S trainer Lidia Simak shared tasks that help develop attention span and the ability to follow the text while reading in young learners:

The teachers who participated in the marathon also shared the wonderful tasks they do with their students. So be sure that they will really work in the lessons because they have already been tested by students.

For example, Lyudmila Orshevska suggested that while reading, each student should choose a word from the text and write it down on a piece of paper. After the students have finished reading the story, they exchange the words they wrote down. Next, students take turns making up their own stories using their own words. It is quite fun and interesting.

Myroslava Kozachenko and her students describe the pictures if they are in the story. If not, you can create your own to learn new vocabulary or retell it with pictures. 

Of course, students like role-plays and dramatizing stories. Sometimes we finish sentences ... or come up with our own ending (continuation) of the story, it's really fun. Usually, together with students, we do exercises on arranging sentences or arranging pictures in a story. Stories should be short and fun, engaging and informative.

Myroslava Kozachenko

Natalya Pyatnitsa offers an interesting task. One of the most popular reading assignments for young learners is called “Sound Off”. The challenge is for students to add sound effects as they read the story aloud. Assign some students in the class a sound to make when a certain word appears in a read-aloud text. Next, when someone reads the text, the students add “special effects” to it. This helps keep their attention for a long enough period of time and makes reading fun and effective.

Khrystyna Kovalyk holds “reading parties” with her students. Students read the text in groups of four. In each group, S1 is a reader, S2 is a S3 word wizard (a person who can look up any unknown word/phrase in the dictionary or Google it), is a translator, S4 is an illustrator (draws comics for the story). Later, each group presents their comics, retelling the story in turns.

How to develop listening skills for students

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Article authors & editors
  • Yulia Chorna

    Yulia Chorna

    Author

    DELTA Module 1, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English

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