Storytelling with YLs

Last year I worked with a group of ten eight-year-olds in an afternoon, after-school class. I met the children once a week for one hour and a half, the idea behind it being to reinforce what the children were already doing at school using children’s books as a base for the lessons.

At the time I had been given a copy of the British Council free handbook on storytelling, which I read and appreciated for the ideas and practical activities it provides. So, with little experience in teaching YL and close to zero experience in storytelling, I embarked on this new adventure.

After eight months of lessons and after going through something like 5-6 storybooks, here are some considerations on the positives and negatives of this approach to teaching English to YL.

The good things

There are some main advantages to using the methodology described on the BC handbook. Some might feel apparent and obvious, others are more subtle but equally important.

  • Stories expose children to what you could consider authentic listening material. After all, storybooks are made for children whose first language is English, so in a way listening to those stories can be considered an authentic, real-life task.
  • They also allow the teacher to introduce language points as part of the story, in a fun and engaging way.
    The penguin can turn his head, can you do it? Yes, I can do it!
  • Stories create a memorable experience for children, who are more likely to retain what they have learnt in this way than in a regular, textbook-based lesson.
  • Children’s books talk to children about their world, so learners can relate to the stories and characters and feel more at ease in dealing with the L2.

The not-so-good things

Despite all these advantages, I also found some problems or things I would change in this approach.

  • You would be impressed by the number of children’s books which have animals as protagonists! This is great at the beginning, but can become a bit repetitive after a while.
  • Apart from topic repetitiveness, storybooks can rotate around the same or similar language points as well. So it is easy to teach colours, body parts or animals, but teaching daily routine or free time activities requires a bit more research in digging out the appropriate book.
  • For the same reasons, designing a long course only around stories can become a bit repetitive in the long run. At the fourth or fifth story I had children telling me: oh no, not another storybook!

All in all, this has been a great experience, which has taught me a lot and which I would recommend to anyone teaching YL.

Do you have any experience in teaching English through stories? Was/is it a positive or negative experience?

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