Storytelling and the ELT digital space

By Mrunmayee Kore

As Carol Read says, The magic of story time (Carol Read, 2010). Indeed, Story time is magical and it should be used to its fullest with our learners. I firmly believe that story time is an integral part of language teaching. It has the power to grasp students’ attention and at the same time motivate them to be at the zenith of their participation capacity. Storytelling presents an effective approach to the development of multiple literacies in primary education. (Mastellotto, 2020, p. 257)

Stories engage children’s hearts and minds. Opening them to natural language, context ,and helping them to reflect on situations, themes and moral and social issues. They also ignite curiosity and nurture an inquisitive mindset (Ellis, 2016)

Teaching language is usually about teaching small chunks of language, some vocabulary point or expressions. A typical ELT young learner lesson starts with presenting a vocabulary set using visuals or realia. It is a very effective way of teaching as the visuals grasps students’ attention and help them to match the phonemes, graphemes and letters. But sometimes there is a lack of context. The context, for example a story or a comic strip is usually introduced in the later part of the lesson when students are familiar with the language. Picture books offer a dual-decoding experience (Mastellotto, 2020, p. 257), learners are presented with the text which carries meaning and are supported by visuals and peritextual features.

Let me share some of the benefits and challenges of story time I have experienced in my online classroom.

Setting a context:

As context plays an important role, I decided to reverse my lessons. The lesson started with a story where students could see the story and the visuals and hear it at the same time. Students were not familiar with the food vocabulary (1) but the visual aid guided the students as they were listening.

The story also helped them to set a context. It was set in a kitchen, so they revised their home and furniture vocabulary, there was a family having dinner, thus reviewing the family language, and then they were introduced to new visuals and consequently to the language of food items and chunks or expressions like, "Can I have some…?"

Storytelling and its benefit to the teacher:

The story helped me as a teacher to build a context, introduce the vocab and do the listening part of the pronunciation. It reduced the strain of revising the earlier studied vocabulary points (2). In short, my input was facilitated by the story. After the story, the next step was to revise the words. As the students had a copy of the story in front of them it was easier to revise the language. Students were asked to circle a certain word or picture. Another consolidation activity was to possibly hide the written part of the story and label the food items from memory (3).

Storytelling and the online learning scenario:

Storytelling with young learners has always been a special moment for both the kids and the teachers. Given the current scenario, many story time sessions have been reduced as teaching is something done in an online situation and there are very few face-to-face lessons. But how can we optimise our resources and involve our learners in active story time? There can be a number of obstacles when students are doing their story time activity online, but having them in their home also gives us teachers a lot of opportunities to use the realia resources to its fullest.

Once done with the comprehension and written consolidation of the task, the lesson can proceed with some activities where students get their own objects (4) and make up their own story in pairs or groups. This part of the lesson aims at using the Target language (5) words or chunks, developing and harnessing their creativity and social and moral awareness. Scaffolding (6) is important when students are working on their story. It leads them to greater competence and independence (Carol Read, 2010).

In conclusion, lessons taught through story are extremely efficient. They help break the monotony of the normal lesson. Learners have demonstrated great level of engagement and enthusiasm. Being able to tell a story through words, pictures or gestures enables us to maximise the benefits for all the children we teach. At the same time, it also helps the children to express themselves in various forms (verbal and non-verbal).

Starters 1 lesson on 11th March 2021- Unit 6 Dinner Time. Kids Box 4th edition.

2 Home, family etc. asked to circle a certain word or picture. Another consolidation activity was to possibly hide the written part of the story and label the food items from memory3.
3 These types of activities can be made more challenging by setting a time limit.
4 In this case, food items from the kitchen.
5 It is acceptable from young learners to develop the story in their own language, as long as they are using the target language words or language chunks.
6 Can I have…? For breakfast I have some…, for lunch…

Bibliography and Webliography

Mastellotto, L. (2020). Developing young learners’ multiliteracies through multimodal storytelling. Pathways to Plurilingual Education, 253–267.

Ellis, G. (2016). Promoting ‘Learning’ Literacy through Picturebooks: Learning How to Learn. Children’s Literature in English Language Education, 4(2), 27–40.

Nixon, C., & Tomlinson, M. (2017). Kid’s Box Level 2 Pupil’s Book British English (Updated edition). Cambridge University Press.

Read, C. (2010). The magic of story time.

Mrunmayee teaches at IH Arezzo in Italy, where she teaches English and Italian language. She teaches young learners, teens and adults. Kinaesthetic tasks and story time sessions are her favourite activities with her young learner classes.