In the previous article of the series dedicated to teaching pre-school children aged 2-7 we presented our approach to using TPR in an ambitious way. This episode will be focused on using stories with children – stories, which are very often the core element of many courses for young learners. This series was first published in the Teacher Magazine in 2013.
Many teachers use stories. But in order to make students like stories it is crucial to introduce and practice them in a way that is appealing to children. They need to associate stories with fun and play rather than with “learning the language”.
We want to show how to conduct engaging lessons with a story, that your students will love. And how to increase the challenge gradually so that your students will end up retelling or even acting out the story.
Modern, age-relevant content
Children are surrounded by stories. Parents read to them, pre-school teachers educate them through stories, they watch cartoons that tell stories on TV. It is important that stories used in the classroom are funny, engaging and up to date. They should present language in context that is easy to understand and teach in such a way that your students will understand the natural language flow, where new words and unknown chunks do not disturb the comprehension. Some stories encompass elements of drilling, which is a great stimulus for speaking. From what we observe half of the success of a story are funny, cartoon-like illustrations and lively recordings that grip our students’ attention.
Fun and play
Doing things is fun! Do not just talk about things, do them! Act out and mime the stories and songs, manipulate with flashcards (put them in order, hold them up, put them in a box etc.). Introduce a lot of movement. Children have lots of energy and they usually have fun when performing actions.
Sense of humour. Humour is vital in the stories and other texts, but remember that young students are still learning what is funny. They shape the idea of what is fun just like they are still learning other skills and social standards. You have to point out such humorous moments. Make students realise they can laugh at something, model the actions, underline what is funny and sometimes explain why.
INTRODUCING THE STORY:
You need: story flashcards, the recording (optionally the video recording)
- Students sit in a circle or line in front of the teacher. Tell them you are going to listen to a story about six witches who take part in a race (L1). Do not tell the plot so as not to spoil the fun and comprehension practice.
- If necessary pre-teach a few words (a witch, a race, petrol).
- Before listening make sure students are sitting still and concentrate. Play the recording and show the appropriate flashcards so students do not lose track.
Optional: You can play the video recording to introduce the story.
- Students say what they understand the story is about (L1)
- Read the story showing flashcards and using mime and gesture (feelings, actions etc.). Encourage students to follow your mime and gesture. Make sure students understand each sentence (sometimes even translate bits and pause for explanations)
Note: Model the gestures yourself first with exaggerated movements and facial expressions – it would be great if you can make children laugh at your actions. Repeat the activity at the following lessons and then gradually let the children take over and demonstrate their creativity. They need to associate the movements with meaning to make more durable connections in their brains.
PRACTISING THE STORY:
- Play the recording or read the text. Ss put the flashcards in the right order on the floor.
Optional: Students hold flashcards – one flashcard each. They stand in a line according to the order of the text as you are reading or playing it.
- Read the text in a jumbled order. Students point at the right picture or hold up the appropriate flashcard.
Optional:If you have lots of space in your classroom you can put the flashcards on the floor and students must stand by the right flashcard or tap it with their hand.
- Read the story pausing for students to insert first single words, then gradually longer and longer sequences.
STORY MANIPULATION, RETELLING AND ACTING OUT:
This stage requires very good understanding of the story and quite a lot of practice.
- Tell the story changing some elements eg. I’m the white witch. I’m flying my banana. […] It’s big and slow. I’m going to dance.
Note: Change one or two words in a caption. If they are funny for children they will be more engaged in the activity.
- Get students to retell the story using flashcards as prompts.
- Students act out the story without the recording. Remember not to correct them at this stage – accuracy is not important here!
The activities described above are scheduled for several lessons and they should be introduced gradually, one or two at a time. It is important to lead the students in such a way that they reach the final stage and still have fun with more and more challenging, though doable, tasks.
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