Sue Swift shows how to use interative story telling to practise both listening and speaking skills.
An activity which practises both listening and speaking in the classroom is interactive story telling. I usually use short stories, but if you wanted to and had the time you could also tell your students the story of a whole novel, in instalments as the course progressed.
The activity works in the following way: the teacher divides the students into pairs and tells them that s/he's going to tell them a story. At certain points in the story s/he pauses and asks them to discuss something with their partner - to decide what a character who has just been introduced looks like (a good activity if you've just been working on describing people) or what the place where the story takes place is like, to decide what a character is thinking about, what is going to happen next etc. After the students have had time to discuss in pairs, the teacher asks for their ideas, chooses the version which fits the story (or if there isn't one that's suitable says, "No, none of you have guessed. In fact..." and then provides another version before continuing. I often use adapted and updated Sufi stories (1) for this. Here's one of my favourites, The Mexican and the Bicycle:
A policeman was working on the border between Mexico and the United States (Describe the policeman) when, one day, a Mexican arrived on a bicycle. (Describe the Mexican) The man had a large bag on his back (Describe the bag), and the policeman was sure that he was smuggling something, so he asked him to open the bag. (What do you think was inside?)
But inside the bag there was only sand. The policeman poured all the sand onto the ground, but there was nothing else in the bag, (So what did he do?) and so he let the man go.
For the next few years this happened two or three times a week. The Mexican arrived on a bicycle and was always carrying a bag of sand. The policeman became more and more convinced that the man was smuggling something, but he could never find out what it was. (Why do you think the man was always carrying the bag of sand? How do you think the policeman felt? What do you think he thought?)
Years later, after the policeman retired, he was drinking in a bar one evening (Describe the bar) when the Mexican came in. The policeman bought him a drink (What were they drinking?) and, while they were sitting and chatting together, said "Come on, you can tell me now. I'm retired and it doesn't matter any more. I know that for all those years you were smuggling something. What was it?"
The Mexican looked at him, smiled, and said (What did he say?) "Bicycles."
Sue Swift has worked in the area of ELT for nearly 30 years as a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. She writes on EFL methodology and other issues connected with language teaching, and runs a site for EFL teachers An ELT Notebook.
I liked the story very much and I liked the way it has been exploited. I like how language points could be taught or recycled and also all the skills and the functions that can be dealt with. I will certainly try it in my class and send you feedback. Thank you.
The story is fantastic. It can even be used in the teaching of literature when dealing with literary terms like suspense!
The story is very creative, because students can be part of the writing too, making them learn in a fun way. Thank you for the great ideas!
It is a nice and fun way to practise grammar structures, listening and speaking.
I tried this lesson and it proved to be really good fun, we had some great and funny stories which provided some laughs...
So great an interactive way of telling stories. My students enjoy listening to teachers telling stories in English thoroughly; that's killing two birds with one stone, right? You can develop their comprehension ability while at the same time improving their understanding of spoken or written English, and having fun too. My students often have their mouths wide open, and eyes brightened up whenever I tell a personal story. So I can conclude that students mostly enjoy stories, especially when they are told in such a creative way.
Good job! Your site is great!
Thanks for this superb idea! I've tried it out - using this story and others - in several of my classes and it has never failed to energise the students. I know it has had the desired effect when I have volunteers eager to recount their own interactive stories at the next class. A big bouquet to Sue!
I really liked the way you tell the story but it is so regional based. I am from Turkey and I cannot adapt this story to my class. Do you have other stories like this one?
It seems like a clever story, but it is terribly racist. The smuggler is simply referred to as the Mexican, leading your language learners to think that Mexicans smuggle things/are criminals. This story can be changed simply to say, a tall man or a short man. But the ethnic description is just disgusting, especially for language learners. We want them to learn our language, not our prejudices.
Dilara says that she/he cannot
adapt this story because it is too regional. Actually the first time I heard
this story it was presented as a middle eastern story.
I also must agree with the person who stated that while clever it is also terribly racist. At least in the way it is presented here.
I am surprised that nationalities are stated in such an overt fashion. It is not necessary. The best stories are universal.
Actually I have used this method before... My story is: a beggar found a leather purse in a marketplace (who found a leather purse? where did he find it?) then a merchant was shouting a reward to the one who finds my leather purse (who was shouting? what was he offering?) (do you think the beggar will give the purse back to the merchant?) being an honest person the beggar handed it back saying here is your purse may I have the reward now (did the beggar give the purse to the merchant? do you think the merchant will give the reward?)
I really love the idea of interactive story telling. I do have a problem with this particular story, however. As TEFL teachers, we are daily presented with stereotypes of Americans that we have to embrace, combat and everywhere in between. I don't like the idea of augmenting or creating another stereotype. I don't want the several hundred students I see each week in China to believe that Mexicans are sneaky, and are involved in illegal smuggling.
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