WHY TELL STORIES?
Story telling has become the new buzz in ELT but it’s logical really when you consider that it’s one of the few wholly authentic activities that we do in the classroom. Whether you have children or not, who has never read a story to someone or had one read to them? You may be familiar with the version that goes “Tell me about the time that uncle Richard cut your hair” and with friends this becomes “Did I ever tell you about the time that…” Expressions from stories become part of our shared culture, I only have to say “I’ll huff and I’ll puff for you to know exactly what I’m referring to.
Our lives are full of stories, but think about your favourite children’s story, when do you remember reading it for the last time alone ? That’s the magic of story telling, it’s all about connection; between the reader and the story or between the readers.
Stories are about making connections, learning is about making connections and of course teaching is about making connections and so that’s why storytelling has such a natural, obvious role in our lessons.
But the problem is it feels too easy, teachers are wary of easy, we feel we should do more, justify the activities we do in class to the director of studies, or worse the parents, or even worse, to ourselves! How can we justify doing something so simple in class? We used to do it when we were babysitting!
This is where we call upon the hero of our story, Benjamin Bloom (what a fantastic name for a hero!), an educational psychologist who first created a classification of learning skills in 1953. Originally he used nouns: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, and the taxonomy was designed to sort various learning skills into low order thinking skills (LOTS) and high order thinking skills (HOTS).
The revised version using verbs was created in 2001, it has similar meaning, except, and importantly for the highest skill – Creativity is now given more importance, as it is in twenty-first century skills too.
There have been criticisms of the taxonomy, it is indeed a simplified way of categorizing learning skills, and some verbs such as “predict” can be found in multiple categories. Also there doesn’t seem to be one definitive version, every Internet search brings up something slightly different.
However, it is still a useful means of ensuring use of a range of different skills that will involve all students, whatever their language or cognitive developmental level.
During this workshop we took a look at skills one by one, I gave a couple of concrete examples of how to apply a particular skill to a storytelling activity, and then the participants noted down their ideas – which I have encorporate here into my own notes so this is really a collaborative endeavour.
The first three skills; remembering, understanding and applying are low order thinking skills, and we notice that activities for these “LOTS” are often pretty basic.
Recall – the fruit the Hungry Caterpillar ate each day (with images or put realia into order), the colours of the animals in The Brown Bears, the order of the animals in Funnybones-The Pet shop, where we looked for Spot in Where is Spot? What did The Tiger who came to tea eat? Generally recall the story in pairs or as a class.
List & Label parts of the body in Guess how much I love you. Which animals did the witch meet in Room on a Broom?
Match – characters and names, also match with family words in Paddington, images and words, faces & dwarves’ names in Snow White, fruit and the days of the week (The very hungry caterpillar).
Label- the furniture in the dwarves’ home in Snow White, the objects in the house of Hansel and Gretel, tick places that Paddington visited.
Use puppets to have learners re-enact the story, it’s quite easy to make finger pupets with an image attached to a loop of paper to put your finger into.
Explain – why are the animals scared of the mouse in the Gruffalo?
Examples – In Not Today (Storyfun1) what can they buy in each shop (sacaffold by giving words or pictures)
Classify- Mrs Day’s garden (Storyfun2) put what you can see into categories, food, clothes, animals, etc. Classify clothes, house objects and body words from Winnie The Witch.
Sort – animals according to habitat, draw a lake, tree, etc and add picture or word to right “home.
Illustrate – a part of any story
Comparing – compare the houses of the 3 Little Pigs, compare Cinderella’s day with that of her step-sisters
Organize – Tryrannosaurus Drip invites his adoptive parents for lunch, draw up a menu for each, draw a house plan for the three little pigs’ final home, help Snow White make a tasty soup by choosing ingredients from the images presented, make pumpkin soup as in the story of the same name, a make a fruit salad for the hingry caterpillar,
Identify which Gruffalo animal lives in which house, or build them.
As we get higher up scale there is more overlap of verbs, for example building could be considered applying or creating, again the importance is not in classifying the various activities but ensuring a wide variety are used.
It is interesting to note that the lower order skills – remember, understand and apply, correspond to the learning objectives method of “KUDs”, that is to say displaying Knowledge, Understanding and the ability to Do in order to demonstrate skills acquisition.
The higher three levels are referred to as HOTS:
Discover – a butterfly project after Hungry Caterpillar
Contrast & Infer – Tell the story from a different point of view, the wolf, the owl, etc. Infer which object belongs to who in Goldilock’s house by comparing size, softness, etc.
Compare – the animals in the pet shop (Funnybones)
Analyze emotions – not always easy for young learners but an important skill, analyze how various characters are feeling at various moments during the stories, using emojis for example.
Recommend – (Our Funny House in Storyfun2) what room should the items go in? Recommend more healthy fruit for the caterpillar, help the little girl write a shopping list before the tiger comes to tea. Write a ltter suggesting how the little pigs should build their house.
Suggest -What can the children do to help the Whale & the snail? Suggest a way for Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother to stay safe, and for her grand-daughter to be sure it’s her (apart from the big ears, eyes, and teeth!)
Design – a map of Gruffalo wood, or mindmaps of virtually any story
Build your own broom
Design and build a model of new house for Squash & a Squeeze
Write a sequel– The very Hungry Caterpillar can be followed by the very hungry _____(animal of your choice)___.
Write an invitation for the Tiger who came to tea
Choose you own team of dwarves according to your own feelings, would you still have grumpy?!
Write a different story based on the pictures from a book – this can be quite challenging as once we know the story it can be hard to imagine a different version, but remember you don’t have to use these skills in any particular order, so why not start with this before telling the story?
Also it isn’t always useful, or suitable to find an activity from each skill level for each story we use, some may work well with many skills form just one or two levels, again the important thing is to think about varying activities in terms of expectations and production.
Below are some examples of how all this fits in with a variety of stories, the first was one of my examples, the second and third were given to me by participants at the Paris British Council /CUP presentation. (Thank you very much kind and generous participants!)
Giraffes can’t dance by Giles Andreae
Lower level skills are pretty basic, our traditional pre-teaching vocab comes under this category in naming, but you can go further by describing the animals – loads of great body vocab here! The pictures are quite detailed to so it’s good fun to find various things too.
There’s a lot to discuss here, why are the animals mean to Gerald, predict what he will do, if the warthogs waltz and the chimps do a cha-cha, explain which animal dances disco, or rock and roll.
Classify animals into various groups, two legs, four legs, can fly, etc. You can produce some great Venn diagrams while you revise structures with “have” and “can”. Show the animals what they should say and do with Gerald when they see he can’t dance very well.
Comparing is great with animals, who is bigger? taller? faster? Gerald might not win the dance competition but he might win something else, identify different competitions and explain which animals would win them. (A great lesson in how we’re all different but fab too!).
Choose your favourite image, or animal, and justify why. Listen to the different types of music and prioritise them, favourites, best for going to sleep, best for a party. Watch some videos of dancing on youtube and rate the dancers.
This is where you can go as wild as the jungle animals. We had our own jungle dance, learners chose which animal they wanted to be and created their own masks. They designed posters and invitation cards, they discussed and recommended refreshments (crocodile & snake sweets, monkeys’ delight – bananas, and jungle juice in case you’re interested. They categorised the music to dance to, drew a room plan for the tables and “dance floor”.
And then we played our favourite jungle games: see this post for more details and resources.
A Dark Tale by Ruth Brown (– I don’t know this story, and that’s one of the things I really love about presentations and conferences – the chance to learn and share!)
Show and label various objects in the images, stairs, curtains, etc. Show them in the classroom too.
Before you read the end of the story, ask students to extend the story to another place.
Organise a guided tour of the castle, plan your route (create a map) and your speech. What questions will the visitors ask? Plan your answers.
Simplify by imagining the cat entering a caravan or tent instead of a castle, and write or illustrate this version of the story.
Use shoe boxes to recreate the castle, (this is a fantastic project to set up with a class, students will willingly bring in a shoe box or two, there’s loads of stuff you can make with corks – chairs, bottle tops, and match boxes – beds, drawers, etc.)
Predict the relationship between the cat and the mouse – write a letter from one to the other.
Recreate another version of the story set in a different place, e.g. an ocean wreck with a chest and a surprise.
Guess How Much I Love You – ( I love this story and my kids know it by heart!)
List/label body parts – do hares have arms?
Classify animals, colours, verbs…
Applying: (I love this idea!)
Simon says… jump like a hare, jump higher than… etc.
Who loves who the most? (oooh, that one’s tough!)
Tell the class about your bedtime routine (if not too private)
Evaluating & Creating:
Rewrite the story with other animals/family members/ you
Arabian Nights : The tale of Shahriar and Shahrazade
(I love these ideas because they show that story telling isn’t just for “the little ones”, and this is exactly where I feel that Bloom’s taxonomy can validate story telling as a learning activity at any age and level.)
Understand – resume and rephrase the story, insisting on the characters and their roles.
Analyzing – name and explain the feelings of the characters, is the king a just ruler if he kills a woman each night.
Create – Create your own tale of love and revenge to add to the Arabian Nights stories.
Hopefully all this has sparked some ideas of your own – please share them!