Tell a story! (By Christina Markoulaki)
Here I am, back from a short-term holiday and ready for my summer lessons! It is customary in Greece for the winter courses in private language institutions to end around May; towards the end of June schools resume preparations to welcome those students who are willing to finish one more English-language class by taking an accelerated course in the summer months. The point is that the Greek weather is rather an impediment to studying since it is invariably scorching hot and sunny, calling for some soothingly cool sea bathing rather than having language lessons! Therefore, the question that immediately troubled me was: what can a teacher do to help these students start learning on a positive note?
What I have finally decided to do is to bring the sea into the classroom; that is, to enable the students to do so by narrating a summer story in our very first lesson. (They have already taken some short holidays themselves, so there must be something to talk about!) Which stories are better than those stemming from our direct experience? To facilitate things even more, I have decided to model the narration of a story and then ask them to act accordingly. All this will, of course, have to be eventually combined with the appropriate ‘dose’ of technology to make it even more … irresistible!
As for the students’ background, they are B1, B2 and C2-level learners, aged 14-16, so they are already familiar with all basic narrative tenses as well as linking words and phrases that are necessary for the cohesion of the text. They also have various family holiday or camp experiences, which means that they possess all the ‘material’ they need to tell their own story. The lesson could take place in a usual classroom, using a laptop to illustrate the story, or in the computer room. What is very positive about this activity is its flexibility: it can be adapted to a number of levels since the resources utilized can be quite simplified at parts, depending on the complexity of the students’ output a teacher expects.
A lesson of this kind could consist of these stages:
- Quickly revise past tenses and linking expressions. Refer students to a related blog post that contains a number of tips and steps to writing a story. This revision could take the form of a small competition or quiz.
- Urge students to imagine that they are sitting around a camp fire at night sharing personal stories. Read your story and let the music you have chosen play in the background.
This is a short story I have written after actually seeing a ‘forgotton’ flamingo on a sandy Cretan beach. A message can be derived at the end and there is the possibility of a certain extent of debate in class concerning which life philosophy students tend to favour: the active or passive, almost fatalist, stance.
3. When you finish, ask comprehension questions (about who, where when) followed by some open-ended questions (the character students identified with, the moral of the story, etc.)
4. Ask them to plan their story in class, having given them photocopies of one of the many impressive story organizers available online. The story film organizer, the branching organizer, the cake paragraph format or a more simple plan are only a few of the numerous resources that can be discovered on the web. After the learners come up with some basic ideas, they can exchange views or cooperate to find suitable endings.
5. In the next lesson or at home, students can write the full version of their story based on the planning that took place in class, publish it on the class blog and combine it with the photos or the music they like. They should be careful, though, not to disclose any personal information, as their work will be in common view.
There are already some of my students’ summer stories published on their class blogs:
Rafaela’s summer story on ‘Girl Power’ (A2+ level)
Nassia’s story on ‘Girl Power’ (A2+ level)
Helena’s summer nightmare on ‘FCE Students’ (B2 level)
‘Drawing in the sand’ by Izoldi on ‘FCE Students’ (B2 level)
Helen Lag’s story on ‘Literature Blog’ (C2 level)
Elen’s story on ‘Literature Blog’ (C2 level)
Much more samples of writing will be available this week. Till I publish more links in the comment section, try to share a story with your students; not only will you encourage them to speak and write, but also to bond with you! Isn’t this one indispensable ingredient of successful teaching?
Note: This article by Christina Markoulaki originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.