Everyone loves stories. There is hardly anyone among us who has not heard a story during our childhood. Stories keep children engaged and let them feel that they are also participating in the process of storytelling. Language learning, any learning for that matter, happens when children are engaged in meaningful activities. If storytelling is made into an interesting experience and fun-filled activity where the listeners also participate in the telling, guessing, manipulating, it could be a joyous learning experience.
That’s why teaching English through stories and literature is one of the key focuses at Everest Education. We find that storytelling is one of the most useful techniques to attract young learners in the learning process effectively, which can help the young learners to knowledge, literacy, imagination, creation, and critical thinking.
In this article, we will explain why storytelling is a useful didactic tool in teaching English, and provide guidance for parents on how to use stories to make the English learning journey of your child more meaningful and memorable.
The advantages of storytelling in teaching English
Children are already familiar with stories. From a very young age, they talk in a narrative style. It is through their stories of everyday experiences that they define themselves: expressing their ideas, hopes, and emotions in language as well as in drawing and imaginative play.
Teaching English through stories is not only about picking up another language, it is also about giving children a wider window on the world, guided by their parents. As children share more and more books their self-confidence develops. This can often be seen in the way they approach unfamiliar English and new experiences. Here are some advantages of using stories to teach English:
- Young language learners can easily induce the language elements from the data provided by the stories. For example, spoken language can be developed effectively through storytelling.
- Listening to stories allows us to introduce or revise new vocabulary and sentence structures by exposing the children to the language.
- Telling stories provides good opportunities for the children to speak, integrate the information they’ve learned and become more confident.
- Reading stories aloud allows children to make connections between the oral language and the print that represents it. So, while reading aloud, you should ask children to point to the word or line read to emphasize those connections.
- Storytelling doesn’t require complex, technical vocabulary. Think of silent films and comics. A sophisticated narrative can be understood with few words.
- Stories help learners to increase their language fluency and to increase their content knowledge. Storytelling is the one commonality between all world cultures, regardless of literacy rates, and because of that, children become aware of some important cultural aspects through stories.
- Stories are motivating and fun; they create a deep interest and a desire to continue learning.
- Listening to stories is a shared social experience; it provokes a shared response of laughter, sadness, excitement, and anticipation.
- Stories exercise the imagination; children can become personally involved in a story as they identify with the characters and try to interpret the narrative and illustrations.
How to choose a story that fits?
Not all storybooks are good for language learning, so it is imperative that parents should choose the best storybooks that can offer language learning opportunities and develop other skills along the way.
When choosing your storybook for your child, let’s think about:
- the age and language skills of your child: stories with pictures will aid comprehension, so your child doesn’t necessarily need to understand every word. If there are no pictures and the story includes lots of challenging language, it’s a good idea to pre-teach some of the words or phrases that are critical to your child’s understanding.
- what language (sounds, vocabulary, grammar) you would like to embed within the story
- how the characters and events within the story will appeal to your child
- the length of the story: the story should not be too long so that your child doesn’t lose her concentration – don’t forget to consider your child’s focus ability to choose the storybook that has a suitable length.
- the values, lessons, and meanings behind the story – try to choose a story that carries positive values where children can relate to their daily life. Avoid didactic stories.
>> Explore how to choose a just right book for your child here: https://blog.e2.com.vn/selecting-books-for-your-child-how-to-find-a-book-that-is-just-right-for-her-reading-level/
How to turn reading time into a meaningful English learning experience
1. Get your child interest
Start by getting your child interested. Show her the cover of the book or on the screen if it’s an online story, which represents the story, and ask your child to guess what the story is about. What characters could they meet? What genre is the story – sci-fi, crime, or adventure? Parents can also use flashcards or real objects to pre-teach key vocabulary used in the story.
2. Introduce the theme and cultural background
Stories are often related to a topic. It can be a good idea to familiarise your child with the topic before reading, by trying activities related to the topic on the site, by setting a task to find out about the topic, or by discussion. Some stories assume knowledge of cultural norms, for example, the daily school routine. Children are usually interested in finding out the differences between their own culture and the lives of children, for instance, in the U.S. Some stories include an overt cultural background in the context. If your story mentions typical sights in London you could use a map or guidebook to find out what these are before children read or listen to the story.
3. Use a variety of way to “read” to your child
There are many different ways to approach a story. It is quite likely that younger learners will want to read, hear, or listen to the story several times, particularly animated ones. While reading to your child, don’t be afraid to try different voices and show off your acting skills. You might not win any Oscars, but your child will enjoy the story even more if you make a performance of it. As long as the story isn’t too complex, children love to be taken on an enjoyable journey into books that are too hard for them to read independently. This can also help to extend your child’s vocabulary, among other benefits.
In case parents are not confident with your English speaking skills, technology is here to help! It’s OK if you’re not the one reading to your child. At storytime, kids get to hear fun books. Parents can also try audiobooks, and your child can listen while you get other things done.
>> Check out our top picks of 6 free audiobooks for kids to enhance reading and listening English here: https://blog.e2.com.vn/6-free-audio-books-for-kids-to-enhance-reading-and-listening/
>> and our 12 best podcasts to teach kids native English, classified by ages and levels: https://blog.e2.com.vn/12-best-podcasts-to-teach-kids-native-english/
4. Asking questions to engage your children
Stories don’t only offer the young reader a chance to read. The experience also creates an opportunity to talk about the story. As a parent, you can encourage your child to describe their favorite person, part of the story, or picture. Their creativity might be developed by drawing new story pictures or even by writing their own short stories as a result. Here are some key question types parents can ask during storytelling:
- ‘What do you think is happening here?’, ‘How do you think the protagonist is feeling?’, or ‘Oh no! What’s happening now?’
- ‘What else could she do?’ or ‘What do we think about that?’
- ‘How do you know that?’, ‘But who was it this time?’
- ‘What will the character do now?’ ‘What do you think is going to happen?’
Instead of accepting or rejecting comments or ideas as right or wrong, use comments such as, “That’s one possibility. Let’s see what the author has in mind,” or “Well that’s an interesting idea. How did you think of that?” After reading, let’s review the story components, such as the setting, main character’s problem, and how the problem was resolved. Ask questions to encourage children to think about why events may have happened the way they did; why people in the story behaved in a certain way; what the children would have done the same or differently and why. But remember, don’t make it feel like a quiz, which can make kids feel uneasy.
>> Download Everest’s bilingual ebook for free: Why Toads Rule The Sky
Inside the ebook, you will explore:
– The written version of the story in both English and Vietnamese
– QR code to watch the full movie in animation
– Vocabulary pages
– Activity sheets
– Board games
– Guided reading questions to engaging children in discussion
5. Go beyond the basic comprehension with post-reading activities
Parents should provide follow-up activities to extend the impact of reading experiences. Aside from basic comprehension questions, there are plenty of other tasks you could set. Stories are a fantastic way to excite young learners’ imagination, so why not get them to write an alternative ending to the story, or retell the story from one particular character’s point of view, or even draw a picture of one or more ‘scenes’ from the story. Some post-reading activities that parents and children can do together:
- Complete a cloze reading passage activity based on the text of the story. A cloze reading passage is one that has words missing from it. Kids have to fill in missing words from a word bank.
For example: Once upon a time, the _ _ _ gave a job to everything. To _ _ _ _, he said: “Your job is to make water pour from the sky so the animals and plants can _ _ _ _.” And water did pour for many years.
- Encourage your child to look at illustrations, pictures, titles, or graphs to figure out the meaning of new words.
- Draw speech bubbles for the characters. This activity is tons of fun and allows kids to demonstrate their comprehension. If you are using large enough books, students can take large sticky notes and write thought/ speech bubbles for the characters, and then stick them on the actual pages of the text).
- Create a video of “book talk” about the story. Turn your camera on, and ask your child to say the title and author and to describe the story. When she doesn’t know what to say, ask her a question like, “What was your favorite part?” or “What could the characters do if the story kept going?” This not only promotes reading comprehension skills, but it also works on the organization and verbal presentation skills as well.
The experience of reading or listening to a story allows us to escape our own lives for a moment and live in another one in a fun and safe way. In the same magical experience, a goldmine of language may be learned, so do encourage your child to read stories in their second language as well as their first. We hope that this article has given you a few ideas for using stories with your young language learners.
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