So this week in the UK is National Storytelling week and in ode to this, I completely scrapped my lesson plan and taught a storytelling class with my CAE Advanced students.
Exam classes are stressful; for the teacher and student alike so they were VERY happy to take a break and just use the English they had.
One of the main problems with storytelling and creative writing is the lack of ideas. Having to think up an entire plot, character arc and language can take the magic out of storytelling. To bypass this problem, I introduced the idea of storytelling step by step. Not until the very last minute did my students realise what they were doing. Removing this pressure to “create” something made them much more receptible.
Step 1 – lead in
I gave the student 15 seconds of silent thinking time to think about these three questions:
1) Do you read stories? What kind/why not?
2) Did you parents read to you or tell you stories when you were young?Why, how did it make you feel?
3) Do you or will you read or tell stories to your child?
Storytelling doesn’t care what language you speak so I encouraged them to think about English and their native languages. Once their time was up, I split them into pairs and they discussed their answers. Encouraging the students to ask their partner further follow up questions helps to encourage spontaneity in their speaking.
Step 2 – ideas generation
I gave the students 4 interesting images (I can send these to you if you would like) and asked them, in their pairs, to discuss each one picture by picture. I asked them to be curious and to question everything they saw.
Was the statue really a statue?
What’s making the grass rise up; is it just a hill or is something underneath?
There were no wrong answers here and every idea was a good idea. They had the freedom to come up with as many far out or sane ideas as they liked.
Step 3 – ideas generation take 2
After each pair had discussed the pictures, I swapped their partner. Now, they had to go through the images again and tell their new partner about their ideas. This helps not only as a further step to help come up with ideas but also to deepen and extend the ideas they had. By asking their partner questions about their ideas, the students were able think about aspects of the picture that they perhaps hadn’t thought of before.
Once finished, they go back to their original partner and discuss anything interesting they learnt from their partner.
Step 4 – vocabulary
First, I asked the students to choose the one image which piqued their interest and inspired them the most. All other images were then put to one side.
Under each picture was an empty table, the students were tasked with filling the table with vocabulary related to the image. They had to think of all word forms: verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs and write them in the table. I, as teacher, withheld the right to veto a word if I thought it was too boring and too simple. This encouraged them to think properly about the image rather then rhyming off what they could see (the dictionary and thesaurus helped).
In true Art Attack style, when the students had exhausted their ideas or had filled their table, I gave them a version I’d filled in earlier. They could take any of my words and add them to their own table or put them around the picture.
Step 5 – introduce the arc
All stories regardless of imagination and creativity need to follow an arc As these students hadn’t seen it before, I introduced them to it in the same way I did last with my other class (come back and read my blog next week to see exactly how I did this). I followed this up by giving them a short story and, in pairs, asking them to highlight the different sections of the story arc in the short story. And as with everything, they also had to justify their reasoning to each other.
Step 6 – building the arc
The students by this point have had lots of input and preparation, it’s time to plan their own story. Going back to the image that inspired them the most, the students had to brainstorm, with their partner, what their story would be. It’s important here to encourage students to think as creatively as possible and remind them to use the vocab they came up with earlier. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel, the hard work’s done! They just have to piece it together.
Step 7 – it’s storytelling time
Everything’s done. They’ve prepped, planned, brainstormed, worked in pairs, helped each other and their story is finished. It’s now time to tell their story. Writing can detract from the creatively of storytelling so I decided that my student would tell their stories not write them. I moved the students around so they were with a different partner and asked them to tell their story. They were allowed to keep their notes with them, this wasn’t a test; it was an opportunity to be, dare I say it again, creative with the language. We spent a few minutes going over what makes a good storyteller (hand gestures, emphasis, excitement, tone of voice etc) and off they went!
I taught this class with a C1 group of adult students but there’s no reason why, with a bit of grading, that this can’t work with all students of any levels! Sometimes it’s nice (and beneficial) to throw out the coursebook and just play with the language. I now have a group of budding storytellers!
Let me know how you get on with yours:)