Stories in the primary classroom

Written by: Zhivka Ilieva, Dobrich College, Shumen University, Bulgaria

Download: Appendix in Adobe .PDF format

Abstract: The paper views an example of using a story in English in 3rd grade. It provides a lesson plan with materials, a short discussion and the most important results and conclusions.

Using stories and drama in the foreign language classroom we make the educational process livelier, funnier and more interesting and exciting for the students. Young learners are easily motivated to study by the pleasure they experience in class (Brewster et al 2002, Simeonova 2000, Frohlich-Ward 1991); by the interest that is provoked towards the foreign culture (Cook 1992); by their success in learning and acquisition (Lightbown and Spada 2002); by the interest provoked by films, music, by the use of computers and the internet.

In order to be successful, studying should be positive experience (Donaldson 1987), the material should be meaningful for the students and related to their daily life (Frohlich-Ward 1991; Gardner 1993, Genesee 2001, Georgieva 2004). Young learners need activities that attract and keep their attention, that provide opportunities for meaningful communication (Bloor 1991, Gardner 1993, Georgieva 2004, Wright 2003).

Stories are interesting and meaningful texts, they are part of children’s daily life and activities. They provide positive and relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. The activities connected to stories attract students’ attention, keep their interest and motivation because they are set in meaningful context with meaningful roles and therefore provide meaningful communication.

Stories help us avoid standard boring drills since repetition is set in the context of a story, the activities are connected to the problems of the characters, which turns it into meaningful repetition. Natural and meaningful context aid communication, contribute to students’ successful performance in communication in the foreign language. Listening to stories and working with stories is funny and pleasant for the students, stories and story books are very rich in cultural information which can be used implicitly or explicitly in class.

Here follows a case study based on story lessons aiming at communicative skills development.

LESSON PLAN

Age: 9-10, 3rd grade
Aims: Learning actively the phrases while enjoying the story and preparing for role play. Developing oral communicative skills in the situation of the story (drama) and then in other situations
Objectives:

  • Vocabulary: revising and enriching animal names, living places, environment
  • Grammar: imperative; can
  • Social language: practising conversation (meeting someone, greeting people)
  • Repeated phrases: Can you tell me how to ….
    • Nothing is done without trying.
    • And he/she tried.
    • The house that is for you will not be for me!
    • Just as you please!
  • Skills: Developing listening and speaking skills
  • Interdisciplinary problems: places to live in: various creatures – various houses

Time: 3 classes English + 1 Arts & Crafts
Materials: the story “The House That Suits You Will Never Suit Me”* (Eccleshare J. 1995 Five Minute Stories, Scholastic Ltd)

* The original story contains 3 characters – a worm, a bird and a fish. We (the teachers) changed the worm for a mouse and added 3 more characters – a wild duck, a bear and a squirrel (Appendix 1) and also changed the end of the story into a happy end – like in the fairy tales.

PROCEDURE

Lesson 1

  • I Warm up
    Talking about the following animals: mice, fish, birds, wild duck, bear, squirrel – where they live, what their house is e.g. a hole, a nest, a cave etc.
  • II Storytelling 1 (without the end)
  • III Discussing the story.
    It can be done in native language in order to receive feedback and all the pupils to understand what the story is about. At the same time is discussed the problem about the different creatures and the different houses they inhabit, the suitability of the house of one creature for other creatures. During the discussion some of the new words and phrases are introduced.
  • IV Storytelling 2 (without the end) – the pupils who want to, who have remembered the phrases, take part in the story.
  • V Discussion how to help the main character, adding more animals and situations; guessing the end of the story (might be in NL).
    Students are given time to discuss in groups who else the character can meet and what advice would he receive this time.
  • VI Telling and discussing the end of the story

Lesson 2

  • I Warm up
    Storytelling with the students – the whole story with the situations added by the students.
  • II Game – the teacher mentions one of the characters and the students say the advice the character gives to the man (e.g. MOUSE – make a hole; BEAR – go to the mountain and find a cave; BIRD – make a nest SQUIRREL / BIRD – find a tree).
  • III In pairs students practice the dialogue from the episodes.
  • IV In groups of three (a story teller, a man and another character) the students choose another episode to practice.
  • V Preparing for role play. Distributing the roles and first rehearsal (the dramatization is prepared for a feast of the class so part of the rehearsals are practiced during the Periods of the Class

Lesson 3 – Arts & Crafts
Drawing pictures and emblems of the characters, preparing crowns with their images for dramatization.

Lesson 4

  • I Revision – Storytelling – the students take part
  • II Roleplayusing the expressions from the story in a situation, different from that in the story. The students receive tickets with roles (Appendix 3) – two situations for pair work.

Finally the pupils performed the dramatization at a class feast in front of their parents.

The discussion after storytelling 1 is very important because sometimes there are pupils who have difficulties in grasping the meaning of the story in English – they enjoy the pictures we use, mimes and gestures and after the discussion in native language – after understanding exactly what the story is about, they can take part in the second storytelling.

During the discussion after the first storytelling a student decided to retell an episode in Bulgarian –  meeting the bird and building a nest – “… and he gathered branches, tied them on his back and started climbing the tree…” This detail (tying the branches onto his back) was originally in the story, but while simplifying it for the class we decided to skip it. Since the child had not read the story before, we can conclude that children really extract great part of the information from the context – one cannot climb a tree if s/he holds something in one’s hands. When the students pick up the key words and expressions, they can easily understand the message from the situation.

Discussing new characters and episodes children have to use their imagination to invent more story characters to take part in the story e.g. a spider, a goat, a butterfly, a bee, a rabbit, a snake, an ant, a snail, a monkey, a lion. As a result of this activity the story was enriched with a few new episodes (in Appendix 2 there are the new situations received with three different groups of students).

While the students work with their hands during the Arts and Crafts activities, they discuss the story, the characters, their roles using English as well as Bulgarian.

The aim of the role play (Appendix 3) is to activate the phrases from both roles – asking for and giving advice and directions – using the expressions from the story in a situation, different from the original one. The activity also aims at enriching students’ linguistic, social and cultural experience – recipes are given in imperative – this is part of their linguistic and sociolinguistic competence. Another aim of the activity is developing tolerance towards various traditional meals and arousing interest in the foreign culture. Here are examples of the expected dialogues:

A: Can you tell me how to make Yorkshire Pudding?

B: Easy. Go to the kitchen. Take flour and salt; add an egg and some milk. Mix it and bake it 30 min. Serve it with roast beef.

A: That sounds delicious. The food that is good for you will be good for me.

A: Can you tell me how to make an apple pie?

B: Easy. Go to the kitchen. Take flour and salt, add some butter and milk. Then take it to the fridge, add apples to the pastry and bake it 45 minutes.

A: Mmm that sounds delicious. The food that is good for you will be good for me.

Some of the most interesting results of the role play activity are:

  • 47% of the students start their conversations with greetings, one student includes vocative – social language – a sign for the development of their sociolinguistic competence.
  • 64% of the students include the phrase ‘Nothing is done without trying’ although the roles in the tickets do not require it – it is part of the learnt model and they cannot easily separate it from the other phrases in the same situation.

We can follow:

  • the students’ linguistic competence – the most often met mistakes and the fields for further work (word order, etc);
  • the development of their interlanguage and the interference of Bulgarian – expressions like: ‘The food that is … good for you is good and for me’ and ‘Go in the kitchen’ are literal translation from Bulgarian;
  • the students’ sociolinguistic competence – using social language not because the ticket with the role says so, but because it is normal to start a conversation with a greeting;
  • the development of the students’ discourse competence – 27% of the students use first and then talking about the events: ‘First go to the kitchen, then…, then…’; we can follow their ability to build a text about a succession of events;
  • the students’ strategic competence – they sometimes use similar words – similar in pronunciation or derivatives (service instead of serve), but the most often used strategy is the pause – they pause or repeat the first word until they remember or think of the following one.

Using stories in the primary classroom heightens students’ interest in English and their motivation – their willingness to study at home and to participate in the activities in class. This allows them to demonstrate larger part of their knowledge and skills in the foreign language; and us to follow easier their linguistic and communicative development and provide appropriate additional activities.

References

  1. Bloor 1991: M. Bloor. The Role of Informal Interaction in Teaching English to Young Learners. In C. Brumfit, J. Moore, R. Tongue (eds), Teaching English to Children, Harper Collins Publishers.
  2. Brewster et al 2002: J. Brewster, G. Ellis, D. Girard. The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. London: Penguin.
  3. Cook 1992: V. Cook. Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Edward Arnold a division of Hodder & Stoughton.
  4. Davcheva and Berova 1993: L. Davcheva & N. Berova. Discovering Britain. Sofia, Prosveta.
  5. Donaldson1987: M. Donaldson. Children’s Minds. London: Fontana Press, Harper Collins Publishers.
  6. Eccleshare 1995: J. Eccleshare. Five Minute Stories. London: Scholastic Ltd, 132-134.
  7. Frohlich-Ward 1991: L. Frohlich-Ward. Two Lessons: Five-year olds and seven-year-olds. In C. Brumfit, J. Moore, R. Tongue (eds), Teaching English to Children. Harper Collins Publishers.
  8. Gardner 1993: H. Gardner. The Unschooled Mind – how children think and how schools should teach, London: Fontana Press.
  9. Genesee 2001: Fr. Genesee. Introduction. In Fr. Genesee (ed), Educating Second Language Children. The whole child, the whole curriculum, the whole community. Cambridge: CUP, 1-12.
  10. Georgieva 2004: М. Георгиева. Развиване на комуникативни умения на деца, изучаващи чужд език. ЧЕО, 2, 14-25.
  11. Lightbown and Spada 2002: P. Lightbown & N. Spada. How Languages are Learned. Oxford: OUP.
  12. Wright 2003: A. Wright. My Personal History of Teaching Young Learners. CATS, 1, 6-9.
  13. Simeonova 2000а: Й. Симеонова. Чуждоезиково общуване и комуникативна ориентация на преподавателя. ЧЕО, 1, 31-40.

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