Tales and children’s books in teaching young learners

Written by: Zhivka Ilieva, e-mail: zhivka_ilieva@yahoo.com

Tales and children’s books are a rich resource of authentic linguistic input. Using a book while storytelling motivates children for extensive reading: they sometimes bring other books from the same collection or books on the same topic.

Working with stories, the students develop linguistic notions and become more skillful in using various grammatical categories and richer vocabulary stock without being explicitly taught.

Listening to and working with the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Golilocks 2006), the children meet authentic language, they are exposed to linguistic phenomena and in the process of work gradually acquire them without being taught. Moreover, at this stage explanations about the articles, case of the noun, noun and verb phrases and syntactic structures would only confuse the students. In the familiar context of fairytales and children’s books, the students acquire successfully linguistic models beyond their zone of actual development (Vygotsky 1983).

1. Linguistic analysis of the story

In this story we meet the following linguistic phenomena:

There are proper (Goldilocks) and common (bed, chair) nouns; countable (a family, bowl) and uncountable (some porridge) nouns; nouns in singular (house) and nouns in plural (bears); nouns in possessive case: singular (Mama Bear’s porridge) and plural (the bears’ house).

We see use of indefinite, definite and zero article:

Noun Phrases, indefinite article: a family of bears, a little girl named Goldilocks;

Prepositional Phrases, indefinite article: for a walk, in a pretty little house;

Noun Phrases, definite article: the porridge, the bears’ house, the bowls of porridge, the bears;

Prepositional Phrases, definite article: in the forest, on the door, into the house, to the bedroom;

Noun Phrases, indefinite pronoun: some porridge for breakfast;

Zero article: a family of bears, some porridge for breakfast;

The students see the use of indefinite, definite and zero article not in isolation but in the corresponding phrases: noun phrases, prepositional phrases. In this story are used other determiners as well.

Noun Phrases with other determiners: Papa Bear’s bowl of porridge; Mama Bear’s porridge; Baby Bear’s porridge; on Papa Bear’s chair and Mama Bear’s chair; Baby Bear’s chair; Papa Bear’s bed; Mama Bear’s bed; Baby Bear’s little bed; Baby Bear’s porridge. We see that possessives are very often used in the story.

Prepositional Phrases with other determiners: into their three bowls, in Baby Bear’s bed.

Through this story the students meet all the grammatical categories of the noun in meaningful context (for grammatical categories of the noun see Molhova 1992 and Molhova 1993). With suitable follow up activities, they memorize certain phrases as whole chunks (Ellis 1992, Tough 1991, Wells 1986) and start using them as a whole or as a formula with free slots.

Various types of pronouns are used in the story: personal subject and object case, possessive, demonstrative (this), relative (when), indefinite (someone).

Adjectives in adjectival phrases are often used: adverb (intensifier) + adjective: too hot, too cold, too big, too hard, too soft, so cosy and warm, very frightened.

Adjectives are used in a combination adj. + noun in the NP Baby Bear’s little bed and adj. + adj. + noun in the PP in a pretty little house, where the students can see the order of the adjectives used before a noun (Burlakova 1984).

Various adverbs are used: upstairs, then, soon, there once.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a traditional tale in the past simple tense: the students see regular (lived, poured, knocked, answered, tried, growled, jumped up) and irregular verbs (was/were, made, said, found, went, ate, broke, fell (fast asleep), came (home), woke up, ran away); use of gerund (tried sitting); examples of present simple tense (cools), present perfect tense passive voice (has not been seen) and past perfect tense (had eaten and broken); past participle: named (a girl named Goldilocks); the verb phrase Let’s go.

There are coordinating and subordinating conjunctions: that, while, but, and, so; various prepositions (in, into, on, to, for); numerals: one (day), three (bowls).

Syntax

The students see complex and compound sentences and the clauses in them (Quirk 1985):

X-                                                  Y-                                                                  -Y-X

(There once was a family of bears [that lived in a pretty little house in the forest] ) Subordination: attributive clause.

X-                         Y-                                                   Z-                                 -Z-Y-X

(Papa Bear said, [“Let’s go for a walk in the forest {while the porridge cools}”]  ) Subordination: object clause, adverbial of time.

X-                                    Y-                        -Y-X

(She was very frightened [when she woke up] ) Subordination: adverbial clause (time).

1                                      1        2                          2

[She knocked on the door], but [no one answered]. Syndetic coordination: two independent

1                                      1        2                          2      clauses.

[    i n d e p e n d e n t     ], but [    independent    ]

She went into the house and found the bowls of porridge. Syndetic coordination: two independent clauses.

Papa Bear’s bed was too hard, and Mama Bear’s bed was too soft. Syndetic coordination: two independent clauses.

Someone had eaten Baby Bear’s porridge and broken his chair! Syndetic coordination: two independent clauses. The two clauses have the same subject and it is ellipted in the second clause together with the auxiliary verb.

Goldilocks jumped up and ran away. Syndetic coordination: two independent clauses, ellipsis of subject.

2. Lesson Plan

Aims: To acquire linguistic structures without being explicitly taught

To develop the students’ vocabulary stock

To develop their communicative skills

To develop interest in and motivation to read stories and books in English

Objectives:

  • Vocabulary:

There is the lexico semantic field of family (Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Baby bear) and furniture (bed, chair, table); with the help of the first picture, we develop the lexico semantic field house (fence, door, windows, roof, chimney, walls). During the discussion “Where will they go?” the students develop the lexico semantic field of wild animals, flowers, colours, forest or nature: mushrooms, bushes, trees, river, lake, lawn.

  • Grammar: past simple tense, possessive (’s, s’)
  • Skills: listening and understanding, reading comprehension, talking on various topics connected to the story (e.g. breakfast time; describe the house, the family, the walk, the intruder/guest)

Time: 2×40 min

Materials: a set of 11 books (Goldilocks 2006) for a class of 20 students and pieces of paper to cover the words for the 2 tests (10 different colours – for each book) and uhu tack to stick the pieces over the words (they are numbered from 1 to 73 for the cloze test and from 1 to 27 for the gap filling exercise).

Interdisciplinary relations: Literature, Man and Nature

Lesson 1

I Warm up

II Reading the story

Asking the question “Where can they go?” after Papa Bear’s suggestion to go for a walk.

III Discussion and retelling the story with the help of the pictures from the book (a whole class activity)

IV Cloze test based on the story

Every third word in the story is covered by a colour piece of paper, stuck by means of uhu tack. The pieces are numbered. In pairs the students write on the pieces of colour paper the words missing. We need different colour for each pair and numbers in order to follow and anlyze easily the results of each pair.

This is a reading book exercise. The book is part of a set of 6. If there are 4 or 5 classes each can buy two sets supporting the class library for extensive reading (Bamford and Day 1997, Hill 1997) and we can use the same books in all 5 classes. This way each child touches the book, reads the story from the authentic source and takes part in a cloze test. Interest in stories in English and in reading the rest of the books from the series is provoked.

All the students have already listened to the story, the new element is they have to fill in every 3rd or nth word (For cloze tests and gap filling see Heaton 1991, Weir 1990).

V Check up of IV and storytelling 3

After the students finish the activity, we check up together as a whole class activity and the students remove the paper to uncover the blanks. The teacher collects the pieces of paper with the students’ answers.

VI Role play (Mama Bear talks while preparing the breakfast and laying the table. Some Mama Bears ask the other two members of the family to help laying the table, in other bear families the students create a morning family conversation, in others the child and the father offer their help.)

VII Cloze up

Lesson 2

I Warm up

II Gap filling

The procedure is similar to that in the cloze test, but the purpose again is not testing – it is storytelling in a new situation and reinforcing the phrases, acquisition of the main structures. Working in pairs the students complete each other’s knowledge, discuss the gaps and the material and finally acquire new formulas and break some of the already acquired ones.

III The students create their own story using the key phrases:

Once upon a time there was/were………. That lived ………………

One day …………………………………………………………….

VI Cloze up

3. Cloze test analysis

The cloze test analysis shows that 100% of the students fill in correctly the phrases there once was a family of bears and in the forest.

54% of the students fill in the correct verb live. However only 8% use the past simple tense; 23% use the third person singular present simple tense; and 23% use the present simple unmarked, which is also acceptable in this case: we can view the family as a whole (3rd person singular) or as consisting of a few members (3rd person plural) (Molhova 1992).

31 % of the students fill in correctly in a pretty little house. The phrase sounds complete with one adjective.

77% correctly fill in one day, Mama Bear and their three bowls (bowl is a new word, introduced through the story).

69% – some porridge (porridge is also a new word).

The subject she in the beginning of a sentence is filled in by 23% of the students.

23% use in instead of into. Having in mind that these are young learners and the purpose is not testing, but linguistic and communicative skills development, the answer is correct.

23% of the students write Papa Bear said and 8% use say instead of the past simple tense.

38% of the students use a wrong preposition (to) in the expression go for a walk. No one uses the correct preposition, which shows that in order to acquire the phrase, the students need more work. This is the reason next time we skip another word in the expression. The purpose is to stop the students’ attention on the phrase and this way give them a reason for reading it a few times while choosing the word walk.

The second phrase in the forest is filled in correctly by 62% of the students. This and the low result in the second half of the story show that if every 3rd word is deleted, the test becomes too long for young learners – the story should be split into 3 parts for the students to fill in most gaps (young learners have a comparatively short attention span (Trifonov 1996)). We can divide the class into 3 groups (this, however, means less number of tests for analysis) and if the check up is done by the teacher reading two words and making a pause for the whole class to react, the two groups who do not have this excerpt of the story, also take part in the choral answer, reinforcing the expressions and the whole story.

The analysis of the smaller cloze tests based on the tale divided into 3 parts, shows that the first 2 gaps in each excerpt are filled in correctly by 100% of the students and the result does not fall under 23% for the other gaps.

In the expression while the porridge cools 8% use until instead of while and 15% use then; 8% fill in correctly cools, 15% use cool and 31% – cold. Totally 54% use a word with the same root.

A …… girl is filled by little by 31% and 15% use beautiful, which is not the same as in the story, but makes a meaningful expression. This shows that the students can use the formula creatively, filling in the slots with a different word of the same class (adjective).

38% fill in correctly the name of the girl.

The phrase the … house is filled in by 45% of the students: 15% write bears’ (as in the story, 15% do not use the plural and the possessive markers (s’), 15% use little, which is meaningful in the given context. This again shows that the students think about the meaning of the story and not about the exact phrase they have met in it.

23% use correctly the verb in the expression knocked on the door; 38% use correctly the noun door and 15% use house instead of it.

But no one answered is filled with body by 23% of the students, with anybody by 15% and with any by 15%.

The past simple tense of go is correctly filled in by 38% of the students. 38% fill in house, and 8% use home instead of it.

The phrase the bowls of porridge is filled in with the definite article by 23% of the students and 46% use the numeral 3 instead of the article, 69% fill in correctly the noun porridge.

Papa Bear’s bowl of porridge is filled in correctly by 38% of the students.

Was too hot is filled in correctly by 31%, 15% use is (the present instead of the past tense) and 8% use it’s (a subject + present simple of be); the same is the result with … too cold and … just right. Later on the phrase … just right is filled correctly by only 15% and 8% use is (the present instead of the past tense).

69% correctly fill in Papa Bear’s porridge and Mama Bear’s porridge. In a later sentence in the phrase Papa Bears’ … the word is filled in by 38% of the students (we notice decrease – which is in support of shorter tests), and still later 8% use was and 8% – is.

In the phrase then she ate it all up 8% correctly fill in then and 23% replace it by and which would be correct if it was not preceded by a comma, but we have to keep in mind that young learners have not studied syntax thoroughly. Only 8% fill in correctly the personal pronoun object case.

23% correctly use the subject pronoun she and 15% replace it with Goldilocks (the referent).

On Papa Bear’s chair: 15% fill the preposition on and 31% – the noun chair.

In the phrase Mama Bear’s chair 38% use the possessive case of the noun and 15% use the noun bear without the possessive case marker.

They were too big is filled in correctly by 15% of the students, 8% use are (the present instead of the past tense) and 8% use was (the singular instead of the plural).

15% use up instead of upstairs. 15% correctly fill in the noun bedroom.

In the expression Papa Bear’s bed was too hard 62% fill correctly both slots.

In Mama Bear’s bed was too soft 69% fill the noun in the possessive case and 15% – use the nominative case. The intensifier too is used by 46% and 31% use very, which again shows that the students can substitute the words in the formula and transfer the meaning and not the exact words.

In the phrase The bears came home 8% use the definite article and 15% use the numeral three (a numeral as a determiner instead of the article), 23% use home correctly. 23% use the correct verb but a wrong form (ate instead of eaten).

Baby Bear’s porridge is filled in correctly by 15% of the students; Baby Bear’s bed – by 23% and broken his chair - by 23%.

23% use correctly the verb found and the subject pronoun she.

15% of the students use in instead of into, which is also correct.

The expression very frightened is another example of breaking the formula – 8% use very and 8% use another intensifier – too.

Papa Bear growled is filled in correctly by 46% of the students.

Goldilocks as a subject is filled in by 15%.

The subject it is filled in only by 8%.

The verbs broke and tried are filled in correctly by 8% of the students.

The conjunction and is filled in by 8% of the students and 8% replace it by so, which is meaningful in this context.

Towards the end of the test there are seven gaps that are not filled by anyone.

4. Analysis of the gap filling test.

This is another reading comprehension activity reinforcing the key phrases that can be used with children’s tales and books. Here the deletion of words is not on regular intervals. Certain structures are chosen to be tested or reinforced. At some places more than one word is deleted or hidden. The test results are as follows:

In a family of bears 67% use the plural and 33% use the singular.

In a pretty little house 91% fill in the required word.

Made some porridge 33% fill it correctly, 8% write come (a spelling mistake), 26% use an indefinite article instead of the indefinite pronoun.

Poured it into - nobody has filled the personal pronoun in the object case. 25% use porridge (the referent) and 25% use up.

Let’s go for a walk is filled in correctly by 100% of the students.

A little girl called G. 8% fill in correctly and 8% use name.

But no one answered 25% use nobody instead of no and 16% use any instead of no.

She went… and saw 58% fill in correctly went; 8% use saw and 33% use find instead of it, which can be used in this context but in the past tense.

Papa Bear’s bed was… 66%

Was too cold 75% use too and 16% use the intensifier very, which is also correct.

Too big 50% use very and 16% use so. No one uses the exact words from the formula, but 66% create meaningful and correct sentences.

Was too hard is filled correctly by 91% of the students.

She ate it all up 25% use the correct form and 8% use eaten (the past participle instead of the past tense form).

Papa Bear’s chair is filled in by 50% of the students.

Was just right 42% use the phrase from the story and 16% use too small, which is not true in the story but makes a meaningful sentence and follows logically if the parents’ beds are too big.

To the bedroom 50% of the students fill it in correctly.

Mother Bear’s bed was … 66% write the phrase correctly, 25% do not use the possessive form and 16% write bad instead of bed.

Baby Bear’s little bed 66% use correctly the possessive case and 8% use the nominative case.

Fell fast asleep 16% use was, 8% use slept and 8% use felt.

Came home 8% use come (the base instead of the past tense), 16% use back without a proper verb.

Someone had eaten is filled in by 8% of the students.

…and broken his chair – 25% fill in correctly the past tense form of the verb.

They found 16%; 25% use They saw instead, which can be used in the context.

She was very frightened 8% use it correctly, 8% use frighten, 8% write skaried intending to use scared.

When she woke up 8% use it correctly, 16% use get (the past tense would be meaningful in this context).

Ran away the correct form of the verb is used by 8% and 50% use the base.

One student writes up on the place of dots (growled up).

Conclusions

Listening to tales / stories and reading children’s books, the students remember easily certain phrases. The cloze test and gap filling, based on a familiar tale, reinforce the language and show the teacher which phrases and linguistic material are successfully acquired, and which need more work. The analysis of these tests reveals the structures the students can use creatively and the formulas they are able to break. The dialogues and creating stories give the students opportunities to use the acquired language: to practice and further develop linguistic and communicative skills. Analysis of the stories created by the students will show the linguistic material the students are fluent with.

References

  • Bamford and Day 1997: Bamford, J., R. Day. Extensive Reading: What Is It? Why Bother?, The Language Teacher, http://www.jalt-publications.org/tlt/files/97/may/extensive.html.
  • Burlakova 1984: В. В. Бурлакова. Синтактические структуры современного английского языка. In J. Molhova, T. Seizova-Nankova 1996. Reader in English Syntax. УИ „Константин Преславски”, Шумен, 5-24.
  • Ellis 1992: R. Ellis. Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: OUP.
  • Goldilocks 2006: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Kohwai&Young Publications, Malaysia.
  • Heaton 1991: J. B. Heaton. Writing English Language Tests, 4th impression. Longman, USA.
  • Hill 1997: D.R. Hill. Setting up an extensive reading programme: Practical tips. The Language Teacher, http://www.jalt-publications.org/tlt/files/97/may/hill.html.
  • Molhova 1992: J. Molhova. The Noun. A Contrastive English-Bulgarian Study. 2nd ed. София: УИ „Климент Охридски”.
  • Molhova 1993: Ж. Молхова. Характер и употреба на члена в българския и английския език. София: УИ „Климент Охридски”.
  • Quirk et al 1985: R. Quirk et al. A Comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.
  • Tough 1991: Y. Tough. Young Children Learning Languages. In C. Brumfit, J. Moon, R. Tongue, Teaching English Children from practice to principle. Collins, 223-224.
  • Trifonov 1996: Тр. Трифонов. Обща психология. София: ИК Памет.
  • Vygotsky 1983: Л. Виготски. Мислене и реч. София: Наука и изкуство.
  • Weir 1990: C.J. Weir. Communicative language testing. Prentice Hall, UK.
  • Wells 1986: G. Wells. The Meaning Makers Children Learning Language and Using Language to Learn. London: Hodder&Stoughton.

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