Tales and stories in teaching English to student-teachers of English in the primary school

Written by: Zhivka S. Ilieva

Abstract

There are tales and stories interesting for all ages. Stories are rich material for foreign language lessons. They are bearer of different cultural and moral values and base for various exercises: reading comprehension, listening comprehension,speaking and writing tasks, creative activities. Children like stories so it would be useful to their teachers to be acquainted with some stories in English in order to heighten students’ interest.

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1. Introduction

Tales are the oldest spiritual companion of people. Very long ago first tales have been short and with simple structure but with the time passing they have become longer, richer, complicated stories. They have always been a source of moral values, a kind of religion, philosophy, science. They have always enchanted and fascinated children as well as adults.

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2. Stories and Tales

There are stories and tales interesting for all ages. I use both terms – story and tale in my paper because I use them both in my practice, though more often I say story, may be because of the books I use: “Five-minute stories”, “The storytelling Handbook”. But in “The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory” by J.A.Cuddon there is no definition of story. There are definitions of short story, tall story, story within a story, frame story. The definition of tale begins as follows:

“A narrative, written (in prose or verse) or spoken. When in prose barely distinguishable from a short story.” and about the short story it is said that “this is one of the most elusive forms.”(Cuddon, J. 1991: 954, 864)

In the same dictionary it is written that

“The fairy tale belongs to folk literature and is part of the oral tradition of every nation.

In its written form the fairy tale tends to be a narrative in prose about the fortunes and misfortunes of a hero or heroine who, having experienced various adventures of a more or less supernatural kind, lives happily ever after. Magic charms, disguise and spells are some of the major ingredients of such stories, which are often subtle in their interpretation of human nature and psychology.” (Cuddon, J. 1991: 324)

There are Tales and Stories suitable for all levels of language proficiency.

Emma Solloway says,

“Fairy tales are for all levels and ages. They operate on two levels: the literal (“What happens?”) likely to interest children; and the symbolic (“What does it represent?”), likely to interest adults.” (Solloway, E. 1993)

That’s why they are suitable both for students at school and for students at University.

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3. Enquiry

Since the students I teach are going to be Primary School teachers, I thought it would be useful for them to deal with stories and fairy tales in English so I made an inquiry concerning stories in order to investigate their opinion on that matter. The first question was “Do you like stories?” (Yes or No). All of them – 100% circled “Yes”. The next question – “Why?” most of them answered “Because they take me away from reality”, because I like to dream, because they are interesting, because children like them or something similar. The question “Would you use stories in your classes?” most of them – approximately 83,3% answered “Yes” and 16,7 % – No, because a lack of time. The question “How would you use them?” had various answers: as reading compehension exercises (most of them) as listening compehension exercises, for text-related tasks (answering questions, making illustrations, drawing a film (succession of pictures) writing the end or the beginning of a story, discussions, retelling the story etc.) for acting out, for grammar exercises to choose or make a suitable melody for that story, to find the moral.

The answers showed me that these particular students liked stories and would be willing to use them in their teaching experience in different ways. This result made me think that they would not mind if I use tales and stories in my classes with them. Moreover stories are very rich material for our lessons. On the one hand they are interesting as texts – the subject-matter, the cultural information they bear, the morals they give, and we know that students work better when they have something interesting in front of them. On the other hand thanks to their richness, we may invent different exercises and tasks using those interesting texts depending on the level of the students, on the topic and the aim of the lesson, on the grammar structures and words we want to reimforce … or introduce.

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4. Stories as Reading and Listening Compehension Texts

We may give different reading and listening compehension tasks depending on the story and on our aims. The task may be:

  • Circle the correct answer (multiple choice)
  • True or false
  • Guess the meaning of the following words
  • Find synonyms or antonyms of the following words
  • Write the following sentences in the correct order
  • Answer the questions
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4.1. Circle the correct answer

Not all stories are suitable for multiple choice questions. There should be something misleading – more characters, more events. Students will have to read carefully the whole story in order to choose the right answer. Suilable for this type of questions is “Elizabeth” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.23-25).

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4.2. True or false

Almost all stories are suitable for true or false exercises. They may be complicated a bit by adding an extra task: if the statement is not correct, write the correct one.

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4.3. Guess the meaning of the following words; find synonyms or antonyms

Not all stories are suitable for guess the meaning of the words and find a synonym or antonym. There sould be unfamiliar words for the group we are teaching and the meaning of those words should be recognisable from the context. Suitable for this is the story “The Elephant’s Picnic” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.130-131). It is very productive for discussions also. I gave my students the following task – think of a moral for that story. They were talking about the elephant and its friend – the kangaroo, about their attitude and their doings, about the picnic they made together. They finally reached to three different morals: If you don’t know how to do something, don’t do it at all; A man is known by the company he keeps; In good company the most awful food tastes good. These are three completely different morals for the same story – the students were divided into three groups for the discussion. And each group had good reasons to give that moral to the story.

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4.4. Write the sentences in the correct order

For the task “Write the sentences in the correct order” we need a story wth lots of events. We write sentences about the events in the story and change their order – we mix them up. If there are enough events in the story, students have to read very carefully the whole story in order to be able to arrange the sentences properly. Such stories are “Koala” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.161-2).

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4.5. Answer the Questions

For “Answer the questions” we again need text with lots of events or details. Students have to answer a few questions concerning the story. Sometimes the aim of these questions is retelling the story with just a few sentences. If we practise the present tense, we may choose a story in the present tense. If we practise the past tense, we may choose a story in the past tense. Thus students practise sequencing of tenses and other peculiarities of retelling – transferring of direct into indirect speech – thus through practice they remember easier that in retelling here becomes there, today – that day, tomorrow – the day after etc.

Stories are such a rich material that we cannot limit them to one type of exercises only. We may give a reading or listening comprehension task and then a speaking or writing task.

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5.Speaking and Writing Tasks

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5.1. Discussion.

The most popular speaking task is discussion. Students may discuss the cultural and moral values implied in the story, the characters, the events and places described, the feelings the story inspires. They may compare them to other similar ones in other stories. An example of such a discussion was choosing a suitable moral for the story “The Elephant’s picnic”

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5.2. Creative writing

Writting tasks are most often connected with creative writing – students have to use their creativity in order to invent a beginning or an end of a story. They may have to write a similar story – sad or joyous; something similar they have experienced; or a story with the same moral. All these writing tasks give students opportunity to use and enrich their imagination, their experience; thus they use some motives of the stories they know both in English and in Bulgarian. Through their writing I can follow their development in foreign language learning and acquisition. These works show me how well they can express their thoughts in English; if they really enrich their vocabulary, if they have acquired the new grammatical structures.

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6. Grammar tasks.

There are exercises that reinforce certain grammar item – a tense, a specific structure. They may be quite different; most often they are writing tasks.

E.g. Pick up all the verbs from the story, mark the irregular ones and write their forms. Write the story into the present (if it is in the past) or write it in the past tense (if it is in the present). Having copied the verbs, students now have the skeleton of a story. We may give them the task to write a story using these verbs as a skeleton.

Another grammatical story-based exercise is using a story, which consists of dialogue primarily for turning the direct speech into indirect speech e.g. the story “The Bet” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.11-12). This story is quite long so there is enough material for working in class and for homework.

There are statements “I win”, questions “What are you thinking about?”, commands “Look out of your window” – Gloria said”.

So we can practise turning from direct into indirect speech of different sentences where the verb is in different moods – indicative, imperative, interrogative.

The exercise my students liked best was based on the story “The Mouse and Winds” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.145). It is in the past tense. The students had to answer a few questions and their next task was: Continue asking and answering similar questions in the past tense. The aim of the questions was more grammatical – to practice the past simple tense and to retell the story in the past simple; and lexical – to remember certain words. The students liked it because they considered it applicable in classes with primary students in some later stages. That motivated them to make some very interesting translations. The story belongs to the chapter titled “The world we live in” and the words used in it represent entities from the surrounding world: boat and lake, house and roof, tree, mountain, island, wind. There are mentioned the different directions of the world.

The story is in the past simple tense and some phrases are repeated several times so that they would be easily remembered by the audience:

“Shouted the mouse”

“The wind blew and blew”

“…went up in the air … and landed on…”

There are also examples of irregular verbs: blow – blew, come – came, burst – burst, say – said

These verbs can be seen both in their first form (in the direct speech and in their second form in the indirect speech).

The students found this story very simiral to a Bulgarian one – the similarity is in the repetition of all items and in adding each time a new one.

Most students also made some illustrations at home claiming that it would be better to use them while telling the story to their students during their teaching practice. Other students chose to tell the story to their students and to leave them to make illustrations.

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7. Conclusion

“Listening to stories allows the teacher to introduce or revise new vocabulary and sentence structures by exposing students to language in varied memorable and familiar contexts, which will enrich their thinking and gradually enter their own speech”
(Ellis, G. and Brewster, 1991: p.2)

So stories provide fruitful ground for discussions, for creative writing, for dramatization, for drawing.
Stories are motivating and fun and can help develop positive attitudes towards the foreign language and language learning.
(Ellis, G. and Brewster, 1991: p.2)

This can be said both for student – teachers and for their pupils.

Using stories in Practical English Language lessons with student-teachers in the Primary School enriches them as people and as professionals as well.

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References

Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Penguin, 1991
Eccleshare, J. Five-minute Stories. Scholastic Ltd., 1995
Ellis, G., J. Brewster, The Story-telling Handbook for Primary Teachers, Penguin, 1991
Solloway, E. Flights of Fancy. Practical English Teaching, Dec. 1993

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