Teach English in Kongshan Zhen - Bazhong Shi

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Telling stories is inherent to human kind: we have been doing it and evolving our storytelling techniques throughout human history. The prehistorical oral tradition turned into mythology, and with the invention of writing stories gained an eternal quality; the progression of storytelling follows human evolution. Even today, human beings live their lives in function of specific narrations and are narrating constantly. In fact, simply telling a joke or reporting an event is considered storytelling. Using stories is thus useful regardless of the age or type of students in a class. Stories can be used to fuel interest and develop all four basic skills: the two receptive ones, listening and reading, and the two productive ones, speaking and writing. In a typical ESA lesson, stories can be used during every phase of the lesson, and they usually are, even unconsciously. The teacher might ask the students to tell stories or experiences to get the students talking in the Engage phase, might give a reading activity during the Study phase, maybe followed by a gap-filling activity, and finally let students produce a story and be creative with the material given and the language learned, during the final Activate stage. In each stage a different type of basic skill is developed: speaking and listening during the Engage phase, reading or listening in the Study phase, and speaking and writing in the Activate stage. Storytelling is possibly the most complete method of teaching new languages: it involves spelling (when in the written form), vocabulary, and a wide variety of sentence structures, verbs, and can vary in content, thus providing for different types of situations. One of the most useful aspects of using stories as a tool for learning in classes is that they clearly show how the relationships between verbs and tenses work. As being able to relate tenses to each other can prove to be a problem to students, engaging with the subject in a simple, interesting way through stories is preferred to an academic grammar lesson, which could be perceived as preachy, scary or pressuring – especially in younger learners. It is important to understand that while the concept of storytelling and the basic ability to produce and understand it is common to every culture and age group, not every single student will be able to relate to certain stories in the same way. It is true that globalization and the internet have brought, mostly for younger learners, the awareness and knowledge of different cultures, but a Chinese students might still have difficulties in relating to European fairy tales, as opposed to a traditional Chinese story. Thus, a series of criteria should be established to determine which type of stories should be used to teach English to a specific group. Cultural barriers and age gaps are probably the most important factors that teachers should keep in mind, but it is vital to be aware of other, smaller, and unpredictable factors such as the students’ own personalities and interests. As for every activity, stories used in the class should be catered to the needs of the class as a whole, and should be varied in content and subject matter. The first problem encountered, the cultural barrier, should not be seen as a problem to solve, but rather as a strength in multilingual classes. Students may feel motivated when sharing myths and fairy tales from their cultures; students exchanging cultures and ideas does not just increase their knowledge of the English language, but expands their horizons, and their general knowledge. Younger learners or children are probably the keenest to learn through storytelling, as they still tend to play roleplaying games, many are told stories from their parents, and are generally still in touch with their rawest, most creative nature. However, the idea that teenage and adult learners are less interested in stories is something to be dismissed, simply because of the aforementioned idea that the human beings live in function of their narrations. Simply, they may need to be in a relaxed atmosphere, especially if they are not used to being creative. Of course, different types of stories have to be used according to the age of the class: familiar, famous fairy tales and myths from all over the world should be preferred for children, while famous movies or books are better for older learners. An activity that could work with every type of group involves physical prompts. First, they are hidden around the room; then students (in pairs or groups) find a few of these objects and create a story involving them (either in spoken or written form; using specific language structures might be required). Creative Writing students who have been assigned this task will find that the results are often humorous and can promote not only a creative use of language, but establish rapport as well. When it comes to reading, stories can be selected from either authentic materials or created ones (the latter might be more useful if the teacher is trying to teach specific sentence structure). In conclusion: stories are extremely useful tools for language learning and teaching, in virtue of their intrinsic nature within man and humanity. As it is natural for people of all ages to produce and understand stories, they provide a comfortable and familiar context for practising language, while encouraging the use of complex structures, grammar, and vocabulary.