Every teacher uses their voice to teach. The tone and delivery of what you say to your students will become a familiar and comforting sound especially if you teach young learners. When you tell stories, you are using a powerful tool not only for teaching language, but also as a way of connecting to students and spreading warmth and understanding. Your voice can transmit joy, and your stories can reinforce information and cultural values, share memories, give support and help develop the child’s curiosity towards new words and phrases.
Right now, this is a perfect tool for our current situation, as we move towards emergency remote teaching. As we gain confidence as storytellers, we can also spread beautiful messages of love and hope in these challenging times.
What types of story can we use for our online classes?
- Short stories
- Stories with puppets
- Anecdotes / personal stories
Short stories are a great choice for online classes because young children can’t sit still or hold their concentration for long periods of time. If the story is ‘short and sweet’, you will also have time for a song, a warm-up and vocabulary work. As there are a wealth of short stories to choose from, ex. LOOK anthologies, Levels Starter, 1, 2 and 3, the theme of the story can work nicely into the core language you want your students to learn.
Non-fiction is a great way to connect to other subjects the students are studying. A text about The Culture House from Denmark for example, can include maps and cultural aspects of that country. Images can be explored by using a visual thinking routine (VTR): See, Think, Wonder, encouraging students to engage with the text and contribute with personal ideas. For more VTR ideas visit: https://pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking.
Stories using puppets can add an element of fun and hold young students’ attention, helping them connect to the narrative. You can use anything as a puppet ex. a toy, a knotted cloth, a sock puppet, or even household objects! When the puppet object is ‘open ended’, (like using a wooded spoon for a character), we give a chance for our students to create their own idea and image of what that character looks like in their mind. For me, this kind of puppet draws on the child’s true curiosity, a much needed exercise for children today.
Anecdotes / personal stories
If you think about it, we all have a personal story of our own that we could share with our students. It could be about when you were a child, about something that happened to you or about someone, you know. When we personalize a story, we immediately bring the listener closer, and within a group setting, encourage others to tell their personal stories too.
Story toolkit from home
If you are teaching remotely and don’t have all the necessary resources you had at school, here is a list of things that you can use in your storytelling sessions that are easily found at home:
Dressing up clothes
Make a witches’ hat to tell a witch story, wear ears on a hairband for animal stories, put up an umbrella and wear a raincoat if the story talks about the weather, etc.
Musical instruments, drums, coconut halves, pots of rice
You can create wonderful sound effects too! Ex. two coconut halves for the sound of horses galloping, a pot of rice for the sound of the sea and musical instruments to start and finish a story with the same tune.
Nature objects, sticks, stones, wood, leaves
If you have a garden or live close to a park, natural materials are easy to find. You can use dry leaves for the sound of the wind, a pot of water for a river, stones and wood for someone knocking on a door, etc.
Cloth of varying sizes and colors
You can use cloth to wrap around your shoulders. Red and yellow cloth for an emperor or cloth that is the same colour as the characters in story.
Children’s own toys
When teaching online sessions, it’s exciting for children if they can bring some of their own personal things to the class. In the case of a story, they could use some of their toys to represent the characters. As the teacher tells the story, they can act it out using teddy bears, animals or dolls for example.
Tips for our voices
Using your breath
Breathing correctly and having enough breath in your lungs during storytelling is an important exercise to practice. When you take enough breath, you can project your voice for big, loud characters and soften it for gentle characters, whispering, and pauses.
Speak with enthusiasm
Remember to speak with energy and articulate your words, no-one will find the story interesting if it’s delivered using the same tone throughout. If you vary the pace, pitch, and volume, you’ll be able to hold the listener’s attention and add atmosphere and dramatic moments to your story. You can also use the compelling power of the pause at the beginning and end, or use different voices for each character or narration.
Using apps to record stories
Finally, I have been using an app called CLIPS to record some stories for my students. This app is very easy to use as you can take photos of the page of the book you want to tell, and then add a voice over. There are a few clever tools that add background music and posters where you can highlight vocabulary or language chunks from the story to help your students understand a new language. It’s definitely worth having a go!
I hope some of these tips and ideas will be helpful in encouraging you to try out and expand your storytelling skills. If you enjoy the story you’re telling, your students are sure to LOVE it!