What’s your story? Using storytelling in ESL teaching and ministry

The following blog post is based on the seminar given by Rachel Thake at the English Teaching and Outreach Forum 2018 and is available to download here.

 

A man came to Jesus and asked him, “Who is my neighbour?” If he had asked you, how would you have responded? Most likely, as an English teacher, your immediate response would have been something like, “Your neighbour is the person who lives next door to you”. Or perhaps you may have taken a more theological approach and offered an explanation of what it means to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. How did Jesus respond?

 

He told him a story…

 

“A man was going down to Jerusalem…” (Luke 10:30)

 

Right throughout His ministry Jesus told stories. Stories of families, stories of harvests, stories of widows, stories of tax collectors – stories that people could relate to, stories that touched people’s hearts, stories that penetrated their prejudices and preconceptions. It was through storytelling that people’s eyes were opened to fulfilment of prophecy of a coming Messiah.

 

Stories are part of the fabric of human life – they enable us to make sense of the world around us, build bridges across cultures and invite others into our lives.

 

Why is it then that storytelling is so often dismissed as an invalid, outdated or childish method for using in the adult classroom? The truth is that although the West has largely lost the value of oral communication (in its original sense- although in reality people are telling just as many stories, and to an even bigger audience through platforms such as social media!), many of our students come from cultures in which storytelling is very familiar.

 

Being able to share our stories with our learners, and in turn share in the stories of their lives is undoubtedly one of the greatest privileges we have as teachers. Not only does it facilitate relationship building, it also helps to create community, build class cohesion and engage our learners’ hearts- all of which have been shown by research to contribute to increased levels of learning. (As well to improve memory, give a purpose to listening, encourage communication, develop fluency, foster the four skills, provide comprehensible input, teach vocab in context etc. etc.!)

 

 

So, what are some of the ways we can include storytelling in our classes?

 

As a warmer activity, how about showing your students a picture of your family and asking them questions like: Who are these people? What are they doing? What do you think happened next? Then, you could ask students to show one another pictures from their own lives. Done sensitively, this kind of an activity can have a real impact on the relationships in the class.

 

Here are some other ways you could use stories in your lessons:

 

  • Tell a story and then give students a copy of the story on pieces of paper, but jumbled up. They must reorder them to retell the story.
  • Tell a story but stop before the ending. Students write their own ending.
  • Dictogloss (read a story, students have to make notes and tell it back to each other)
  • Make a storyboard based on the story  
  • Make a video based on the story
  • Give students the opportunity to respond to the story, such as through writing a diary entry, or group/pair discussion
  • Find the key points
  • Tell a story but pause at certain key moments. Ask students a question which they must discuss in pairs to verbally ‘fill in the blank’ (please refer to Rachel’s seminar to hear a very amusing example of this!)

 

Of course, as Christians, there is one story that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, which we long to share with our students. It is a story of salvation, rescue, hope, healing and restoration. Knowing how to share this story with people with limited English, a totally unfamiliar culture to ours, and religious and cultural traditions which we have little experience of can be daunting.

 

The good news is that here at 2:19, we are busy working on a book which will address this need! Providing ten chronological stories from Genesis to the prophecies of the Messiah, it will equip you to share God’s big story with your learners- including those with very limited English. We hope to launch it in June, so watch this space for more information!