storytelling

Book review: Stories Without End

Alphabet Publishing recently sent me a copy of Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp. Here’s a review and a bit about how I used the book…

The book

Stories Without End is a collection of 24 open-ended stories for use in the classroom. The texts, usually no more than three A4 pages in length, come with reading and discussion activities and possible project work for extension.

General format

Each text usually includes…

  • ‘Before You Read’ – usually orientation questions, sometimes prediction
  • ‘Vocabulary’ – a matching task to pre-teach vocab. This appears before the text but I guess you don’t have to use it as a pre-teach. Up to you.
  • ‘After You Read’ – usually discussion questions encouraging personal response
  • ‘Projects’ – possible extension tasks

There are a few supplementary resources provided for these tasks at the back of the book.

The stories

There are two types of stories in the book. ‘Short Takes’ are texts under 500 words, and ‘Mid-Length Stories’ are between 500-2000 words.

Things I like about the stories

I like the fact that most texts in this book don’t seem to be graded. I spend a lot of my time as a materials writer grading texts, and at times this takes away the richness, perhaps authenticity too. I see why the writer has opted to provide pre-teaching tasks as the language can be challenging at times (milquetoast was a new word for me!). Sure, there can be benefits to simplifying a text, but it’s nice to be presented with a resource that provides texts as intended.

The text topics overall are interesting and useful. In my context, I’d say about half of them would ‘work’ – by that I mean engage my students, prompt discussion and have relevance. This book has arrived just at the right time for me, with our school promoting a ‘Reading Challenge’ this term. I know some of my students shy away from this initiative each year – the aim is to read 1-4 books across term. That’s ambitious for my students, and these short-stories will be more accessible. (more…)

IATEFL 2017: Developing teacher talk

I’ve just watched Jamie Keddie’s talk entitled ‘Developing Teacher Talk’. I was excited about this one. I’m a fan of Jamie’s site and I recently watched his TEDx talk On Videotelling. Here’s a link to the talk (can’t embed again).

Keddie knows how to warm an audience and started at his anecdotal best in this talk. He was a model of good storytelling – reminding me a lot of a former colleague who was just as engaging. He started with a couple of stories about misunderstandings he (or people he knew) had encountered – barmaids mistaking ‘pints of lager’ for ‘pina coladas’ and a family member referred to as ‘a hungry old man’ rather than ‘a hundred year old man’.

These highlighted the point that anecdotes are a compelling way to introduce a topic. Keddie is known for his interest in using video in the classroom – he pointed out that teachers often use videos as a way to introduce topics when a story from the teacher could be just as effective. (more…)

An EFL book I’ve used: Incredible English

Last year our course book for primary level learners was Incredible English. This was the first coursebook I ever used for teaching primary learners, and I have to say I thought it was great. It seemed like the perfect book for a novice primary EFL teacher. Here are just a few of its great features…

  • Fun stories (in comic form) that really engage the learners
  • A standard structure to units which helps learners know what to expect in a lesson
  • A separate workbook which means the coursebook isn’t full of dull gap fills
  • Some excellent online and interactive tasks
  • Dialogues which are easy to extend and exploit
  • Nice visuals, not too cluttered layout

I’m just listing random points here. Above all though, it seems clear to me that Incredible English was written by experienced teachers of young learners. I mean, you’d hope that was the case (!), but some of the previous coursebooks I’ve used just don’t feel they’ve been written by a practising teacher… Hmm, that sounds so damning…

Our new primary product (in-house) is good too – I don’t want to put it down. But there are things I miss about Incredible English, and the stories are one of them.

incred

example of the stories in Incredible English (c) OUP

(more…)

Using story cubes

I bought these story cubes a few months ago, and I’ve tried them out a few times this term. They are basically dice with pictures onstorycubes1 them, so it’s really up to you how you use them. You can find a few ideas on the story cubes site, which include some demonstrations.

These are a pretty good tool to have in the classroom, and it wouldn’t be too hard to make your own (they can be a bit costly if you want a few sets). I find with my EFL classes that there’s rarely time for storytelling lessons, which is a shame as these cubes would be a great resource. However, I’ve tried to integrate these into lessons, with varied success. As you’d expect, the cubes mainly help students generate ideas for certain tasks. They’ve worked best with my teens.

Note: If you know about the specific sets of cubes then I’ve got ‘voyages’, ‘actions’ and the standard set.

Grammar tasks

A few weeks ago we did a review of using articles (a fairly common error for Thai learners) which was based on Jim Scrivener’s activities in Teaching English Grammar. The basis of this was creating a short story (about 5-8 lines). Student’s had to use articles correctly for new/known information. They then cut their story up line by line and gave this to another group to put in the correct order. The cubes helped with ideas and made the stories fun for other students to read. This also meant lots of emergent language. (more…)

Lesson idea: retelling a story in groups

Here’s a great group task for retelling a story. I came across it during the British Council summer school here in Bangkok. My teen group were doing activities based on the movie ‘Jumanji’, but this can work for any movie, fairytale, etc.

First, summarise your story in 100 words or so. You could use an existing plot summary from IMDB or even Wikipedia, and just cut it down as needed.

Once you’ve got the text, write it out into a table so that each word is in one of 4 columns, Here’s an example for the first sentence:

In 1869, two boys bury a mysterious and magical game – Jumanji.

In

1869 two boys
bury a mysterious and
magical game Jumanji

Etc…

Here’s the important part. Jumble each line of the text up so the words are in a different order. Then number each line to help learners keep track of where they are. Here’s the handout I gave them: (more…)