ESL Story Telling
Once upon a time…
Story telling first and foremost is a speaking activity, something which EFL students nearly everywhere want and need. It’s also quite a practical thing – we are not only in question-answer conversations, we share information and much can be thought of under the umbrella of story telling – sharing personal experiences, recounting someone else’s story, telling jokes.
Story telling is often also good for the listener because ideally the story is intrinsically engaging and the listener wants to know what’s going to happen next – the next time you are listening to a joke or funny anecdote, consider how different it is from listening to a lecture on a random topic. You’re not listening because you’re in a class and have to, you’re listening because you’re genuinely interested (hopefully!).
Story telling can also be practiced easily and realistically – students can tell the same story to a different person a few times, as they might do in real life, and each time, the story gets “better” and the speaker speaks more easily and fluently.
One activity is to simply change partners a few times, and repeat and “perfect” or improve your own telling each time. Another strategy which “tests” listening and memory skills more is when you “pass” stories like with this “assuming identities” activity: I tell my story to Jose, he tells me his story, then we find new partners and I tell Jose’s story…not mine. It may be enough of a challenge to retell it in the first person, but if not, the person can retell it in the third person, which is just a bit harder.
Story telling often comes up in the context of “narrative tenses” like past simple/past continuous, past perfect/past perfect continuous. I think this is quite a natural connection but now that I teach, I sometimes listen to native speakers with an ear for this…and my conclusion is that perhaps we don’t actually use some of these tenses all that often. So if it’s the grammar focus of the lesson, I might encourage my students to find a place or two where they can use past perfect (or give them some phrases which necessitate it: By that time, I had already…), but generally I use storytelling more as a fluency activity than one to practice the tenses.