A letter to the teachers of English: 50Use stories in English classes [Archives:2004/730/Education]

April 19 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb

Dear Fellow teachers,
I am pleasantly thrilled when I look at '50' above; I'm grateful to the Yemen Times management and to my friend Dr.Ramakant Sahu, who has been skillfully presenting the Education page of the magazine, and more importantly to you, the readers, who have been the source of encouragement to me to continue this venture. I am reminded of John F Kennedy's words: Don't think of what the country has done to you; think of what you have done to your country. Yemen Times has enabled me to do this small service to this country, my second home.
In this letter, I want to share with you a few ideas as to how we can make use of interesting stories in English classes for the benefit of our learners. Story telling and listening to stories have been our tradition and your folk literature must be full of stories. It is unfortunate that most of the folk tales in many languages have not been recorded in print and have died down with the old generation of storytellers. But still the 'old woman's tales' survive in almost all languages, especially in Arabic; some of them are fantastic and can transport the listeners to the world of fantasy. Stories with flying carpets, talking lamps and hugging trees can be entrancing even to the adult listeners.
Recently one of the publishers in the United Kingdom has come out with a volume called 'Storytelling for ELT', which has interesting stories told by many writers belonging to different cultures, and each story is accompanied by a few teaching ideas as to how the story can be used in an English class. The accompaniment is important to us, because it is not enough you have a story to tell your students but you should turn the story into a learning opportunity for your learners. How do we do it?
You should have read a lot of stories in Arabic; you can choose a few of them for your class. Alternatively, you can choose stories from other languages you have read in some magazines. Before you tell them a story, prepare them for the activity, either by giving them a suspense which they will discover after listening to the story, or a problem whose solution may be in the story, or telling them that you will ask them a question at the end of the story. While telling the story, use simple English so that they understand the story without any difficulty; don't ask any difficult question while telling the story (otherwise the learners may lose interest in the story). After telling the story, you can ask them simple questions and give them an opportunity to interact with you. Allow them to comment on your story, criticize it, if necessary. You should be satisfied as long as there is evidence that they have understood the story. Asking some of them to retell the story in Arabic can also be one of the ways of testing their understanding.
Similarly you can ask your students to tell stories in the class, stories they have heard from their grandparents, stories that are commonly heard in their villages or those they have read in some magazines; they can use English and Arabic, if necessary. You can follow it up with 'after story' activities to make sure that the class has understood the story. Such activities make them realize their importance and enable them to participate in the classroom activities with enthusiasm without hesitation. Your classes will become learner-friendly. Try them. Good luck.

Yours fraternally,