Tuesday, July 16, 2024

A compelling narrative

Wayne Trotman is hooked on a story-telling resource for teachers

Story-based Language Teaching

Jeremy Harmer and Herbert Puchta

Helbling, 2018

ISBN: 978-3-99045-769-6

‘Stories matter to all of us.’ The opening words of this attractive title sum up the whole philosophy within.

And who better to outline such a philosophy than Jeremy Harmer and Herbert Puchta, two high-profile stalwarts of the ELT profession. Perhaps better known for the wide range of coursebooks they have each written independently down the years, the authors of the title under review here have joined forces and put together an excellent resource book.

Acknowledging earlier teacher resources based on stories by those such as Andrew Wright, in Chapter One it is further emphasised how neuroscientific studies suggest, among many other things, that our brain is hard-wired to receive and appreciate tales with a compelling narrative. No surprises there, perhaps, but the following chapter extends this point to explain how in several aspects, neuroscience meets educational philosophy; the main point is that making language students of any age curious about stories is the key.

Chapter Three outlines the advantages of using stories in the ELT classroom. The authors explain how, “… we don’t need to worry if storytelling eats into our teaching time. The occasional few minutes we might use for telling a story is an investment in the language future of our students.” How I wish more teachers who insist on merely following the curriculum would take that idea on board.

Chapter Four looks at the elements of a good story for language learners: the opening hook, the theme and moral message, plus of course a good plot and memorable characters. What makes a story useful for learners is the focus in the following chapter. Features such as learner level, language in context and story length are key, and of equal importance is repetition of details to reinforce understanding.

How to find good stories and use them in your language teaching are the concerns of Chapters Seven and Eight, which are the prelude to a superb collection in Chapter Nine, of six sample stories for immediate use in the classroom. Helpfully, the illustrated stories accompanying the text are photocopiable, which of course will act as prompts for learners struggling to keep up.

Example stories include that of Santosh Yadav, a girl who is a mountain climber and fights against female stereotyping; the true story of Oscar from Mexico City who, saddened by the decline of rain forests decides to do something about it; and another true story about Saroo, a five-year- old boy who ends up far away from his village in India. All stories are accompanied by lesson-planning details any grateful language teacher would appreciate.

“...the main point is that making language students of any age curious 
about stories is the key.”

The most valuable features of this title are of course the actual video-recordings of the stories, each delightfully read by a professional reader to different classes of students, who are clearly engrossed in the narrative. Each video lasts between six and eight minutes. I watched and fully enjoyed all

of them, some a few times. Added onto the six sample stories are three more that make up the nine; two of which are adapted folk tales. A tenth video may be used as professional development, as in it two of the readers expound on the value of storytelling.

Such a valuable resource would fit well in the hands of a member of the professional development unit who feels too much emphasis is placed on blindly following coursebooks; it would also be of immense value on the shelves of all teachers keen to spin tales to their classes.

Image courtesy of TUMISU / PIXABAY
Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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