Q&A on David Heathfield’s Webinar on Storytelling

Prepared by Mojca Belak
(Chair,Membership & Marketing Committee)

On 1 December 2018 David Heathfield presented a webinar on storytelling entitled “Bringing the world’s winter folk tales alive in your students’ imagination.”

In it David demonstrated how oral storytelling can bring students’ imaginations alive and get them deeply engaged in language learning. The session provided classroom content suggestions in active prediction, extensive person to person listening, physical and spoken drama activities, creative response and student retelling.

The recording is available to IATEFL members in the webinar section of the site. If you would like to watch the recording, you need to be a member of IATEFL (find out how to join).

Here are David’s answers to those questions that he didn’t manage to address during his webinar.

Q1.How can we involve large numbers of students in stories?

A1. The activities I demonstrated here work well in classes of all sizes. As long as students are physically close enough to the storytelling teacher to see her eyes and hear her voice, storytelling activities work well in large classes. I often do storytelling with 200 learners. If you are doing physical drama activities like the ones I demonstrated, it is important to be able to manage them all doing the activities at the same time. 35 students may be the maximum ideal number. You need to make enough space for students to perform in pairs.

Q2. Can you write the titles of the stories, please?

A2. The Winter Tales I told are:

The Snow Girl (Russia)

Aldar Kose tricks the Bai (Kazakhstan)

The Christmas Cherries (Britain)

I also mentioned:

The Fox and the Bear (Norway)

How the Bear lost its Tail (Japan)

The Three Golden Hairs (Romania)

The Winter Spirit and his Visitor (Native American)

The Mitten (Ukraine)

The Twelve Snow and Frost Children (Maori New Zealand)

Other Winter Tales I enjoy telling are:
The Twelve Months (Slovakia and more countries)

Mother Holle (Germany)

Zlateh the Goat (Yiddish/Poland)

Q3. How can I get the opportunity to share stories from Ghana?

A3. I love tales from Ghana. So many wonderful stories about Anansi come from Ashanti tradition and Anansi stories are now popular in the UK and more countries around the world. It’s so important to keep these oral stories alive by sharing them. Please do send me a recording of you or your students or someone you know telling me a favourite Ghanaian folk tale. You can also send a story to IATEFL Voices magazine and explain how you share the story in your teaching.

Q4. Folkstories always have a plot development. Do you do analysis of the plot development in class (setting, characters, climax, denouement, etc.) or do you simply invite students to appreciate the story (listening mode)? How can we teach storytelling within critical pedagogy approaches (multiliteracies, etc.)?

A4. Thank you for your questions. I tend to focus on storytelling skills, drama, creative response and exploring personal meanings in my General English and Academic English classes. Plot analysis is a fascinating area of study and I would certainly love to do this with students if I was teaching a literature module. The same goes for critical pedagogies. I think you begin to answer your own question in your useful comment from the General Chat.

Q5.Are your students second language learners, or are they enjoying your teaching in their L1?

A5. My students are learning English as a foreign language. The young woman you saw responding to The Snow Girl is doing an elementary course. Storytelling is effective across all levels. With Beginner students you can tell a simple story in their mother tongue using plenty of physical mime and gestures first and then tell it a second time in the target language using the same mime and gestures. It’s a wonderful way for them to be exposed to the target language and get a feel for the rhythms and cadences right from the start. Also I recommend mixed language storytelling with Beginners –see https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/story-telling-language-teachers-oldest-technique#mixed

Q6.How does a teacher develop her story telling skills?

A6. By doing storytelling regularly and noticing what works for you and for your students. My teacher resource book Storytelling With Our Students is designed precisely for this purpose. You can find out about the book and see the page featuring Aldar Kose tricks the Bai here  https://www.deltapublishing.co.uk/titles/methodology/storytelling-with-our-students

There are links to pieces I have written on the Publication page of my website
https://davidheathfieldblog.wordpress.com/publications/

I also recommend books and articles written by Andrew Wright and Mario Rinvolucri. You can probably find other storytellers near where you live, get together and share your skills and experiences.

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