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From story-telling to story-listening

"Speech belongs half to the speaker, half to the listener" - Michel de Montaigne

We have often talked about the benefits of story-telling in the ESL classroom but, what about story-listening?

The benefits of story-telling in the ESL classroom

As we all know, stories provide a context to language, develop students' imagination, help to develop learning strategies and can facilitate cross-curricular learning.

Stories can also be used to develop soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, creativity and cooperation.

Sharing stories also provides a pleasant social experience and makes lessons more interesting and motivating. However, do story exist only for the teacher to tell them?

What the neuroscience tells us

During a story, the speaker and listener's brains synchronize and a sort of "chameleon effect" is created by which people will unconsciuosly mimic each other's behaviour. This is key to facilitate empathic connections, which can help us relate to one another.

Story-listening also promotes a neural process that allows us to make sense of new information by pairing it to existing memories. This process embeds long-term memories and makes them easy to recall when we need them.

Great leaders are good listeners

As class leader, we believe the teacher should also be an excellent listener, as well as a storyteller. Listening to your students is a sign of self-confidence and shows that you are willing to accept the best answer rather then providing only your own. Learning goes both ways and students feel more empowered. So, why not reversing roles and ask your students to be storytellers instead?

Check out these suggested story-listening class activities!

Ask your students to choose their favourite book from the class library. Alternatively, they can bring one from home. Sit in a circle and ask each student to show their chosen books and tell you why it is their favourite. Ask questions on the characters and the plot and ask students to tell you about their favourite part of the story. Other students can ask questions too.

In a class of older students, you can ask each of them to be a storyteller for the day and tell the story to their classmates. You can also organize additional follow-up activities:

  • discuss the story and evaluate it

  • vote for the best story: design a class survey and create a graphical representation of the results, discuss data

  • divide students in groups, assign a story to each and ask students to produce a poster with the most important moments of the story. Older students could create a comic strip.

Listening can be hard as it involves emotions. The good thing is that these can be used to create connections and to facilitate understanding in the classroom. In the end, if you tell a story and no one is there to hear it, is it even a story?


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