The Importance of Stories For English Learning in Early Childhood
Storytelling has been a powerful tool for centuries. Before there was written language, humans told stories through pictures and oral sequences. Stories have the power to connect us and to stimulate empathy. Storytelling can be an important instrument for facilitating language learning, especially in early childhood. It is especially helpful in increasing student attention and empathy.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jillian C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
According to the book “Children Tell Stories”: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weis, storytelling has powerful neurological impacts on youth. Teachers must be mindful of what they are inserting in their student's brains, especially young students. Simply doing tasks that involve passive learning and memorization are not sufficient to create interested students. When interpreting a story, a different part of the brain is used (namely the limbic system) which alerts the student and engages their emotions. The book also references a research study conducted by the US Department of Education that confirmed that students with low motivation and academic skills were much more likely to engage in the class if the teacher was telling a story. Overall, the book explains that storytelling is a great way to actively engage students, and this has definitely rung true throughout my personal teaching experiences.
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I have three specific teaching experiences that specifically highlight the power of storytelling in the classroom. My first teaching experience was at a daycare. I was in high school and admittedly was intimidated by the idea of teaching a large group of children. During a particularly rowdy session, I picked up a book at began reading. I changed my voice to portray the different characters, and seemingly a spell was cast over the class. After reading, I asked the children meaningful questions about the story: why characters did certain things, what they would have done in the situation. The main teacher was so impressed by their attentiveness, that we had the students role-play the book.
Since then, I have tried to bring storytelling into each classroom I come into contact with. In 2017, I facilitated workshops in a juvenile detention center. In one class, we read an excerpt from Ralph Ellison’s book Invisible Man, which is a powerful story about the hardships facing African Americans. Many of the students found the story relatable, although it was written over 50 years ago. Connecting with stories from the past can be an evocative and exciting device to bring into the classroom. My interest in storytelling in the classroom cued me to volunteer at “Storytelling Theater” in the Czech Republic. Young English learners put on a theater production in English, despite many of them coming from varying levels. In preparation for the production, I put an emphasis on the different emotions portrayed by the characters in the story. I had the children write biographies for their characters, practice the emotions they feel in the play, and even try to relate to the emotions of other characters in the story. This not only deepened their relationship with the story but also helped some of the English Beginners understand the plot.
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In conclusion, bringing storytelling into classrooms is very important, especially with children. Engaging students through storytelling is a way to encourage attention and increase empathy. By being captivated by a story, students will be less likely to experience boredom compared to a traditional textbook lesson. Secondly, storytelling gives teachers a great opportunity to encourage students to be empathetic and think about the livelihoods of the characters in the story. This is especially important to implement with young children. Throughout the online course, my attention always spiked when the chapter recommended utilizing storytelling. As both a teacher and a student, some of my most impactful and memorable classroom experiences involved storytelling. The unit on “Teaching a New Language” highlighted how storytelling can play a role both in the Engage and Activate sections of lessons. One example given for Activate was a story-building communication game. I look forward to continuing using storytelling with my students and eventually pursuing a Ph.D. in English Education, where I will further focus on the psychological benefits of storytelling.
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