Using Stories to Develop Speaking Abilities in Kindergarten Age Kids
Young learners, especially of kindergarten age, are the most challenging group that a teacher can ever teach during his/her career. They are curious, open-minded, enthusiastic to absorb, explore the world, yet forget as easily as taking in so it takes them much time to master a word/phrase actively. They have a vivid imagination but short attention span so they so easily get sidetracked or busy thinking that they forget to communicate and interact with others. That’s a challenge to help them develop their English speaking abilities at such a young age: How to help them gain as much useful language in a shorter time so that they can use it later in their daily life? How to encourage them (in a natural way) to express and share their thoughts more openly, more effectively? With all the benefits that can be gained from stories and teaching stories in an appropriate way, we can help our kids build up their vocabularies faster, keep vocabularies stay longer and kids feel encouraged enough to speak out loud.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Yen P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Firstly, why use stories to develop English speaking abilities? We use stories because: (a) Stories help kindergarten kids learn from context (story plot) with words are put together as phrases and collocations, which takes less time for them to start understanding then use and even creatively apply those words in their daily conversations; (b) Stories with characters put into different situations keep their imagination activated, their attention is mostly caught so vocabularies come naturally into their memories and (c) Stories teach them to relate to characters, develop feelings, understanding of the world, life experiences so build up an urge/ a desire to express and share their emotions, their thoughts out. In brief, stories help kids learn faster, remember longer, rehearse more easily, use and apply more correctly and make sharing their thoughts gradually comes as second nature.
Secondly, to take full advantage of stories, we need to think about how we teach stories to our kids: before class, during class, and after class.
Before class: we need to choose the right stories for our kids that they can gain 3 benefits as above. There are some criteria to consider: * What’s the story about? - Choose stories with topics that are relevant and related closely, directly to kids’ life such as family, friends in kindergarten, daily activities kids experience, surrounding objects, colors, his/her feelings… This ensures that the vocabularies get easily into memories and come in handy for kids to use and apply to their daily conversations. * Is the story short enough? - About 3-5 short sentences with repetitive simple structure are appropriate. If the original story is longer, consider dividing it in smaller chunks to teach; or we can rewrite it if needed. This ensures kids focus on mastering structures one by one. * Are the illustrations clear, vivid, lively, close to nature? Are they tightly following the story plot? This ensures that kids can extract contents from the context described through images, pictures, drawings, and other forms.
During a class: After choosing the right story or creating one, we need to build it into our lesson plan. As its strengths, we can choose the structure of an ESA lesson plan then make adjustments if needed (ESA or ESASA or EASA…). Actual activities used in each stage can be varied yet teachers always need to set specific, realistic targets for each step for their classes. The targets are the lighthouse for choosing the right activities in teaching stories. For example:
Step 1: Engage
- Target: Kids get acquainted with characters (what or who are they), kids can make a guess (right or wrong ones are both OK as long as kids can elicit an answer) about when and where the story happened by answering some simple questions and following the teacher’s instructions.
- Example activities: Ask simple questions or Y/N questions with illustrations or mime or using body language to guide students. If we can choose a story in a song form, play it to the kids so they get along with the melody and characters.
Step 2: Study
- Target: (a) Kids understand the plot: What is happening? Who is doing what? Who is feeling happy/ sad…? (For a class of more advanced kids, ask for some: “Why” questions); (b) Kids recognize and follow key phrases/structures with story plot (there’s no need for them to repeat perfectly a whole sentence/ the whole story just in a few first times, we can adjust to re-teach in a few different ways in other lessons to reinforce their memories and still keep them excited).
- Example activities: The teacher tells the stories using body language, mime, tone voices… to help kids understand as clearly as possible.
For 2nd attempt, stop at each picture/drawing/scene to tell each sentence. Make kids read along with the whole sentence, then read along with key phrases. Do remember to indicate illustrations together with key phrases so kids can get along with the ideas expressed and link what phrases with what meaning.
For 3rd attempt, make kids retell stories along with you (imitate your body language, mime, voice tones…) Then ask and answer 3-5 questions to check kids’ understanding of the story and make them remember more deeply.
Step 3: Activate
- Target: (a): Kids can rehearse and retell about 85% of the story if illustrations are given; (b) Kids can rehearse and retell about 85% of the story from their memories (no illustrations given); (c) Kids can make small adjustments (2-3 ones) based on their own experiences to create a new story (with instructions from teachers). For these targets, it depends on the actual level of the class to achieve to what extent so hold no unrealistic hope if the class level has not reached that high yet.
- Example activities: With support from teaching assistants, divide kids into smaller groups and make them retell the story for another 2 times with illustrations.
Call some kids to go in front to retell the story with illustrations given, teachers and other classmates can give hints if needed. After kids speak, the teacher takes a chance to repeat the sentence, loud and clear to remind the whole class once more. It’s too hard for kids to achieve (b) and (c) in class – give instructions and make them their homework with parents’ help.
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After class, for example, with parent’s help, make kids record a video retelling the stories. In conclusion, to use stories as a way to develop our kindergarten students' speaking abilities, we need the best preparation to choose the right stories to teach before class; a detailed, thorough lesson plan with a clear, realistic target during class and a consistent care, patience after class. Then our young, potential kindergarten students surely shall thrive in their speaking abilities.
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