Friday, January 20, 2017

Story Listening: You may already be doing this!

In the last few months, there has been a lot of discussions on social media about Story Listening. Teachers that are using the Storytelling method (aka Storyasking*) in their classrooms, are discovering that Story Listening can be an effective tool in second language acquisition and are sharing their experiences with others on Facebook, on YouTube, and on Twitter.

Many teachers are now asking each other, "What is Story Listening?" and want to learn about it so they can experiment with it in their classrooms. They want to try something new, but...wait.., is it new? It could be new for you, but I believe that many teachers are already doing "story listening" in their classrooms but haven't labeled it as such.

Do you use felt boards and felt objects/characters to tell stories? That falls under the category of story listening.  I love Stephanie Campbell's book "Cuentos de Ensalada" and my students enjoy listening to the stories about the characters in the story.  Who wouldn't like listening to a story that involves scenes such as shown in the pictures below?

(check THIS BLOG POST from 2011 and later ones in 2012 to find out more about S. Campbell's cool story!)

So, you may already be doing "story listening".

Below are two additional examples of "Story Listening", even if you don't specifically call it that.

1. Retelling events from a newspaper article is one form of "story listening"

In February 2012, I wrote a blog post about using the news article (pictured on the right) with my Spanish students. (The post is linked HERE.)
It is a sad short news article about an 8-year old boy that survived for over a week after his mother died. When I read it, I knew it was an article that I could use in class to tell to my students and to introduce and reinforce vocabulary and structures.  It keeps the students' attention because they want to know why the boy was living with the cadaver of his mother and how he survived.

Sharing articles (or "stories") from newspapers, is likely something that many world language teachers do now, or have done in the past.  That, my friends, is one form of storytelling.  You are not asking the students to create the details, you are not asking them to act it out, and you're not asking them to finish the story. You're simply telling them the information in language that they can understand.

I've been telling this story to my Spanish 4 as a first week activity even before I wrote the blog post in 2012. Without fail, it keeps the students attention. If you are doing something similar with news articles, you are not completely new to "story listening". 

2. Sharing past personal experiences is a form of "story listening"
Hasn't every world language teacher at one point shared a past experience with their students, in the target language, using vocabulary that is comprehensible at their level, introducing a few new words as needed throughout the story?  When I discuss "fears" with my students, I always tell them about one particular trip to Washington DC with my family. We visited the normal site-seeing spots in the city, and then took the metro to one area on the outskirts of the city. We did not know before planning our destination that the area was considered less safe. We ascended the staircase out of the metro station and things definitely looked different than other areas of the city. I was with my husband, and three young children, one which was in a stroller.  Almost immediately after we headed toward our destination, a motorist pulled up next to us, rolled down the window, and asked where we were going and then cautioned us that it was not a safe neighborhood. Students listen intently to that story because they want to know what happened next: did we continue or head straight back to the metro?

Sharing your experiences is sharing your stories. Since you are not asking them to add details, it falls in the category of "story listening". Teachers have been using stories in class for years. 

Not everything about story listening is new, and there are a lot of similarities to story listening and story telling: you need to use language appropriate for the level; you need to make yourself comprehensible throughout the story by drawing, actions, or writing the word on the board with it's translation when necessary; and it has to be interesting to the students.  There's not any language acquisition happening with students that are tuned out.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of teachers that are helping to guide others in how to use story listening with their students. They are gracious enough to give us a peek into their classroom by recording themselves telling a story to their students.  Ask to join the group CI Liftoff on Facebook for a wealth of information and great discussions.

One thing I really like about the newly-labeled "story listening" is that it encourages the use of legends and tales from countries throughout the world. It has been my experience that if I tell a legend to the students before we read the legend, the students encounter less problems when reading the legend, especially if it is an authentic resource. When I tell the legend beforehand, I am able to introduce the new vocabulary, the plot and the characters in language I'm sure the students understand. With that pre-knowledge, the students are more prepared to delve into reading the authentic resource.

I love that the community of world language teachers are eager and willing to work towards improving instruction with the goal of helping our students to improve their proficiency of the language.  Thank you to all those that are fine tuning story listening and the skills needed in order to best provide comprehensible input for our students! I plan to continue reading and learn from what you share.  :-)

*Note for clarification: Traditionally, when people talk about TPRS the "S" stands for Storytelling that they actually mean storyasking. (In fact a few years ago some teachers were saying it should be called storyasking instead of storytelling.) In TPRS the teachers ASK for information from the students, and therefore the students help create or build the story.
Storytelling, as I use it in this post, is telling a story, not asking as story as in TPRS. As in the examples above, Cuentos de Ensalada, sharing personal stories, telling the students about a news article, that is not the same as TPRS. Keep in mind the terminology may not be what you are accustomed to and when I mention Storytelling, it is telling information and not asking for information.  


  1. Listening to stories, fiction or nonfiction, of course is nothing new. But nor is it, to me, simply a "new name for old approaches".

    I first heard of storytelling or "listening to stories" as a young girl thanks to the Middle Georgia Regional Library, at the Shurlington Branch by the Piggly Wiggly and Jack N Jill Children's Clothing. I first heard of teachers' sharing their personal stories in Mrs. Wall's second grade class, at First Presbyterian Day School, where she would thrill us young middle Georgia kids with her tales of travels to far-away Hawaii. Once she even brought back a fresh pineapple, the first one I had ever tasted in 1984 in Macon, GA!

    Adults have always known this secret - that we must modify our topics, our pacing, and our vocabulary to tell stories to children. Surely Mrs. Wall and Mrs. Buford, the Children's Librarian, had developed skills to make their stories, both true and fictional, comprehensible to their young audiences.

    These early experiences with story listening shaped me in profound ways. Mrs. Wall's stories made me long to travel (still trying to get to Hawaii though!) and Mrs. Buford's stories made me want to wear beautiful dresses and captivate people with the power of my voice, the power of words to transport us away from the workaday world. In that Story Nook under the stairs, by the puppet theatre, a ravenous bookworm and future teacher bloomed.

    Telling stories to kids, thank God, is nothing new! Thank God for stories, for their healing power, for their humanity and warmth, for the bonds they weave from one generation to the next. Who would I even be now without Mr. Rogers' gentle voice weaving stories of Daniel Tiger (my favorite!) and Lady Elaine Fairchild, day after day, as I lay enchanted in front of our TV set with its rabbit ears?

    So, teachers, parents, grandparents and special friends, go forth and tell stories! Watch your words weave "sparkly pathways" as Ben Slavic calls them, sparkly pathways for your students to traipse down, towards a fuller growing-up.

  2. I consider Beniko Mason Nanki a good friend and I want to let people know about what Story Listening has meant to her.

    I first heard of Story Listening from Beniko in Agen last July. Prior to that I had never heard those words used quite like she uses them. At first, I thought that SL would never work for my students. I thought, "They will become bored of listening, and not suggesting cute ideas." But eventually, after seeing Beniko demonstrate SL yet again in Portland at COFLT-WAFLT last fall, my curiosity got the better of me, and I tried it out.

    What is new to me, at least for me in my work, having been trained in TPRS and having followed various TPRS curricula for years, is that Beniko - who is surely one of the world's most avid students of Stephen Krashen's work - simply tells story after story, with no expectation of students' acquiring certain parts of the language. Her intention is to deliver "pure" CI, and she has tirelessly worked over the years to align her approach with that "Pure CI" vision that Ben Slavic just posted about yesterday and Michael Peto was talking about this weekend as well.

    Beniko's SL method delivers pure CI day in and day out, over a course of years, telling a wide variety of ever-more-complex traditional tales, folktales, and other stories, chosen carefully to appeal to her students' unique tastes and interests, and tailored to their level of comprehension. In her firm desire to hew closely to Krashen's theory, Beniko uses no circling, no forced repetitions, no required follow-up activities (though she does give vocab lists of key words from the story to students who want them), no grammar or vocab structures. That she does this day in and day out, and that it is the basis of her students' entire CI career, is what is intriguing to me about Beniko's work.

    Her approach is deceptively simple and almost too good to be true, like Dr. Krashen's beautifully-elegant Theory of Second Language Acquisition. To acquire language proficiency, humans need only to hear or read a steady diet of compelling, comprehensible messages containing rich language data, so that students can build their mental model of the language, in an environment free of anxiety, where students are not focused on correct output until they have acquired the next language structures in the natural order, which cannot be influenced by conscious learning.

    Now, do we all have to tell story after story, year after year? No, but hey, it might be worth a try. Myself, I still do other kinds of CI too. But what Beniko's work with SL has done for me is open up a whole new way of providing CI for the kids, a simpler way, an easier way, and a more nurturing way that brings me full-circle back to my childhood when we were not compelled to listen, nor assessed, nor made to DO anything with the stories. Rather, we let them wash over us, fill our hearts and our imaginations and our spirits with new ideas, new experiences, and new words and ways of putting them together. And from those stories, we became US.

  3. I am so grateful to Beniko for the long years of work and research that have shown that this simple, joyful, easy, and affordable (how's free sound?) way to engage with our students is not a time-filler or an add-on or a waste of time. She has taken the time to prove that just sharing stories - real or imaginary, from last night's news, or from a comic strip like Jillane Baros does, or from a traditional tale or even our lives or the lives of our students - just simply sharing stories is sufficient.

    Beniko said that she started out to DISPROVE Krashen's work. And, being unsuccessful in that, she was successful in showing that simply sweeping the kids along in a compelling storyline is sufficient.

    Teachers, do not fret about the "new thing" because it is the "old thing". It is as old and as natural and as human as can be. It is what every parent does to quiet their kid down for sleep. It is so darn easy, it feels too good to be true. All you have to do is grab a favorite story and try it. There is not much to learn and nothing to buy. The hardest part, really, is allowing ourselves to believe that something so easy can actually lead to language gains.

  4. ne final thought: Beniko does SL day in and day out, because she only sees her students once a week. Her situation is not like most of the teachers I know, who see them everyday. I just thought that may be germane to those who might be considering using SL in their classrooms!