This is a summary for a webinar that took place a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t find time to write up but it deserves to be written up so I’m squeezing out some time for it now. The webinar was hosted by IATEFL and the speaker was the ever-charming and innovative Jamie Keddie.
Jamie asked attendees if they’ve ever used these seven magic words in their classrooms
I want to tell you a story
Well most of us have probably used these words and don’t feel very enthused by them because our Ss are generally not very excited about listening to stories. Jamie explained that we often see stories as monologues and associate them exclusively with young learners. However stories need not necessarily be about the “there and then” but could be about the “here and now”. So, the webinar was specifically about the mechanics of dialogic storytelling.
Jamie told us that his own favourite genre of stories were personal anecdotes and he demonstrated his approach to dialogic storytelling through an example. He showed us the following text on a slide and read it out to us:
When I was at school, we used to think it was hilarious to leave notes on our T’s desk. We would wait for the T to notice the piece of paper, pick it up, examine it, unfold it and read it. We would then wait in anticipation of a reaction. The best note we ever left was this: there is a piece of cheese on the classroom ceiling. Of course the reaction that we expected was for the teacher to look up at the ceiling and try to see the fictitious piece of cheese. At that moment, everyone would have to do their best not to laugh. Laughing would demonstrate that you were involved in the joke. I don’t remember how many teachers we played the joke on. But I remember very well the day we left the note on the desk of Mr. Francis, our cool history teacher. The lesson was almost over and we were starting to think that Frankie was not going to see the note. But then he did. He hesitated for a moment and then, very slowly, opened it. There was a silence. His eyes stayed fixed on the paper. Then he stood up, walked over to the corner of the room and dropped the note in the bin. He looked at us and said, as calmly as possible, “Of there is – I put it there.” We all looked up.
Jamie pointed out that what Ts are effectively working with are not the words on a piece of paper but 106 internal narratives i.e., one story on paper but 106 stories forming in the minds of those who were attending the webinar. As we are working with internal narrative, what can we do better exploit it?
He invited us to participate in a thought task. He asked everyone to imagine that they were going to use this story with their Ss but pretend it was their own. He asked us think about how long we’d take to get through it. Answers varied but Jamie suggested that he would probably take about 15 minutes because he would turn the story from a monologue into a dialogue – a whole class communicative event.
I want to tell you a story but first let me ask you a question. The question is this. Have you ever played a practical joke on a teacher or has a teacher ever played a practical joke on you?
Jamie suggested that this type of commentary is important because you are signalling that the narrative is about to start and there’s a beginning, middle and end. If I reflect on the stories that I have narrated in the classroom, I usually try to cut back on commentary to keep TTT low. He stated that it would be critical to also consider the language in the story that you want to draw attention to or teach, as well as be prepared for language from Ss that you want to reformulate or correct. As you narrate the story, you can do a number of things to make it a dialogic experience which is interactive and useful for teaching language:
- Ask Ss about their own experiences.
- Correct their language.
- Teach the Ss phrases like practical jokes, to keep a straight face and hesitate (although these may not be explicitly present in the story).
- Ask them guess when the story took place and speculate what was written on the note and guess how Mr. Francis might have reacted based on their experiences with teachers like him.
- Set up an environment such that Ss want to ask questions.
He underscored the importance of preparation, rehearsal and identification of language in the story text that may cause problems.
Jamie’s second example was really brilliant and I think it quite effectively demonstrates how powerful this technique is. I’m going to try to recount it the way he ran this dialogic storytelling activity. At the end of each utterance, he elicited responses which then informed the next set of questions.
The story could be called the box or a miniature model replica. What do you want to call it?
What’s a miniature model replica?
Who makes miniature model replicas?
This story takes place in a room. What kind of room does this story take place?
It’s a room with very little light. The walls have nothing on them.
Bare. What else can be bare?
A prison cell with very little light and bare walls. What else would you expect to see in a prison cell?
Did you used to have bunk beds when you were children?
My sister and I used to sleep in a bunk bed when we were kids. I used to sleep in the top bunk and my sister in the bottom bunk because she was scared of falling out. What’s your bunk bed story?
What else is in this prison cell?
A bucket. What would the bucket be used for?
This prison cell has a bucket in the corner, a window with bars and a bunk bed.
This story starts with a man named Alexander. He is alone in the prison cell.
What do you think he did? Why is he there?
What is he doing?
Right now, he is sitting at a desk, reading.
And on the desk there is one of these (shows a matchbox and rattles it).
What’s the difference between a matchbox and box of matches?
And strangely the matchbox is moving.
Why is it moving?
Alexander puts his finger on the matchbox, why does he do that?
To stop it moving OR to stop it from moving?
He picks the matchbox up and opens a drawer and puts the matchbox inside and closes the drawer.
Behind Alexander is the prison door and the prison door is unlocked. Not the state of being unlocked but the action, it’s being opened
And Adam is pushed in or thrown in and the prison door is closed.
Who is Adam?
What is the relationship between Alexander and Adam?
So you think they’re brothers, that’s interesting, how have two brothers come to be in the same cell?
Could Adam be a policeman?
In this story, he’s Alexander’s new cell mate
There they are, Alexander and Adam, looking at each other for the very first time.
They greet each other. What do they say?
They say hello to each other. Alexander says hello, Adam says hello.
Adam is quite surprised by Alexander’s next action. What do you think Alexander does?
Alexander turns around so that he has his back to Adam and he starts reading his book again.
So Alexander has his back to Adam reading his book, he’s more interested in his book than in his new cell mate so Adam is left in silence.
How would you feel if you were Adam? What would you do next?
Adam looks around the cell room? What are the things he sees? (this becomes a revision of the ideas gleaned from each other)
He sees all these things and what does Adam do?
He walks over to the bunk bed and sits on the bottom bunk and notices something.
He notices the bed is sagging and he notices something beside him
He notices a red box.
And he puts his hand on the red box and that immediately gets Alexander’s attention who turns around and says … What does he say?
He says “no lo abras”. How do you say that in English? Don’t open it. To which Adam says “Porque no” “why not” to which Alexander says “Porque puede arrepentirse”. Because you will regret, it is that the modal auxiliary I am looking for? No, because you might regret it.
So what does adam do? Does he open the box?
He opens the box. What does he see? Well, what could have been another title for the story?
He sees a model miniature replica of the cell – all the objects. And he sees two figures, one sitting at the desk and another whose legs are sticking out from under the top bunk.
You want to know what happens next but I’m not going to tell you. You have to retell the story from start to end and narrate how it ends.
Here’s the really interesting bit. Jamie got this entire story from a YouTube video and refers to this technique as videotelling. This is the subject a new book he’s written called Videotelling.
Some of his tips while using a videotelling activity include:
- Ask open questions (What’s your bunk bed story?)
- Don’t be precious about the answers you want to elicit. If you don’t get the targeted response, cell mate, use it as an opportunity to elicit more language.
- Don’t be teachery. If the T gets an answer she doesn’t like or want, she might say “yes” in a very peculiar tone and imply through paralinguistic means that this is the wrong answer. For example, if the Ss, say Alexander and Adam brothers, ask “Could you explain how two brothers come to be in the same cell?”
- Give Ss some space to elaborate and justify their answers. Be open to Ss’ ideas.
While doing the extension activity for this exercise, you don’t need to necessarily have Ss write their stories down. Instead, you could have them create video selfies where they speak in front of a camera using all the language you gave them as well as the story text and you challenge them to complete the story.
I’m really excited about trying out videotelling with my Ss and looking forward to Jamie’s new book.
Finally, here’s a post from last year on interactive storytelling activities.