I’ve been a writer and avid reader of stories since I could wield a pencil and hold a book. For me, there is no better way to learn about anything, than through a story. With language learning, stories show how vocabulary is used in certain settings and reinforces other lessons. Not only that, but with the case of storybooks for children, they are a lot of fun to use and allow the teacher to mix up the normal routine.
Read on for my tips on when to use storybooks in a TEFL class and how to use them effectively. If you just want my top ten YL storybooks to use in a classroom, you can gain access to the list by clicking on the button below. You don’t need to do this now, I’ll remind you later. Go ahead, read on.
How to Involve Students in the Story
When you use a story in a young learner’s classroom, you are essentially putting on a show. If you think that telling a story will turn into a few minutes of respite for yourself, it will not captivate the students. You, as the storyteller, need to put your all into the story.
This means that yes, you should consider making funny voices for different characters. I too used to feel self-conscious about this at first, but when you see how excited the students get, you’ll be able to get past this. Also, the use of acting, costumes, gestures and props will help to get your students into the story.
Another way to involve students in the story is by creating repetitive chants or actions. For example, in The Three Little Pigs the famous line that you likely remember is, “Little pig, little pig, let me come in…”. Choose a few easy and repetitive lines (or add your own) and use them to make the students part of the story instead of passively listening.
The same can be done with actions. Using the same example of the The Three Little Pigs again, one repetitive action could be having the students try to blow the different houses down. These little touches involve minimal forethought, but really help to make the story into an interactive experience.
Making the Storybook Suit Your Purposes
When choosing a storybook for your class, you are likely to encounter a few issues. One, the books that you REALLY like might be beyond your students level. The other common problem is that you might not be able to find any books that directly relate to the lessons you’ve been teaching. In both cases, there is a solution.
If a book’s language is beyond your students comprehension level, there is an important question you need to ask yourself: can I simplify this in a way that will still be both engaging and useful for my students? In the same way that you grade your own language in real-time when teaching, you can grade the language of the story. The story will then be told through simplified language, pictures and actions.
Making a story fit into a language point that you’ve been teaching is also a fairly simple thing to do. All a teacher needs to do is to ask relevant questions. If the story is about animals, but you are teaching colors, ask the students a lot of questions about the colors of things. Likewise, if you are teaching present continuous, even if the story doesn’t use that particular grammar point, you can still ask a lot of these types of questions and get the students to practice the structure.
Asking questions is also a good way to make sure that students understand what is going on in the story. It’s likewise a method to keep them engaged with the storyline.
When to Use Storybooks
I find that it isn’t a great idea to overuse storybooks or the students will lose interest. This, of course, is very age dependent and also is affected by the individual interests of a class. Having a new story every lesson, or at least every week, for a pre-starter class (3-4 year olds) might work. If I did this with my 7-8 year olds they would loudly protest.
What I do is to try to work in a storybook once every month or two. This frequency makes the storybooks a fun treat and the students respond well to them. They are a perfect fit for after a test or review lesson.
Another idea, that I borrowed from Michelle Donald, teacher extraordinaire, is to tell a story in short installments. This works better with more text heavy books for higher level young learners. What she would do, and I do with appropriate classes, is to save the story for the last fifteen minutes of study each week. For example, she chose Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney for a flyers 1 class (8-9 years old). Every week, the class would read one section of the story. It became a reward for them.
Activity Ideas for when the Book is Finished
If you really want to get the most out of a storybook, then plan some activities based on the book for when you are finished. Below are just a few ideas that I’ve used in my classroom.
Make a comic:
The students can either make a comic version of their favorite scene from the story or turn it into a “what will happen next?” or “what happened before?”, type of activity. A simplified version of this is to simply have the students draw a picture from the story and explain to the class, a partner or the teacher what is happening.
Act it out:
This is the same idea as the comic, but instead of working on writing skills to describe what is happening, the students focus will be speaking. The students can either make a short script or ad lib a scene from the story. To make it more interesting, I suggest making masks or some sort of identifiable prop for the different characters. To turn it into a game, list a number of scenes on the board, have students act and have the rest of the class try to guess which scene it is.
Every story lends itself to fun craft activities. Most well-known books have loads of resources online, so you won’t have to spend hours coming up with ideas. Some great crafts include mask making, mini book making, toilet roll character creation, etc. Whatever book you choose, Google the name of the book and “resources”. You’ll have more content than you’ll know what to do with.
I hope that you’re inspired to try a storybook in your class soon. If you’re having a hard time thinking of a storybook, take a look at my top ten list. These are all books that I’ve used in my classes successfully. You can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.