Secure Listening

I’ve just come back from a very fulfilling week in Occupied Palestine, running a course called, Teaching English through Stories with a group of teachers from Gaza, Hebron and Ramallah. We worked with big story books for young learners which are part of the British Council’s Kids Read programme, and also with the Stories Alive material for slightly older learners.

Throughout the course the participants planned and delivered a range of micro-teaching sessions which incorporated stories into their curriculum. They did this in ways that were engaging, creative and, above all, fun.

At the end of the course some of the participants recorded a story that they’d been working on, and since I got back I’ve been adding images to their videos, in Kamishibai style. Here are the ones that are ready so far.


It strikes me watching the videos that these are a useful resource for learners to watch to develop their listening skills in English. The teachers who are telling the stories, Jamal, Sereen and Taleed, do so in a way which is much more in keeping with the Arabic style of storytelling than I could ever do, and this makes them more accessible for learners. As Palestinians, they are also able to contextualise the stories in Palestine more easily, and this helps the learners to identify with the characters. As super advanced speakers of English, the teachers are a great model for their learners because they have gone through the process of learning English as a foreign language themselves- Β just like the learners are trying to do. These teachers show that it is possible to achieve this, in a way that I, as a native speaker, could never do.

Often when learners do listening exercises in class it becomes a test (listen and answer these questions, or listen and put these sentences in order etc). This can put a lot of pressure on learners. Pressure can be useful sometimes, but as teachers we also want children to listen to English because they want to, because they find it interesting and because they get involved in what they are listening to. We want them to listen with their own agendas, rather than one imposed from outside. This kind of listening is what Bowen and Marks (1994) have called secure listening, and stories, in my opinion, are an excellent way to provide it.

Reference: Β Bowen, T and Marks, J (1994) Inside Teaching : Macmillan

11 thoughts on “Secure Listening

  1. Stories has bn always kinda excitement and engagement for both teachers and Ss. When ss watch or listen to a story , their attention tremendously increases. In my class I use stories before introducing the main lesson to give my students some fun so thay they pay much attention to the lessson I wanna introduce.


    1. Thanks for your comment Abu. I agree – stories can be very engaging and motivating for students. It’s interesting that Stephen Krashen, who wrote so much about the importance of comprehensible input in the 1980’s has recently modified his hypothesis to say that input should not just be comprehensible – it should also be compelling (See . Telling stories, in my opinion, is one one way of providing this compelling input.


      1. Greetings, All:
        First thank you mr. Bilbrough for the efforts you do in order to insert some fun to the rigid and traditional ways we teach English our students with. Storytelling is one of the teahing arts that stood against time; an art that proved its efficiency in attracting and motivating students to learn and fall in love. Using this technique with EFL/ESL learners make them fall in love with English which is a main key to make changes. The gains of using storytelling on a regular basis in the classroom, when told using gestures, facial expressions and vocalization, has enormous gains linguistically, socially, psychologically and culturally. I am so happy to see that there is an ongoing effort of integrating this technique in our curriculum especially by the hands of experts. Great job every one and many thanks to you, mr. Bilbrough and all educators like you. Hats off. I hope when I come back home, I will be able to join one of your sessions for training teachers.
        God Bless you..
        wish you all the best in sha’a allah


  2. Salam! Well, obviously, telling a story is a skill, maybe talent? I’m really impressed by the teachers’ performance. Their body movements, facial expressions, voice tones are interesting and important to put students in the atmosphere of the story. However, I’d prefer to start a story by asking questions like, “Do you know why Snow White was called so?”, “Have you ever heard about the princess who falls for a frog?” Such questions can draw attention and put pupils in the mood for listening.

    By the way, I’m a terrible story teller πŸ™‚ I told my students a story once. I came to the end of the story but they were not sure that I was done. They didn’t know whether I’d finished or not. That was awkward and it means that there was something wrong. Maybe, I should’ve changed my voice tone to show them that I was concluding.


  3. Hi Amal, Thanks for your comment. The ideas you mention for helping students into the story are good ones and I think these are things we can do more when we’re telling a story live, face to face for a particular group of learners. There are many advantages of course in telling a story like this, but I’ll explore this more in a future post.

    I know what you mean about finding a good ending to a story. In fact I have the same problem. Sometimes I even have to say to people ‘..and that’s the story’ to make it clear that it’s the end πŸ™‚

    The great storyteller, Andrew Wright, once said, ‘You don’t need to be a Formula One driver in order to drive a car and you don’t need to be a master storyteller in order to tell a story to a class of students.’

    We all tell stories all the time in life and incorporating storytelling into our teaching tool bag is a very natural thing to do – no mattter how good or bad we think we are at it.


  4. Woow , that’s really brilliant and amazing .I liked the way they told their stories , they did a great job. I could use of it in my classes. For sure, students love stories and they pay full attention when you tell them one even if they know it before they still enjoy their time . Moreover, they love acting and would fight to get a part of acting a story .

    Thank you for sharing, many thanks for the wonderful teachers.

    How can I participate in one of your courses ???


    1. Thanks for your comment ‘Someone’ πŸ™‚ Yes – learners do often enjoy performing stories themselves too, and this can be a good way for learners to practice speaking in English. There is a script for Juha and the Meat in the resources section on this blog – and I’ll soon be uploading more scripts there too. These are for students to perform at the front of the class. I’d be interested in seeing how they work with your students.


  5. Well, The way they tell their stories, their facial expressions, the tones, the intonations and even their eyes give you the impression that they are having fun despite the fact that there is learning happening. This is very fascinating and charming, I mean the new tend of teaching you’re following ((teaching EL through stories)). Once the students are engaged in a story, it’ll be very easy for me as a teacher to get them into the point where I really need them to be. The teachers here are doing great job and I like it, for sure I will do the same in my class with my students.
    Thanks a lot Mr. Nick for all what you have done for us..
    I really appreciate that.. πŸ™‚


  6. Hi Sahar. Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting that you say ‘they are having fun despite the fact that learning is happening’ Another way of looking at it could be the point of view that genuine learning only really happens when students are engaged and motivated and having fun. Stories, in my opinion, are a good way to make learning engaging, motivating and fun, and educators have been making use of this fact since the beginning of time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. for me, being a storyteller is considered a hard-job that requires creativity in all aspects to a certain extent, as we noticed in the workshops, it encouraged all trainers to increase their verbal self-confidence, foster an awareness of one’s own unique imagination, and enhance listening skills. Storytelling is an interactive community fun! The teachers involved clearly pictured the stories in their imaginations as they were telling them, for they were not just telling them with their voices, but also with their bodies, facial expressions, and their voice tones, all those responded naturally to the events of their stories.
    Well, I found the workshops very beneficial for me as an English language teacher, I found it increased my ability to come up with creative teaching methods that can help the student engage better in class. Moreover, I must admit, that we had fun, it was very interesting to discover new talents inside us, it broadened our horizons, and we were glad to be small kids again !!.. thank you Nick.


    1. Thanks for your comment Arwa – and thanks too for your very active participation on the course. You’re right. There are a lot of different processes going on when teachers or students tell a story – visualisation, body language, voice quality etc – but at the same time it’s also a very natural thing to do and it’s one of the things that makes us human. For this reason I believe that it should be a central part of the curriculum for teaching and learning English.


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