The end of the story..

Endings are tricky for me. When I get to the end of telling a story, I can feel quite uncomfortable, and I’m never really sure whether to just pause, or to say something like ‘And that’s the end of the story’ or ‘And they all lived happily ever after’.

When we’re using stories for language teaching (or indeed for any other purpose) that could be all that is necessary of course; we could just leave the story to do its work on its own. In fact I’ve often wondered what language teaching for young learners would be like if it consisted entirely of listening to stories and talking about them; my hunch is that it would be much more effective than a syllabus which focussed entirely on presentation of grammar.

Sometimes however we might also want to do something quite controlled after a story to help the students activate some of the vocabulary or grammar or chunks of language that is contained within it. When I wrote the Stories Alive material I felt that sequencing the story summaries was a useful thing to do after listening. For one thing it would be a chance for the students to do some reading and to think about text cohesion and linking devices. It’s also a good way to check how much of the story they have taken in.

But as teachers I know that you all have a wealth of other ways of following up the telling of a story. It would be great if we could use this post as a space for sharing some of these ideas.

To get the ball rolling here’s something that happened the other day.  I told the story of the Lion and the Mouse to a group in Gaza and I wanted to do something to follow it up but I only had about 10 minutes left of the session. Here’s what we did.

  1. Rola, the teacher on the ground, divided the class into two groups.
  2. Each group brainstormed all of the words they could think of which were related to the story.
  3. One person from each group came to the front to speak to me through the webcam.
  4. The two students at the front took it in turns to say words from the story. If they couldn’t think of a word, or if they repeated a word that had already been said their team lost.

It’s a very simple activity but, in my opinion, a nice way of both activating some language, and encouraging the kids to review the story in their heads.

What about your classes? Which activities do you use after telling a story for these purposes? Please post a comment about this below.

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20 thoughts on “The end of the story..

    1. Thanks for your comment Shoruq. Yes – one way to follow up a story is to create a new one, and, as you say, a picture is a great stimulus to do that. I guess I’m thinking more here about ways to build on the story that the students have just heard. What would you do for that?

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  1. Hi, Nick! I think activities should start even before telling a story because listening or reading a story must be purposeful. Students need a purpose to listen to you, so that they become actively engaged in following that purpose. The
    activity you did in the video
    could work much better as a
    pre – listening activity.
    Teacher can ask students to
    write down as much words as
    they can while listening. After
    listening TO do the pre –
    listening activity, students may
    listen again to finish some
    more detailed questions. I
    love the 10-minute activity that my students do after listening to or reading a text. Studentshave a working sheet of, say, ten or fifteen questions. The answers of the questions are short, mainly one or two words. Students have to answer within ten minutes only. Teacher can ask students to re-order some pictures or, if the students were older, they can re-order events of the story.
    To end the story, we may ask
    questions like, ‘if you were the
    writer of the story how would
    you end it, what would you do
    if you were the lion or the
    mouse, if you had a chance to
    meet a character from the
    story, who would it be and
    why? ‘
    Students may create a picture
    dictionary for the story as a
    homework.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Amal, Thanks for sharing those wonderful ideas. I particularly like the idea of asking personalisation questions (Which character would you like to meet? etc) and getting them to answer questions very quickly. The picture dictionary idea is a lovely way of encouraging them to take the language of the story away from the class and home with them, which is ultimately our goal as teachers I guess.

      I disagree with you about the necessity of making listening to a story purposeful by doing activities beforehand. Of course, we might do something with the pictures before we tell the story to generate interest and to make sure they know some key vocabulary, but I wouldn’t say it was essential. In my opinion this is the beauty of storytelling in language teaching; if it’s a good story and it’s told well then learners want to listen to it anyway. The purpose of listening is that they want to hear the story. I think that the activity I did with the class worked well at the end because it pushed them to go back through the story in their minds and remember the context in which words were used. I think you can see in the video that they are quite motivated to do this. If it had been done as a lead in I don’t think they would have come up with as many words, and the words that they did find would have been decontextualised.

      Anyway thanks for your challenging points. I think the debate about whether to pre-teach or post-activate vocabulary with any kind of listening material is a useful one to have. What do other people think about this point. If this blog is going to be really useful to teachers we could do with a bit more debate. Any takers? 🙂

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  2. If we want them to learn, we should make some pre – teaching. You can’t put their brain into work without doing some teaching before listening or how would you grab their attention? Using mimes, acting and pictures are not enough to understand a story and
    learn from it. Teach them first then get them involved.
    There’s always a need to learn some vocabulary or structures
    before listening or reading.
    As for listening for a purpose, I think students won’t listen
    unless they have a purpose and it’s important to give them
    a reason, a good one of course, to listen. The kind that
    tunes students into the aim of
    the whole process of listening.
    Hmmm, I would say that the purpose is always there like it
    or not 🙂 Students may listen
    for a mere entertainment or
    maybe because they want to
    listen to Nick, the native
    speaker from Britain. There’s
    always a reason.

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    1. Hi Nick,
      Heaps of thanks for posting this blog and giving us the chance to share our ideas, too.
      What you did after telling the lion and the mouse story was really fruitful and sufficient.
      You picked up a simple way of revising the chunks of vocabulary and language and you encouraged all learners to take part in the activity.
      I bet there are a variety of activities that can be tackled after telling a story,
      For example, you can get a group of pupils and give them the picture of the story, each pupil is to retell the part of the story within his hand and once they finish you can change their places and ask the rest of pupils to re arrange them.
      Here is another activity, you can ask a pupil to mime one part of the story while the rest thinks about what the boy’s mime represents and this can simply done and lots of kids can deal with it.
      I still remember a very interesting activity that is; still image where you choose a pupil to move into a position or you can physically move him until the moment is represented accurately then you can ask the rest of the class to guess what the moment is and so on.
      As a matter of fact there are loads of activities that can be conducted after telling a story, the point is that you must show you interest while doing them because this will help learners feel comfortable and enthusiastic, too.
      For me, as I am a teacher of English language and learners in Gaza find English to some extent much difficult to use, I ask my own pupils to simply say a sentence of the story they have heard and I ask them to work in groups to collect as many sentences of the story as possible then I ask them to arrange them together and make the story and finally to come to the front and say the story as a group.
      I use another way, I ask them to draw the bit of the story they liked most and encourage them to come to front and describe what they drew in words.
      One interesting method I use is leave the story open I mean without an end and I don’t end it with ‘ and they all lived happily ever after’ what I do is ask the pupils to finish the story in their own way and find a suitable ending then I have a group discussion why they have picked up that ending and so on..
      In short, there are lots of various activities that can be dealt with concerning what to do after telling a story,,,
      Regards..

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      1. Hi Samir. Thanks for all those great ideas for following up a story. There’s a lot there for teachers to experiment with in their own classes.

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  3. Thanks Amal. You’re raising some really interesting areas. Is it always necessary to pre-teach vocabulary before a story and to create a reason for listening? I think it depends on what the students are listening to. I think that if we can get them interested in the story by the way we tell it then the reason is there already, and we don’t necessarily need to do much to get it going. A potential problem with pre-teaching is that it can take a long time and the words may be decontextualised. Perhaps when listening to a story students can learn new words because these words are so nicely set in the context of the story. You’re right, though that they need to do something with these words in order for them to stick – hence the activity in the video. I know what you mean about students wanting to listen just because it’s a native speaker telling the story, but there are lots of very good storytellers in Gaza and someone like Jamal, telling a story like this could really capture the interest of the class in my opinion.

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  4. You’re right, Nick. Rehearsing how I’m going to finish a story is key. Listeners are left with that ending as they leave the story world I have helped them create. As we leave the cinema, we talk about how the film ended.
    Some ideas if we get stuck at the end:
    ‘Little mouse has run
    My tale is done’
    or
    ‘And that’s the end of that’
    or
    ‘And that’s the story of (TITLE)’

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    1. Thanks for your suggested ways of ending a story. Your one about the mouse reminds me that Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana in their collection of Palestinian Folk tales, ‘Speak Bird, Speak again’ mention a way that traditional Palestinian stories often ended (in Arabic of course). It goes like this…

      ”The bird of this tale has flown, and now for another one”

      Maybe I should learn how to say this in Arabic.

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  5. Are you trying to remind me how bad I am at storytelling?! 😀 Yeah! I watched Jamal before. His words ring! He has this story telling magic. However, students won’t understand what he says unless they have knowledge. How would you understand a story without knowing words and structures? We learn vocabulary in order to be able to read or listen to stories. Students must have some lexical knowledge and that knowledge should be introduced to them before the story time, not while listening. Stories reinforce what we have already learned.

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    1. I don’t believe you are bad at storytelling Amal and I’m willing to bet you’ve told a few stories already today. I bet too that the people who you were speaking to were interested and engaged in what you were saying. I guess it all comes down to a basic difference between our teaching philosophies. I believe that children can pick up words from listening to a story, providing that there is enough support in terms of gestures, or pictures or contextual clues.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. In addition to language based activities, high thinking skills ,competencies and life skills can also be within the storytelling sessions.I have watched many storytelling sessions, and noticed several good opportunities to set up activities that stimulate critical thinking such as raising open questions or debates to discuss such questions: Do you prefer to be beautiful with skin as white as cheese and at the same time be stupid enough to climb a risky tree without thinking? why/ why not) Is it right to associate beauty with the color of the skin? Is it right to do whatever you are told to do jeopardizing your own safety or others’ safety ?( The story of Jbeineh ) If you were Tunja’s mother, would you ask her where she got the money from?
    I think many points in the stories are precious opportunities to teach values through groups discussion or stetting debates.

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  7. Thanks for your interesting comment. You’re right that these stories do have a lot of issues in them which we could explore with kids. I guess that (before everyone had to learn English!) one of the main purposes of telling these traditional stories would have been to do this. I remember attending a drama workshop at the IATEFL conference a while back where we worked with the story of Cinderella. The workshop leader read out a series of statements about the story. It was things like, ‘Cinderella should forgive her step sisters’ ‘Cinderella’s father is responsible for Cinderella’s problems’ etc. We had to position ourselves in a line according to how we felt about the statement. If we strongly agreed we moved to one side of the room. If we disagreed we went to the other. It was an interesting way to get a discussion going. I imagine that in a crowded classroom in Gaza it would be difficult to get people moving around the room, but maybe there’s a way to do this where they still remain seated at their desks?

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  8. Hi Mr Nick actually l would like to share you my experience in the story of Nasreddin. It was amazing story and my students enjoyed it a lot. The students participated in many activities like vocabulary race,remembering details,the whole class sequencing of the pictures as well as they enjoyed the sequencing of the story in small groups. Really that acivity was challenging for the students they were eger to be the first group to finish. Also the still image which the students performed was so interesting and funny. Really I like to say thank you very much for giving us this course.

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    1. Hi Sirin. Thanks for your comment and all those ideas. It sounds like you did a lot of different things after telling the Nasreddin story. Did you do everything in one class, or over several classes? Which way works best do you think; doing everything together, or spreading things out over a number of lessons?

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  9. Hello Mr Nick .I want to tell you about my training lesson .IT was about using the story telling technique in teaching grammar . I applied this new strategy in teaching relative pronouns using the story of Jbene and now I like to tell you the procedures I Followed during the lesson .Actually it was so interesting. I began the lesson with crossword puzzle to find out the word pronouns, then we had brainstorming to talk about types of pronouns they know. After that two students tell the story of Jbene using the LCD to show the pictures while narrating the story. Then I hold a small classroom discussion about the events and the characters and that was after the whole class sequences of the pictures. Then I distributed some sheets to do a matching activity using sentences from the story then I explained how can we join the two sentences using who or which and elicited the rule from the students and the students continued matching the sentences using the same strategy. After that the students had the remembering details activity to describe the pictures using the relative pronouns as well as they did another activity to match questions with answers about the story using who or which and at the end the story had the theatre character script using the puppet theatre and finally they had the chant of Jbene.
    You know Mr Nick after each session that I had with my students telling the story and doing some activities I FEEL so happy that I used special and new techniques and even my students. They are so encouraged and motivated and excited.

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    1. Hi Sirin. Thanks for your very detailed description of what you did in the class. It sounds like a really well staged session and I love the way you drew out the focus on the relative clauses from the matching exercise. You’ve generated so much material out of this single story and I think there’s probably something for every type of learner in there somewhere, and lots of links with the curriculum too. The most heartening thing for me though are your comments about how motivating it was for you and your students. When teachers and learners get into this kind of state anything can happen 🙂

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