Why not try some new ideas to inspire storytelling with your EAL learners?

Citizenship, Language & Learning Conference, Friday 17th March - Wolverhampton
Citizenship, Language & Learning Conference, Friday 17th March – Wolverhampton
30th January 2017
'EAL Teaching through the Learning Village' - Implementation course, London 18th May
‘EAL Teaching through the Learning Village’ – Implementation course, London 18th May
25th February 2017

Why not try some new ideas to inspire storytelling with your EAL learners?

Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Specialist

“Stories and storytelling are fundamental to the human experience.” Nunan (2012)

Stories help our learners understand their world and share it with others (Wright, 2008). Storytelling is also a very useful method of teaching English to EAL students, and can be fundamental to early learning. With beginners, it may be advisable to begin by working on sub-skills, such as focusing on key words on the story topics; studying functional language that often appears in storytelling (for example, ‘a long time ago…’); or pre-teaching adjectives that lend themselves to the style or the story (for instance, the word ‘creaky’ might be useful if you’re telling a scary story).

The key to a successful lesson based on a story is to involve the learners as much as possible, rather than just simply reading a story and leaving the learners to be passive participants. Choosing a story is a vital part of the planning stage – the table below provides a checklist with some pointers.

Reading Aloud Telling
Good points Not so good points Good points Not so good points
Everything is provided Learners have the burden of using their memory and their linguistic skills Personal to the students – it’s not just ‘coming from a book’ You have to learn the story and be able to tell it without a book
No need to memorise the story You look down and put your head into the book, rather than engaging with the learners It’s a rare opportunity for students just to be told a story You might make some mistakes with your English
Learners will hear exactly the same text every time If you read too quickly, this makes listening difficult You may repeat yourself, which can help your learners  
Learners can look at the book afterwards   You can move around the classroom and get feedback from the learners as you tell the story  
Picture books will provide prompts for the learners   You can use language you know your students will understand  
You don’t have to worry about making mistakes in English   The students may be more engaged with and likely to participate in the story  

There are three stages to planning a storytelling activity. These are:

  1. plan: pre-storytelling activities
  2. do: activities carried out whilst storytelling
  3. review: post-storytelling activities.


At the ‘plan’ stage, you should decide on your learning goals (linguistic, cultural and cross-curricular) and the main outcome/s desired. You will then need to choose a text and consider if and how the story needs editing to ensure that it’s accessible to your learners.

Remember: for meaning-focused input to occur, a learner needs to understand 1 in every 15 words (Schmit, 2010).

It’s also worth considering which techniques you will use before you begin your story. For example:

  • How will you introduce the main characters?
  • Will you relate the story to the learners’ own experience?
  • Will you pre-teach specific vocabulary?
  • How will you activate any prior knowledge? (Maybe the students know this story or a similar story in their mother tongue)

You’ll also need to consider what materials you will need.


At the ‘do’ stage, consider how you want to arrange your classroom (maybe you have a reading space?). It is important that all learners are able to see you. Decide how many times you might read the story and what the specific purpose of reading it each time will be.


At the ‘review’ stage, you will need to consider what activities will allow your learners to consolidate the language used within the story, and what activities will extend and personalise the story for your learners. You’ll also need to decide how you will get your learners to review their learning experience.



References: Pim, C. (2010) How to Support Children Learning English as an Additional Language. Cambridge: LDA

Pinter, A. (2006) Teaching Young Language Learners. Oxford: Oxford UP

Wright, A. (2008)Storytelling with Children. Oxford: Oxford UP

Schmit, N (2010) Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. Cambridge University Press

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