• Anita Demitroff

The Power of Storytelling

Every family has its own stories, passed down from relatives or taken from beloved books. And an older teacher can see how the same stories delight generations of children.

Moreover, according to two experienced Spanish Language teachers, Felisa Tomé in Vigo and Lupe Dacosta in Valdoviño, Galicia (NW Spain), even Secondary students respond well to being read aloud to in class. Magically, in the English Language classroom, we see how certain books captivate children across the frontiers; linguistic and cultural barriers melt away as they simply enjoy a story or story-song at face value.

Yet, in later Primary and early Secondary, narratives sometimes give way to a sea of non-fiction texts because of the content that learners must get to grips with. For that reason, we can lose the habit of following a story for pleasure.

This post is dedicated to those colleagues who foster a love of reading and storytelling in their classes, either through library projects or classroom routines. Portuguese schools, for instance, hold reading marathons, while Maristas in Lugo, Galicia, probably isn’t the only place that encourages older students to read to their younger classmates.

Of course, these good practices are reinforced by families who make regular trips to the library or who keep family tales alive when everyone is gathered together. Those of us who have had a chance to sit around a bonfire and share ghost stories certainly will remember the experience of being on edge but, at the same time, wanting to hear more.

Throughout this post, you can see a selection of drawings done by 4th of Primary pupils in Jesús Maestro school in Ferrol, Galicia, north-western Spain.

The pictures are based on a Native American story that explains why coyotes howl at the stars. It seems that one of their ancestors was so clever that he could fish and even make fire. However, he was frustrated by the fact he couldn’t dance with a star. When the star finally let him jump up and hold on, coyote found itwas too chilly to continue, so he jumped off. That's why, according to the folk tale, generations of coyotes have looked up longingly at the sky.

To set the scene, we watched a video of another story involving a coyote and the stars.

Then the main story was told by the teacher before the text was introduced. The children showed they understood the narrative by manipulating puppets and making gestures and sound effects.

They re-ordered a scrambled text and then took turns reading aloud and emphasis was placed on the correct pronunciation of the past tense and an enthusiastic interpretation of the text.

Finally, each pupil produced a picture for a specific part of the story and the teacher read the story aloud for a final time.

Some teachers may be inclined to simplify stories by changing, for example, the past simple tense into the present.

However, others will argue that it is important to expose children to the past simple throughout their years in Pre- and Primary, rather than wait for it to appear in their language learning program, which, in Spain, happens at the end of Primary.

Which stories have worked best in your classroom?

Are you among those who have maintained a love of storytelling among your learners?

Let us know!

By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.