Story Telling Through Role Plays for ESL Students

A Painting of the Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais - 1870

A seafarer tells young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother a story of what happened out at sea.
A seafarer tells young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother a story of what happened out at sea. | Source

Rationale for Story Telling

All EFL and ESL students need to apply their listening and speaking skills in an enjoyable manner to make the study of English interesting and fun. I have found that all students enjoy listening to stories, especially fairy tales. If given the opportunity, they also like to retell and act out these fairy tales. The activities of telling the classic fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, gave my sixth grade EFL students a chance to practice and apply their English in a group, non-competitive event. It also gave my students an introduction to story telling and its elements of setting, characters, plot, and story line.

Story Telling Through Role Plays

Learning Objectives for Story Telling

Story telling was chosen as a listening and speaking project activity for my students, because I determined that the students would be able to meet the following learning behavioral objectives:

1. The Students Would Gain Self-confidence in Speaking;

2. The Students Would be Able to Express Themselves Through Body Language;

3. The Students Would be Able to Work Together with Their Classmates to Role Play a Story;

4. The Students Would be Able to Work Together with Their Classmates to Write Lines for Actors in the Story;

5. The Students Would be Able to Narrate the Story in Their Own Words;

6. The students Would be Able to Understand the Setting, Plot, Characters, and Story Line in a Fairy Tale; and

7. The Students Would be Able to Express Language Naturally.

Story Telling Through Role Plays

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Plan of Activity

At the time I was teaching listening and speaking classes, I only had two hours a week for six weeks to devote to this story telling project. My plan of action was as follows:

During the first two weeks, I would introduce my students to the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic means. Using this multi-sensual approach, I would help the students understand the setting, characters, plot, story line, and new vocabulary in the story;

During the third week, the students would be divided into groups of six. A leader would be chosen for each group. His responsibilities were making sure that the group writes its own script (lines) for the story, and that each member of the group has a role in playing out the fairy tale;

During the fourth and fifth weeks, the students would start rehearsing their lines and acting out the fairy tale after the teacher had edited the students' script. The students would be permitted to wear costumes and bring in props during the final rehearsal during week 5;

During the sixth and final week, the student groups would role play the fairy tale in class in front of the teacher and their classmates. At this time, the teacher would evaluate each group's role play performance.

Actual Fairy Tale Role Play Experience

The fairy tale role play experience went more or less according to plan. During the first two weeks I introduced Jack and the Beanstalk to four different EFL listening and speaking classes. I did this by first having the students listen to a narrative recording while I showed them colored scenes in the story. Next, I told the story orally with visual aids and also by acting out a lot of the scenes. Finally, I handed the students a written script of the fairy tale complete with pictures of the main scenes in the story. I helped the students understand the story by going through the setting, characters, plot, and story line as well as by explaining all new vocabulary.

Before the students started rehearsing, I edited all of the scripts which were given to me by the group leaders. One problem was that some groups did not want to write the lines in their own words. The groups that did not use their own lines often struggled in learning the lines which were in my suggested script. Due to the problem in learning lines, some groups only really had one hour of rehearsal time.

During the final week of performances, three out of the four groups put on good to excellent performances.

Post Mortem of Role Play Experience

Four of my listening and speaking classes participated in this fairy tale role play project. The two classes with the brightest and most diligent students fared the best in story telling. Their written lines were original, and most students really acted their parts very naturally. The narrators did a very good job of telling the story, and the two groups employed very good props.

One class performed average, because most of the groups in the class did not practice enough. There appeared to be too much meaningless acting and not enough telling of the story.

Actually, there was one class which had a deficient performance. I think the suggested script for them was too linguistically challenging. The students in all groups could not put the story in their own words. Moreover, almost all of the students, including the the leader of the groups, were not able to present a meaningful story to me.

Story telling through role plays resulted in being an excellent listening and speaking activity for all students. In the future, students will have more time to practice, individual differences in students will be better addressed, and I will pay more attention to the formation of role play groups.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn

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