Preschool ESL Classroom Activities: Storytelling
One of the fun preschool ESL classroom activities is storytelling. At their age, pre-schoolers are in the process of personal, social and emotional development; they acquire knowledge and begin to understand the world. As folk art, storytelling is accessible to all ages and abilities, and as a learning tool for pre-school lesson themes, it can encourage early language learners to explore their unique expressiveness and heighten their abilities to communicate thoughts and feelings.
Benefits ESL storytelling
Storytelling is especially useful in language teaching and learning. Children engaged in the activity of storytelling learn about history and culture, they develop emotionally and gain a better sense of self-esteem. They are very fond of listening to fairytales and stories, but in ESL teaching and learning, it is very important to decide on the right story to tell.
ESL storytelling includes visualization (looking at images) and body gestures. As a teaching method, telling a story doesn't require accuracy, it aims to make a symbolic point and to make it easier for children to start producing a foreign language. Maybe a good choice would be one of the tales from the Grimm's Fairy Tale Collection: Cinderella, Snowhite, The Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel etc. Also, one might choose between the famous children's stories by Hans Christian Andersen: The Snowqueen, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl or The Ugly Duckling.
Of course, these stories are used in the abbreviated form as a preschool classroom ESL activity. The chosen story should be rich with dialogues and pictures. You'll find the Aesop's story The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse with detailed examples further in the text. This story has several versions and it's widely used by teachers employing the method of storytelling.
Interaction in ESL storytelling
Storytelling with children assumes the interaction between the teacher and the learner, that's why we don't say storytelling ''for'' children. It is implemented in phases or sessions through a longer period of time. This ESL activity can be performed every third lesson or it can take 15 minutes of time from every English lesson – this depends entirely on the organisation of the teacher. It's important that the teacher makes a good introduction, maybe tell the children they are going to another place without leaving the room and that both the teacher and the children are going to be different people or creatures.
Interaction means that the teacher guides children through the story, they have their roles and they repeat their part of dialogue after the teacher. In time children learn what they need to say as their part in the story and at this point it's possible to pass from storytelling to role playing and drammatization. After storytelling, these two techniques are the basis for making a little theatre play. Each child or a group has its role according to the story, the teacher is the moderator and they act together producing a foreign language. These activities take longer time and a lot of preparation, but with provided costumes and masks the result could be an excellent theatre play for parents which pleases both children and their parents, and of course, this is also a very nice event and big success for the teacher.
5 tips on proper ESL storytelling
Keep in mind the following 5 rules when telling a story:
- Innovation – Employ a unique or creative use of language, sound, or body language.
Creatively present the sequence of events.
- Voice Mechanics – speak with an appropriate volume for the children to hear. Use a non-monotonous, vocal expression to clarify the meaning of the text. Speak loudly or silently or whisper when you need to, make onomatopoeic sounds. Differentiate your natural voice from character voices.
- Body talk – Expressively use non-verbal communication to clarify the meaning of the text, make gestures, include vivid facial expressions. When you are telling a story mime and follow your words with actions (knock on the door, walk around the room, ''go to sleep'' and other actions depending on what you're saying).
- Focus – Bring concentration to its highest. Eye contact with audience is engaging. Maintain a charismatic presence in space (stage presence). Use pictures to remind the audience/participants about the sequence of the plot.
- Characterization – Employ dialogue for characters to make them believable to the listener.
Pictures in ESL storytelling
Pictures are very important in storytelling; first, the teacher reads the story aloud and simultaneously shows the pictures to children so that they could memorize better the sequence of events and to stimulate comprehension. Storytelling improves language skills such as vocabulary, prediction, sequencing, comprehension, story structure and recall. Pictures are of key importance once children learn their part in storytelling: some parts are for the teacher to ''tell'' and some parts are for the children to ''tell''.They don't read the story, they tell the story!
The difference between reading aloud and ESL storytelling is that the act of storytelling is always active and inventive. The teacher must concentrate on the intonation because storytelling is not just reading aloud; one must be a little bit of an actor and introduce all sorts of emotions present in the story, occasionally making sounds that reveal fear, happiness, sadness and similar.
THE TOWN MOUSE AND THE COUNTRY MOUSE
In the book Storytelling with children by Andrew Wright, along with many other interesting chapters, you'll find one version of the story The Town and Country Mouse. The author also provides a set of class activities you can use in the process.
The following text is an example of the story with two suggestions on (ESL) classroom activities offered by this author and free printable masks by Jen Brett which can be very useful in characterization or drammatization (unless you decide to engage children in making their own masks).
Town Mouse and Country Mouse: ESL story
A Town Mouse visits a Country Mouse.
He says, ''What a lovely house!''
But he thinks, ''This house is not a nice house, it's a hole in the ground!''
He says: ''What nice food!''
But he thinks, ''This food is not nice food, it's corn!''
The Country Mouse visits the Town Mouse.
He says, ''What a nice house!''
The Town mouse says, ''Thank you. Now come and eat. You can have Brie cheese, Gorgonzola cheese and cottage cheese. You can have sausages, potatoes, beans, carrots, or lettuce. You can have honey, bread, cake…''
''What's that noise?'', says the Country mouse.
''Quick! It's people! Let's run!'' says the Town Mouse.
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse run and they hide in a little hole.
The Country Mouse says, ''It's very nice food.''
But he thinks, ''It's a pity we can't eat it!''
Preschool ESL activity suggestions:
(1) Invite children to compliment each other:
- What a lovely dress!
- What a lovely picture!
(2) Divide the class into four groups (A1, A2 and B1, B2);
- A1 is the Town Mouse speaking and A2 the town mouse thinking.
- B1 is the Country Mouse speaking and B2 is the Country mouse thinking.
The ''thinking'' part of the class is supposed to whisper.
Storytelling may be a great learning tool and a very interesting preschool ESL classroom activity. This activity needs a little more preparation on the side of the teacher, but the effort pays off in class.
Free preschool ESL printables
Mouse masks by Jan Brett:
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This story, one of the versions of Aesop's story, serves as a detailed example of implementing the storytelling technique in classroom or kindergarten class. A very useful guide for primary teachers!
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