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Story-Telling for ELL Students Builds Vocabulary and Comprehension

Updated on July 26, 2012

I tutor some English Language Learners (ELL) students who have been in the United States for less than 2 years. Since the schools struggle to meet the needs of students who do speak, read and write English, it’s very difficult for them to meet the needs of student who do not speak English. Especially when those students go into the school system above a 2nd or 3rd grade level where reading and writing are so critical to learning.

So naturally, I’m looking for different ways to speed up learning of the English language for these students because they have a lot of catching up to do and a limited amount of time to do it. In the process of searching, I found Reading Versus Telling of Stories in the Development of English Vocabulary and Comprehension in Young Second Language Learners, a case study online that was originally published by Takumi Uchiyama in the winter 2011 issue of Reading Improvement.

This case study was very interesting because it explored the benefits of using Story Telling to not only build English vocabulary and comprehension of 5th and 6th grade students but to also spark their interest. While I’ve used stories in the past with students, I haven’t spent as much time reading to my students as I could. Though my reasoning was the time constraints, I’m not wondering if the benefits of the story telling could outweigh the time constraints in my ELL students.

This case study also stressed that when the story was told in a dramatic way with the reader taking on the role of the protagonist the students were more engaged and absorbed more of the story. Reflecting back to my own personal experience in middle and high school learning French, I recall how much more engaged I was when watching a movie in French or listening to a story told in French as opposed to the more standards memorization, listening and grammar rules approach.

I suppose I am mostly surprised that this strategy, which would seem to be intuitive, was not and required a study to measure the results. Either way, you can bet I’ll be building in story telling for my ELL students from here on out.


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