Friday, 8 February 2013

The value of student-generated stories in the YL classroom

This is the first in a series of posts related to the presentation I will give for the British Council Turkey Story Sharing Conference, which takes place February 9th-10th, 2013. This has been cross-posted on the British Council Turkey’s blog on the Teaching English website and can be found here: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/britishcouncilelt/value-student-generated-stories-yl-classroom-dave-dodgson

plants (langwitches)

Quote from John W. Gardner, image from Langwitches

The above quote is one that really resonates with me and my approach to working with young learners in the foreign language classroom. There is a massive variety of EFL material available for children of all ages these days but, while that represents the increased importance YLs have in the world of ELT, I can’t help but feel these materials are ‘cut flowers’ in our students’ hands.

This is especially true of stories, which are often reduced to language learning exercises, with highlighted grammar points, key word lists, and gap-fills to test ‘understanding’ of the text. The same is true of writing activities which often restrict our learners within the confines of a particular topic or starting point and demand use of specific words or structures. Stories then become ‘boring’ rather than engaging and writing is seen as a chore.

Over the years in the primary school classroom, there is one resource I have come to value over all others that really helps students move away from ‘cut flowers’ to the idea of ‘growing plants’ – children’s imaginations. By exploring our students’ imaginations, we can really bring out their creative side, engage them and involve them in the learning process.

Story writing provides one of the best ways to achieve this. My students always love creating characters, settings, and developing plots. Because of this, I always ensure there are as few restrictions as possible when they write – if they want to deviate from the original plan, make changes or add new elements, I let them. In fact, I encourage it!

But the benefits of student-generated texts don’t just lie in the production process. They also provide a great ‘home-grown’ resource and I often utilise my students’ stories for classroom activities. Why? Well, this is extra motivation for the students when they are writing, knowing that their story may become the central focus of a future lesson. It also provides a bank of texts that are relevant and pitched at the right level for my learners. Furthermore, it means students are more willing to engage in what would otherwise be ‘boring’ post-reading activities because they are working with something that as produced in class.

Of course, there are issues to address such as getting our students to write in the first place (something they are often reluctant to do!) and how to address the inevitable errors that appear within second-language learners written work, and these are points I will address in the following posts. In the meantime, I would love to hear about your experiences of story writing with students. How do you approach story writing? What do you do with your students’ texts when they have finished?

Please join me and a host of other speakers for the Story Sharing Web Conference on February 9th-10th. My presentation, entitled ‘Student-generated stories - What happens next?’ is on Saturday February 9th at 1430h Turkish time (1230h GMT) in the Shakespeare room - check the full programme for details. Hope to see you there!

4 comments:

  1. It's very inspiring and very motivational for the learners to know that their stories will be used for future lessons. I like very much storytelling and I am sure your presentations will add much to our experiences.I hope I will attend some of them! Thank you for these great ideas.
    Best Regards
    Faten

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    1. Hi Faten and thanks for commenting.

      In every day life and in the classroom, I value recycling. :-) By using the same materials in different ways, we can help our students get more value out of them (it's just a shame that syllabus demands often don't leave the chance ofr that...)

      If those materials are student-generated, all the better!

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  2. This is a great way of thinking! When I was in high school I enjoyed writing stories in my own mother language. But speaking from experience, it was a bit frightening when a teacher asked us to write a story in English or any other language. I was tempted to play it safe and just wrote about a topic with words I was familiar with.

    How do you make your pupils gain the confidence to be creative when they are not using their mother language?

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    1. Hi Silke,

      I get my students to do plenty of talking and brainstorming before writing. We come up with vocabulary, we discuss ideas, we maybe even draw some pictures (like a storyboard) and I encourage humour as much as possible - that acts as a great gateway to creativity. By the time we start writing, they are usually brimming with ideas. :)

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