Agen Takeaway #3: Story Listening

As I mentioned in my second takeaway from #Agen2019, Story Listening is the CORE of all my lessons.


Because my IB Spanish students have achieved tremendous results in the past two years I have been teaching at Thuringia International School.

My online learners love listening to stories. Their affective filter is very low and they are receiving optimal input, input which is rich and at the same time compelling. Since I see most of them only once a week for one hour, they need optimal input to acquire French.

The benefits of Story Listening

Kathrin Shechtman did two amazing presentations about Story Listening in Agen. One about the basics of Story Listening and another one about Story Listening and Reading. I was so happy to see Kathrin as we  do a tandem online. We teach each other German and Spanish respectively through Story Listening. It allows to use the sessions to work on my teaching skills and to acquire German, of course!

All we need is a teacher who can tell stories and a library full of books.” Beniko Mason.

Kathrin told a story in German aimed at beginners with lots of repetitions in the story “In einem dunklen, dunklen Zimmer“. She made the story comprehensible with her drawings, her gestures and also how she explained the new words in German. For example, Kathrin explained the word “Wald” (forest in German) by saying there were many trees in a forest. She drew a tree, and said there was a tree. Then she drew another tree, and said there was another tree. She drew many trees and said there were many trees in the forest.

And just this week, Megan Hayes who teaches Spanish to elementary students in the US, wrote a fantastic blog post about why she loves Story Listening. I could not explain better than she does why Story Listening is so good. I can relate to all the points she mentions in her post.

One point is particularly TRUE: ” The way I feel feeding students a consistent diet of SL.  I feel satisfied, relaxed even, because I know like I’m providing them with an abundance of rich, contextualized and compelling input.  It’s the same feeling I get when I feed my daughters a healthy balanced meal, like, I did it! I provided the optimal meal, which they ate, so they can have a cookie if they want!  After a successful story, I have a parallel thought, such as, we can play a game or even go out to recess a bit early because they have taking in so much good stuff already!“.

How to implement it with your learners?

First of all, get rid of the “I can’t draw” feeling! I know how you feel, I feel the same: I CAN’T draw!!!

However, drawing is NOT important. It doesn’t matter if you are the worst drawer! What matters is that YOUR learners COMPREHEND the story. They should not comprehend every detail of the story, they should comprehend the story as a whole.

Carla Tarini, who is a US based teacher of French and author of French readers, commented today on the Facebook group for CI French teachers: “Not only does drawing slow you down but it shows students that you are a bit vulnerable and are taking a risk. That’s just what we ask them to do everyday in our classes. I’m terrible at drawing. But we get a lot of smiles and laughs out of it (lowering the affective filter). (Also, you could save yourself a ton of time in prep work if you don’t have to make slides.)“.

Once you are ready to draw, choose a story YOU enjoy. If you like this story, chances are your learners will enjoy it too. They will see and feel you like this story and they will want to listen to it.

Once you have chosen a good story you enjoy, make it comprehensible. Prepare a prompter. Use:

  1. Drawings
  2. Written Words
  3.  Gestures (Body Movements)
  4. Mimic (Facial Expressions)
  5. Synonyms/Antonyms, Suffix/Prefix, Parts of Speech, Word Families
  6. Student’s First Language
  7. Students’ Knowledge of World
  8. Slow & Clear Speech
  9. Shorter, Easier Sentences
  10. Change the Content of the Story for Easier Predictability
  11. Quick Explanation about the rules of the Language for those who are initially trained in traditional grammar teaching. The explanation may make the input more comprehensible.


Your are NOW ready to tell the story to your learners! If you are still unsure, watch demos here.

En pratique

Start with relatively short stories (10-15 minutes max) and gradually tell longer stories. Your learners need to build on the stamina to listen to longer richer stories. You need to be CONSISTENT and to tell stories regularly, not just once a month. Try to tell a story each lesson.

Make sure, you tell your learners they are going to listen to a story in French. They should JUST listen and enjoy the story. If they don’t get all the details in the story, it is NOT important. They should try and understand the story as a whole.

If your learners start to un-focus and to talk over you about something else, STOP, BREATHE, SMILE and WAIT until they are silent again. Continue to tell the story. If they start to interact and say things about the story, it is GOOD, it means they understand the story and are enjoying it!

At the end of the story, ask your learners to write a summary of the story in L1, or to draw or to re-tell the story to someone else. You can then evaluate how well they understood the story and how well you told it.

Here are the stories I have told so far to a total beginner. She is Chinese and  it was a challenge because of the cultural gap. There are some simple words she did not understand although it was obvious to me she would understand them. Therefore she needed stories with repetitions and with a simple plot (Thank you To Claire Walter who has done an amazing job in adding many, many stories to the Great Story Reading Project):

What do you think? Have you tried Story Listening with your learners?

P.S. To have access to many French stories, eBooks, biographies, poems and articles to read (with a Dyslexic mode) as well as the audio files for as little as 4.75EUR/month, join now!

P.P.S. The eBook (pdf) about the adventures of Marie et Médor avant Noël is on its way! 24 scripts in the present and in the past tense to be dowloaded SOON!
The Dyslexic eBook of le Livre numéro 1 – 30 petites histoires  is also to be dowloaded SOON!

Read about Agen Takeway #1: Very Narrow Listening

Read about Agen Takeway #2: Get to know your learners

Read about Agen Takeaway #4: Reading

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