Story listening is powerful!

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

To me, developing listening skills are vital in life, yet not practiced enough. As teachers, we are told to let students learn by doing (which is valuable too in some cases) and that classrooms should be students led. As a consequence the skill of listening is being put aside, which I do believe is not helpful to students. According to Dr. Kari Miller: “Skillful listening requires the ability to stay focused on the message, resist other distractions, and make a meaningful connection with the content of the message. Good listening requires practice because it involves effort to do it well. ” In my opinion, students need to learn to listen to the teacher as well as their classmates because it will then help them to build successful relationships and careers. Therefore when I read about “story listening” as a powerful technique to acquire a language, I was thrilled!

As a matter of fact, some teachers are trying to liberate the way we teach students to acquire another language. I am part of a fascinating group on Facebook called “CI Liftoff” where the idea is to innovate and explore using a “Pure Comprehensible Input” approach. Tina Hargaden (who created this group along with Ben Slavic) mentions: “Dr. Beniko Mason asserts, based on Dr. Krashen’s research, that the conscious mind has no place in a classroom whose goal is true language acquisition. The students must be led to focus on the message and only the message. If they are focused on the form of the language, their acquisition is inhibited and might not happen due to learning.

Furthermore Dr. Beniko Mason explains in an in-depth article entitled “Self-Selected Pleasure Reading and Story Listening for Foreign Language Classrooms” : “teachers must understand that consciously learned knowledge is fragile and easily forgotten, but unconsciously acquired language competence is permanent.

I therefore decided to have a go at Dr. Beniko’s technique which unfolds as follow: “Story listening is used for aural comprehensible input. It involves a focus on vocabulary, but the purpose in doing this is comprehension of the story. Students are not required to practice and remember the key vocabulary. The teacher decides which story to tell. and which words to introduce. The teacher tells the story. The teacher draws pictures on the board to make the story more comprehensible. The teacher writes the words on the board to let the students know that he/she is using the words to tell the story. The teacher asks the students to write a summary of the story in their native language. The teacher can evaluate her/his lesson that day by reading the summary of the story they write.

I wanted to try this technique because some of my French learners are at beginner level and I only see them once a week after school when they are already quite tired. I figured that the best way for them to acquire some French would be to listen to stories. Another point is that they are shy and I can sense they feel stressed to have to respond when I ask a story. Therefore I started last week by telling them a ghost legend from Québec in Canada entitled “La Dame Blanche de la chute de Montmorency”. At first, I told them I was going to tell a story in French and that the only thing they had to do was to listen with the intent to understand. If they didn’t understand a word, they did not have to worry because their goal was to understand the story as a whole. I then started to tell the story but I did not draw pictures (because I don’t feel comfortable at drawing!), I mimed the vocabulary I thought they would not understand and I also translated some words from time to time. I told the story quite slowly but not too slowly. At some point I could not help asking them a few questions to check comprehension (which I think is not “true” story listening)! Finally, at the end of the story I did not have them to write down a summary of the story but instead I asked them to retell the story in English. And to my surprise, they understood all of the story, even the details which I thought would be hard for them to understand! I was so happy for them and I praised them on their achievement: they had listened to a ghost story in French and they had understood all of it!!!

I asked my eldest son to film me when I was telling the story:

Story listening is truly a powerful tool! I also told a the Red Poppy Story to my English learner who has had 10 hours of English with me so far and he could understand all of it although it was all in the past tense and there was a lot of new vocabulary related to war.

What about you? Have you experienced story listening?

2 thoughts on “Story listening is powerful!

  1. Alice – you are so generous to show how you tell a story! May I ask you some nuts and bolts questions? And if you want to respond personally my email is below

    – how often do you meet with students like this? And is it for an hour? What do you charge in Euros? What other activities do you do? Any on-going work in between meetings for them to do?

    I find it ponder-worthy your statement that ‘asking’ a story is stressful, but listening to a story is relaxing and natural and intuitive. May God continue to bless your explorations! You are adding to the discipline.

    I teach Middle School French in North Carolina. But I am thinking of leaving the institutional classroom to do something on my own.

    1. Maria, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. The more and more I use Story Listening, the more I feel its impact on learners because the stories have rich input. I usually meet online students once or twice a week, apart from a few students who meet me nearly daily because they want an intensive course. I meet some students for one hour and others for 30 mins. Between meetings, I send them stories to read or videos to watch, input based resources related to what we did during the sessions. One hour is 35 Euros and half an hour is 20 Euros but I give discounts if students purchase more than one lesson. I hope I answered all your questions. I am delighted to know you and to keep in touch with you 🙂 Best of luck Maria!

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