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Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL specialist

‘Stories and storytelling are fundamental to the human experience.’ Nunan (2012).

Stories help our learners to understand their world and to share it with others (Wright, 2008). Storytelling is a very useful method of teaching English to EAL students, which can be fundamental to early learning. With beginners, it may be advisable to begin working on sub-skills such as learning to key words on the story topic, learning some functional language that appears often in story telling e.g. ‘a long time ago…’ or adjectives that lend themselves to the style or the story e.g. creaky may be useful for a scary story.

The key to a successful lesson based on a story is to involve the learners as much as possible, rather than just simply reading the story and leaving the learners to be passive participants. Choosing a story is a vital part of the planning stage and the table below provides a checklist to you some pointers.

Reading Aloud Telling
Good points Not so good points Good points Not so good points
Everything is provided Learners have the burden of using their memory and their linguistic skills Personal to the students and it’s not coming from a book You have to learn the story and be able to tell the story without a book
No need to memorise the story You look down and put your head into the book rather than engage with the learners It’s a rare opportunity for students to be just told a story You might make some mistakes with your English
Learners will hear exactly the same text every time Try not to read too quickly as this will make listening difficult You may repeat yourself which can help your learners  
Learners can look at the book after   You can move around the classroom and get feedback from the learners as you tell the story  
Picture books will provide prompts for the learners   You can use language you know your students will know and understand  
You don’t have to worry about making mistakes in English   The students may be more engaged to participate in the story  

There are three stages to planning a storytelling activity these are:

  1. Plan - pre-storytelling activities
  2. Do - while-storytelling activities
  3. Review - post-storytelling activities

1. Plan - In the ‘plan’ stage you should decide on your learning goals e.g. linguistic, cultural, cross-curricular and the main outcome/s. You will then need to decide on your chosen text and consider if and how the story needs editing to ensure it’s accessible to your learners.

Remember – for meaning-focused input to occur, one needs to understand 1 in every 15 words (Schmit, 2010)

It’s also worth considering which techniques you will use before you begin your story, for example, how you introduce the main characters, if you will relate the story to the learners own experience, if you will pre-teach specific vocabulary or how you will activate any prior knowledge – maybe the students know this story or similar story in their mother tongue. You’ll also need to consider what materials you will need.

2. Do - In the ‘do’ stage consider how you will want to arrange your classroom (maybe you have a reading space), it is important that all learners are able to see you. Also decide how many times you might read the story and it’s specific purpose each time.

3. Review - In the ‘review’ stage, you will need to consider what activities will allow your learners to consolidate the language used within the story and what activities you need to extend and personalise the story for your learners. You’ll also need to decide how you will get your learners to review their learning experience.

To have a look at some techniques for each stage click here!


Pim, C. (2010) How to Support Children Learning English as an Additional Language. Cambridge: LDA

Pinter, A. (2006) Teaching Young Language Learners. Oxford: Oxford UP

Wright, A. (2008)Storytelling with Children. Oxford: Oxford UP

Schmit, N (2010) Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. Cambridge University Press

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