Choosing a story
If the coursebook you are using incorporates stories, then all the following aspects will have been taken into account resulting in the tailor-made story you now have in your hands. If, however, you are choosing your own text then check its appropriateness, or the opportunities for language practice may be lost. Consider the following factors:
Is the text supported by attractive illustrations to help convey meaning and support the children’s understanding?
Does the story lend itself to a language area or theme being learnt in class?
Is it age appropriate? Some stories may frighten or upset Infant children. Beware of scary characters at this level!
Does it follow a simple language structure? If not, can it be graded down without losing the essence and message of the story?
Look for a story that incorporates an element of surprise or suspense. If it has a final twist, even better! Where …? stories in which the children have to discover the whereabouts of something work very well at this level.
Does the text have a repetitive language structure? This will offer lots of opportunities for practice. Children tend to be very adept at imitating the repeated structure very quickly.
Look for a text that addresses an educational area such as issues of moral importance or social awareness, eg respect for others, tolerance or cooperation. These issues are often built into young children’s stories.
Familiar versus unfamiliar texts. Traditional stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears have the advantage that the children are familiar with the storyline in their mother tongue.
Tips for successful storytelling
Are you sitting comfortably?
Preparing the children for story time might be easier than you think. Children respond very well to routines and, by familiarising them with this story-time chant, children will, through repeated use, recognise that it is time to sit down and be attentive. This simple chant signals the start of story time in the Infants class. The children gather in the circle-time area and follow the actions demonstrated by the teacher.
Setting the scene
Before embarking upon telling the story it is important that the children are familiar with the key characters and language in the story. For this, make use of pictures, flashcards and puppets. Some of the following games sensitise the children to the key language they are going to hear in the story (in this case, parts of the body).
Play Copy the puppet
The puppet touches its tummy and the children to do the same. Repeat with different parts of the body. As they become more confident, add the challenge of doing it quickly.
Play Pass the puppet
Have the children sit in a circle and get them to pass the puppet around the circle as they listen to some music. Stop the music and ask the child holding the puppet to touch their tummy. Repeat a number of times with different children and parts of the body. This not only allows for controlled practice of the language in a fun environment, but also gives the children the opportunity to bond with the class mascot.
Play Lucky dip
Place the flashcards in a large colourful bag or box. Old shoe boxes wrapped in colourful paper are great for this type of activity. Ask for a volunteer to feel around in the lucky dip box or bag for a flashcard to show to the rest of the class. Familiarise the children with this chant as the child takes the flashcard from the box or bag:
Telling the story
Try to involve the children as much as possible. While telling the story, be sure to use the illustrations on the story cards or in the book to help support the children’s understanding of the text. Use Post-its® to cover the illustrations of the key language and encourage the children to guess what each could be through mime or mouthing the word. Encourage active participation by getting the children to repeat sound effects or words at particular times in the story. Sometimes stories have built-in songs or rhymes, so get them to join in with the actions as in the example (see the blue box).
Retelling the story
Children have very short attention spans at this level and tend to become fidgety if the task is a pure listening one. So if the course you are using provides press-outs or photocopiable activities for making finger puppets or face masks, they will act as invaluable material when it comes to retelling the story. Press-outs not only help the children to participle during the story in a very active way, but also help in each child’s development and control of their motor skills.
Revisit the story by drawing pictures of the main characters or play games linked to the story and theme. Also, don’t hesitate to retell the story a number of times. The children will no doubt request it if they enjoyed it the first time and this will only add to the language benefits the story brings.
Stories focus children’s attention. Stories encourage children to listen, imagine, predict, experience and participate. Stories are the first building blocks towards helping children make sense of the world around them. With all these factors in favour, it would be hard to negate the invaluable role stories play as a resource for teaching English in the Infant classroom. So try your hand at storytelling. It can be a very fulfilling experience for pupils and teachers alike.