Teaching should be ...

When you think of an ideal teaching situation, what do you think of? If I were to complete the sentence above, I'd say "fun, interesting, and productive." Students should enjoy learning and they should feel like what they're learning is real and useful. I know many English teachers get bored and burnt out teaching only grammar. Stories can bring some fresh air and fun into a day of teaching. It's fun to see students' delight at reading a story and understanding it well because their teacher taught the new words beforehand. You can use this website as much or as little as you like. Whether or not you have a set curriculum you are expected to follow, you will most likely have some extra time that you can fill as you choose. I hope you'll consider trying out a story from this site that looks like it would fit your class. (Alternatively, you could refer students to this site to practice on their own.)

How can I teach through stories?

Simple! Stories are one of the greatest tools for passing on knowledge. For language learning, stories work beautifully – after all, that’s how we all learned our own native language. Telling a story uses natural words, repetition, eye contact, and feedback to make sure the listener understands. In short, teaching through stories takes advantage of the natural way we learn language – starting with simple words and phrases repeated over and over, and adding more while continuing to use what was learned before. The key is that you use language at a level that can be understood by your students.

The importance of listening comprehension

The first crucial skill your students need is listening comprehension. To achieve this, they need to have a lot of good, simple language to listen to, over and over. You have to be the one to provide this. So grab a water bottle; you’re going to be doing a lot of talking. In the beginning, your students won’t say a lot in the target language. They will be able to answer yes or no, or give you short-answers to prove they understand. But it will be you doing the most talking, to give them the most listening input.

As their teacher, you should be speaking most of the time in the target language. Give them example upon example of the word in the target language, and at the end, go ahead and tell them what it is in their own language. It doesn’t matter if the students speak their native language back to you. When they get more comfortable, they will start speaking naturally. Just make sure that you speak the target language as much as possible – that is their only link to listening comprehension. It is not even necessary that you know the native language of the students – but it does help sometimes for clarification.

TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) is a growing method of teaching language that takes advantage of this natural way to acquire language. By hearing lots of natural sentences, students will learn the grammar rules and vocabulary they need without the grammar charts and memorization drills we all hated in school – and can’t remember now anyway.

Using this site

This site is laid out in a way that builds vocabulary throughout the stories. It works well taught in the order I have put it. However, there is no reason that it can’t be taught in a different order, within reason. So many of the stories repeat vocabulary that it won’t matter if a story is used slightly before or after it is planned on this site. Also, many stories can be used for a wide level of students. A beginning story like Pancakes for Breakfast will have plenty of new words for beginning students, but it will also have new things that more advanced learners can still take from it. In addition to stories, I have some activities that can be taught whenever you feel it works best into your plan. These activities include basic antonyms and an activity for describing people, as well as later worksheets using more advanced antonyms.

For each story on this site, I have included a brief description of it for the teacher, a list of target vocabulary, the story itself, and worksheets to practice those new words. The Target Vocab is meant to be introduced to the students BEFORE they read the story. Several of the words will be review. That is just fine. Many words may be completely new. Either way, all of the vocabulary should be presented with as many examples as possible of how to use it. When the students get to the story, it should not be a huge struggle. They don’t need to remember all the new words, but hopefully when they come across a new word within the story, they can remember what it means from context. Figuring out the word in the story helps reinforce it as well as show them again a clear example of how that word is used in the language. The worksheets have students use the new vocab again. Doubtless, the worksheets will sometimes use a word the students may be unfamiliar with, so you may want to look over the worksheets and pre-teach words they may not know. It is up to you whether you want the students to read the story and then do the worksheets, or vice versa.

For any given lesson, you should prepare by reading the story and the worksheets yourself to get a feel for the vocab used in it. You can mark anything extra that may need explaining for your particular class. Teach them all of the target vocab as well as anything else you feel important (cultural references, expressions, extra related words, etc). It doesn’t matter if most of the class already knows some of the words on the target vocab list. Go over it anyway. It is good listening practice for everyone, it refreshes that word in case it has been forgotten, and for a student who didn’t know that word before, it expands his vocabulary. Each word is also a link to other words that you may associate with it or a link for discussion involving the students. It may take more than one class period to cover the vocab, depending on the story and the class level. You can assign the story to be read at home if you want. Either way, I recommend always reading the whole story in class at some point. During this time, students can ask other questions they may have. The text can also spark class discussions. The worksheets can easily be given as homework and gone over in class the next day to be checked.

When teaching a specific vocabulary word, you are actually teaching much more than that. You’re teaching the way words work together to form phrases. By using many words that they already know, and a few words that they are in the process of learning, they will be able to understand you and increase their level in the language. You’re providing clear examples of how to use that word and works with other words. Through repetition of words and structures, the language will start to “sound right” to the students, ingraining the correct patterns of speech. It’s up to you to give them comprehensible input. If you speak using words and structures way above their heads, they will be lost and discouraged. If you speak at their level, adding new words and talking about them in the target language, they will follow you and be excited about learning because they understand. They will be able to see their own progress and success.

For some concrete examples of how to teach vocabulary words and phrases, please continue.

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"You live a new life for every new language you speak."

- Czech Proverb

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