Why and How to Use Stories to Motivate Speaking in EFL Classes

“Storytelling” … Why?

As we all know, stories have always played a significant role in children’s growth. Stories not only help in stimulating children’s imagination and understanding of the world, but also in developing their language ability and appreciating literature. So, storytelling is highly recommended in EFL speaking classes and here are some reasons:

Firstly, motivating and immensely interesting stories can best attract listeners and promote communication.

Secondly, stories are an enormous language treasure. For hundreds of years, thousands of stories have been created and passed down. Many old stories are regarded as the models of language and treasures of the culture. Learners at various language levels and age groups can find suitable stories to read and tell. It would be a waste and pity if they are neglected in the course of EFL/ESL. In addition, stories are easily accessible and storybooks can be found in bookstores and borrowed from libraries or friends. Today, the most convenient and quickest way to find stories is from the Internet.

Thirdly, the lively atmosphere and real life environment created by stories encourages students to talk and discuss with each other. When telling and listening to a story, the learners will easily be plunged into the scene and the plots which will, to a great degree, relieve their nervousness.

Fourthly, storytelling helps EFL learners become more self-confident to express themselves spontaneously and creatively.

Fifthly, stories can solve the problem of having no time to meet with partners to practice dialogues. Sometimes, partners are dispensable to practice storytelling though it is better to have an audience.

How to Use Stories?

At first, if students are not confident in their speaking skills, it is recommended that they are given enough time to prepare. As students build their confidence and their classroom language becomes more free and active, the teacher can gradually increase the difficulty and make the game more versatile. To motivate and encourage students, points and prizes are granted to good tellers and groups each time.

Warming Up

Students listen to some stories downloaded from the Internet and repeat as they listen. This gives them an opportunity to improve their pronunciation, stress and intonation. They are offered three stories each time and required to practice the one they like best. A competition is held every two weeks. Every student is required to tell one to three stories naturally and expressively. When they do so, they will feel much more confident in telling stories in English than before.

Activity 1

Divide the students into groups and each group prepares a story. Each member of the group tells two to three sentences and the next one continues until the end of the story. The length of the story could gradually increase from two or three minutes to four or five minutes. Before the lesson, students could divide their tasks in advance and practice their own parts. The teacher moves among the groups and chooses two or three groups to present their stories before the class. Because students have enough time to prepare and work together, this helps them build confidence and create a lively and brisk atmosphere.

Activity 2

Ask each student to prepare a story (about two minutes long) in advance. Divide the students into groups with four to five members in each group and ask them to tell his/her story in the group. Each group selects the best storyteller to compete for the best storyteller of the class. The class selects the best and the second best storyteller. Since the performance of each storyteller is connected to the score of everyone, students will be greatly involved in the whole process and listen to the stories attentively, which will in turn promote the performance of the storytellers.

To avoid the few best storytellers dominating the activity, the best storytellers will be arranged in the same group next time. They will have to work harder in order to win again. This will make the winners stronger, increase the opportunities of others and promote the whole class participation.

There are many ways to use stories in speaking classes. It is also advised to encourage students to find more interesting stories and create different ways to use them. Besides, in the course of looking for, rewriting and completing stories, their reading, writing and imagination can be further developed; teamwork and friendship will become stronger by working in groups. So let stories be there in your speaking classes.

Four Main Factors Discouraging Students from Speaking in EFL Classes

 

Most students hope they can speak English fluently. Although they have the desire to participate in speaking tasks in EFL classes, EFL teachers describe their response to these tasks as “Not good”.  There might be some factors demotivate them. Here are the main four factors that discourage them from participating in speaking exercises.

1. Fear of making mistakes:

Speaking skills are often neglected because of large classes in some places. There, students have little chance to practice speaking in class. This leads to the result that speaking skills of most students are low.

On the other hand, the fear of “losing face” prevents students from speaking in class. For many English learners, they believe if they make mistakes or fail to find suitable words to express themselves, they will lose face. To protect themselves from being laughed at, they are reluctant to speak. So they rotate in a vicious circle: the less they speak, the less they improve their speaking skills, and the more they are afraid of speaking.

2. Topics are not interesting:

The dominating speaking tasks according to communicative approach aim to enable students to cope, in the target language, with typical situations in school and work environments as well as in ordinary life. Most of these tasks require students to role-play and learn dialogues according to given situations or topics. Students often complain that they have been repeatedly asked to introduce their families or schools, talk about their hobbies or favorite studies, make dialogues on topics such as job interviews, meeting visitors or shopping. These “practical” topics and situations provide little space for students to imagine and create. Therefore, dialogues on these situational topics are hard to develop in depth and width. Students tend to lose interest in what they learn if they find they make little progress and say repeatedly what they have learned.

Another problem with this kind of topic-based speaking training is you can’t expect all the listeners to be interested in your hobby or favorite studies. Moreover, the other students in the classroom are talking about similar things, which could hardly offer anything new to each other. Consequently, students in the speaking tasks are not very attentive and the speakers just make a perfunctory effort instead of getting involved, not even to mention enjoying it.

3. Classroom atmosphere is not encouraging:

The effect of classroom atmosphere on language learning, especially an oral class, is obvious and immediate. A free and friendly atmosphere promotes communications, while a nervous and stiff atmosphere builds invisible obstacles in communications. So, teachers should create real-life and various situations that sound enchanting and encourage students to participate.

4. Feedback of the listeners is not supportive:

Listeners’ feedback also has a strong influence on the performance of the speakers. Very often, at the beginning of the performance, the speakers are confident and active when doing some dialogues or role play exercises. However, when the listener students lose interest in the speakers, begin to talk to each other or just do whatever else instead of listening attentively to the speakers, the speakers tend to, consciously or unconsciously, speed up or cut down their words, trying to flee back to their own seats as quickly as they can.  Even the slightest indifference or impatience indicated by the listener students can be immediately felt by the speakers, which, in turn, greatly inhibits their passion to communicate. Of course, teachers can force the listener students to listen to the speakers but it is of no use blaming them. The most effective way is to use interesting topics that relate to the listeners’ life.