Storytelling And Grammar For TEFL/ESOL Teachers

Written by: Larry Walder



Time to read 3 min

Once upon a time, there was an English teacher who wanted to explain grammar to his students. He had always enjoyed writing and reading stories, so he decided to use storytelling as a way to make his grammar lesson more engaging and relatable.

But what is a story?

The teacher began by doing some research. Combining several dictionary definitions, he established that a story could be defined as a narrative or account of events, real or imagined, that convey a series of connected experiences or information. He knew that stories often involve characters, a plot or sequence of events, a setting, and a theme or message. While searching on the internet he realised that stories could take various forms, such as novels, folktales and myths, dramatic plays and personal anecdotes.

After his research, he began to think about what stories were actually for. He decided that stories could serve many purposes, including entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and communication of ideas and values. Stories allow people to share experiences, convey knowledge and explore emotions. Moreover, he knew from his own experience that sharing stories helped his students to develop their imaginations and ask deep questions about the world around them.

The re-emergence of storytelling

As someone who enjoyed writing stories himself, he was happy to discover that the art of storytelling once again seemed to be in vogue in the English-speaking world. Within the last few weeks, he had heard the global economy and the advantages and disadvantages of Artificial Intelligence described by newsreaders and commentators in the context of the ‘stories people want to tell’.

He knew that historically storytelling had always played a large part in the transmission and preservation of culture. Cave paintings told the story of early humans, their hunting and their relationship with animals. Hieroglyphs recorded the lives and beliefs of rulers and ordinary Egyptian folk. Documents and diaries illustrated the growth and decline of the Roman Empire. The printing press allowed more and more people to understand the history and science of the world they lived in. Novels had given readers insights into the lives of other people and allowed them to speculate about the future. Theatre and films had brought an almost infinite number of stories to the masses. And now in the 2020s, business, science and advertising were highlighting the importance of storytelling in all aspects of modern life.

Stories In English Lessons

While Teachers of English have always valued stories, this teacher felt that the art of storytelling was sometimes undervalued and underused. Often the curriculum and available time meant that schoolteachers had to concentrate on formulaic grammar structures, increasing vocabulary and using English ‘correctly’. But he felt that storytelling could be a great method for illustrating and demonstrating English grammar rules because it helped students to understand the rules in context. This makes it easier for learners to remember and apply those rules in their own writing and speaking. The teacher wanted to demonstrate some of the ways ‘stories’ in their many forms could be used to highlight and exemplify aspects of grammar. That is how he came to write what follows.

How Do You Feel?

The first paragraphs of this article were written in the style of a story. How did that make you feel? With luck, it may have demonstrated that storytelling makes things seem more personal. A story is an invitation to share another person’s thoughts and experiences. It can be quite an intimate thing. It breaks down barriers, and that can be useful when trying to convey complicated topics such as grammar. On a practical level, perhaps you could ask your students to re-write the above section in a more formal or technical style. Alternatively, you could find a short factual text and ask your students to re-write the information in the style of a story. You might have specific guidelines such as incorporating adjectives and adverbs into the text.

Highlighting Grammar

In the following download, we aim to give some concrete examples of ways in which stories and storytelling can be used to teach, revise, or highlight grammar in real English usage. It is not an exhaustive list but aims to inspire you to incorporate stories into other areas of the English curriculum you need to teach. The download contains hints and tips on using stories and storytelling with;

- Adjectives and Adverbs

- Tenses

- Order and Sequencing

- Prepositions

- Reported Speech

- Modal Verbs

- Conditional Sentences

We hope you find it useful and it would be great to hear if you have any of your own storytelling and grammar ideas to share.