Stories have always fascinated mankind. It is our capacity to create, remember and imagine stories that set us humans apart from animals. Stories are part of all human cultures. English, being the world language, has a wealth of short stories to its credit. A learner of English very often starts out his/her learning by means of reading or reciting stories.
In a kindergarten class, a teacher who teaches the sounds of letters has no better way to introduce those sounds than a short story. For example, Jolly phonics that makes use of the teaching of sounds to teaching reading, uses short stories extensively. For example, to introduce the sound of the letter ‘a’, a phonics teacher would tell the story of a kid who had a picnic outdoors, was bitten by an ant, and flicks the ant away saying ‘a’ ‘a’ ‘a’. This is a brilliant way to introduce sounds.
The role of stories in teaching vocabulary is well-known to every English teacher and every interested parent. Take for example, a story such as ‘the lion and the mouse’. Words such as ‘awakened’, ‘do you a good turn’, ‘plight’ and ‘bound’ which are otherwise difficult to explain, become very clear in their meaning as soon as the story is told. This is because a story provides a context to the word, and the context explains the meaning. There are any number of activities that can be devised from short stories to teach vocabulary. A very popular one is to ask children to find the word that has a given meaning. There are also gap-filling activities in which kids have to write down a suitable word they encountered in the story.
This comes as no surprise to anyone. Stories are the time-tested way to learn to read. They are short, so they are suitable to hold the attention of youngsters whose attention span is very short. Many of them, especially the Aesop’s fables, are full of animals, and kids love animals. Since the subject material is so interesting, there is the incentive and motivation to read. It is no wonder that kids’ story books are so immensely popular all over the world. The advantage of these books is also that the vocabulary is very kid-friendly – simple and easy to pronounce.
Speaking is not something you associate traditionally with short stories, but it takes just a bit of creativity on the part of the parent or the teacher to turn a reading lesson into a speaking lesson. There are stories such as the Ant and the Grasshopper that lend themselves to dialogues very well. It takes very little imagination to see the possibilities of such short stories as role play material. Another way in which short stories can develop speaking skills is through story telling. Children love telling stories. A resourceful teacher can assign students to tell stories they know to the class each day.
Short stories can be the spring board to writing. There are numerous ways in which short stories can be used to develop writing skills. A commonly used method is to ask students to write answers to questions based on the story. There can also be gap-filling activities and extension activities in which students are asked to imagine a different ending to the story. Then there are also short story writing contests which are very popular among kids and teenagers all over the world.
One might ask, why talk about values while dealing with English teaching and learning! Fact is, there is no learning that is devoid of instilling some kind of value system. Most of the popular short stories that children read, including fairy tales, instill the values of honesty, patience, selflessness and kindness. The value of a short story in such value education is very high. Classic stories like the Hare and the Tortoise and the Goose with the Golden Eggs teach values more effectively than any amount of moral education.
Short and captivating, stories are a goldmine for English teaching and learning.