Skills: teaching English using anecdotes
- I wanna tell you a story
Learners are often keen to hear stories about the teacher's life (even if they are not 100% true!). They are an excellent source of listening material but because students soon get used to a teacher's typical storytelling style, they can sometimes lack variety. Here are some ideas for creating richer, more varied personal anecdotes.
- The teacher news
Talk about what happened to you yesterday but in the style of a TV news programme. Before you start, tell the students what you are going to do and give a reason for listening by asking them to note down a summary phrase for each story. Then sit down at a table (like a newsreader). Start with the headlines then give short, fairly dramatic accounts of six or seven individual stories one by one. If you are feeling very adventurous, you could leave the table occasionally to perform short on-the-spot reports! At the end thank everyone for listening. A story told like this could be invented on the spot, but will clearly benefit from pre-class preparation and rehearsal. Once students have seen your show, they could make their own.
- Playing with genre
The News programme (above) is an example of one genre that we don't usually use in classroom situations. Try telling stories in other unexpected voices e.g. a politician persuading you to vote for him (turn everything that happened into a persuasive, positive example of your good character!), a private detective's surveillance report, a stand-up comedian, a soap opera character (everything over-dramatic, lots of tears and excitement), a criminal's confession etc.
- One wrong detail
Tell an entirely true story with one big lie in it. At the end students have to guess what was wrong.
- Backwards forwards
Tell a story about some separate events that happened to you over the last 24 hours but in reverse chronological order i.e. starting now and then relating earlier and earlier events. You'll need to use lots of before that and earlier etc. When you have finished, the students' task is to recall the entire sequence of events in the normal chronological order i.e. from furthest past up to now. Obviously you'll need to warn learners about the task before they start listening – and make sure no-one takes notes.
- Students tell the teacher's story
Divide the class in half. Gather one half around you (in a different room if possible) and tell them a story about your life. Include events and details that are really you. Use gestures and facial expressions wherever possible. Let students ask any questions they need to clarify the story. When they are confident, join the class up in pairs, each having one person who heard your story. This student retells the story to their partner – but as if they were you – i.e. they use the pronoun I (not he or she) and any gestures or faces that make the story more convincing. If students like this, repeat the activity again in another lesson, using the other half of the class as storytellers.