Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bringing it Alive! - Plenary Talk by Alec WIlliams

Now that I am writing the report on Morale Williams’ plenary I realize why I was so engrossed in his talk. He kicked it off by telling us a story which included Greek greeting on his part. I can assure all readers of this report that Mr. Williams did thrill his audience with this gesture of politeness and empathy. He then directly linked the theme of our 22nd TESOL Macedonia Thrace Convention “Back to Basics” to storytelling by saying that stories are a basic human need as they are how we make sense of the world, how we entertain, how we pass on experience, how we break the news, and how we recall history. Stories have existed as long as humans have existed, Mr. Williams pointed out. And I can see why now…

“Bringing it alive” the title of his plenary is used by Mr. Williams because it works in two ways as he explained to the members of our association. Firstly, stories can be used in English teaching in order to bring alive the subject itself and thus avoid exercised-based teaching. Secondly, if teachers put a little bit of drama and expression, in other words their heart and soul, into reading and telling a story, they can lift the words off the page! 

As for the reasons why we tell stories, Mr. Williams reminded to us that stories help with language and speech. We can always tell a child who has been read to. They are more concentrated, they are more confident of putting their hands up. Also, stories give a vocabulary that children wouldn’t otherwise hear. Book language has its own richness and rhythms so teachers should make room for it. 

Stories help people develop other skills, too. They help with joining in together. Researches have shown the younger children are read to, the better they become even in subjects such as Maths and Physical Education. Stories can help children face something safely second hand because there are topics they can explore in a story with a trusted adult i.e. their teacher or a parent. They help with emotional development and imagination. A bond of affection can be created between the teller and their audience and in the case of parents an intimacy. Stories can bring objects to life. Values, morals, truths are best passed on casually through storytelling. They recall history. They spread understanding because you can’t fight someone when you know their story. And where can we find stories? Mr. Williams suggested books, picture books, short stories from older collections of books or through memory.

He rewarded us for sharing our first experience of story with colleagues sitting near us for about 5’ with the story of how the dog came to live with man. It is just one example of “Why Stories” which try to explain things. Needless to say that Mr. Williams’ acting skills may surpass those of many famous actors’. He went on to clarify how stories help particularly with language learning. He said that as children naturally need and enjoy stories these help learning because they are memorable. He also suggested that natural language be used when telling stories and colloquialisms, sayings, proverbs be put in because they provide an opportunity to hear English in performance. Choosing a story is obviously important so Mr. Williams encouraged his audience to read through many stories until they find that one story which as a storyteller would put it “wants you to tell it". Of course, a storyteller should feel free to use their judgment in order to make those changes to stories which would suit their style or their audience. Additionally, it would be a good idea if poetry was not forgotten because there are useful and memorable words in that, too. 

According to Mr. Williams there is no such debate as Reading versus Telling stories because he thinks both have different advantages. Reading has a more direct association with the printed text. It enables to share visual focus. It enables you to read stories you might not be able to tell from memory. It allows greater qge range. It involves prediction before you turn the page…

Telling stories without a book gives greater freedom to the teller. It stimulates the imagination. The stories are happening in front of the children!

Teachers of English should start with fairly simple stories with a lot of interaction. He advised us to use body language, facial expressions, movement and of course the space we have. And an unexpected suggestion. A drawing story. The drawing he drew while telling the story answered the question at the end of it! 

During his talk Mr. Williams gave us a wealth of tips. Some of them are: 

1. Story tellers in general, shouldn’t use a book with a large audience because they won’t be able to see.

2. Picture stories don’t work with a big audience but they are ideal for parents and children because they go over two laps. What an emotional touch!

3. He issued an appeal to the audience not to turn the pages of the book into quizzes. Instead, he asked us to let the stories explode in the heads of the children! Last but not least, natural follow-up is wonderful. What might that mean? Well, seeing the children re-enacting the stories they have just heard during the break. Or simply welcome immediate reactions by saying “What did you think of it?” or “My favourite bit was that.”

Our charmer left us with some of his wisdom. 

”If you don’t do much storytelling, do more. If you don’t do any at all, do some. But above all enjoy that storytelling. Children will usually laugh with you rather than at you. And if they do laugh at you, it’s worth it in the long run to bring them that joy and that learning that comes out of it by including more and more stories as much as you can in your English teaching lessons.”

Thank you Mr. Williams.

By Elsa Tsiakiri

Photos by Margarita Kosior

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