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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 6; Issue 2; March 04

Ideas from the Corpora

Chaving another person's story

Simon Marshall, Pilgrims, UK

One of the problems of the new discoveries by the Corpus linguists about the oral language is just how to teach their insights to our students. One way is to take specific features of normal conversation and get students to practise the feature- so, for example, if to tend to is a high frequency verb in UK speech, we devise an exercise to get students using it. The approach proposed here is more global. In the activity below the students try to enter into highly conscious empathy with a native speaking story-teller and then to remake the story they have heard , watched and entered into as closely and emotionally accurately as they can. They are not just repeating a text- they are semi-becoming the native teller, thus soaking up the native's use of language.

Time: 30 to 45 mins
Purpose: to help students hear, feel and empathetically re-invent a native speaker's narrative.
Material: none
Preparation: arrange for a native to come to your class for half an hour, ready to tell two stories about things that have happened to her.
You can also use a well-told story on video.

Lesson Outline:

  1. Introduce the native-speaking story teller and ask the class to prepare to listen to the story with a view to some people re-telling it. Ask them to listen to the story paying attention to the following areas:

    • pauses and speed of speech,
    • body posture and gesture: hands and face
    • the rhythm of the words and phrases used.

  2. Ask the guest to give a little sniff of each of her two stories. The students then vote on which one they want to hear .
    Ask the students to listen with full attention. Ask them not to take written notes.

  3. The guest tells, seated if possible.

  4. Pair the students. In each pair Person A takes on the teller's body posture and re-tells the story as much as possible with the same gestures, the same body posture and the same speech rhythms as the teller.

  5. The teller tells her story again to the whole group.

  6. In each pair, Person B tells the story as close to the second telling as possible.

  7. Allow time for the students and the native teller to give each other feedback.

Note: this exercise will be done best by the naturally empathetic students, the ones with high language and inter-personal skills ,br> The exercise is not worth doing as a one-off. The students get better and better at it as they practise more.

Variation: in a same-Mother Tongue class, change step 6 above so that Person B tells the story to A with the same rhythm, gestuality etc as the teller, but in Mother tongue, not English. This is a marvellously hard task, requiring great linguistic flexibility.

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