Tell me a story, Andrew Wright!

TimeApril 26, 2019 by ELT forum

Andrew Wright is an author, illustrator, storyteller and teacher trainer. He has published, amongst many other books, ‘Games for Language Learning’ with CUP, ‘Storytelling with Children’ with OUP and ‘Writing Stories’ with Helbling Languages, all of which are still in print.

As a teacher trainer and story teller he has worked in fifty five countries.

He has devoted much of his work to ways of creating engaging events in the foreign language classroom which allow the students to EXPERIENCE the language instead of merely studying it. In this way learning the language is a by-product of using it.

Andrew is in his eighty second year, is still teaching ten hours a week and still loves it. ‘If the students are enjoying the events then why should I stop being a teacher?’

Andrew and his wife Julia Dudas run the ILI International Languages Institute in Godollo.

They have two daughters: Alex is exhibiting her books at the conference. You will hear from Alex in a future edition of this blog.

Our resident story listener, Ondrej Koščík, had the honour of asking ask Andrew questions.

We like telling stories in the classroom to inspire and interest our students. How do you go about choosing stories to tell?

 There are an infinite number of stories to tell so it really is a matter of choosing rather than having to tell what happens to be available.  The more you know your class the better choice you can make on their behalf.  As a touring teller in over fifty countries I usually only know the age and approximate language level of the students…nothing more.  These two factors are important, of course.  Very little children are likely to enjoy very simple aspirations for the protagonists to struggle to achieve.  Teenagers are more likely to enjoy quite dramatic contests.  Some adults might be open to stories arising out of more complicated social or even philosophical issues.

But I have told stories meant for children to adults and heard them purr.

The most important thing is that YOU the teller find the story gripping and then you can tell it in a gripping manner!

Other factors to take into account?  For the very young a story lasting a few minutes is enough…teenagers ten minutes, perhaps.

It might be tempting to choose a story which links with something which has just happened or perhaps with an earlier story you have told them.

Most importantly, ‘throw yourself’ into the telling!  No half measures!

From your vast experience, what do stories in classrooms around the world have in common?

My general guidance for choosing stories given above applies everywhere I go.  The only thing I have to take into account are deep moral values, perceptions and behaviours.

When I was invited to Dubai, for example, I sent transcripts of about eighty stories and asked them to tell me which ones not to tell!  I remember they didn’t want Beauty and the Beast because Beauty finishes the story by making physical contact with the male Beast.

But within Western cultures there are also some strongly held views…very much to do with the role of women.  So some great stories are likely to be the wrong choice if the values manifested clash with those of the listeners.

Dogs don’t go down well in every country but my story about a cat being shot has been a winner on every continent!

We are all told we should foster creativity in our lives. How do we keep a fresh perspective?

Don’t do what you are told to do unless you agree with it with heart and mind.  If you really want to be creative then you will not be able to stop yourself from being so.  Having said that, we are human and we benefit from sharing.  So, in case, my experience is of any use to you…here are a few things which matter to me…

I am paid to help people to develop their understandings and abilities…so that is what I want to do.

Do people develop by being told things?

Yes, if what they are told is directly, immediately relevant to their interests, cares and concerns.  No, if not.

In this interview I am ‘telling things’!  If you, with your heart and mind, really care about engaging students in such a way as they can experience language rather than merely study and manipulate it then what I say will have meaning for you.

Now that we know a bit of your story, what would you like to hear from teachers gathering here in Bratislava?

 One of my frustrations in being a ‘touring teacher’ who is expected to give, help, inspire and so on is that there is so little time to just listen, look, ponder and reflect.

But I do look forward to spending some time with colleagues and learning about their ways…or, rather, YOUR ways of engaging students.

 

author: Ondrej Koščík, teacher at the Bridge

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