Using ‘Storydrama’ in ELT.
This is one of my favourite lesson plans. ‘Cheating Lale is about a young girl who cheats in her University final examinations and the lesson explores learners’ reactions and interpretations of the events and characters that are involved. The lesson works on several levels: it is an integrated skills lesson that practises the receptive skills of reading and listening but primarily focuses on developing speaking skills, discussion, and turn-taking techniques. On a psychological level the lesson demonstrates how we all interpret events in our own way according to our own value system. The lesson incorporates a psychological test, in which learners can evaluate their own ‘value’ system by discussing how they interpret the characters and events in the story.
The lesson consists of 5 stages although as with any lesson these are a flexible outline and need to be adapted to the level and needs of the group.
- Setting the scene: arousing learners interest and personalising the topic of ‘cheating’.
- Prediction: introducing the characters and some lines of dialogue to allow learners to predict and create their own story.
- Reception: learners listen to the story comparing their story to the real one.
- Analysis and dramatisation: learners use the story to focus on the language (lexical collocations) and to improvise scenes to ‘bring the story to life’.
- Psychological test and discussion: learners evaluate the characters and events discussing their behaviour and conduct a psychological test exploring their own values.
The lesson methodology is strongly influenced by David Booth (1994) and his work using ‘storydrama’. Essentially storydrama uses a story as a stimulus to allow learners to bring their minds and bodies together to co-construct through mutual agreement and re-create a fictitious event: to bring the story to life. The principal features of storydrama are:
- Learners focus on issues, characters, mood, conflict and dilemmas in a story as a stimulus for learning.
- Learners respond personally drawing on their own psychology and values.
- Learning occurs as learners explore the issues and dilemmas symbolised in the story
- Learners bring the story to life through improvisation and discussion
I was first introduced to Lucy’s Story by Graham Workman at IH London in 1985 (almost 30 years ago) and I have since taught it countless times in a storydrama format. It has cropped up in many forms (usually referred to as Gary’s or Kate’s etc lesson) and appears to have achieved a ‘urban legend’ status in the ELT world. This lesson is directly adapted from a lesson that has achieved folklore status in the ELT world and is a lesson I know as Lucy’s Story. It is the story of a young girl (Lucy) who meets and falls in love with a notorious young philanderer (Peter) and despite warnings from friends and family (Uncle William) rashly pursues Peter across the river in a boat (rowed by David). Lucy is seduced by Peter and realises that her feelings of love are not mutual. Distraught, she seeks help from potential fiance (Michael) who throws her out appalled by her debauchery. She drowns in the river. Simulating a psychological test the learners have to order the characters according to who they like from most to least and then compare their results with the values the characters represent.
- Lucy = Love
- Peter = Passion
- William = Wisdom
- David = Duty
- Michael = Moralty
As I teach in Istanbul my main character is Lale in deference to the influence of Lucy. As in many educational contexts, cheating is an issue where I teach. When I devised the lesson, I needed a vehicle that allowed learners to reflect on their attitudes and behaviour , particularly as plagiarism seemed to be commonplace and almost acceptable. This particular story adolescent students find particularly memorable and fun. Many students have innovative methods of cheating they are willing, often eager, to discuss.
The power of storydrama.
Stories have been exploited for educational purposes and used to stimulate language acquisition for centuries – and with good reason! Stories stimulate imagination, develop intellect, clarify emotions, identify anxieties, problems and aspirations, and fulfill the need for ‘magic’ in a world that often seems to lack it. I create stories for the language class for three reasons: psychological, linguistic and pedagogic.
Psychologically stories can represent a part of human consciousness that exists in all cultures. They fulfill a human need to listen to and tell stories and invariably evoke a personal response. This story of Cheating Lale was written in order to get my students to consider the importance of taking responsibility for their learning and to discuss issues related to cheating. Each learner will respond differently as their relationship with the story depends on their own interpretation of the world. Not only does the cultural, social, sexual and physiological make up of the classroom impact on learners’ responses, but also each individual learners struggle with contradictory viewpoints of the world. Paulo Freire (1970) claims that at the heart of education is an ability to help learners (and teachers) to reflect and act upon the world, and through that transform it into a better place.
Linguistically the language of stories can be manipulated to include language aimed at the comprehension level of your students. If this story is told by the teacher the language can be graded appropriately to fit the level. Equally the teacher can elicit questions and responses from the students as the story is told. Lale’s Story is simple in basic structure but the meanings generated by the learners’ imaginations are evocative and many layered. This is an integrated skills lesson practicing receptive skills and speaking discussion skills based on a story about a young student teacher called Lale. By the end of the lesson students will have had the opportunity to practice their receptive skills and practiced controlled and less guided speaking practice leading into a discussion and then a dramatization of scenes of the story for presentation.
Sts will have been introduced to and practiced the target lexis related to the story of ‘Cheating Lale’. Particularly they will be exposed to the following common collocations: to go / come out with someone; to make a sacrifice for something; to look after; to pass an exam; to catch someone cheating; to expel someone from college; to refuse to have anything to do with someone.
In addition they practise language of discussion:
Stating opinions: I think that ….. is the best character…. because…
Agreeing / disagreeing: I agree / disagree and supporting opinions with reasons.. because…
As in any activity developing oral fluency learners need to have the ability to effectively manage an interaction. There are many features of oral interaction that a teacher can focus on but one useful area is that of turn-taking as highlighted in the table:
|Strategies to be taught||Example|
|1. Taking a turn||· I agree with you but….· You are right but….· I would like to add something here
· Sorry to interrupt but….
|2. Keeping a turn||· If you could just let me finish,· If I could just finish,· Let me finish please before you interrupt.|
|3. Inviting someone to take a turn||· What do you think about that?· Do you agree with me?|
The teacher can introduce these exponents in a previous lesson and monitor how effectively learners use them in this lesson. Alternatively at the end of this lesson (especially if the discussion can be video recorded) learners can reflect on their turn-taking strategies and self evaluate.
Pedagogically, stories provide an opportunity to develop and practice receptive skills (listening) as well as provide a rich context for language input. Once students are familiar with the story outline and content, the story provides a model to focus on structure, lexis and phonology and provides a ready context for follow-up writing and speaking activities. Most importantly for me, a story with a variety of characters can be dramatized within a double lesson period! Stories are a powerful stimulus when they raise questions or moral dilemmas. Learners explore issues, events and relationships through improvised exploration and discussion. Typically texts are presented in course materials in a static and lifeless manner, as content to be absorbed; however every effective teacher understands that real learning is not generated by the materials but is generated by co-construction and negotiation between teachers and learners in a lived experience which is why every lesson is unique and learning outcomes unpredictable.
The advantages of storydrama.
- Driven by inquiry. Stories create an imaginary fictitious world but at the same time they can explore authentic and emotive dilemmas. Stories arouse genuine passion and strong and emotive learner responses.
- Meaning is ‘learner generated’ through their responses to the story and not transmitted from an external source.
- The lesson stages are logically sequenced and yet the structure is flexible as it depends on unpredictable learner responses. The method is powered by risk-taking as the process relies on challenging learners to respond and engage with the materials and issues raised