Friday, October 16, 2015

VIDEO TEACHER: How to Make Fun & Easy Video Lessons

By StoryPaul

Not too many years ago, when I used to work in television production, making even a moderate quality video required a skilled crew and very expensive equipment. You also needed good contacts to get anyone to see what you made.

Today, a device you hold in your hand – that isn’t terribly expensive - gives you great quality and you can instantly put it online and share it on social media with the world.

Now that I work in online language education, I am certain of one thing. We need more content from you and other teachers. We already have enough from publishers of educational content. It's OK, but for the most part lacks authenticity. We need organic, especially content in context.

Not too long ago, I decided to try my own blend of organic production to see how it would play out. So I created a Video Series for students called HIT THE ROAD PAUL using very simple tools, much like the ones you have today at home.

It turned out to be a good idea, so I feel like I owe it to my fellow teachers to share my experience and techniques so they can also create their own content in context. To do so, I put my ideas in the webinar that appears below.

In addition to that, I'm providing teachers who are interested with a Video Maker's Guide for Teachers and a Transcript of my webinar. (click the link)

Look, whatever you make doesn’t have to be perfect or compete with anyone. It has to be fun and interesting for you and your learners. The more you do, the better you get. Really.

This guide is to get you started, but experiment and do you your own thing. There are no limitations or rules.  It provide tips to language teachers on how they can create their own engaging language videos with simple tools and no previous experience.

Happy Video Making!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

STORYLINGO Part 2 - What is a Story?

“Storytelling is about two things; it's about character and plot.”
George Lucas (American filmmaker)

By StoryPaul

Part 2. What is a Story? (click here for PART 1)

That’s a great question. As we continue our journey into the Storylingo cave, we will need to define some terms more than others. This one is essential to us. You see, story is a word that is used to describe different things. Yet in all of the meanings, there is common ground.

Filmmaker George Lucas tells us that the two key ingredients of a story are character and plot. Plot is what the story is about. Character is who the story is about. What and who. Two simple narrative elements.

In a story, those two elements interact. The way they do is what defines the type of story.

Types of Story

We can identify three basic types of stories. So since this blog series is for teachers and learners of English, think about how we deal with each type of story from the perspective of a language classroom or learning environment. We'll talk more about it in future posts.

  • Fictional. This is a story conjured up in the imagination of a writer. Novels, short stories, fairy tales, films and TV fiction are the most obvious examples of this kind of storytelling. The important thing to remember is that fictional storytelling is where we find story form in its natural form. In other words, the following two types of story borrow from this one.

  • Non-fictional. This is a real event that is told in the way of a story. This could range anywhere from personal experience, to something on the news, to a documentary. Of course, whether something is “real” or not will be debated at times, and rightly so. Just not on this post.

  • Transactional. This is when the principles of storytelling are applied to a communicational relationship. Two typical cases where this happens are in education and in business, especially in sales. In other words, when a teacher uses storytelling to teach or when a sales person uses storytelling to sell. Addtionally, many communication scholars agree that because storytelling is very powerful and influential, it is also used as a transactionally persuasive tool in politics and religion. I certainly have my opinion, but I'll leave yours up to you. Let's move on.

So we have three types of stories. However, keep in mind these are not fixed and there are gray areas in between. A real event may become fictionalized as a movie. Or we could use a well known story to teach a lesson or sell lemonade. In all cases, there will be some sort of character and plot.

CHARACTER in the thick of the PLOT in this classic scene 
from Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest

The Fictional Story

To understand the art of storytelling, we are better off learning and understanding how fictional stories are crafted and told. Especially since the other two use the fictional story as their model.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines fiction as a type of book or story that is written about imaginary characters and events and not based on real people and facts. Imagination is the key here because this kind of story ignites the imagination of its readers, listeners or viewers, especially if they are learners.

Best of all, fictional stories don't require us to believe them. We suspend our disbelief and enter another world with its own set of rules. Fictional stories have style, deal with all sorts of subjects and usually have an underlying theme that is not only very closely related to the main character, but to an issue or dilemma that the reader or audience can relate to.

Fictional stories are created by writers of fiction. These are usually writers who may have either something to say about the human condition or the need to ask it a question. What if? They may also just want to have fun with their art and with us. Or all of the above.

But here is the thing. Stories, regardless of what they are about, are about us, human beings. And all stories - one way or another - shed a light on the questions that we ask ourselves and on our very own existence.

Earlier we mentioned story form. This refers to the organizational logic and format that stories generally follow. And as we said, it is this story form that is emulated by those who tell other kinds of stories (non-fictional, transactional). We will go further into this in future posts.

So from this point forward in our journey, the Fictional Story is The Story. And with that, we've suddenly been teleported back to the original question at the beginning of this post.

At its simplest, a story is about change.

Once again... what is a story?

At its simplest, a story is about change. But not just any change. Change that comes as the result of challenge. There are two ways this can happen.

A story can tell the tale of someone doing something challenging, which results in change. Or it can be all about something challenging happening to someone, resulting in change. Think about the stories you know and love and you’ll see most follow this pattern.

So, yes, a story is change and challenge. But there’s a little more to it than that.

You see, change can only come about when the established order of things in a place, in a system or for an individual is altered. In fact, this alteration is the challenging part we were talking about before. It’s a complex process that involves opposing ideas, interests and forces. Opposing forces can only lead to one thing. Conflict.

The bigger the conflict, the more engaging the story.

However, that does not mean that in every story, a key character will be in conflict with another character. At least, not necessarily.

Types of Conflict

There are essentially four types of conflict. In the examples that follow, I'll explain each one and provide a story sample that includes character and plot and illustrates the differences.

Star Wars (film) 
by George Lucas
Character vs. Character
This is the classic story with a protagonist and an antagonist who battle until the bitter end. There can only be a single winner. This type could also include opposing groups, but there will usually be a protagonist or an antagonist that stands out in each group.

Star Wars by George Lucas is the saga of a simple farm boy from a distant planet who discovers he has great powers and is destined to fight and defeat the menacing dark lord of the galaxy Darth Vader, strong man of the evil Galactic Empire.

Moby Dick (novel) 
by Herman Melville
Character vs. Nature
This is the story a person or a group of persons who confront forces of nature, such as storms, earthquakes, wild animals or even asteroids from outer space. It is usually a story of survival and of the struggle and sacrifice this implies.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville is the story of Ahab, a 19th century whaling captain who was almost killed in an encounter with the "great white whale". He becomes obsessed with revenge, putting himself and his entire crew at risk by taking on the dreaded Moby Dick.

Hamlet (play)
by William Shakespeare
Character vs. Self
This is usually the story of a single person who is dealing with an serious internal conflict or dilemma and who ultimately has to make a choice. Of course, this dilemma will put this person at odds and in conflict with others, but the deep resolution of conflict lies within. 

Hamlet by William Shakespeare is the story of a brooding prince who - after learning his father was murdered - struggles with himself whether or not to kill the culprit, his uncle – the new king.

This is the story of a character whose convictions put him at odds with the society where he lives and all the doctrines and beliefs of that society. This is the story of the character that challenges the status quo and may or may not be made to pay the price, depending on how the author decides to end the story.

Thelma & Louise by Callie Khouri is the story of two female friends on a weekend road trip who get in trouble when one of them kills the would-be rapist of the other. As fugitives of the law in a male-dominated society with little room for equality,
they have no choice but to run. The question is for how long. 

And while we're on the subject of equality. Some of you reading this may have noticed that I use the word "character vs" replacing the traditional phrasing "man vs" used by literary scholars for centuries. I believe character is better because it refers to the leading character or characters. So it can refer to men, women, children, groups, individuals, talking animals, aliens, artificial intelligence or fantasy characters in a category of their own. Basically, we’re talking about the forces that are in conflict with one another.

Nevertheless, there are stories that do not fit exactly into these types of conflict. There are variations, such as stories whose main characters are in conflict with supernatural forces or with super powerful technology. Here it really depends how the conflict is presented.

So where does this leave comedies and drama which don’t always involve end of the world or catastrophic scenarios? Most comedies and dramas are either Character vs. Character or Character vs. Self. Many are a little of both as the character deals with those who oppose him or her as well as his or her own limitations.

The Hero's Journey

As we said when describing the types of conflict, stories have a main character or group of main characters who the story is about. They are the ones who experience the key events and take the main actions. And it is through such characters that we experience the story. For the sake of simplicity, we call our main character The Hero

For the time being, what we need to know is that in a story, the hero is in conflict with someone or something: another character, nature, society or even, him or herself. To resolve that conflict, the Hero will have to embark on a journey, real or metaphorical, and deal with great odds to restore or renew order. Or at least to try. This is called: The Hero's Journey.

In future posts, we will talk much more about the Hero's Journey.

What I can tell you now is that the result of this journey will vary. Still, one thing is certain. After the journey, after confronting adversity, the world of the Hero will never be the same. And in many cases, neither will ours.

And that is a story.

In our next post, we will answer the question: Why do stories matter?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

LANGUAGE FOCUS: Choosing Style from the "Word-drobe"

By StoryPaul

Sometimes the words we use are like the clothes we put on. Like our wardrobe.

If we need to be formal, we choose more formal and academic words. When we need to be friendlier, we relax our tone a bit. Of course, when we're hanging out with friends or close colleagues, we pretty much say things in a casual way.

Unfortunately, when using English as a second language things are not always so simple. This is especially true for speakers of Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian) who tend to use the familiar "latin-based" words in any given situation. Well, as it happens, those sound formal in English. Whereas, the "anglo saxon" words usually sound more common and relaxed.

To provide some insight, here are ten formal words and collocations and their informal (or more relaxed) counterparts used in context so it makes more sense.

  • This plan is convenient = This plan works for me.
  • Please contact Susie this afternoon = Please get in touch with Susie this afternoon.
  • Could you provide us with some assistance please? = Could you help us out?
  • I need to postpone the meeting until next week. = I've got to put off the meeting 'til next week.
  • Inform them that the conditions of the agreement are not acceptable. = Tell them the deal is off.
  • Later, I will arrange a meeting between you and the team. = Later, I'll set up a meeting between you and the team.
  • They require two references. = They need two references.
  • Thomas has not replied yet. = Thomas hasn't answered back.
  • We need to inquire you on what happened. = We need to ask you about what happened.
  • I truly regret the incident at the club. = I'm so sorry about what happened at the club.

Read the list over a few times. See which one you would probably use and in which situation. Think about the following:

Do you tend to be more formal or informal when using English as a second language?

Do you pay attention to how formal or informal others are when they speak?

Do you ever choose a word because it sounds like one in your language?

A good exercise is to look at natural speaking patterns which tend to be more informal. A good place to find these is in dialogues from movies and television.

With the resources available today on the internet, that is easy to do. A great website to find movie scripts to read is

Another source you can also check out is the top 100 movie quotes of all time created by IMDb (The Internet Movie Database). CHOOSE a few and try to see if they are formal or informal and try to change them to their opposite. It helps if you know something about that story. Pick a movie you know something about. Here is the LINK.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

VIDEO TEACHER: Outatime - An English-Learning Adventure

By StoryPaul

It's not everyday you get to deliver your two passions into one big adventure.

As you probably know by now, I love storytelling as much as I love language education. I strongly believe the two go hand in hand.

This adventure began with a youth talent film production workshop I ran almost a year ago. And as a result of the great work - both in front of and behind the camera - my team and I were able to come up with an adventure called Outatime.

The sum of the episodes in Outatime is rich in content, yet short enough to make it an ideal language-learning tool for young learners at schools with a busy curricula. Additionally, the mix of science, history and geography that sustain the plot make it a prime candidate for use in a CLIL classroom.

Around the World & The Studio
As you'll probably gather from our trailer, production took place in different parts of the world, as well as in the studio. Post production took months. So in addition to the excellent performance by the cast, the final cut features the type of visual and sound effects that breathe life into these stories and that audiences of high budget productions have come to expect. The only difference, our budget was a fraction of shoestring.

Outatime is basically a 7 part edutainment video and text adventure designed for young English learners. As the story unfolds, we join four very special children as they travel through time and space in search of their father. Yet in their quest, they discover startling information about our past and future.

Licensing for Schools
Outatime is designed for schools and language education centers to view and work under the guidance of a teacher. It's a multi-media package, in that it includes the video episodes along with a study guide to provide relevant vocabulary, reading, exercises and post-viewing activities.

In addition to exploiting the material from a strict language focus, the study guide includes activities across a range of school subjects, among them: history, geography, math, science, and media studies. Each of these shares a connection to the story, the characters or themes within.


7 video episodes
7 digital guides with vocabulary, reading, grammar, exercises and activities.
Teacher training with creator


- Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing tasks
- Individual work
- Group work

Language Focus
- B1, B2 Grammar skills
- Idioms, Phrasal Verbs, Collocations
- Describing people, actions and events
- Storytelling
- CLIL activities (History, Geography, Math, Science, Media Studies)

Legal & Disclaimer: All children working in this film had the full permission of their parent or legal guardian to participate. All seemlingly dangerous images are the result of digital post production and posed no threat to either the cast or crew. Information about the cast is not available to the public.

Contact for information and licensing:

Story Paul English © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

VIDEO TEACHER: Audiovisual Learners of Languages

By StoryPaul

Merriam-Webster defines audiovisual as an adjective that describes anything that is related to, or uses both sight and sound. As you probably already know, the word is usually associated with the field of film and video production. So audiovisual or A/V - for short - is something that people who deal with cameras and microphones have to worry about. Nobody else.

But when you think about it, doesn't language learning also involve sight and sound? Don't we learn to speak by decoding what we see versus what we hear? Doesn't the human body come equipped with its own variety of onboard camera, microphone and speaker system. Think about it.

So here's a little story you might have heard of.

A mom approaches her little boy, looks into his eyes as she points to herself and says, "Mama". This happens a few times. The little boy sees this nice lady in front of him, who he's become quite attached to, by the way, and hears the words that come out of her mouth. His ears sample the sound bite, his eyes focus the lens of the "camera" for a close-up shot of the scene. Stuff starts to happen in the "editing room" upstairs.

For the briefest instant, the "recorded" image and sound play again in the boy's brain, as he takes his first "baby" steps into what is to become: audiovisual learning. In nano seconds, the brain reviews the information and concludes: "Hey, we have a match!", just not in those words. It's more like: This lady in front of me (image) = "Mama" (sound). Once again, to be sure, "Mama" (sound) = This lady in front of me (image). 

Finally, the litlte boy looks at the lady again and hits "play" on the sampled sound captured earlier. Out come the words, "Ma.. ma". Naturally, Mama's onboard camera captures the tender and unforgettable moment for all of eternity.

But the story continues...

That's right. Our little boy grows and the audiovisual learning advances at full speed. He learns to speak correctly and clearly. But things get complicated right around the time the little boy is taught to read and write in school.

You see, those who teach him don't encourage the use of his onboard A/V equipment for the purposes of language learning. Instead, they insist on its replacement with what they consider state-of-the-art technology. Written language.

But let's clarify. The purpose of this observartion is not to knock the power of the written word. It is obviously an invaluable tool for language and communication. But here's the thing. It's not the only one.

So with that in mind. It doesn't hurt to put a little more focus on our ability to see and hear when it comes time to learn a language. After all, we continue to be audiovisual learners of many skills in life, whether we admit it or not. That's why it is unfortunate when written language operates more as a roadblock than a bridge in the language learning process.

The key is to create the opportunity for audiovisual learning to happen in a language learning context. In fact, it is a process that can be managed, depending on the level, age and scope of learning. Students must be told in advance that the activity does will not involve reading or writing. So what does it involve?

An "audiovisual" session might involve storytelling activities, guessing games and role-playing situations. It's the type of activity that levels the playing field between those who are better listener/speakers and those who are better writer/readers. Nobody gets hurt. I promise. In my upcoming StoryLingo workshop and book, I will provide fun audiovisual activities to do in class.

Having worked for years in film and television production, I come from the traditional audiovisual field. So I can tell you from a experience that placing a camera and microphone to make a film is no different than focusing your own eyes and ears on a situation in life in front of you.

The only difference is the equipment.


1. At home: Look at something, observe and think about what you see. Write down what you see. Write down what you hear.

In class: Read your description to classmates. They must guess what you were looking at. Tell them how they did.

2. At home: Watch a television commercial in English (YouTube has many).
Write down what you see. Write down some spoken parts of what is said without revealing the product or service sold in the commercial.

In class: Read your description to classmates. They must guess what the commercial was about. Tell them how they did.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

STORYLINGO - The Power of Storytelling in English Learning

“Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.”
Jean Luc Godard (French filmmaker)

By StoryPaul

Part 1. Magic Powers

You and I are different. We were born in different places on different days. We've gone through different experiences, faced different challenges and made different decisions. We may subscribe to different belief systems. And there's a chance we don't speak the same mother tongue. But that's because we have a different story. No big deal.

You see, having a different story doesn't mean we don't have things in common. We share plenty. And one of those things is a code. A way of both organizing and transferring experience. Both our own and that of others. A code that transcends language and culture. A code that's been around since the beginning of civilization.

Cracking the Story Code
That code is storytelling. And that code can be a powerful asset to both English teachers and learners. In this blog series, I intend to teach you that code so you too can harness your story Magic Power as a teacher or a learner. Ready?

Of course, before we set off on our journey, I understand that at first glance, storytelling might feel like it has little to offer language learners. After all, we normally associate storytelling with the work of writers. Eccentric individuals who lock themselves in a room as they bring to life novels, plays, films or songs. We may also think of journalists, biographers and even bloggers. All creative people with an urge to narrate lives, experiences and worlds just outside the door or light years away. Creative people in creative fields.

Yet there are plenty of non-creative fields where we find storytelling in pure form. Religion, politics and business all deliver their message in story format. And while their purposes may be different... or not so much, they all know the storytelling code is deep within us. They know we yearn to hear stories. What they usually overlook is that we also yearn to tell them. But well, nobody's perfect.

Now it turns out that storytelling has finally arrived to the world of education. From the hallowed halls of Harvard to the top TED talk, it's become sort of a buzzword. I guess for me, it's like the fusion of my two areas of expertise. You see, although I work in language education, I originally come from media and film.

Shooting a TV commercial
From early on, I was formally taught the storytelling code in film school. Then as a writer, producer and director, I got some very rewarding hands-on experience in it. Obviously, a home advantage, and a cool one, so I figured, it was time to give back some coolness to the universe. So I am empowered to finally see leading education experts all sing praise to the power of storytelling. But...

But what I'm not seeing is much emphasis in actually teaching storytelling - the code - as a skill. You see, most efforts have taken advantage of our yearning to hear stories. Storytelling has mostly been implemented as a tool or strategy for engagement and motivation of students, which is great too.

So here's a question. If we expect to foster fluency in language education, why not teach them a powerful skill that helps them organize ideas based on the context of meaningful experience, rather than the randomness of a grammar topic? Lack of storytelling skills is the main reason students often get disorganized when they must speak about who they are, what they do, what they think, or even to talk about someone else’s experience. Yet even if that's true, shouldn't they be proficient in grammar first?

Well, here’s the thing. A basic handle on storytelling skills exponentially enhances a student’s ability to use proper syntax, correct subject verb agreement, and to call in the heroes of every writing or speaking assignment: the might transitions.
Checking out Murano, Italia
But it goes way deeper than that. Storytelling skills provide a thematic and organizational template that allows the student to explore a subject in a meaningful way. So instead of listing facts or opinions, they can carefully highlight moments and direction in an experience they're describing. This is powerful communication and a good skill to have in any job, not to mention if you decide to become a teacher. But to do this, you must know the code.

To learn the code, you must do what all heroes do. Embark on a journey. On this journey, you will encounter creatures called plot points, inciting incidents and character arcs. They sound dangerous, but they're harmless. It's the same stuff they put inside a Harry Potter book or the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory. But please do not even worry if you don't know what they mean. You will soon and once you do, you'll feel like you've known them forever. In part, that's because we've been telling stories for roughly 12,000 years, so this stuff is in our DNA.

Our education system simply forgot to tell you. That's all. So the question is, do you want to join the Fellowship of the Lost Story Code and journey deep into the cave to claim it back? Or would you prefer to stay outside where it’s “safe”... for now?

Defeating the Dragon
If you're ready for adventure, I must warn you of the dangers ahead. First, you will not find any quick and easy treasures you can take on the fly and apply as is. You must go through the cave from start to finish. But most importantly, you will be defied by a fierce dragon who goes by the name of Common Sense. He's powerful and will do what he can so you don't make it to the other side.

Now, if you’re still here and feel you can handle the perils of the journey, I bid you welcome. Get ready to drive deep into the heart of uncharted territory in the landscape of language education.

As our first step into the cave that holds the storytelling code, I’d like to provide a sense of the Magic Power of storytelling in education. This step comes in the form of a 3 minute video. A memorable scene from an award-winning episode of a classic American TV comedy. It doesn't matter if you know the show. Take a deep breath... and hit play.

In our next StoryLingo post, we’ll go deeper into the cave as we answer a fundamental question: What is a story? 

As always, feel free to review, share, and discuss this post. Additionally, feel free to click on any of the words or expressions in bold to learn or review their meaning.

Until then... May you live the journey of language learning.