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.


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