A Writer’s Review of ‘Learn Natural English Through Storytelling’

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Apart from being an online teacher and educational blogger, I like to create content and write stories. Writing is probably my ultimate dream and passion in life. There are some people we come across in our professional lives that make a great difference to our work. As far as blogging and writing are concerned, my inspiration has been André Klein from LearnOutLive, who has paved unique paths into English Language Teaching publishing. In this respect, he’s at the forefront of changes in ELT and is transforming content creation as we know it.

Recently André announced his idea to write a collaborative eBook, and, along with some fellow edupreneurs and inspired writers, I jumped at the chance. Edupreneurs are freelance educators who usually have an online business. I’d had writing on my mind for a long time, but was too busy with family, teaching and other edupreneuring activities to sit down and do it. André’s push in the right direction led me to establish new priorities. Writing is definitely featuring very strongly in my present and future projects in education.

I have always advocated teaching English through storytelling. I was doing it through lesson plans and multi-media, but André went further and started publishing stories in English and German on Amazon.com.

Natural English Through Storytelling is our collaborative eBook, and it has been written by ten people from five different continents. It’s a collection of eight stories from intermediate to advanced level. So without further ado, here’s my review of what my colleagues have written, and some insights into my own contribution.


Design

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The book cover was designed by André to reflect our multi-cultural contributions. One of my favourite aspects of the book is that we use international English writing styles and expressions. As you read each story you definitely get the feel for different types of English. It’s subtle, and it’s real. Reading each story is like dipping your toes into diverse pools of expressiveness. The stories are very much alive, spontaneous, and humane. There is an elusive element in this storytelling collaboration that you simply cannot replicate in a prescribed course book.

We all followed André’s advice to write naturally without undue emphasis on the functional elements of language. The stories sweep learners into the world of English in a multi-sensory way that makes artificial scaffolding superfluous. When I say ‘artificial scaffolding’, I mean that you don’t need extra pedagogical supports to enjoy the story. Immersion in the plot is a whole-brain experience that supersedes overt left-brain analysis. After the story has been read and enjoyed by students, then the teacher can find creative ways to help students deepen their understanding and fluency through extended practice.


Introduction

The introduction by André Klein gives us an overview of the role of story-telling in our human experience. It also describes the evolution of language learning strategies through story-telling. It’s a beautifully written piece, and is fertile soil for the flowering imaginations of writers and teachers around the world. The international nature of our book has ignited new inspiration in all of us, and we are going to follow it up with multi-media podcasting as a way to highlight our diverse accents, and also express mood and feeling through tone and drama. Watch out for the podcasts during the second and upcoming MOOC on ‘Pronunciation’.

How the Shiny Fall

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The first story by Kerstin Hammes is called ‘How the Shiny Fall’.

This love story struck me as both classic and profound. When you can write a story for intermediate level using simple terminology that’s deeply moving, then you’ve got the heart of your reader. I would definitely say that this story exudes out-of-the-box charm in more ways than one. In fact, boxes play a subtle role in this story, both literally and metaphorically. It’s clever, sweet, moving and beautiful. Kerstin’s story has already generated some excitement and reviews online. Here’s one from Larissa’s languages. It’s easy to read and would delight any reader from child to adult, from language learner to native speaker.

Get a Life

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The second story called ‘Get a Life’ was written by our WizIQ ambassador and knowledge entertainer, Jason R. Levine. It’s a story, poem, and ColloTune rolled into one. What I love about this story is the transformative nature of wisdom and soul as we follow the experiences of a poor boy who is struggling to make his way in the world. Despite relentless pull-aways from success, and being hampered by peer pressure, street culture and family background, our hero keeps hanging on. The scarcity of opportunity and personal heart-break in the story draw us into his world, yet simultaneously prompt and challenge us to question the status quo. Above all, it shows learners that anyone can do it.

Jason R. Levine leaves us spellbound by his Collo-tune rap style teaching talents in general, but how many of us have really taken his lyrics to heart? This story will open your eyes and heart to yet another layer of Jason’s talent and insights into human nature.

Russian Dolls

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The third story is the one I wrote called ‘Russian Dolls’. It follows the unusual, yet common vagaries of three fascinating characters sharing the same street corner. They are all fiercely eccentric and independent, yet inextricably linked to each other and to the common foibles of human nature. The story follows the events of one afternoon through conflicting perspectives and dysfunctional memories. A few lifetimes are encapsulated in a series of events, as characters pass through fogs of delusion to sudden insights and self-actualisation.

There are many sub-themes in the story if you think about it, but the surface is enough to keep readers interested. There is a lot of rich vocabulary and natural expressiveness, and it is for advanced levels. Students who are learning English need to learn how to express their feelings in order to fully ‘own’ the language, so this story explores the ‘nature of feeling’ through story and language.

The story actually came about in a subconscious manner. I compiled a list of ‘feeling expressions’ from a book called ‘Non-violent Communication’ by Marshall B. Rosenburg, and the story wrote itself from the list.

Most teenagers or adults will identify strongly with the common themes as described, and they will definitely learn a lot of new words. It’s all about relationships, and it can be endlessly exploited for speaking or writing opportunities.

Tripppin’ Tales

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The fourth story called Tripppin’ Tales is from a very talented, dedicated and inspirational colleague, Mau Buchler. Mau recently launched his new multi-media site for language learners and teachers called ‘Tripppin’.

The comic story is for pre-intermediate levels, features twin characters called Pin & Trippp’, and is actually its own holograph. The story is like Alice’s key to Wonderland. By reading this comic sketch, you open the door to Tripppin’, which is a website of story-telling infinity – past, present and future. The past is the life and travels of Mau Buchler recorded on video through witty language stories. The present is the story-telling, learning and language missions you encounter each step of the way. The future is the stories yet to be written by students who will regularly go Tripppin’ with their teachers, and the travelling that Mau has yet to do.

Children and the Internet

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The fifth story covers a topic close to our hearts. Written by Moundir Al Amrani; it is non-fiction and it explores the effects of the internet on children. He discusses issues that we may not find in common ELT course books. There are many key words that students need to know regarding the internet and online behavior, and the story would definitely be a perfect starting point for many discussions and creative teaching ideas. The story raises many controversial issues that need to be addressed and that may be tested in English language examinations through oral and written exams.

I think that this piece of non-fiction could also inspire citizen journalism and collaborative learning projects online.


Survival

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The sixth story is a beautiful one in the spirit of Aesop’s Fables written by Chaouki Mkaddem. It’s a story about a lion, for intermediate level. As in all great but simple stories, there is deep meaning behind the events and much anthropomorphic significance. It is suitable for small children, teenagers, and adults and could be used to teach many, many different things above and beyond the vocabulary in the story.

What I love about this story is that we can apply its meanings to our everyday lives, so that through learning language, students can really get some great insights into life, success and integrity. Teenagers can learn how to manage their peers and social life. Lastly, there is an ultimate truth in the story that you must find yourself in order to fully appreciate it.

Bad Bros For Life

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The seventh story is another lovely story about lessons in life. It’s perfect for children, families and sibling rivalry issues. Beyond that it can certainly teach adults a thing or two. Benjamin Stewart is the author of this all-American tale which excels in action-oriented and comical descriptive phrases. As with all of the stories, it’s very rich in vocabulary and I can draw many, many themes from it. This story speaks volumes to me about how children learn and about how we can promote sociable, productive behaviour in children. How many of us read parenting books or teaching books on behaviour management? The truth is that we can teach children everything we want through telling them the right stories. This is one such story.

Jimmy and Kevin’s Anglo-American meeting.

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The last story is about something that fascinates language learners and teachers all over the world. Written by Chris Workman, it’s a story about American and British English. English meets American. But English does not meet American on a table list you find in text books. On the contrary, an English student meets an American student on campus and they have an amusing conversation that highlights all of those words which confuse language learners. It does so in the lovely articulate expression of a very British writer. Chris Workman also specializes in teaching British English, and this story is a descriptive exploration of what can ensue when British people meet Americans. It should be very interesting for students to feel how they react to different terminology, for example, ‘loo’ instead of ‘toilet’. This kind of story could become part of a larger series that perhaps Chris will build upon in future projects. In the meantime, check out his British English You Tube channel.

The Making of the Book

There was much work involved in the making of this book. Andre is the expert in publishing so he actually put it together for amazon.com and paperback publishing. Personally, speaking, I’m waiting for my moment to do some fast publishing all by myself. ;)

However, there is something special in collaborative writing and it’s something that I’ve been doing for the past few years with my online students.

Editing

Last but not least, every writer needs a guide, editor, mentor and philosopher. A very talented member of the ‘Learn Out Live’ book writer’s club is Michael Gyori. Michael was with us through the whole process and did extensive work on editing and mentoring. His support definitely added a special element to our publishing project and I look forward to many more joint projects in future.

I hope that teachers around the world will find our stories useful whether they are teaching online or offline. This is just the beginning of course ;)

Long live story-telling and language learning.

You can find our book and author descriptions on amazon.com.

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

4 Comments

  • Reply September 19, 2013

    Dr. Nellie Deutsch

    This is the best blog post I have ever read. Congratulations, Sylvia.

  • Reply September 19, 2013

    English Crosswords

    it looks nice. I want to help my pupils enhance their reading skills . I need authentic material written by English native people. Thanks Are the tales written by English Native people?

    • Reply September 21, 2013

      Kerstin

      Hi there! I’m the author of one of the stories (“How the Shiny Fall”) and I believe that nearly all of the stories are written by native speakers. Personally, I am a native German speaker but I have lived in England for 10 years and according to most English people I meet you would never know it. The quality of English is lovely throughout and we made sure to provide a great range of local versions, from USA to Ireland.

    • Reply September 21, 2013

      Dr. Nellie Deutsch

      I know many “native English people” who do not know how to write. Some are even professors with PhDs. Most writers use editors to make sure there are no typos and the grammar is correct. I trust this book was edited before publication, so I would not worry about non-native writers.

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