Storytelling and Teaching English to Young Learners: A Vietnamese case study
Storytelling, which is often promoted as a suitable methodological approach in teaching young learners, has been under-used and under-researched in EFL primary schools. This study introduces a storytelling innovation to put the young learner-oriented approach in practice. The innovation provides a structure to redesign textbook lessons into storytelling lessons in order to offer young learners interactive opportunities to use language in meaningful contexts. The research was conducted in two phases. The first phase employed a qualitative approach to examine the current state of using stories and storytelling in teaching EFL in state primary schools in Vietnam. This phase involved the participation of 21 teachers and groups of Grade 5 students from 18 primary schools. Classroom observations, in-depth interviews with teachers, and group interviews with students were conducted to collect data. The results showed that stories were mainly used to introduce target language items in the presentation stage of the textbook lessons which had a presentation-practice-production structure. The lessons consisted mainly of mechanical practice and, ineffective group work, and afforded learners few opportunities for interactive activities. The second phase was an intervention study to examine the implementation of storytelling innovation lessons. Two teachers and two classes, who participated in Phase 1, joined Phase 2 of the study. One teacher and one class were used as the comparison group while the others employed the innovation for one teaching term. Data were collected from pre-and post-storytelling speaking tests, classroom observations, in-depth interviews with teachers, and group interviews with students. The quantitative findings revealed that at the end of the study the intervention group significantly outperformed the comparison group in their oral language production. The qualitative data showed that the students in the intervention group were highly engaged in storytelling activities as well. A feature contributing to the learners’ engagement was found to be effective cooperation in group work, as the students were afforded opportunities for meaningful interactions. Both the teacher and the students perceived the positive change in their teaching and learning practices. The innovation could transform a mechanical teaching practice to a more interactive and meaningful learning approach. The results indicate the storytelling innovation as a successful model for introducing change into teaching English in primary schools and contributing to an understanding of the implementation of storytelling, the nature of interactions and learning engagement in EFL contexts.