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Storytelling in Primary MFL by Alessandra Borghi

Storytelling and Primary Languages : why?

  • Because stories are fun.
  • Because our brains crave for stories.
  • Because we can use beautiful pictures.
  • Because our brains work naturally well with pictures and retain more information that way.
  • Because stories are FUN and therefore the message they convey is more memorable.
  • Because stories are adaptable to age, language level and proficiency and can be used to DIFFERENTIATE our teaching.
  • Because stories are incredibly simple to work with.
  • There are stories for every subject, topic and level most importantly, they give us STRUCTURE or in  other words, SCAFFOLDING.
  • They can be used as a starting point for a myriad of activities to dramatize what characters say.
  • To ask children to write own dialogues.
  • To ask children to illustrate parts or all of the story.
  • Write comic / tragic reductions of it.
  • Write and illustrate dialogues.
  • Write and illustrate descriptions of characters, places, animals and objects.
  • Write different kind of texts: letters, diary entries, invitation to parties and celebrations, journal articles etc.
  • Write different versions of the same story changing characters, places, actions, etc.

How to use stories.

There are many different ways to use stories but generally speaking.
The younger the learners the more gestures and dramatization is important : learning by miming and “making the  noises” is twice the fun and twice as memorable.
It is important to prepare like a proper storyteller:  write down the version of the story and tell it a number of times, incorporating differenct voices, sound effects, and gestures along the way.
When in need of a suitable gesture or noise /sound effect  and the creativity is failing us, ask the children : they will come up with tons of ideas (and will get everybody’s attention on the topic).

Write different versions of the same story: for very young learners it is best to keep it short and sweet and with an element of suspense and excitement, and of course it is best if it is a known story or very simple.
For older learners, still short and sweet is the best but it is possible to concentrate more on a single grammar point: adjectives, nouns and agreements, verbs in the present and the past, modals and volition.
Choose one grammar point per story and some basic vocabulary, do not put too much in the same event.
Recycle language and structures the following lesson: add something new and use something from the previous story.
“Do something”  with the story if possible straight away: a simple drawing to complete, or a  text with missing key words.
Using images will ease children’s understanding and will help us avoid translation.

Which stories to use?

ANY  story can be used
… as long as they are fun and can be illustrated easily, even with stick figures.
Practice illustrating the stories on the white board on large pieces of paper.
Drawing a figure it is more engaging for the children as they will be mesmerized while you are doing it.
They will try to guess what you are doing and will pay attention, making hypotheses.

Make your own stories.

Start from the vocabulary you want to teach.
And the structures you want to teach.
Proceed with a story frame.
Start into the target language as with grammar and vocabulary can influence your writing.
Use stick figures to tell your story on paper.
Try and illustrate your characters with simple traits.
Write simple presentations and give them to the children to read, then ask questions: what is his name? what does he like? Is he good? …

I have a story for you.

Once I was due to teach a Reception class and for some reason I had no computer or white board available, all materials lost, no toys, nothing. Not even a piece of paper. On the class entrance I was wondering what to do for the next 25 minutes.
What to do? I improvised. I looked around and the kids were excited because they had just come back from a trip. So I asked “Where did you go on the trip?” “To the park!” “All right, we are going to an Italian trip!” and off we went. I mimed something with getting on the train (standing up), miming the gap (occhio al buco), pushing the door button and ringing the door closing, sitting down and giving the seat up for the old lady, asking questions in Italian to other fellow passengers (how are you? Where are you going? Is it far? Etc.) with all the children repeating, talking, giving all the instructions in Italian (we cannot talk on the phone, we cannot put our feet on the seat, we cannot speak loudly etc.) and having a ball. Coming back to school, saying “Hello” / “Ciao!” to the headmistress waiting for us, looking exhausted on the way home etc.   A very successful lesson, everybody joined in and had fun, class teachers impressed!

…but of course it is better to prepare.

Favourite writers and illustrators
Eric Carle
Axel Scheffler
Julia Donaldson
Leo Lionni
Rod Campbell
Eric Hill (Spot books)

From the National Curriculum  / KS2 Languages.

Pupils should be taught to:

Listen attentively to spoken language and show understanding by joining in and responding.
Explore the patterns and sounds of language through songs and rhymes and link the spelling, sound and meaning of words.
Engage in conversations; ask and answer questions; express opinions and respond to those of others; seek clarification and help*.
Speak in sentences, using familiar vocabulary, phrases and basic language structures.
Develop accurate pronunciation and intonation so that others understand when they are reading aloud or using familiar words and phrases*.

Present ideas and information orally to a range of audiences.
Understand basic grammar appropriate to the language being studied, including (where relevant): feminine, masculine and neuter forms and the conjugation of high-frequency verbs; key features and patterns of the language; how to apply these, for instance, to build sentences; and how these differ from or are similar to English.

Storytelling and  the National Curriculum.

Working with stories involves working with the 4 abilities : Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing
Children can be taught the whole story first hand if they know already some words in the target language or, for beginners and younger children, first the key words (no more than 7 – 8 words) with flash cards, and then the whole story.
Pupils will listen to the story first and engage with it straight away: after the story some children might like to tell the story to the class (“being the teacher”) or to a friend, others might complete the characters’ portraits and  / or drawing them and labelling their clothes and features (single word level), rearranging the story divided into sentences or completing the text with missing key words, rewriting the story, write an interview to a character, write a different finale, write a new story or create a different character collectively (I give a child two / three options to choose from and everybody writes the story in their books, in 5/6 children we produce a new story).

Storytelling, differentiation, inclusion.

I have found that stories are a powerful tool to help me plan lessons where everybody is participating regardless of their language or, indeed, specific abilities.
Because if the story is known everybody can access it.
Images are powerful and a task like labelling a picture in a foreign language is already a great  achievement in itself …
…but  everyone loves even more to draw their own cahracters .
Just ask pupils to include the / some vocabulary in Italian.
More able pupils can be asked to write sentences from memory, or can be given a simple structure to complete, or read a passage and complete simple reading comprehension tasks, or write their opinions about characters, facts and events.


I try to put in every lesson something old and something new:  always use some words, or structures that link to the previous lesson or series of lessons
This will show children that they are using what they are learning, that they are indeed progressing, and will motivate them to continue.
Use the target language for REAL communication and routines.
ALL my students learn FIRST  “Posso andare in bagno?” / “Can I go to the toilet ?”  AND THEN  learn “Posso avere una matita?” Can I have a pencil?” Because that is what motivates them more.

A cura di:

Alessandra Borghi

Italian specialist at the Italian Consulate General in London

Email : [email protected]
Ph. 07760877625

Consolato Generale d’Italia a Londra

We provide Italian classes for schools at primary and secondary level free of charge
All out teachers are Qualified and CRB checked.

Contact :

Dr.  Mara Emanuela Luongo

Ufficio Scolastico – Education Department
83-86 Farringdon Street
London EC4A 4BL
Tel 020 7822 7100
Tel 020 7822 7103
Fax 020 7822 7112
email: [email protected]

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