Meaningful Acquisition

Hongmin Skyly Yu, Cleveland State University

I attended the OFLA Teaching Towards Language Acquisition workshop. The topics included comprehensible input strategies like storytelling. But why use stories? It seems that the authentic scene of conversation is more helpful to second language learning. Communication is the first goal of second language learning. Why do we need a story? Learning language connects literature to life and can build contextualized comprehension input. The teacher can guide students to create interesting stories together that align with the appropriate age and language level. Meaningful dramatic stories can help them ground the foundational structure, accumulate various synonyms, homonyms, and word chunks in sentences. This is true especially for novice and intermediate level because the stories are fun and the vocabulary is easy to store in long-term memory.  If the teacher creates a funny story, the story includes high-frequency words of the target language and results in students reading with joy, practicing, memorizing and performing gladly.  For instance, the teacher can create a story of the target language as shown below:

A girl likes her dog.
A girl likes her big white dog.
A girl walks with her big white dog slowly.
A girl walks with her big white dog slowly in the garden every day.
Yesterday, they saw a black cat in the garden.
The cat said he came from another planet.
The cat asks the girl and dog, do you want to come with me?

The teacher continues to create the next part of the story based on the student level. In order to create a meaningful comprehensible story, the teacher needs to control the story process and end. Teachers are the directors. An experienced teacher has the wisdom to guide students to flexibly choose story content, which can blend in authentic daily life, or have a more dramatic plot that would deepen the impressive memory and practice. The purpose of the story is using the intended target words and sentence structures of the target language. The targeted words depend on the students’ proficiency level. As the students progress, the teacher can add more details and can become more creative with both vocabulary and plot.  

The story includes frequently used words as well as different target language tenses. The teacher can teach different levels of students with short or long versions of the same story. For advanced students, teachers and students can both create open-ended stories. Based on the story, the teacher can ask questions such as yes/no, either/or, what? when? where? how? which?. The students should be encouraged to answer the questions by repeating entire sentences for practice. For instance:

A girl likes her dog, yes or no? Yes, a girl likes her dog.
A girl likes a cat or a girl likes a dog A girl likes her dog.
When did the girl and the dog meet a cat?  Yesterday, the girl and dog met the cat.
Where the girl and dog met a cat? In the garden, the girl and dog met the cat.
What dog does the girl like?  The girl likes a big white dog.
Which color cat did the girl and dog meet? The girl and the dog met a black cat. 
How did they meet in the garden? When the girl and dog were walking slowly in the garden.

The teacher can be more creative and develop a more complex story based on the students’ level to increase students’ interest and curiosity about the story. Then, they can repeat and practice speaking using the question technique. If the teacher wants students to practice speaking more times, they also can have a lot of activities based on this simple story.

Students can use group activities like “line-up,” “inside-outside circle,” “matching pairs” to practice interaction. Students line up in two lines or two circles, with one direction rotation, each one faces a new classmate to practice conversation.  They can question and interview based on the story content. For the novice level, students can possibly ask yes/no questions and about vocabulary used in the story. For the advanced level, perhaps students can discuss the story open-ended. For advanced levels, students also can use “four corners” activity to discuss possible different process-end or what will happen, and write down the story, then group report. 

In the classroom, students need to keep bustling. I prefer students to be busy reading and speaking, even for a novice silent period. I would love to use the FLIPGRID (App and online web) to facilitate students’ presentations. Recording and showing their presentations to the class, the students comment as they watch each other. For a shy student, the teacher can hide the recorded presentation video. For novice level students, the presentation can just be students reading the target language vocabulary or one or two sentences. It is a very cool and fun technology, especially for speaking tasks. I used it every week to record my presentations in one of my courses, and it truly helps language performance.  

In conclusion, through comprehensible storytelling communication activities, students practice and show their language competency and proficiency level by meaningful stories in the target language. 

This entry was posted in OFLA News: Association, Uncategorized, Winter 2020. Bookmark the permalink.

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