I had the opportunity to pilot this course on three volunteer students during my final semester at SFSU. The paper below details both the course content and the process and findings of piloting the course.
What’s Your Story?
Strengthening ESL communication through improvisation and storytelling
Amanda E. Snyder
San Francisco State University
MA TESOL Capstone Project
“I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Surely, in the above quote, Gandhi was not speaking about the freedom to express his personality in a second language, but as a teacher of non-native English speakers, that is the connection I make with this statement. Personal expression is indeed a powerful tool, no matter what language we are speaking. I have found this to be true as both a writer and performer, and as a second language learner – albeit from different ends of the spectrum. When performing my own writing in front of an audience, I have found relief, release, peace, and a connection with others. When attempting (and sometimes not succeeding) to express my opinions and desires in a second language, I have often felt frustration, embarrassment, and confusion when my efforts fell short. These ideas – self-expression and second language learners – mingled in my mind throughout my coursework as a MA TESOL student at San Francisco State University.
It is with the overriding idea that expressing oneself effectively in a second language is empowering, I created a curriculum for non-native English speakers entitled “What’s Your Story?” The project was first developed in the SFSU course “Performance in the ESL/EFL Classroom” in the MA TESOL program, and later revised and piloted on a small group of students. This paper details the process and outcomes of piloting the course. It is my belief that a project of this nature will heighten students’ fluency, knowledge of prosody, public speaking skills, writing skills and overall confidence in English.
This unit or stand-alone course integrates role-play and improvisation techniques alongside storytelling techniques to strengthen ESL learner fluency and confidence. In this unit, learners listen to sample monologues and study story structure. They then share a personal story about an instance of cultural miscommunication and write and revise that personal story into a monologue. During the process, students utilize improvisation and dramatic techniques to practice speaking skills. Finally, the course culminates in a performance of the monologue.
The module is six lessons in length, with each class being 1 hour and 15 minutes in duration, one time per week. There are no texts required for the students. While this module was created as its own course, it could be incorporated alongside other units in a longer course, spreading out the activities over more days. The module integrates all four skills, but most prominently focuses on the productive skill of speaking, with writing being a secondary focus.
Discussion of learning context
While the type of school or learner that this module might be oriented towards can vary, I created it with a pre-academic class setting in mind. It is geared toward adult learners, roughly ages 20-40, as opposed to children or teens. In practice though, the students in the course were all at an academic level.
The piloted course took place in October and November of 2012. All students who took the course volunteered to do so. There were four students at the start of the course: two undergraduate students, one graduate student, and one visiting scholar (all at San Francisco State University); one of the undergraduate students ultimately dropped out, due to scheduling conflicts. L1s of the remaining students were Chinese (two students), and Arabic. Usually, all three students were present at class meetings; for one class meeting, only two were present. Clearly, given the wide range of educational levels – an undergraduate student, graduate student, and visiting scholar – the course content had to be adjusted. In addition, course content had to be adjusted due to the fact that the original course was created for a level (pre-academic) below that of the pilot students.
In general, the classes were one week apart, but due to illness and school holidays, the length between classes sometimes differed. The classes took place on Oct. 1, Oct. 10, Oct. 15, Oct. 29, Nov. 5, and Nov. 26, 2012.
While some instructors might be dubious about the merits of something such as the use of drama in the ESL classroom, it has a myriad of benefits. When students create their own script (or in the case of this project, their own monologues), not only does it heighten motivation, but the project then encompasses all four skills, as well as grammar and even vocabulary teaching. Indeed, utilizing all aspects of drama – from improvisation to script writing to performing – can foster the learning of ESL students.
There are many kinds of drama-related activities, including improvisation and role-play that can be used in the ESL classroom. Burke and O’Sullivan (2002) detail many advantages to these activities. During these kinds of activities, students are motivated, and relaxed, and the process creates a sense of community when they have to work with others. Practicing for performance allows students to practice pronunciation with their lines. Boudreault (2010) expands on these advantages and cites that by using drama in the classroom, students experience “meaningful, fluent interaction in the target language,” prosodic features are contextualized, as is vocabulary. In addition, students gain a sense of confidence in their ability to learn the target language.
Research has shown that when students encounter drama in the classroom, the improvisational nature of the activities allows students to confront their fears and take risks, resulting in improved speaking skills. Because students performing a play or monologue must convey appropriate emotions through their recitation of the script, they understand oral communication on a deeper level, one beyond grammar and pronunciation: meaning, feelings, and motivations (Miccoli, 2003). This “deeper level” is clearly one that is hard to instruct through traditional means; drama techniques can be that bridge to heightened understanding.
What’s more, there are many advantages to having students write their own scripts or monologues and give feedback to each other. When students are able to express their own stories, and use those stories as a learning text in a classroom, motivation is heightened. While negotiating tasks like the monologue circles for peer feedback, students are using real language for real purposes. Students will feel challenged by trying to write and perform their own stories, and this risk-taking results in heightened language retention. Finally, the model monologue texts allow students to approach sensitive topics in their own monologues (Burke & O’Sullivan, 2002). In their study of an ESL classroom in Canada where teachers used learners’ stories as part of the curriculum, Nicholas, Rossiter, & Abbott (2011) found that the participants believed that using these stories “promoted language learning, an understanding of genre, and community, while also enhancing authenticity, affect, and motivation” (p. 247). Clearly, writing for performance can also be quite beneficial to language learners.
In addition, playwright and ESL teacher Kathleen Klose (as cited in Oakley, 2005) builds on this idea when she contends that student-written scripts and monologues allow students (studying in an ESL context, rather than EFL context) to explore and express portions of their lives that non-immigrants may not be aware of, such as the pain of leaving loved ones behind and the trials of attempting to maintain relationships across long distances. Elgar’s (2002) research additionally found that when students worked on writing and rewriting their own text for performance, they had the chance to hear their words and the words of their peers over and over again and by doing so, had the chance to “make words ‘say’ just what they want them to mean” (p. 23). In addition, Heath (as cited in Elgar, 2002) argues that when the student actors also acted as authors, they found “a deep range of linguistic competence that they otherwise did not display” (p. 23). It is clear that when students write their own scripts or monologues (or dictate it to someone else to write down), the advantages of drama are multiplied.
For this particular project, I have adapted what are traditionally peer response techniques for writing into “monologue circles,” where students read each other’s monologues in groups and give feedback. When properly scaffolded, peer feedback can be quite useful to the second language learner. For example, students build their communication skills during peer response and are able to test and revise their ideas about how the language works in a low-stakes setting (Ferris & Hedgcock, 1998). It is important that peer response occur more than once (for this project, it happens twice in the six-day unit), because students’ abilities in the technique develop over time. In general, students move from making only surface-level suggestions to more substantive ones (Ferris & Hedgcock, 1998). Whether spoke or written, giving feedback to peers helps students practice production skills, but also to learn culturally acceptable ways to respond critically to others.
Speaking, of course, is not just about vocabulary and grammar. Prosodic features are also crucial to effective oral communication. The purpose of the intonation, stress, and rhythm lesson in the project is to help students to interpret and produce proper intonation effectively. According to Celce-Murcia, et al. (2010), “intonation is more important than grammar for marking boundaries in conversation” (p. 232). This emphasizes how important intonation is, in both formal and informal social situations. Celce-Murcia, et al. (2010) go on to cite several research studies that indicate that because of misinterpretations in the prosody of their speech, non-native speakers are sometimes seen as rude, bored, or abrupt. Despite the words of the speaker’s message being understood, the intention – and thus the larger point of the utterance – might be misunderstood due to improper use of intonation. The misunderstanding related to intonation can go both ways – whether the non-native English learner is speaking or listening. By studying and practicing the prosody in their monologues, students will be able to experiment with these in a safe environment.
In addition, a student’s L1 may make understanding and utilizing intonation quite difficult. Cruz-Ferreira (as cited in Levis, 1999) contends that languages do not organize intonation in the same patterns or with the same meanings. This directly relates to the performance of the students’ monologues, and also to interactions at large, outside the classroom.
Teaching prosodic features using students’ own lives is another advantage of this curriculum. Attempting to teach aspects of pronunciation through decontextualized phrases and sentences goes against traditional communicative language teaching. In fact, Richards (as cited in Jones, 1997) argues about the artificial nature of separating pronunciation from communication. Building on this idea, Brown (as cited in Jones, 1997) argues that the sociological context in which the students and teachers meet should be considered when determining pronunciation targets. Through contextualized communication – via stories from their own lives – prosodic features become more salient to learners.
When it comes to using storytelling techniques in the ESL classroom, this, too, can create a sense of community. Arrastía (1995) found that when students told stories from their own cultures, it “took us from our separate classrooms where we coexisted in our distinct worlds…to explore our commonalities together in one classroom” (p. 104). Arrastía used “seed” stories from representative cultures to generate personal stories by the listeners, which further built community in the classroom. In addition, Bulow (2004) found that sharing experiences was “a powerful resource in troublesome situations.” Even though her research did not center around a classroom, the findings are nonetheless applicable. ESL students studying and socializing in a language and culture that is not native to them encounter a number of obstacles, and sharing those stories can be that “powerful resource.” As Bulow (2004) argues, sharing experiences helps participants in a number of ways, including creating a common store of experiences and knowledge about their situations, giving them the opportunity to compare themselves with the shared instances, and a “mutual recognition” of the common situation.
It is clear that the use of drama and storytelling techniques in the classroom has a myriad of positive effects on students and the classroom atmosphere. As Miccoli (2003) contends, teachers seeking “transformative and emancipatory learning experiences” should consider utilizing these techniques. Empowering learners is paramount in the classroom, and drama and storytelling techniques can accomplish that.
Goals and Objectives
As a result of this course, students will be able to:
- Identify story structure (as it relates to Western culture)
- Identify and demonstrate conflict in a story
- Identify and give constructive feedback on peers’ work
- Understand that utilizing different pitches conveys various emotions and motivations
- To listen to sentences and be able to identify the speaker’s intention
- To read sentences aloud and convey a specific emotion or motivation
- Identify common intonation patterns in English
- Produce common intonation patterns in English
- Use intonation in spoken speech to convey chosen motivations and emotions
- Produce and perform a monologue about a story from their lives
[Note: Please forgive some of the formatting irregularities present in the table below.]
|Day 1||Procedure||Materials / notes|
|10 mins||Intro: syllabus / student info sheet / permission sheet||Permission to audio/video classes.|
|10 mins||3 things activity: introducing each other; find 3 things in common, then \intro all other people in group, and country they are from.|
|Model text5 mins||Before listening to Storycorps monologue, pre-teach vocab such as “crooks,” “gangsters,” and “peephole.”||See Appendix A.Crook = thief, robber, burglarGangster=mobster, criminalPeephole=hole in door to see who’s on the other side|
|Model text,Continued5-10 mins||Pre-listening: This woman is telling a story about when she and her husband first came to the U.S. and she didn’t understand something about American culture. What do you think it might be? (Discuss with partner/ class.)|
|Model text,Listening 20 mins||1st listen: (Ask Ss these Qs before listening so they know what to listen for.) Who as at the woman’s door? Why was she scared?(Listen 1 time; feedback on Qs; make sure everyone understands what Halloween is.)2nd listen: How does the woman set up the story? How does she introduce you to it?(Listen 2nd time; feedback on details.)3rd listen: Give out transcript of story. Talk about how good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Mark on this transcript these sections of this story. As you listen, figure out where the end of the story starts.(Listen 3rd time; feedback.)||Trick-or-treaters were at her door; she was scared because she thought they were criminals.———————————–Intro is first 4 sentences. Emphasize she sets 1) time, 2) place, 3) characters (she & her husband, & that they are immigrants), 4) she had a pre-conceived notion about place.———————————–Conclusion begins with “And Brian calls around 9:00.”|
|Model text,Role play & homework 20 mins||With a partner, choose one of two role-plays: 1) What might have happened if the woman had opened the door? One person should play the woman, and the other person should play the trick-or-treaters. OR 2) Role-play what the woman could have done instead of hiding in the bedroom. (Call the police? Go to a neighbor’s house? Yell at the people at the door?)Homework: Think of your own story of cultural miscommunication/misunderstanding. If there is time left over, have students either take brief notes about their ideas, or share them orally.||Model brief role-play with a student before Ss pair up.Give Ss 5-8 mins to prepare and practice, and the rest of the time to perform.Role-play should be about one minute, maximum.|
|Warm-up: Recall 10 mins||Recall from Storycorps monologue. Call on several students to re-tell vivid parts of this monologue. (Also remind them of the story structure: beginning/middle/end.)||Recall helps Ss to jog their memories and prepare them for the day’s lesson.|
|Story structure: Practice 10 mins||Tell students that they are going to get a very brief story, cut up into three parts. They need to 1) put the story into the correct order by determining the beginning, middle, and end and2) They need to be able to explain how they know each part is the beginning, middle, and end.*Give feedback on the correct order of the parts, and then read the story aloud. Ask the students before reading: What were the two misunderstandings in this story?||See Appendix B.The story is brief, so Ss will likely put together the parts quickly. Make sure time is spent on why they could tell each part was the intro/middle/end.*2 misunderstandings: ‘hot dogs’ are not made of dogs; ‘hamburger’ is made of beef.|
|Story structure: Role-play 20 mins.||Pair up students and give each pair a story premise. They will role-play their story for the class. The focus here is conflict. They must decide how to start and their role plays and what important details to include.||See Appendix C.Give students up to 10 minutes to prepare before performing.|
|Sample monologue15 mins||Prepare for monologue (tell Ss about situation in monologue.)Listen to Tamik’s monologue (2 times)||See Appendix D.|
|Discuss Ss stories10 mins.||Each student discusses their ideas for their monologues – either in pairs or with class.|
|Homework:10 mins||Homework: Write your monologue of 1-2 minutes. (If there’s time in class, Ss can make notes about their own stories.)||Give handout for homework; see Appendix E.|
|Recall2-3 mins||Recall from day two: Any of the stories and their content, or even from any of the role-plays.||Day 2 stories: man @ restaurant eats beef without realizing it; girl moves from Russia to Israel to U.S.|
|Speaking game7-8 mins||Three-line dialogue focusing on status. (The two people know each other – so no “how are you?”) Examples: parent/child (below); doctor/patient; waiter/customer1: Now, Susie, I told you that you can’t eat on the couch.2: “But mom, I promise I won’t spill”1: “Ok, just this one time, but let me get you a tray.”||[make sure everyone has two turns]Feedback, at least one for each person.|
|Modeling of responding to peers10 mins||Go through ways to respond to your peers on Appendix F. [Make connection with giving feedback in other areas of life.]||See Appendix F.|
|Monologue idea sharing 30 mins||Go through questions on Appendix G.Have Ss share their ideas for monologues (or what they have already written). The rest of the class listens and responds by answering any of the questions on the second handout.||See Appendix G.|
|Feedback20 mins||Give some specific language feedback from the monologues.Homework: Revise/edit your monologue based on peer and T feedback.(If there’s time in class, Ss can begin revising.)|
|Wrap-up5 mins||Discuss possible dates/times for final performance.|
|Warm-up5 mins||Hand in revised monologues. Write “Thanks” on the board four times in the manner indicated under “materials.” Give Ss a few minutes in pairs/groups to discuss the different scenarios where these could be used.After eliciting ideas, ask Ss how each would be spoken (and model for Ss).||1. Thanks. [perfunctory]2. Thanks! [enthusiasm]3. Thanks? 4. T h a n k s . [sarcastic, drawn out]|
|Inductive presentation10 mins||Present (on board or overhead) several sentences for each type of intonation. Read sentences aloud with pitch/motivation indicated. Elicit from Ss what the speaker is trying to convey.||1. John is sick.[Falling pitch. Statement.]2. John is sick?[Rising pitch. Question.]3. It’s delicious.[Lower tone on stressed syllable; boredom/disinterest]4. I won the lottery! [Exaggerated rising intonation; enthusiasm.]5. You won the lottery? [Higher pitch at the end; lower pitch on the prominent syllable receiving a lower tone; surprise/disbelief.]6. No. [Steady pitch; indicates non-finality.]|
|Focused practice exercises5 mins||Write possible answers on the board (appendix H), then read mini-dialogue aloud. After each one, discuss what emotion/ situation the intonation of the sentence conveys. Elicit answers/give feedback.||See Appendix H.|
|Controlled production10 mins||Multiple choice worksheet in pairs. One person receives A worksheet/other receives B. Pairs take turns reading sentences for their partners. The listener chooses correct context.||See Appendix I.|
|Guided production15 mins||Same story, different contexts. Ss pair up & decide a) what is the relationship of the people in the dialogue? & b) where are they? Give Ss 5-7 minutes to decide & practice. Each pair performs; have other Ss guess context/relationship. Reinforce correct intonation; give corrective feedback.||A: How are you?B: Fine.A: Do you want to go for a coffee?B: I can’t; I’m busy.A: Oh, bye then.B: Bye.(Burke & O’Sullivan, 2002)|
|Communicative activity15 mins||Ss receive either a “Partner A” card, or “Partner B” card. Give Ss several minutes to plan. They should not write out dialogues before performing them (notes ok). Perform.||See. Appendix J.|
|Closing5 mins||Quick review. Homework: Play w/ intonation & stress in your monologue. How many different ways can you say your lines? How do you want them to be interpreted?Continue revising. Discuss plans for performance.|
|Recall5-10 mins||Recall from day 4. Hand in final version of monologue.|
|Intonation, speed, volume, tone20 mins||Mike Daisey monologue (intonation model):*Pre-teach “central casting” and “over the top”. *In this clip, he is middle of monologue, talking about being on a plane, going to a remote location in Africa.*Listen once for comprehension: who is being described here? What about the pilot is memorable? (scar, knife, scowl, milky eye)*Listen again: Intonation – listen for words that have marked intonation changes. i.e. “The pilot!” Why are these words stressed?*Listen a 3rd time (with text) – mark the words that are draaawn out for emphasis.||See Appendix K.Content words are often stressed.|
|Rehearsal30 mins||In monologue circles, practice performing monologues. Final feedback from group. (If the class is small enough, have everyone perform individually for the class.)||See Appendix G for Monologue Circle Questions.|
|Feedback15 mins||Whole class feedback on this final practice.What questions do you have?What worries or anxiety do you have?Homework: Record your monologue; write bio for performance.|
|Warm-up15 mins||Take Ss through a series of relaxation exercises to prepare for their monologue performances.1) Deep breathing: Standing, breathing slowly in and out to the count of 5.2) Breathing with vowels: Same as above, but breathing a-e-i-o-u.3) Tensing and relaxing: Going through major body groups and tensing & relaxing.|
|Performance||Introductions to audience (if there is one). Introduce each performer (bio written by student).|
Note about unit plan: In addition to the six class meetings detailed above, I gave all students written feedback (mainly related to grammar) on their monologues, via email. I also had students record themselves reading their monologues and send it to me for intonation feedback. These unplanned feedback methods arose after class number 5 when I realized more feedback was needed.
Program Evaluation Methods
As this course was on a volunteer basis for students, grades were not administered. Therefore, there was no formal evaluation of students in the piloted course. For a project of this nature, if an assessment is needed, it clearly should not rest on the how interesting a learner’s monologue is. The focus of an assessment should highlight as much objectivity as possible. Objective assessment can include many elements from each day of the module:
1) Recognizing elements of story structure
2) Quality participation in all activities
3) Turning in drafts on time
4) Progress made in each draft
Even in these elements, there may be room for subjectivity, but balancing these with more measurable, “black and white” expectations will help to make assessment clear and fair to the students.
Outcomes and Challenges
While there was no formal evaluation of students in the piloted course, I was interested in the students’ opinions about it. I administered, via Survey Monkey, a 10-question survey of multiple choice questions (see Appendix L) that asked them to rate both my instruction, the course content, and how much they felt they did (or did not) improve. The final three questions allowed students to give their written feedback about the content of the course, rather than a simple multiple choice answer or rating system. The survey was anonymous and I instructed students that I would not read the survey comments until after our final meeting, which was the performance of their monologues.
All students indicated that the course was “very worthwhile” in helping them to improve their English speaking skills. In addition, all of the students stated that, in terms of organization of content, the course was extremely (2 students) or very (1 student) organized. In terms of the speed of the course, all students indicated that the course was “about the right speed” and all were “extremely satisfied” with the instructor. What’s more, all students indicated that their confidence in speaking English improved (at least one level out of six) due to the course. Two of the students indicated that the intonation activities we completed in class were the most helpful to them, but one student indicated the intonation activities were not as helpful. This same student, though, also wrote that the time for the activity was too short, and that longer time spent on intonation would be helpful.
In addition to the students’ reflections about the course, I also noted many challenges that arose during the course of the class. The first challenge was that the course was on a volunteer basis. On one hand, all of the students were motivated to take the course, but they were all quite busy with school and work, and there were no consequences for not completing the assignments or not attending class (although attendance was not generally a problem). In addition, the small class size made pairing difficult. Class had to be canceled when only one student was able to make it. Also, for pairing activities, someone always had to be paired with me, which has both advantages and disadvantages. There were also varying levels of proficiency in the class – even with just three students! I foolishly had not considered this possibility. With just three students, it was not that hard to accommodate for, but in a larger class, I would have required a needs assessment to assess and address all levels.
Upon completion of this piloted course, there are a number of revisions and changes that I would make to the curriculum, were I to administer this course again. The first change I would make is actually an addition: a needs assessment. In my teaching naivety, I had not thought of administering any kind of diagnostic at the beginning of the course. I had assumed that anyone who was motivated to take the class would be at the level of the course I had designed. Luckily, I was able to manage the varying proficiency levels of my three students, but defining the level of the course, conveying it students before the course start, and administering a diagnostic are crucial to a well-planned course. Therefore, a comprehensive course description and a needs assessment tool are the first things I would add to the course.
I would also integrate even more quick role-play or improvisation activities, in order to give students even more chances at speaking. Alternately, perhaps the course needs to take place over a longer period of time. I felt like students were just beginning to “warm up” to the idea of improvisation by the end of the course, and more exposure to it would have been even more beneficial.
Also on an instructional level, I would integrate more model monologues for students – and perhaps even more visual models. We listened to two audio monologues and one video monologue (which was part of the nearly-impromptu connected intonation lesson), but I think more visual examples would have been helpful for students in order for them to understand what their end product could look like (not just sound like).
I learned so many things about teaching and course creation because of this project. There are many things I would change, add, and revise about the course, but I hope that I have the chance to run the course again. The most salient insight that I gained from this project is that drama and role-play activities help to build not just students’ proficiency, but their confidence as well. Confidence, I think, is the key to student success. When students are confident, they are empowered; when they are empowered, they truly do have the power for the full expression of their personalities.
Arrastía, M. (1995). Our stories transform them: A source of authentic literacy. In G. Weinstein-Shr & E. Quintero (Eds.), Immigrant learners and their families: Literacy to connect the generations. (101-109). McHenry, IL: The Center for Applied Linguistics.
Boudreault, C. (2010). The benefits of using drama in the ESL/EFL classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, 16 (1).
Bülow, P. (2004). Sharing experiences of contested illness by storytelling. Discourse & Society, 15 (1), 33–53.
Burke, A., & O’Sullivan, J. (2002). Stage by stage. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Celce-Murcia, M., Briton, D. M., & Goodwin, J. M. (2010). Teaching pronunciation: A course book and reference guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Elgar, A. (2002). Student playwriting for language development. ELT Journal, 56 (1), 22-28.
Ferris, D. & Hedgcock, J. (1998). Ch. 6 in Teaching ESL composition: Purpose, process, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Jones, R. (1997). Beyond “listen and repeat”: Pronunciation teaching materials and theories of second language acquisition. System, 25 (1), 103-112.
Levis, J. (1999). Intonation in theory and practice, revisited. TESOL Quarterly, 33 (1), 37-61.
Miccoli, L. (2003). English through drama for oral skills development. ELT Journal: English Language Teachers Journal, 57 (2), 122.
Nicholas, B. J., Rossiter, M. J., & Abbott, M. L. (2011). The Power of Story in the ESL Classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 67(2), 247-268.
Transcript of model monologue
We came to America in 1969. We were just newly married. And we came to Brooklyn, New York. And I was so terrified to even open the door because I had heard all these horror stories about crooks and gangsters and guns in New York. So there was this one evening that Brian was working in the night and I was alone with the baby and the doorbell started ringing. And then I go and look through the peephole and it was like really scary person standing outside, so I didn’t open the door. I told my baby to be quiet. Then again the doorbell rings and this, again, I look through the peephole and I’m like really scared. Then the third time it rang, there were more than one person and they were all looking really scary and screaming at me through the door. So I called Brian on the phone and I said “There’s something happening. There’s some crooks or somebody trying to frighten me at the door.” He said, “Don’t open the door. Don’t do anything. Don’t make noise. Be quiet.” So I stayed in the bedroom, and this went on and on for almost an hour. You know, all the years that I was growing up, I was the most, I think, wimpy person. I used to cry for everything. So by now, I am like sweating and ready to die almost. And then, Brian calls around 9 o’clock and he says, “I think there’s something called Halloween going on today and that’s what has been happening. People are supposed to come and ring the doorbell.” So that was an experience that I’ll never forget. And it turns out that my daughter loves Halloween.
Story structure practice
Adapted from http://storycorps.org/listen/stories/gerbail-krishnamurthy
The complete story:
I went to a restaurant one day and was trying to decide what to order. I knew that I really didn’t want to eat beef. So I started looking at all the names on the menu in the restaurant. And the one item on the menu that made me sick was called “hot dog.” I couldn’t believe people ate dogs! I didn’t want to order this, so I went on, kept going down the list. And then I see there was something called hamburger. I didn’t know what it was, but I ordered it anyway. So I actually ate hamburger, without realizing it was beef.
Strips to give to students:
I went to a restaurant one day and was trying to decide what to order. I knew that I really didn’t want to eat beef.
So I started looking at all the names on the menu in the restaurant. And the one item on the menu that made me sick was called “hot dog.” I couldn’t believe people ate dogs! I didn’t want to order this, so I went on, kept going down the list.
And then I see there was something called hamburger. I didn’t know what it was, but I ordered it anyway. So I actually ate hamburger, without realizing it was beef.
Story premises for pair work role-play
(Teacher gives one out to each pair; obviously may have to duplicate depending on class size.)
The Shoe Store
Person A: The Customer
You go to a shoe store to buy shoes for work. You are not sure what kind of shoes you want. You need the clerk to help you decide what kind of shoe is best for you – and you want to take a lot of time and make sure that you find the best pair.
Person B: The clerk
You need to help the customer find the best shoes for him/her, but you are also very tired. It has been a busy day and you really want to take a break. Try and help the customer quickly so that you can take your break as soon as possible.
You are good friends with person B. You two are deciding what to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. You would really like to see a new movie that just came out. It is your favorite kind of movie. Try and convince your friend that this is the best thing to do today.
You are good friends with person A. You two are deciding what to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. You would really like to go to a popular café that has an outdoor garden where you could sit and eat. Try and convince your friend that this is the best thing to do today.
The Grocery Store
Person A: Customer
You are going through the checkout line at a grocery store, but when the cashier tells you your total, you find that you do not have enough cash to pay the bill and you have left your debit/credit card at home. Try and talk the cashier into letting you come back later to pay the extra amount cannot pay right now. You need everything in your cart for a dinner party tonight, so you don’t want to put anything back.
Person B: Cashier
You are a cashier at a grocery store. The customer going through the checkout line does not have enough money to pay his or her bill. You do not know what to do. If you let the customer leave without paying the whole amount, you might get in trouble from your manager. Convince the costumer to put some items back.
The tanks outside my house when I was four were Russian. They were getting ready to disband the anti-Soviet demonstrators gathered on Rustaveli Avenue. 20 were killed and thousands injured. The beautiful avenue and Freedom Square of my childhood became burned and broken. As my Russian mother held my hand and walked me to pre-school every day, I wanted to hide. Hide from all the silent stares full of disdain for my clearly Russian face. The face that, even in a child, represented the oppressors and killers of Georgian people. I didn’t belong.
Back in Moscow, my father was arrested and badly beaten because he was Georgian. That was the only charge. The same one that my classmates and teachers charged me with. As they refused to work with me on group projects and whispered about my ethnic background, I wanted to hide. Hide from all the silent stares full of disdain for – what they saw as – my clearly Georgian face. The face that, even in a child, represented the rebellious, unruly gangsters they’d heard about on the news. I didn’t belong.
By the time my family moved to Israel, a land that promised tolerance and open arms, the wave of Russian immigrants had made its mark on local perceptions. As I walked through the glorious new supermarket with my engineer-turned-streets-sweeper grandfather and head-doctor-turned bed-nurse grandmother, I wanted to hide. Hide from all the silent stares full of disdain for my clearly immigrant face. The face that, even in a child, represented the swarming masses of immigrants that came to take everyone’s jobs. I didn’t belong.
When my mother brought me to the United States, my posture had taken a toll from all the hiding. I could go for days, even weeks, without saying a word: silence was my friend. I thought it kept people from noticing me and pondering how my background offends them. I didn’t want anyone to know where I was from, but people kept asking. Surely they meant what neighboring town or state I came from, but I told them all, “Israel” because that was the last place I’d been.
“Israel?” – a girl with olive skin and tight blonde curls inquired – “I thought that was only in the bible…”
“Israel”—a Jewish boy wondered – “do people there wear rags and ride camels?”
“Russia?” – a tough little class clown mused – “You must love vodka! Is it too hot here for you? It’s always so cold in Russia.”
“You must be good at chess!”
“Were you a gymnast?”
“Do you speak Arabic?”
The silly inquiries made my head spin – they were misinformed, but oh so innocent. Nobody knew or cared about Russians or Georgians or (before 9/11) even Israelis. They didn’t know about the bloodshed and the stigma and the hate. They didn’t care. They didn’t care and it was glorious.
Years have passed and I’ve learned to stand up, speak up, and stop being ashamed of my cultures. I am not an oppressor. I am not stupid, or dirty, or smelly, or weird. Well, I am weird, but it’s not because of my ancestry. I’ve learned to love myself and open up – maybe even too quickly to make up for all the time that I was closed and hidden. I have a long way to go, but I believe that someday, when I get strange looks, I will no longer feel shame and want to hide immediately.
Now it’s time to write your own stories! You will write a 1-2 minute monologue. It can be longer if you want! We will use these monologues to practice rhythm, stress, intonation and pronunciation.
What: Write a story about cultural misunderstanding/miscommunication. (Think of our model stories as inspiration.) This story can be funny, or sad, or serious, or in between. This story should be about you or someone you know.
Length: 1-2 minutes for the finished product. This is about 1-1½ pages double-spaced. The length, though, is not very important. Focus on what we are learning about story structure (beginning, middle, end, something with conflict) – as long as you can get all of that in your story, it can be any length.
[For all drafts, I will try and give you some time in class to write so that it doesn’t add to your homework load.]
Draft 1: Day 3 – Write at least your entire intro and part of the middle of your story, but it will be much more helpful if you write an entire first draft: beginning, middle, and end. This can be typed or handwritten. Also, don’t worry about grammar yet! We’ll work on that later. The ideas in your story are more important than the grammar right now.
Draft 2: Day 4 – Make revisions based on feedback from peers and any feedback from the teacher.
Final draft: Day 5-6 –Make revisions based on feedback, but also anything you want to adjust or add based on our lesson on pronunciation/stress/intonation.
At the very least, you will “perform” your monologues for other class members on the last day of class. (You do not need to memorize your monologue or “act it out.” It will be great practice for speaking in front of a group.) We will learn some techniques for preparing to speak in front of others as well. If you would like, we can hold an extra class the week before Thanksgiving break and you could perform your monologues for friends/family. It would be a great way to celebrate your accomplishments!
Giving feedback handout
“But how do I say it nicely?” – Language for giving feedback to friends and peers
Sometimes in school or work, or between friends, we are asked to or want to give feedback on a project, assignment, work-related item, or more casual things (among friends, such as clothing/hairstyle choices). In more formal settings like school or work, giving specific feedback on why something is good or bad can be very helpful for your peer or co-worker. Oftentimes – even for native speakers! – it is difficult to know how to convey this feedback, especially if it is of a more critical/negative nature.
In this class, we will share an discuss each other’s monologues, and giving clear, specific feedback will help everyone to tell stronger, more lively, vivid stories. Here are some phrases that can help us with that.
If you’re confused:
I’m a little unclear about what (or who) you’re talking about in this part…
This section where you…. seems a bit out of place with the rest of your monologue.
I felt the introduction to your story was perhaps too short. I was really interested to know more about….!
When you are specific about what exactly confuses you, it helps the author to know exactly what needs work.
If you have a suggestion, ask an open-ended question:
I’m unclear about who you’re talking about in that part. How can you explain this person more? How can you make me *see* that person?
This section seems out of place with the topic of your monologue. How does this fit in? How can you make it clearer?
The part where you talk about….is really engaging! What would happen if you moved it closer to the beginning?
Open-ended questions leave it up to the writer to evaluate what choices they have and how they want to use them (or not).
When you have a positive comment, be specific about what you liked:
Instead of “that was so good!”, try:
Your description of the place you were in (or the people in the story, the way you felt) was so lively (clear, detailed, thorough). I really left like I could see/hear/smell it!
You set up your story very well. I knew exactly where the story was taking place and who was involved. That made it really easy to follow your story.
Monologue circle questions: For responding to other Ss’ monologues
Think about these questions while each of your classmates reads their monologues or talks about their ideas.
1. Where is this taking place and who are the characters? If you are not clear on this, make a note of that.
2. What is the cultural miscommunication or misunderstanding? If it is not clear, what suggestions might you have for the author?
3. What details are especially good and vivid in this monologue? If you cannot think of any, what do you want to know more about from this story?
4. Does this monologue have a conclusion? If you can’t tell, make a note of this.
5. What could be improved about this monologue? Be specific!
6. What is really great about this monologue? Be specific!
Focused practice, adapted from Celce-Murcia, 2010.
T reads the following mini-dialogue where the words are the same but the intonation pattern is different. Ss choose the correct completing phrase from the choices provided on the board.
Write on the board:
1. Why are you surprised? I like reading.
2. One by Sidney Sheldon.
3. I said, I’ve just read a good book.
Directions: I am going to read a dialogue three times. All of the dialogues start with person A saying the statement “I’ve just read a good book,” followed by the response by person B saying “what?” – only the response will be said in a different intonation each time. One the board, I have written three possible sentences that person A might say after person B responds. Each of these sentences (on the board) correspond with a different kind of “what”.
A: I’ve just read a good book.
B: What? (=what book?)
A: I’ve just read a good book.
B: What? (=I didn’t hear you, could you repeat?)
A: I’ve just read a good book.
B: W h a t? (=What?! You, who never reads books? Unbelievable!)
Read your sentences to your partner with the proper intonation. Listen to the sentences your partner reads and guess what intonation he/she intends. Take turns and go over your answers after you have each completed your sentences.
Sentences to read to your partner:
1. Hi honey, I’m home!
(excited and happy)
2. There’s something I need to tell you.
3. It’s about the job.
4. Is he alright?
5. I don’t care.
The sentences your partner reads to you:
__b. disinterested, bored
__d. thinking about it, not sure
Sentences to read to your partner:
1. You lost my car?
2. What a game.
3. It’s an interesting offer…
(thinking about it, not sure)
4. I got it!
5. I don’t care.
The sentences your partner reads to you:
__a. worried about being home
__b. angry to be home
__c. excited and happy
__d. sad to be home
__ a. bored
__ c. hesitant
You are roommates with partner B. You are planning a dinner party and have many things to do in order to get your apartment and the food ready. You and partner B made a list of these things, but you are worried that partner B hasn’t taken care of everything yet and the party is this weekend. He/she tends to procrastinate sometimes and you need to make sure everything will be done, but you also don’t want to be rude. Find out if partner B has taken care of any of these responsibilities:
Things to do:
Sweep and mop the livingroom, diningroom, and bathroom.
Buy a centerpiece for the table.
Buy wine and juice.
Ask guests about any food restrictions.
Buy ingredients for the meal.
Send guests a reminder email.
Make sure the livingroom and diningroom is tidy.
You are roommates with partner A. You are a planning a dinner party and have many things to do in order to get your apartment and the food ready. You and partner A made a list of these things, but you have been really busy with work. You just realized that you have done only a few of the things on your list (they have checkmarks next to them), but not the rest of them! You are worried that partner A is going to ask you about them. He/she is going to be upset to know you haven’t done them yet!
Things to do:
Sweep and mop the livingroom, diningroom, and bathroom.
✓Buy a centerpiece for the table.
Buy wine and juice.
✓Ask guests about any food restrictions.
Buy ingredients for the meal.
✓Send guests a reminder email.
Make sure the livingroom and diningroom is tidy.
Mike Daisey monologue
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUEflm9B5U4 (beginning through 1:18)
And the pilot climbs aboard – the pilot! The pilot is right out of Central Casting (1). He has an enormous scar running down one side of his face. And tucked into his belt is an enormous knife, which I presume he uses in knife fights with other pilots…[unintelligible]. “I want landing rights!” “No, I want landing rights!” He also has a milky eye. Which surprises me because I thought you weren’t allowed to fly if you wore glasses. He scowls at us, theatrically: Wuuuuuuuh. And it’s just a bit much, you know? It’s just a little bit over the top (2), like, if you heard this, in a story, you’d say, “Oh I don’t buy that.” Because that’s what you say in our culture if you don’t believe something.
(1) “Central Casting” – a generic name for a casting agency for actors. Daisey is implying that this pilot seems more like a character or an actor playing a part than a real person.
(2) over the top – an idiom meaning “more than usual or expected,” or “too exaggerated,” especially with behavior. Used especially when someone’s reaction to something is much stronger than expected.
Post-course survey sent to students
1. How worthwhile was this course in helping you improve your English speaking skills?
*Not at all worthwhile
2. How organized was the course content?
*Not at all organized
3. Did your instructor present the material too quickly, too slowly, or at about the right speed?
*Much too quickly
*Somewhat too quickly
*Slightly too quickly
*About the right speed
*Slightly too slowly
*Somewhat too slowly
*Much too slowly
4. Were you satisfied with your instructor’s teaching, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with it, or dissatisfied with it?
*Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
5. Were you satisfied with the course content, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with it, or dissatisfied w it?
(same answer choices as question 4)
6. When you started this course, what was your confidence level in speaking English?
*Not at all confident. I try and avoid speaking because I’m afraid of not being understood.
*A little confident. I often worry that I’m not speaking correctly.
*Somewhat confident, but only in certain situations (with people I know, or classes with other non-native speakers, for example).
*Fairly confident. I realize that I probably make some mistakes, but in general, I can usually get my point across.
*Significantly confident. I like to speak with others and I’m confident that when I speak, I am usually understood.
*Very confident. I like speaking with others very much and am very comfortable using English to communicate with anyone.
7. Now, after completing this course, what is your confidence level in speaking English?
(same answer choices as question 6)
8. Out of all of our activities, which were the most helpful to you, and why? (You can choose as many as you’d like.)
*Listening to and reading sample monologues (example: Halloween story; girl who moves from Russia to Israel to the U.S.; man describing pilot)
*Role-play: imagining a different ending to the Halloween story
*Role-play: conflict relationships (example: the cashier and the customer who has a problem; the friends who want to different things)
*Improvisation: 3-line dialogue (one person decides on a relationship such as boss & employee and says one line of dialogue to the next person, who must respond in the appropriate manner)
*Role-play: same story, different contexts (both pairs received the same script: ‘How are you?’ ‘Fine.’ ‘Do you want to go for a coffee?’….and had to decide what their relationship was and other students guessed relationship)
*Role-play: roommates preparing for a party
*Why were these helpful? (optional)
9. Out of all of our activities, which were the LEAST helpful and why? (You can choose as many as you’d like.)
(same answer choices as question 8)
10. In the box below, please write any feedback you have about this course or this instructor. This can be positive feedback (what you especially liked about the course or instructor) or constructive feedback (what you did not like about the course or instructor, or what suggestions you have regarding this class). You could also write about your experience in the class – if you feel you improved your skills or not.