Practical Teaching Ideas

Storycycling with James Henry

I was fortunate to attend this years JALT CALL conference. There were many exciting presentations involving all levels of technology, but surprisingly it was one of the less tech heavy talks which ended up catching my eye. In a show-and-tell style presentation led by James Henry III, we were introduced to a method of student generated storytelling which mixed the pragmatic benefits of vocabulary building with the delight of visual story telling. James calls this activity, “Storycycling.” This multistage activity reinforces target vocabulary and/or grammar while also offering a mix of reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.

2014-06-07 15.47.25Here is the breakdown of James’ Storycycling.

Stage One: students are put into project groups. They will stay in these groups for the entire project. In the first stage of the project, each group will create an original story. At this stage, target vocabulary and/or grammar can be incorporated into the task. By having students use the target language in the context of an original story, teachers can check comprehension, and usage patterns. Authors are asked to highlight the target language in their text.

In James’ demonstration, he had students use other students in class as the subjects of their stories. This seemed to serve to purpose of making the story interesting to the class. Students could write about their classmates, and create humorous adventures for them.

storycycling fig 1

One concern which may arise with this type of activity is bullying. While more mature groups of students generally seem to know better, there are situations where this could be a problem. One solution is to make a lesson in ethics a part of the classroom. If there is time, and this seems proper, this might be a wonderful opportunity to educate students in social responsibility and the psychology of bullying. Another option might be to avoid the scenario altogether and have students use celebrities as the subjects of their stories.

Stage Two: In stage two, each group’s original story is passed on to another group where the text of the story is translated into 15 frames of manga type images. 2014-06-07 15.56.18

This stage serves the pedagogical purpose of demonstrating comprehension (or lack thereof) of the written text. At this stage, parts of the original story which were not clear may not survive to the manga type storyboard. In addition, sections of the story left up to interpretation, may change significantly. This seems intended as part of the lesson, and so groups are isolated from one another so that they do not seek help in understanding the story from its authors.

Stage Three: In the last stage of this activity, the manga versions of the story are passed on to a third group. At this stage, each of the storyboards are translated back into a written story with the target vocabulary/grammar included. This last group will also be tasked with converting each frame of the manga created during stage two into a digital image (by taking pictures with their mobile phones). They will then present the images to the rest of the class while they read their narrative out loud. (It was noted by one conference attendee that the stage two storyboards might also be displayed frame by frame using an overhead projector.) 2014-06-07 16.09.48

This last stage of the project serves a variety of pedagogical purposes. It reinforces the target vocabulary/grammar, again, it provides another opportunity for composition practice, it provides presentation practice, and it provides listening comprehension practice (James recommends a listening worksheet to aid in this).

Stage Division: James spaces the three stages of this project over a series of classes. This seems a wise choice, as it will reinforce vocabulary.

One of the interesting aspects of James’ Storycycling technique, is that the students are writing stories about other students in their class. Even if you chose another subject for their story, it is still true that in small classes most of the groups have contributed at some stage to the creation of the story. James noted that since most of the students have a vested interest in the story, audience engagement is generally at peak during the final presentation of the story. I can certainly imagine the excitement which will ensue when I try this project out with my students over the next few weeks. We are grateful to James for sharing this genius activity with us.

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