“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” ~Vladimir Nabakov

Our language learners have powerful stories to share, but they need their teachers to help them get these stories out in English. When our learners can tell their stories in English, they are able to share these experiences with a worldwide audience. Like all storytellers, our learners are strongly motivated to share their stories with an audience who will listen. For this reason, we often see learners sharing personal events of their lives on blogs, Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter. These social networks have millions of users and provide our learners with a global audience of parents, teachers, friends, and learners who will comment on their stories. Through storytelling we motivate our learners to apply, contextualize, visualize, and personalize the language they learn. There are great tools and websites to inspire your learners to think creatively and begin writing their thoughts. I hope the following tips and resources will help you along your journey towards integrating storytelling into your curriculum.

Teach Them Free Writing

Many times our students do not get the chance to write without having to edit themselves and worry about grammar. Being able to recall phrases and think in English without worrying about the structure is also an important part of learning the language. We can motivate our students to write for short time periods about whatever comes to mind. Some of the ideas below will help stimulate their minds.

Get Them Writing Regularly

Every day my students knew the drill. They would enter the class, look at the writing prompt on the board, and have 10 to 15 minutes to write in their journals. Every other Friday I would collect these journals and give them a completion grade. My concern was not over the grammar so much as getting them to apply the language they learned and helping them get into the habit of thinking and writing in English. Starting classes this way helped my learners to get their brains ready to think in English as well as express their thoughts on an interesting or thought-provoking writing prompt. Below, I share many websites where you can find 1000s of writing prompts.

Change the Environment

On sunny days, my students and I would go outside and find a nice place around the school campus to take 10 minutes to write. These writings would be in their daily journals. I have also been part of a group that would go hiking once a month. Mid-hike we would stop and contemplate our natural setting and write any poetry, thoughts, or prose that came to mind.

Stimulate with Music

In these classes I often allowed my students to get out their mp3 players and listen to music. Many of them had English songs they listened to. They would have time to write while listening to the music. In this slide presentation, Eva Buyuksimkesyan has many great ideas for using music to inspire your language learners to write. One of the activities includes playing a piece of music and then asking students to imagine what kind of movie would include this in the soundtrack. The students then write out the movie scene.

Create a Scene

Make a paper cut-out of a body and tape it to the floor (or create the body outline with masking tape). Put the students’ desks around this body and have them ask questions about the body, such as “What happened to this person? Is he/she dead or alive?“. Then the students write what happened to this individual. They can even do this as a news report. I got this idea from Jamie Keddie’s lesson here.

Use Word Clouds

Marisa Constantinides created a great word cloud with images. She asks learners to create a story with the words then share the story on Voicethread. In classes, you can have your students create these stories in groups then listen to each group’s stories to see if they are similar. With lower levels, I will ask students to use 5 to 8 words.

Writing Prompts, Story Starters, and Other Great Webtools

These websites have plenty of writing prompts, story starters, and inspirational images to get your students writing.

  • Slideshow presentation: Ideas for Inspiring Our Learners to Write
  • Journal Jar- free web and phone app that when shaken comes up with a question to write about.
  • PicLits- choose an image and your students drag and drop words onto the image to create a story.
  • Kevin Hodgson’s Animation Site- Several incredible storyboarding worksheets to help your students brainstorm.
  • Scholastic Story Starters- this is an interactive website where students write their names and fill out questions.
  • Smories- 100s of children read stories they created out loud on video.
  • Plinky- a question appears and below the question students write their opinion.
  • StoryIt- print out a picture that has the first paragraph of a story.
  • Boggles World Creative Writing- several creative writing prompts to print that were especially designed for English language learners.
  • Moodstream- beautiful images accompanied by great music to help with the brainstorming process. Use this website with teens or adults but always check before you use a website.
  • Five Card Flickr- 5 random pictures from Flickr are posted and students can write a story in the space provided or view several other pictures.
  • One Word- This excellent website posts one word and your students have 60 seconds to write on the website whatever comes to mind.
  • Writing Fix- hundreds of journal writing prompts, writing games, and more.
  • Lightning Bug- find a story idea or develop one.
  • 100 Word Story- an image is posted and you can submit a story that is only 100 words. This site doesn’t filter so you can use your own images and have the students create the stories in class.
  • Multimedia Uses: Using Interactive Websites by Keith Schoch has various webtools and ideas outlined.

How do you motivate your students to write?

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, author, and international speaker. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and the Social Media Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She has co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects, Edchat, the ELTON nominated ELTChat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference. Visit her award winning blog, Teacher Reboot Camp, for resources for effective technology integration. Keep an eye out for her book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators published by Eye on Education. She has taught toddlers to adults English in various countries including the US, Germany, and Greece and currently travels around the world training teachers.   Website: http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/   Twitter: @ShellTerrell