Making Illustrations for Stories

Lots of language teachers who focus on providing comprehensible input to students, do not like forced output. Forced output happens when teachers pressure students to speak or write in the target language before they are ready. I want to see and hear Mandarin words just fall out of students mouths. I don’t want to pretend to be a baker and push a student to ask me for a loaf of bread. Those types of language classes do not work. Focusing on giving students language that they can understand does not mean that there is no room during class for students to participate actively. We just have to be careful about what we ask the students to do. One activity that I like to do with students is to have them make illustrations for a story that I tell them.

Is Storytelling Too Teacher-Centered?

Thanks to some inspiration from another blog about teaching Mandarin Chinese, I have done some story listening recently. Story listening is when the teacher tells the students a story using lots of picture, gestures, and words the students know. Using these ingredients means that the students get lots of comprehensible input. Recently I have done the story of Mulan with my younger students. It takes a lot of work to edit the story so that I only use words and phrases that they understand. Ultimately, this is what teachers have to do to make sure that the story is comprehensible to the students, however.

Story listening activities seems very teacher-centered at first blush. In story listening, the teacher stands at the front of the classroom and the students listen to her. It does not seem very student-centered. In fact, every word the teacher says and everything she does is tailored for the students. It is 100% student-centered, but it just looks teacher-centered. Still, many parents and administrators want to see students actually do something.

Activities that Do Not Force Output

Again, we do not want to force output. Kids should create with language because it feels natural and enjoyable. Teachers should not put kids on the spot by asking them to use language in ways that they are not comfortable with yet. It would be too much to ask my students to re-tell the story that they learn through story listening. Instead, I ask them to illustrate the story as we go along. First, they hear the story at least once through regular story listening, then we do the illustrations.

How It Works

Each child gets one part (often just a sentence) of the story to illustrate. I give them one minute to make their drawing on the white board. This keeps the pace moving fairly quickly. While each child is drawing, I repeat that part of the story. If appropriate, we read the characters for that part of the story, too. By making the illustrations, students engage in the story in a different way. The drawings also show that they understand the story. It is a quick and easy comprehension check.

Keeping Input in Mind

The main focus of a language class should be to give students comprehensible input. Students may seem passive in classes, but they are not. Their brains are slowly but surelyΒ  building up knowledge of Mandarin Chinese. Output activities, like making illustrations, can be a beneficial part of class. Teachers just need to be careful about using them. Making illustrations is fun for students and is evidence that the students “get it” for the teacher.

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