Sharon Ahlquist, The University of Kristianstad, Sweden
During the spring of 2006 25 Swedish primary school teachers took part in Storyline The Street. The course ran for ten weeks, meeting one evening a week, and its aim was to show how the Storyline method can be used to fulfil the objectives of the syllabus for English in school year 5.
The teachers created families living in a new housing development in the fictitious English Midlands town of Danbury. They made models of their characters and built a model of each family’s favourite room.
During the course they practised the four language skills. They listened to a description of the street’s location and worked in groups to reproduce this (a technique learned from Barbara and Ian at the last conference). A group consisting of a member of each family designed a recreation area, then took another member of their family outside, blindfolded them and described this recreation area. Those blindfolded then had the task of recreating together what they had understood. Meanwhile the rest of the class had worked on rules for use of this area – without knowing what the final product would contain – and these rules were then matched for relevance with the drawing of the recreation area. Finally the original drawing and the copy were placed side by side for comparison.
Writing included personal descriptions of the characters, a diary extract and an email. The families also drew a sketch and wrote a description of their house as it would appear in an estate agent’s advertisement. This involved looking at some actual advertisements. Reading included a formal letter from the local council informing the residents that they were invited to design the recreation area. The families also read notes on a problem neighbour.
The neighbour problem allowed us to work with the drama teacher and to use a number of drama techniques to explore this issue.
Speaking featured throughout the SL in virtually all activities. Another common feature was the brainstorming which led into the activities, particularly important to activate existing knowledge and provide new words (English) for known concepts (Swedish).
The SL was brought to a close with a street party to celebrate winning the Nicest Street competition, for which, among other things, the families had written a poem.
This was the first time we had run a course of this kind although Storyline has been a component of our teacher training programmes for both student primary and secondary (English) teachers for some time. It was initiated because of the great interest shown by teachers in the Storylines of students on teaching practice. Storyline itself is well-established in Sweden but English is not always included. This seems to me terrible waste since the method provides a natural context for use of the language.
The teachers’ evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. They appreciated the chance to learn by doing, to use English throughout (many commented on the development of their vocabulary) and to experience for themselves how the SL method can be used to fulfil all the objectives for English in Year 5. Not least is the fact that it brings the learner into direct contact with the culture in a way that is not possible otherwise.
I hope very much to be invited by these teachers to see their future Storylines. Many of their colleagues have expressed interest in taking part, and the course is scheduled again for next spring. A double page spread on this particular Storyline in the local newspaper, with glorious pictures of the frieze, families and their homes, should bring it to even wider attention.
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