Discussing Mr Fox

The hot-seat activity described below is part of an Activity Teaching Pack to accompany this tale.

Before watching the tale:

  • Tell the students to have a pen and paper handy to write something afterwards.
  • Place an empty chair facing the students.

In my experience of telling this with mid-teenagers or adults, I expect to have an emotionally charged yet quiet atmosphere in the class. Allowing a few seconds for this mood to continue, and without an abrupt change of voice, ask students to write down a few questions which they would like to have an answer to concerning the story.

It may be necessary to stress that these should be questions they would really like to ask, rather than “comprehension-test questions” like How many brothers did Lady Mary have? Some students may be anxious about writing the “wrong” sort of questions, and will ask for more specific instructions; I reply briefly, “Anything you’d like to ask connected with the story”, and move away to let them get on with it. During the few minutes the students are writing, circulate to help with any necessary vocabulary.

When you judge that most students have written three or four questions, end the writing phase and explain the basic rule of the hot-seat activity; all answers must come from the hot-seat (you now indicate the empty chair).
Ask who would like to read out one of their questions. 
Then turn to a student you expect will feel happy to do this, ask them to walk to the hot-seat and give an answer to the question. Since I have not yet explained that this is going to happen, it helps to select more confident students as the first few candidates for the hot-seat. Soon the class sees that even when they have little idea of what to answer, simply getting up, walking to the empty chair, sitting down and facing the others usually helps them to be able to say something.

After the first answer, thank the student, gesture that they may return to their place, and ask another to go to the hot-seat to give a DIFFERENT answer to the SAME question. Even if the second student says, “But I wanted to say that, too”, encourage them by insisting that it has to be a different answer. So selecting the student to give the second answer is even more critical than selecting the first. It occasionally happens at this stage that someone really blocks. Ease over that difficulty by inviting another student to give a “different answer”, and watch out for a later opportunity to include the blocked student; so far, this has always happened successfully once the activity really develops momentum. 
Depending on the question and the level of the class, I should hope to have at least three different answers to the first question, just to make it clear to everyone that creativity is called for, and also a sense of fun.

When you feel that sufficient answers have been given, invite the next question. 
After a few minutes, I begin to call on those students who are not normally the first to contribute. By now the activity has begun to impose its own dynamic, and this helps the more reserved to participate. 
When the activity works well, it is usually not long before some students put up a hand to show they disagree with an answer and want to give one of their own. Silently motion them to stand behind the hot-seat, ready to take their place. It is not uncommon for a queue to develop!

Let it become serious
Usually the questions to a story like this are quite serious ones. The answers, though, may not be. At least with teenagers, they are often not so serious at the beginning. But I find this frequently changes after 10 or 15 minutes. Girls in particular begin to discuss the implicit issues far more seriously. The teacher can maintain some degree of subtle control over this by choosing who to take for answers to particularly sensitive questions. When the activity is working well, that level of control is often no longer necessary, and the teacher will need to give little more direction than suggesting when a new question should be put.

The standard homework
Whenever I tell a class a story, there is always one additional piece of homework: tell someone the story. If they are very young learners, I tell them to tell it all or in part in their own language if necessary. But tell it they should. After all, what are stories for if not to be told?

Of course, there are so many additional follow-up activities possible. Books like Once Upon a Time (Morgan & Rinvolucri, 1983) or Storytelling with Children (Wright, 1995) are full of suggestions. And the more you use stories in your lessons, the more often you will find yet another idea of how to follow it up. Are these ideas from a book, or your own? You will probably never know.

You can see some examples of follow-up writing on my web site:

  • Here is what a class of 12-year-olds did after hearing a ghost story, Mary Culhaine
  • The Wooden Ball was written and illustrated by a class of 14-year-olds

Developing your storytelling skills
Having led many teacher-training workshops on Using Storytelling in the Classroom, I know that teachers often feel the need to improve their own skills. For that reason, at least half of each of my workshops is devoted to just that.
Reading an article like this is rather like learning to swim from a book. So if you want to improve your abilities as a teller, you could look around for storytelling workshops in your area. Your local library might be able to put you in touch with one. National organisations like the UK Society for Storytelling are another place to start: http://www.sfs.org.uk/
(And if you ever come to one of my workshops, please say “hello”.)

“How to become a storyteller”
An American teller, Papa Joe, puts it simply, paraphrasing Einstein:
”If you want to become a storyteller, tell stories.
If you want to become a better storyteller, tell more stories.”

 And really, it is as simple as that!

Watch my telling of this tale

Activity Teaching Pack – Mr Fox

The hot-seat discussion described above is part of a multi-lesson project plan for advanced learners, now available to accompany this tale.

ACTIVITIES INCLUDE:

  • Research and discussion: #MeToo Movement
  • Drama activity: hot-seat discussion
  • Analysis: storytelling and communication skills
  • Speaking
  • Vocabulary extension
  • Grammar consolidation
  • Writing tasks – graded levels
  • Essay writing skills – including a “How to write an essay” cheat-list
  • Oral and written presentations
  • Testing
  • Further resources

NUMBER OF LESSONS

Variable, depending on age range and ability. In my typical advanced classes, I would expect to have work for at least five lessons, and quite possibly more.

FREE SAMPLE: download page 1

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For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling