Professional Learning

Training for teaching professionals


An Invitation to Story-Listening

Dr. Beniko Mason , Shitennnoji University Junior College

What is Story-Listening?
The teacher selects an appropriate and suitable story for the students’ age, language level, and interests and then tells the story to the students in class. The story is told with the support of drawings, as well as other support, such as occasional translation, to make the aural input comprehensible. Different stories are told as frequently as possible, even as often as in every class, and there is no or little work afterwards. There is no planned sequence of formal instruction. The stories are sequenced according to the students’ interests and the language levels. When enough stories are told, most of the necessary vocabulary and structures are present.

The method is based on the Comprehension Hypothesis, which claims that we acquire language when we understand what we hear and read, that is, when we receive “comprehensible input.”

The teacher uses a prompter to tell a story. The prompter is a list of the words and the phrases that appear in the text of the story that the students may be unfamiliar with. The teacher tells the story using already known words and structures and inserts the new ones while telling the story, providing help in making the new items, and thus the story, comprehensible.

Story Listening does not exclude student participation. Students are encouraged to indicate lack of comprehension, and are of course free to comment on the content of the story.

The goal is not immediate mastery of the words on the prompter, but better comprehension of the story. As listeners hear the words and structures in a comprehensible context, they gradually acquire their meanings; studies confirm that this a more efficient and effective way of acquiring language, resulting in longer-lasting and firmer knowledge than “study.”

In other words, the SL teacher’s intention is not to teach the words on the board, but to convey the meaning of the story. Acquiring new words and new structures are the result of understanding the story.

The positive effects of Story Listening as a method for language acquisition have been confirmed repeatedly. First and second language acquirers who hear more stories acquire more vocabulary, have better grammatical competence, and are better on tests of listening comprehension. They also become interested in reading on their own, and their superior language development makes reading easier for them.

It has been reported that the rate of vocabulary acquisition in Story Listening is .10 to .25 words per minute for college students of English as a foreign language in Japan as well as for American high school students of Japanese as a foreign language. This means that when students listen to 100 hours of stories (about one academic year for a course taught at the university level), we can expect that they will acquire from 600 to 1500 words. As they progress, their rate of acquisition will increase, because of their higher level of understanding. Two years of SL, combined with reading graded readers, will give many acquirers enough vocabulary to some authentic books, written for native speakers.

Rich Input
I have used folktales and fairy tales from countries throughout the world that have stood the test of time. The written versions of these stories contain rich language. Roughly 85% of each story is written using words from the most frequent 2000 words of English (high frequency words), but the other 15% includes low frequency words, academic words, and business words.

The themes cover a wide range of topics such as deception, betrayal, poverty, courage, true love, loyalty, friendship, mercy, secrets, ghosts, disobedience, quarrels, jealousy, temptation, discipline, fidelity, faith, adultery, patience, diligence, devotion, and many others. The characters in the stories also have many different professions – thief, woodcutter, hunter, money-lender, doctor, minister, priest, carpenter, farmer, inn-keeper, wine shop owner, servant, sentinel, soldier, and of course king, queen, witch, and wizard. There are words for stones, plants, animals, weather, vehicles, and tools, to name a few.

There are no tests on vocabulary or listening comprehension after listening to a story. Some Story Listening teachers ask students write a summary in their first language to let the teacher know to what extent they understood the story. This tells the teacher how well she/he did the lesson that day.

Story-Listening does not require that students have textbooks. All the teacher needs are a thick story book, a chalkboard, colored chalk and minimal drawing ability. A computer is also useful to download free stories from the Internet.

Research suggests that Story-Listening works for all ages, including senior adults and all levels including the advanced.


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