Teaching English Using Picture Stories

Nowadays people experience a sense of isolation and anonymity, which is due to the fact that we use more and more machines in order to communicate with our fellow beings. In order to get the most out of these machines, we somehow become a part of them so that we cannot say for sure if we use them or they start using us.

“Humans think in story terms…Using stories enhances memory and facilitates information recall.” – K Haven
“The story is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” – Ursula K LeGuin
“Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results.” – Nancy Mellon

If modernization “disenchants” the world, as Max Weber puts it (Barglow: 1994, p.19), I think only stories, as old as the world, could enchant it again.

By changing our ways of relating to the world we actually change our inner self. A computer is above all mental, being an organization of a mind. (Barglow: 1994, p.72) There is a marked difference between a hammer that extends some human powers and a computer that uses our thinking patterns.

The self is something within us that we might present and represent to others. If one puts a screen between him or her and the world, you already have a gap between image and reality. People experience a loss of identity because they lost the link with the natural world. (Barglow: 1994, p.26)

The classical individual is autonomous, self-sufficient, self-contained, one who “masters” the outer and inner world. But the boundaries between subject and object are called into question in the information era. (Barglow: 1994, p. 63)

The changes that occurred in our vocabulary when referring to the way we think are just another sign that we experience a shift in perceiving ourselves. Nowadays the terms word processor, data processor refer ambiguously to an electronic device and to the person who uses them.
Jurgen Habermas speaks about a “colonization of the life world”. (Barglow: 1994, p.74) The centrality, the boundaries, the ethics, the recognition and the identification of the self are no longer possible to trace when we speak about individualism.

Like in Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” we search desperately for someone to provide us with coherent identity-sustaining roles. But these roles changed and are no longer available.

Self develops in a child at about the age of three provided they are loved, understood and “mirrored” (Barglow: 1994, p. 91). Today, parents are no longer as emotionally involved in their children’s lives as in the past. They are simply more involved with their jobs than with their children. And they think children can manage this situation, or that they have no other choice. Today, in Kant’s terms, we live in a society in which “everything has its price, but nothing has a value” (Barglow: 1994, p.103).

Today, access and connection rather than self-sufficiency are vital for survival. There is a shift from the importance of energy to the importance of information in our lives (Barglow: 1994, p.127). People, like computers, process information.

Children and stories

Children love stories. Many grow up hearing a lot of stories. Stories can have an important influence on us. They can not only entertain and enthrall but also educate and motivate. This can be true not just for kindergarten stories but for many other stories, too. So many of the basic values and morals that we have imbibed as children would be from the host of stories told to us during our childhood days by our parents.

The art of telling a story is an important one, and a wonderful art. A really good story teller can enthrall the audience and transport them to a different world. How can we ever forget the fairy tales we heard in our childhood days, when we would be cast into another world, a fantasy world of fairies and brownies of bears that could talk and houses one could eat, a world where good was all good and bad all bad. Many of those kindergarden stories that we heard are the stories our children hear today. Those precious tales have survived for generations and still retain their evergreen charm.

Story time can be a wonderful way to spend quality time with children. In the good old days grandparents would be surrounded by many grand children and would tell and re-tell favorite stories. This not only helped keep children occupied, entertained and happy in a safe setting but also created a feeling of togetherness and sharing among families. The morals and values inherent in many of these folk tales were absorbed by the children without for a minute thinking that someone was lecturing them or preaching morals.

Story time in a young children class can be a wonderful way to keep children engaged. Children never tire of listening again and again to their favorite kindergarten stories. If all children can actively participate in the telling of popular stories it will be even more interesting for them.

The creativity of the little ones is flourishing, so, the teacher might want them to do an easy task as to illustrate the story themselves with their own drawings. If the story is already illustrated they can think of letting their students draw the blank spaces, characters, situations in the story, for a good story always has this blank spaces into which the child comes with his own imagination. I tried this for example with Dr. Seuss – The Lorax, and have them draw the Onceler, the bad character, that in Dr. Seuss’s book doesn’t have a face. The Onceler is just a pair of green greedy hands, knitting Thneeds.

Another thing to try with stories is that children create their own stories, or their variant of the stories you already told them.

Digital Stories

The latest “craze” for teenager students is that of digital stories. Digital stories are a kind of personal insights into the world of our students. We, as teachers, can ask them to create for example an “I am” story. First our students must create the story’s script and then record it by using a digital recorder or computer software created for this purpose. After having the audio they can edit it by using Photo Story 3, add pictures and captions and words to it and even background music to enhance the story. Thus, the created story will be a multimedia artifact.

The advantage is that students will love it as they get involved in shaping their own story and while doing it they are careful with the correctness of their grammar in a foreign language and neatness of their pronunciation in order to be understood by their colleagues and even some virtual colleagues abroad. The product they create can go beyond class matters as it can be published on the net on such sites as www.youtube.com or www.podomatic.org. This means that their work is valued even outside of class.

Until now, broadcasting, especially television, has been – as Illich (1979:34) had it – an ‘unconvivial tool’. For television-as-we-know-it ‘acts passively upon individuals’.  What Digital Storytelling does is open up the possibility that individuals can turn the television experience around, become its ‘active master’.

As Annie Correal explains on describing her project Cowbird (a website with digital stories), good digital stories must have four main qualities. They need to recount a personal experience. The second attribute of a good digital story is depth which means the story needs to have a moderate pace so that it leaves room for pondering upon it and touch the viewer. Thirdly, a story told to be published on the web needs to show vulnerability. Last but not least it must have a surprise element. Such a digital story will grab many people’s attention. And as in this era capital is replaced by attention, as Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist put it in their well-informed book on Netocracy, we can understand why such a result is wanted.

There is also a bunch of digital stories for kids already created that teachers can use in class or modify according to their needs. One useful website is www.storyjumper.com. Another ABC to creating digital stories can be found at digitalstorytelling.coe.uh.edu/.


Krashen, S.D (1987), Applications of Psycholinguistic Research to the Classroom, edited by M.H. Long and J.C. Richards, Newbury House, New York
Kubler, Annie – What’s the Time Mr. Wolf (Action Book)
Kubler, Annie – See You Later, Alligator (Action Book)
Maley, Alan & Duff (1995), Literature, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom
Mollica, A.S (1979), Print and non-print materials: Adapting for classroom use. In Buliding on experience: Building for success – edited by J.K. Philips, National Textbook Company
Penfield, J. (1987), The media: Catalysts for communicative language learning. Reading MA, Addison Wesley


prof. Casandra Ioan

Școala Gimnazială Axente Sever, Aiud (Alba) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/casandra.ioan

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