Listening to stories for language acquisition

This past school year, I taught two small groups of Elementary children. I had never taught this age group before so the learning curve was rather steep, especially since I only saw them once a week. I quickly noticed a few recurring themes:

But here is the big twist: I have tried to use some circling as a way to get in more repetitions of language structures. But both Elementary groups resisted circling: I could not get passed the yes/no or either/or stage without them losing interest. My lack of experience with this age group? Possibly. But consider this: my own 7-yo daughter will tell me very clearly “please keep reading maman !” at bedtime if I dare interrupt a good story with too many questions. For younger children, the story trumps anything else, especially if it is a good story. They don’t want to “play school” by answering questions, no matter how sneaky you are 🙂

So, I have switched to Story-Listening, an approach developed by Dr. Mason. Each week, I select a folk tale, fairy tale, or any other children story. I base my choice on:

  • Student interest
  • Familiarity of the story or settings/characters
  • Natural repetition of language

I rewrite the story in a way that is comprehensible for the students but not necessarily 100% word-for-word transparent, in order to provide i+1. And then, I simply tell the story to my students, drawing on the board, gesturing, and making sound effects as I go. I may write a few words on the board too and use a quick translation. Read more about how to prepare for a Story-Listening lesson here.


Click on the image to watch the story

Listening has gotten such a bad rap in classrooms because often time it is associated with a “boring lecture”. But if you teach or have children, you know what a good story will do to them! They are so engaged, they are truly listening. My daughter would feverishly listen to me reading Harry Potter until her bladder was ready to burst! Since I made the switch with my Elementary classroom, I am getting “ewww”, “wows”, “aaahhhs”, and all kinds of cute reactions. Also, because there is no accountability (students don’t have to answer questions), the Affective filter is the lowest I have ever seen.

So, will this lead to language acquisition? Well, Dr. Krashen’s two main conditions for Language Acquisition are met: lots comprehensible input at i+1 AND low Affective filter. And Dr. Mason’s research suggests that students acquire language at 0.15 word per minute (wpm) when Story-Listening is implemented in the classroom.

Want to give it a try? Here is a story-based lesson plan for you to try with your Novice learners:
• An editable story script for “La Petite Grenouille”. Feel free to modify the script
to fit your students’ needs.
• A video demonstrating how to tell this particular story using drawings, gestures, and sound effects in order to convey meaning.
• Accompanying PowerPoint materials, ready to print and use in class
• Suggested post listening activities

I will be posting more story-based lesson plan ideas. In the meantime, read more about Story-Listening, join the Story-Listening FB group and enjoy your summer!


Dr. Mason came to Tennessee to talk about her method. Here, she just finished doing a Story-Listening in English with lots of high frequency words.


  1. Hello
    I am a student teacher learning how to teach french. I really like your idea of telling children stories in French. In class I learned that a lot of students in Canada have difficulty with the listening portion of the delf test. I think a lot of teachers avoid lecture based lessons so that the children are more engaged in their own learning and therefore students do not get the opportunity to listen to French spoken in the classroom by an adult who is fluent. I think storytelling is a great way to promote listening skills in French and I really like how you’ve included examples of how you would act our and draw while you tell the story to make it accessible to all students. I also like how you don’t make it so simple that the students fail to learn, and instead scaffold them towards a higher level through reading.

    • Yes exactly! This is all thanks to Dr. Mason and Dr. Krashen, I hope you get a chance to read more about them and their contributions to our field in your studies. You have chosen the best profession in the world. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you.

  2. Bonjour, [I’m hoping this email will reach Cecile Laine.] First of all, thank you for sharing so many wonderful materials and ideas! I have a couple of questions for you. I read on your blog that you do a daily song activity and, on another post, that you do a daily Comment tu te sens activity…both of which I love. My question is…how long are your class periods? I have 40 minute classes and I’m wondering if doing the song activity is feasible on a daily basis given my time constraints. Thoughts?

    Also, I do not teach AP, but have a class of seniors with whom I am hoping to do thematic reading. I am starting the year with Beauty and the Beast and was happy to stumble upon your post! I followed the link to your AP curriculum, but it didn’t come up. I wondered if you would consider sharing that with me.

    Again, thank you so much for your body of work. I just purchased the Petit Journal from last semester as well as for the coming year. I love doing current events with my students and know this will be a huge help!

    Merci! Lauren Hurlburt French Teacher Letchworth Central School

    • Bonjour Lauren! Great question: My class period was 50 min. The first 5 min were dedicated to “comment tu te sens” (every single day) and the next 10 min to the song of the week (only once students have some language, typically the second half of French 1, every other week, more often with French 3). I was able to use this amount of time because I stopped giving homework, so instead of spending the first 10-15 min of class checking and going over the homework, I used it instead for these two in-class activities. I have no regrets! I’d much rather spend this time with my students doing something more meaningful, engaging, and input-based than homework 🙂

      It is true that with only 40 min, you are more pressed for time, especially if you have homework to go through. Maybe with your Novice learners you could do “comment tu te sens” daily to build them up and get to know them. With your more Novice High-intermediate students you could do song of the week of a version of it (I do recommend doing the same song a few days in a row during the week instead of just once a week). You could also ask them to look for words in the song at home. There are so many ways you could make it happen! Please feel free to email me to keep brainstorming: cecileflaine at gmail.

      And finally, snap! I am sorry about the link to my curriculum being broken, I fixed it now. The link to the actual BB unit is working fine. let me knownif you have any questions!

      Bonne rentrée!

Leave a Reply