What can 1st graders do after hearing 50 stories? An (amateur) action research

This past school year, I had the joy of teaching Elementary in a K-8 public school. I told my K and 1st grade students roughly 50 stories, using  Story Listening. Basically, I told them a new story each time we met, with no circling and no or very little questioning, using Story Listening to make myself understood. For videos of Story Listening with my Elementary students, click here.

From the first story on, I have been amazed at the level of engagement my young students have demonstrated, whether sitting and watching with their mouths open, making predictions, or reacting to the story. After the story, I usually ask 1-2 questions in English about the story, and then we have a bit of time left for some Total Physical Response, songs, or games.

After 50 stories (roughly 10-12 hours of input), I decided to run a summative assessment.

My students can understand stories with supplementation but what if I removed all support? How much can they understand on their own after listening to 50 stories?

I created a short story. We had never told this story or any version of it. In fact, the stories we told in class are adapted from tales, legends, or children books, not made up by me or co-created by the class. I have highlighted in green the words/phrases I felt confident my students would understand; in orange words/phrases that appeared in some of our stories naturally and regularly, and in red words/phrases that had only appeared in 3 stories or less:

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Ella. Her name is not Sa’Rya, her name is Ella.  She lived in a small house with her mom. Ella and her mom were poor, they were not rich, they had no money. Today, Ella is hungry. She wants to eat a big pizza, but she is poor, she has no money. She goes to the supermarket. She sees the pizzas and says: “I am hungry, I want to eat a pizza.” She takes a pizza and she runs. She runs home. She tells her mom: “Mom, mom, look, I have got a pizza!” And she gives the pizza to her mom. Ella’s mom tells her: “Ella, that is not good. Return to the supermarket and put the pizza in its place.Ella runs to the supermarket and puts the pizza in its place. A man sees her. He tells her: “Do you want to eat this pizza?” “Yes”, says Ella. The man is rich, he is very rich. He takes the pizza and gives the pizza to Ella.  Ella says: “Thank you!”

I read the story in French to my 1st grade students (no gestures, no drawing, just read slowly with intonation), and they had to tell me what the story was about in English.

After the story, I also asked my students to demonstrate comprehension of 12 high frequency phrases in French by telling me what they meant in English (Ella goes, Ella wants, Ella likes, etc.). I read the phrases to them as a list.

I expected my students would understand some of the story (the green words/phrases and maybe some of the orange words/phrases) but instead…

  • 4 students understood the whole story, including some of the red words/phrases
    • Two students also produced 8-9 high frequency phrases out of 12.
    • Two students also comprehended 9-11 high frequency phrases.
  • 5 students understood most of the story, except the red words/phrases and some orange words/phrases
    • They also comprehended 7-11 high frequency phrases out of 12.
  • 5 students understood some of the story, some orange words/phrases but not enough to be able to follow the whole plot — this is where I thought most of my students would be!
    • They also comprehended 5-7 high frequency phrases out of 12.
  • 3 students understood very little to none of the story, only the green words/phrases
    • One of these 3 students was pulled out of my class every week for an intervention, so she only heard roughly 30 stories. She will need to hear more stories.
    • Another student also comprehended 6 out of 12 high frequency phrases in French.
    • The last student also comprehended 1 out of 12 high frequency phrases. There could be many factors at play here, one of them could be I tested him on the very last day of school 🙂

These results exceed my expectations. Take a listen to Mihith, one of the 4 students who understood the whole story, and to Emma, one of the 5 students who understood most of the story.

But there is more…

Students’ attitude in class was sometimes but not always a predictor of their performance

  • All 4 students who understood the story completely were quiet and attentive students during story time, but other quiet and attentive students understood most or some of the story,
  • Students who interacted productively with the story during story time (by asking questions, making predictions, connecting to self, or making relevant comments) understood some or most of the story,
  • Students who often had to be redirected during story time understood most, some or none of the story.

I knew throughout the year that Story Listening was magical with little children. This belief came from watching my students being so engaged and never once asking “can we do something else today?”

But now, I can back-up these feelings with my own little action research. Of course, there is also a growing body of (real not amateur like mine) research about the impact of Story Listening on Second Language Acquisition. What is so amazing to me about Story Listening is that it is teaching my young students to truly listen. Not only is Listening a major component of Second Language Acquisition (together with Reading), it is also a critical skill in today’s world.

If you want to know more about Story Listening (and I hope you do!), visit the Stories First Foundation.


  1. I am always so inspired when I read your blog or your posts on the Story Listening Facebook page!! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I am still very new at Story Listening. I was only able to tell 8 stories this year. But I am so inspired and excited to do more next year 🙂
    Listening to you tell the story to your students and hear their responses was amazing! I think I can feel the pride you have at their success 🙂 And your own!

    • Thank you Kate! I am just in awe at the power of this method on Elementary children. I was so worried about teaching this age group and Story Listening made it so fun and rewarding.

  2. Hello! This is amazing! I am required to assess students each year to show growth (pre and post test) and I have been trying to find something that feels like an appropriate assessment for young children. I really like your story assessment. I am wondering logistically, how you accomplished this, as it seems you were able to tell the story to every student one on one and record their translations– what did the other students do while you did the assessments? Or did you do this outside of your class time? Thank you!!!

    • Oh I am glad this is helpful. I pulled the students out of their regular classroom and also used a bit of my class time. When I had to use some of my class time, I had a colleague in the room and the students watched a little video.

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