IATEFL 2015: Storytelling in the 21st Century Primary Classroom – Viv Lambert and Mo Choy


Love the cheshire cat! 🙂


We started with “Welcome welcome” song and some storytelling from Alice in Wonderland. This was to remind us what storytelling feels like. Today we will learn about its relevance in the 21st century. Storytelling evolved as a way of passing on knowledge and culture from generation to generation. We are all storytellers. E.g. when we tell anecdotes. We edit, sequence, choose words for effect, add gesture and expression, and most importantly, emotion. Without emotion it’s just a list of events. It’s a shared experience and still an important form of communication.

We all use stories in the language classroom, children love them, see them as a treat like songs. You get all the language in one package, one context. Children listen with purpose – to know what will happen next.

There are pedagogical reasons for it:


Being literate opens doors for everybody in all walks of life. The more we read, the more we learn about life, the better we can connect with people. Lots of studies have shown the benefits of reading on both first and second language development. E.g. Krashen. The knock on effect is better speaking, writing, spelling. Children who are keen readers do better in all subjects. Reading for pleasure has more influence on how well children do at school than social and economic factors.


How do we choose stories for the language classroom?

We have graded readers, stories in course books, anecdotes, childrens’ own stories… but what about selecting storybooks?


Further activities could be acting, craft etc.

With young learners, images are very important to aid with processing. Genres xx have used in Story central: a myth, a superhero comic, a folktale, a factual story (based on a news story). There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to selecting stories. Anything which the children will enjoy and will let them learn something about their world has value.

“There’s no such thing as a child who hates to read, there are only children who have not found the right book.” – Frank Serafini.

We do have a continuous stream of attention-grabbing information from our devices, but at the same time, it also gives us more choices of reading material e.g. ebooks, audio books. If you share reviews online, you become part of a community that helps you find the books you like quicker, through recommendation.

Whispersync technology – allows you to synchronise audio and text versions of the book, so that you can switch between the audio and the book, or listen at the same time with the words highlighted as you go. (Like Black Cat)

Digital storytelling can add interactivity. A good blended learning course allows print and digital to work side by side. For example, showing the pages of the storybook on an interactive whiteboard, you can zoom in on the frame you want to focus on and highlight the text, pause the audio, do all manner of things. Storytelling videos add yet another dimension.

<We are shown a storytelling video from Storycentral>


With this endless stream of entertainment from the technology around, then getting information isn’t the problem anymore. The question is how we navigate the maze of material out there. Children need to know what to do with it and what trust to place it in. This is where critical thinking comes in. We need to develop reasoning skills. Critical thinking allows us to question – who wrote it? when did they write it? what was their perspective? It’s a way of analysing and evaluating all that information around us.

So, to equip children for life in 21st century, understanding a text isn’t enough, they need higher order thinking skills:


It all sounds a little ambitious, with young learners? But actually, children are natural critical thinkers. What parent or teacher hasn’t at some stage been exasperated by constant questions from children? Why this? Why that? If you want to improve your critical thinking skills, act like a 6 year old! In the classroom, there is a lot of emphasis on passing tests and getting the answers right, while critical thinking encourages divergent and creative thinking. The child is not an empty slate but someone with valid opinions. There isn’t always a correct answer.



Which are higher order thinking? Which are lower order?

  1. Lower
  2. Lower
  3. Lower
  4. Higher
  5. Higher
  6. Higher

So the first three are simple comprehension questions, require recall and have a correct answer. The last three involve evaluating, imagining and predicting. You have to think more deeply to answer these. They had to find ways to simplify these questions, in some cases it could be a reason to use mother tongue.



  1. Fact
  2. Opinion
  3. Fact
  4. Opinion
  5. Opinion

Being able to distinguish between fact and opinion will help children to evaluate what they learn and gauge the reliability of what they encounter.



Describe the picture. Adjectives. Lush. Tranquil. Now imagine you are a teenager living in a house in that scene. Your friends live in the city. Wifi is rubbish. Transport links are terrible. Now describe it. Boring. Isolated. Desperate.

As you can see, two totally different points of view, about the same place.

Enter the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse (Task)

Whose point of view is it?


  1. Town Mouse
  2. Country Mouse
  3. Country Mouse
  4. Town Mouse
  5. Country Mouse

Questioning whose point of view is expressed helps us to identify bias.

The Ant and the Grasshopper 


What do you think is going to happen next? Winter comes… the grasshopper has no food and is hungry/miserable. Predicting what’s going to happen next involves analysing a situation and imagining whats going to happen. Encourages children to think ahead and think about the consequences of actions. And hopefully to make better decisions as a result!

Are you an ant or a grasshopper?


“Imagine you have a magic pen. Draw something.” – They asked people of all ages to draw something and got this wide array of answers:


  • Bill, age 61 – spring
  • Sheila, age 82 – a nice cup of tea after a long day’s shopping

How simple critical activities can be even though the involve these higher order skills.



We started with Alice, so now we are going to finish with Alice too.


Alice is questioning! The moment she descends into the rabbit hole, she questions everything she thought she knew. A true critical thinker!

Brilliant session! Looking forward to getting back in the classroom with my Ms (11-12 year olds) now!! 🙂


4 thoughts on “IATEFL 2015: Storytelling in the 21st Century Primary Classroom – Viv Lambert and Mo Choy

  1. Thank you so much for all your brilliant summaries!! I’ve been following the live feed and your blog and it makes me feel closer to the conference!!! Many thanks for sharing!!! Cheers from Uruguay!

  2. Pingback: IATEFL 2015: All my posts indexed! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  3. Thank you for this exhaustive resume of Live Lambert speech at IATEFL conference. I couldn’t attend the conference so any recording or resume is a great resource for me. I think that the content of this conference is similar to the one of the Macmillan webinar “Young learner Literacy Day” (http://www.macmillanenglish.com/events/young-learner-literacy-day/) but maybe it’s more exhaustive. I am very interested in storytelling: I think that using story books in the classroom is very helpful for developing language skills.

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