Tales from LMU
Stocking young minds – with stories
Telling stories is an effective way to teach things, but school timetables leave little room for it. Trainee teachers from LMU now regularly tell stories at local schools, with a view to improving their pupils’ language competence. The project “Schooling with Stories” is designed to establish a culture of storytelling in Munich schools, many of whose pupils come from immigrant backgrounds.
The noise level in the elementary school on Munich‘s Burmesterstrasse has just gone up considerably. Members of Class 3bg are packing their schoolbags, running about excitedly and rearranging their chairs into a neat circle. There are still two hours left in the school-day, and student teacher Annika Hoffman has a hard time getting her charges to quieten down, so she can begin her story. “Once upon a time, there was a farmer, and his dog was very old,” she says. – All of a sudden, she has the ear of every last person in the room, and all are captivated by her tale of the old dog Sultan, who has outlived his usefulness on the farm. Annika uses every trick she knows to keep her listeners’ attention. She mimes the gait of a three-legged cat with a crooked tail; with sweeping gestures she emphasizes the size of the wild boar‘s ears, and she howls like a wolf. Every so often, she interrupts the story to explain expressions like “refuge” or “putting out to grass”.
She does this not (just) to increase the tension, but because the real purpose of the story is to help her pupils expand their vocabulary and improve their ability to express themselves. For Annika is taking part in the project Mit Erzählen Schule machen (Schooling with Stories): As one of a team of student teachers from LMU, she tells the children in her class a story every week. And indeed, the narrative format has proven to be very valuable language-teaching tool, in particular for pupils whose native language is not German. “The presence of the storyteller and story allows the children of immigrants to experience German in a novel and vivid way that stimulates the imagination,” as Project Coordinator Dr. Uta Hauck-Thum of LMU’s Institute for the Teaching of German as a First and Second Language explains. “Taking on the role of the storyteller also enables the teacher to establish a closer, more direct relationship with her audience. And our students have the opportunity to observe the impact of live storytelling for themselves,” Hauck-Thum adds.
A workshop for apprentice storytellers
To prepare herself for her role as a teller of tales, Annika, and her colleagues in the project, attended a seminar on storytelling at the Munich Center for Teacher Training. The seminar is led by Katharina Ritter, a professional storyteller who has toured in Germany and abroad with a repertoire of stories borrowed and tales of her own, coaches the students in the art of oral narrative. She gives advice on the choice of stories and the use of mime and gesture, and encourages her students to invent their own storylines. “For me, the most important thing is authenticity,” Ritter explains. “Just telling children any old story is not enough. You must have a real desire to communicate the story to the audience. If you adopt that attitude, then everything else comes with time.” Sieglinde Hartinger, Annika’s storytelling partner in the school on Burmesterstrasse, agrees. “My first session was terrifying. It took what felt like an immensely long time before I could get the children to concentrate on my story, but with every new tale the response gets better.”
The kids in Class 3bg are now engrossed by Annika’s next tale, about a girl who is searching for her brothers at the end of the world. Hiba, Enes and Adam have moved in close to Annika and are following the tale with baited breath. Eight-year-old Yunus is rather more skeptical, and keeps interrupting with probing questions: “Where is the end of the world anyway – in Australia?” and “Why do children have to work at all?”
“One can tell from the questions they put that the stories really do make an impression on the children,” as Annika points out. “And apart from that, it is always wonderfully rewarding to see how they become caught up in a story. Ghost stories are their favorites – then they want to tell me how the story ends.”