Story Listening: How to Start

Story Listening is the creation of Dr. Beniko Mason.  She describes it as simply telling folktales with comprehensible but rich language.  Stories are generally illustrated real-time and the storyteller uses body language, voice, and strong descriptions to transport students.  Words like “tragic” “betray” and “romantic” are not high-frequency words, but can bring a strong emotional appeal to a story.  Dialogue or descriptions of how characters feel can draw in even the most reluctant listener.

This method is simple to use.  There are no complicated steps or “circling” questions.  Simply watch a masterful storyteller at work and notice they keep the focus on telling the story, with as few interruptions as possible.  Sometimes gestures, L1, or recasts are used to clarify targets or words or ideas that are important to understanding the story.

Here is Dr. Mason’s simple Story-Listening.

Some things to note when starting out.

  1. There is no circling and very few comprehension questions, and afterward, there is no tests on targets or vocabulary. Students can keep a journal to write or illustrate what they understood, but assessments should focus on the message as a whole. Dr. Mason tells students “Your job is to enjoy the story.”
  2. Start with familiar stories first, like the Three Little Pigs, then work to less familiar stories.  Dr. Mason’s more obscure story, the Wine Well was likely done after students have had a few weeks to extend their attention and learned to attune to pure comprehensible input.
  3. Start with one simple story for 10-15 minutes, and over time gradually move towards longer 15-20 minute stories. As always, assess students’ interest level throughout the lesson and let their level on engagement drive the story.
  4. Over time, children will naturally find stories so engaging, if you can give them the option, they will want to listen to a second story. Don’t feel pressure on yourself or put pressure on children to listen to more story than they are ready for.  Switch to simple TPR activities as brain-breaks at any time.


With no formal training and having seen only one demonstration, here is literally my very first attempt at Story Listening.  Two important things to note: 1. one student was a little noisy in literally the first minute of the story, but within minutes, students get used to attuning to “noisier” or richer input; 2. students write and translate Mandarin/Spanish on the board before the story, and I use the words periodically in as natural a way as possible as they pop up in the story.



Here is another post with frequently asked questions and suggestions to expand this method.


Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

8 thoughts on “Story Listening: How to Start”

  1. Thank you Claire! Very helpful. I have one question: Did you “explain” to your students you were going to tell them a story and their only job was to enjoy it or did you just go for it?


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