Just Try Story Listening

Running on emotion and very little sleep and sporting a very sloppy ponytail, I opened the door to my classroom. Returning to school after the deadly fire that rampaged through my small, rural Tennessee town was the most difficult day of my career. My children were reeling from great loss and insecurity.  I struggled for words to calm their nerves and soothe their hearts.

I turned to the simplicity of Story Listening to tell the story of the phoenix: a story of hope rising from the ashes, as we were going to need to do.

As the lesson began, I was shaken and struggled for words. I floundered and sped through the story to a very weak ending: the phoenix died, but her egg lived. There was a voice in my head telling me not to go out of bounds.  Worried about losing the students, I didn’t follow this story to its important conclusion: the universal truth that there is always rebirth and life after we are tested by fire.

“The end,” I said.  I scanned the room.  Everything was quiet and I could see that children were still on the edge of their seats.

Kids sat silently staring, waiting for more, until one little girl spoke up in broken English with, “It is now?” Meaning is this relevant today?  She needed me to go there.  She needed me to say that after a great fire, there is regeneration.  She needed me to connect it to a bigger picture that was relevant to her personal life.

So, spurred on by their obvious need for healing, I pointed at the egg and the Phoenix and used pictures and the simplest language I could.  Every 500 years there is a great fire and pain and even death, but there is new life and hope.

They clapped.  I had never heard that before, so asked them “You’re clapping?”  They smiled at each other and clapped again.

Reborn.  That was the word my children needed.  It was not on a test or curriculum map.  It was simply on their hearts. My children emboldened me to use the words they needed to hear; not to master targets but to conquer fear.

Don’t let them scare you out of rich “out of bounds” language.  Don’t listen to “experts” who disregard the research supporting Story Listening.  Don’t listen to anyone but your students.  Just try Story Listening.



Published by

Claire Walter

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

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