Concern has been expressed about teaching English to the fifth- and
the sixth graders in the public schools of Japan. There appears to be an
insufficiency of materials as well as anxiety among teachers who must
instruct these grades. Story telling may be an important step for
developing English competence. The current study replicated the work of
Trostle and Hicks (1998) which investigated vocabulary gains and
comprehension using story telling modes including Character Imagery (CI)
and Simple Reading (SR) in an LI setting. Significantly, however, this
study was conducted in an L2 situation. The effects of CI and SR on
comprehension and vocabulary development were compared using a sample of
120 Japanese primary school students ranging in age from 10 to 12 years.
In a two-phase procedure, students listened to stories told using CI by
the researcher, and a second group listened to stories told by SR. While
both modes were effective. CI was found to be significantly greater in
improving both comprehension and vocabulary development. Story telling
appears to be beneficial for students developing English proficiency.
This study provides evidence that teachers should employ suitable
stories told using character imagery in L2 classrooms.
Background of this study
English will be a compulsory subject for the fifth-and
sixth-graders in public primary schools from the 2011 academic year in
Japan. However, the problem seems to lay in a lack of suitable English
materials for the grades and a deficit of classroom teachers'
confidence to implement activities in English. The communicative
approach can be useful for developing students English listening and
speaking ability. Past 10 years, a native English speaking person as an
Assistant Language Teacher (hereafter referred to by the acronym, ALT)
has been working with a classroom teacher to teach natural English.
However, classroom teachers' anxiety has skyrocketed because of
their limited communication skills in English, and moreover, their duty
which they have to form syllabus and a teaching plan. In fact, classroom
teachers rely on an ALT who mainly plan English activities. Most
activities have been performed by singing, dancing and playing games
which are boring for pre-teens who are eager to gain new knowledge and
carry out logical operations (Pinter, 2006). As pre-teens can establish
their thoughts systematically and holistically according to Piaget
(Lightbown & Spada, 2006), it is natural that pre-teens
"require very different materials, methods, and teaching
style" (Pinter, 2006, p7) different from younger students. What is
more effective way? How can classroom teachers approach them? One
positive reaction for pre-teens to English activities was reported on
the simple questionnaire performed in May 2008 by the researcher that
was to listen to a story. A short story read by an ALT was utterly
enchanted students. Especially, telling a story using dramatized action
by a native speaker attracted pre-teens. Stories bring a lot of benefits
including language development (Wright, 1997). Cameron (2001) has
insisted that "Stories present holistic approaches to language
teaching and learning that place a high premium on children's
involvement with rich, authentic uses of the foreign language" (p.
159). It is possible that pre-teens engage in English learning through
using stories as a language teaching material.
Research questions of this study
In the current study, The Character Imagery Storytelling Style
presented by Trostle & Hicks (1998), was administered, which
involves the story teller's dressing as the protagonist in the
story and vivid and dynamic speech and gestures of the protagonist and
the other characters in the story to "tell" the story in the
past tense. In Character Imagery, one actor, in fact,
"becomes" each significant character momentarily, by using a
combination of pantomime, body positioning, and different voice
intonations for each new character. However he/she returns to the
primary role of protagonist when not assuming another character's
role. (Trostle & Hicks, 1998, p129)
This research demonstrated that The Character Imagery Storytelling
Style (hereafter referred to by the acronym, CI) had great effects to
gain vocabulary and progress comprehension of the story in the first
language (L 1). If such is the case, the method might be useful for
young second language learners as well. CI is assumed to be effective
for language development for students (McWilliams, 1998). However, the
above study was been implemented in L 1 setting. Therefore, it is very
much valuable to examine this in second language (L2) setting. My
research questions were as follows:
1. Will students increase their vocabulary by story telling?
2. Will students hearing a story using Character Imagery
storytelling style (CI) gain higher vocabulary than students who have a
simple reading of the same story (SR)?
3. Will students hearing a story using Character Imagery
Storytelling style (CI) have higher comprehension than students who have
a simple reading of the same story (SR)?
The current study was investigated vocabulary gains and
comprehension comparing different modes, such as CI and a simple story
reading (hereafter referred to by the acronym, SR).
There has been a great discussion about the development of native
literacy skills by reading stories aloud. Studies on story reading aloud
and incidental vocabulary learning are reported with positive findings
(Elley, 1989; Trostle & Hicks, 1998).
Elley (1989) conducted two experiments to investigate whether or
not incidental vocabulary learning occurred through listening to
stories. The first study was performed with 168 seven-year-old students
from seven classrooms in seven schools in New Zealand. The book chosen
was Gumdrop at Sea which had an impressive story and many attractive
pictures. The result showed that percentage of children who acquired
knowledge of the target words in the post-vocabulary test was higher
than percentage of that in the pre-vocabulary test. Incidental
vocabulary learning using listening to stories was proven. In the second
experiment in which the procedures were replicated in the current study,
the purpose was to make sure whether or not incidental vocabulary
learning occurred in two different story books with 127 six classes of
eight year olds in New Zealand and 51 children of the similar age and
background from two schools for a control group. The experimental
children were divided into two groups (A and B). Two picture books,
Rapscallion Jones and The White Crane, were read aloud to three groups,
two experimental groups (with explanation and without explanation) and
one control group. The treatments were exchanged with each story between
the two experimental groups. The control group took all tests at the
same times as Group A and B, but did not hear any stories. The result
showed that the group with explanation had much vocabulary gain for the
Trostle and Hicks (1998) investigated through comparing the effects
of storytelling and story reading on comprehension and vocabulary
development with British primary school students. One approach was the
CI in which a storyteller who read aloud books dressed and took on the
role of protagonist. Another approach was SR in which a trained student
read stories aloud. Thirty two students aged seven to 11 years,
consisting of 16 boys and 16 girls, were divided into eight groups of
four students per group who were sub-grouped by age, gender and literacy
ability. Four groups had SR approach and the other four groups had CI
approach. Over a period of six weeks, students listened to four stories
includes Mop Top and Dandelion for young students and Strega Nona and
The Widow's Broom for the older groups. Four groups listened to
stories with CI by a researcher or a trained student teacher and other
four groups with SR by an investigator or a trained student teacher.
During reading/telling stories, pictures were shown to subjects. Results
showed that CI had a great effect on story comprehension and vocabulary
development. They concluded that CI approach could be more effective
than SR for students aged seven to 11, and story telling should be given
a place in reading programs and also literacy curriculums.
In the field of second language acquisition, the study of L2
language development using storybooks has been few empirical studies.
Brett, Rothlein & Hurley (1996) investigated whether students
with ethnic backgrounds such as white non-Hispanic, African-American,
Hispanic, and Asian, aged nine to 11 years can acquire unknown words
through listening to two stories, Bunnicula and The Reluctant Dragon
with different conditions. A total of 175 the fourth graders from six
classrooms in two elementary schools in Miami divided into three groups
such as (1) story-with-word-explanation group, (2)
story-without-word-explanation group, and (3) no exposure to the stories
or vocabulary (the control condition group). All three groups were given
pre-test and post-test for each story. Six weeks later, a delayed
post-test was administrated. Results showed that the
story-with-word-explanation group made significantly more progress the
pre-vocabulary test to the post-vocabulary tests than the other two
groups. They concluded that the fourth graders were able to acquire new
vocabulary from listening to stories with a brief explanation of the new
words which appeared in the stories.
Cabrera and Martinez (2001) investigated teachers' strategies
to make the input comprehensible in reading/telling stories in two
conditions with 60 Spanish ten year-old English second language users in
the Canary Islands. They found that the children were able to follow the
thread of the story told by a teacher only when children listened to the
story both linguistic and interactional adjustment. (1) Linguistic
adjustment (the first version) consists of short utterances, simple
syntactic structures (simple present, imperatives, comparatives, etc.)
and (2) interactional adjustments (the second version) in which
repetitions, questions, and comprehension checks were given in L2 and
paralinguistic cues were also given. The same male teacher told two
stories, The Long Nose and The Princess and the Pea, to the two groups
of children in two different classroom situations. Interestingly, the
reason children were able to follow the thread of the story told even if
without any visual supports is that body language, such as emphatic
gestures, physical appearance and actions, assisted children in their
comprehension. Cabrera and Martinez (2001) concluded that teacher talk,
such as repetition, questions, and comprehensions checks, are one of L2
resources in second language classrooms, and interactional adjustment
should be created more in L2 learning.
Huang (1991) investigated whether or not comprehensive oral input
using a multisensory approach scaffold understanding of real literature
reading with 129 sixth-graders, aged 11 year-olds, from a public school
using the stories, Ice Cream and Dragons and Giants. Students were
divided into three groups. The control group (CG) read the text-only
story without any illustrations or storytelling and
illustration-supplement group (IG) read the text with illustrations. The
study group (SG) used multi-sensory approach through the contexualized
storytelling, which is very similar to CI. SG group listened to the
story with the multi-sensory approach before reading the illustrated
text. To measure their word understanding, a word recall test was
conducted in which the half of the word list of the fifty words came
from the story and the rest of the words were distracting words.
Students checked the word which they thought came from the story. To
measure their comprehension of the reading text, a story retelling test
was conducted in English or Chinese. Evaluation elements of the
retelling test consisted of setting, characters, initiating events,
internal response, plans or attempts, direct consequence and ending. The
results showed that there were no significant differences among three
groups, that is, multi-sensory approach did not affect the word recall
test. However, in the retelling story test, the mean score of the
retelling test using multi-sensory approach was significant.
Character Imagery Storytelling Style (CI) might help comprehensible
input, raising students' awareness to linguistic features and
promoting understanding of storylines reducing the listener's
affective filter (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). CI is presented by
Trostle & Hicks (1998) for promoting L1 literacy skills and Cary
proposed contextualized storytelling for developing L2 listening
comprehension (Huang, 1991). Stories are told using the target language
without a mother tongue and, moreover, not only verbally but also
nonverbally. Students could infer the meaning of the words, where
"deep processing" (Cameron, 2001, p85) occurs and "high
mental effort" (Hulstijn, 1992, p.122) is needed. Image could be
created visually and aurally, and stored in his or her brain firmly.
1. Post-vocabulary scores will be significantly higher than
pre-vocabulary scores. This will be true for both grades, both modes of
telling, and for both stories.
2. Average positive scores of English vocabulary change will be
significantly higher for students told stories using Character Imagery
Style than for students who simply read stories.
3. Average scores of English comprehension will be significantly
higher for students told stories using the Character Imagery Style than
for students who read stories.
Participants were selected from the same L1 cultural and
educational background including L2 experiences. The major experiment
was conducted with 120 students in the fifth-and six-grade, aged 10 to
12 years-old in public primary school (coeducation) in Tokyo in July,
2009. Students were divided into two groups in order to control the
variables in the study. Both groups were exposed to English in previous
year and they had been doing English activities several times by an ALT
who provided games and singing. In 2009 academic year, three times
English activities were given by an ALT before the current study. A
pilot test was implemented in a different public primary school in Tokyo
with 34 fifth grade students with the story, One Eyed Jake.
120 students were divided into two groups. In phase 1, the book,
One Eyed Jake was read/told. Group 1 listened to the story using SR.
Group 2 listened to the story using CI. In phase 2, the book, Silly
Billy was read/told. Group 1 listened to the story using CI. Group 2
listened to the story using SR. The pre-and post-vocabulary tests and a
comprehensive test were conducted.
First of all, pre-vocabulary test was conducted with each whole
class for ten minutes. After ten minutes reading or telling the story by
the researcher, immediately a post-vocabulary test was conducted the
same way as was done in the pre-vocabulary test for ten minutes. After
post-vocabulary test sheets were collected, comprehension test was
immediately conducted for 15 minutes.
Vocabulary gain was measured by using a vocabulary test. The
pre-vocabulary test and the post-vocabulary test were the same. Fifteen
target words chosen were repeated at least twice and presented the key
words of story line. One correct answer was given one point, therefore,
15 points given was perfect in vocabulary test. Students were asked to
listen to a word provided by the researcher and to choose its meaning
from four alternatives that were written in Japanese. Students were
asked to choose the right answer from four alternatives pronounced by
the researcher. The alternatives consisted of one right answer and three
fillers on the answer sheet which was written in Japanese. The fillers
had three types of distracters. One type was a Japanese word that
resembled a target word pronunciation. The other filler was the word
which showed up in the same scene. The last type was the word which
students were able to imagine from the target words in their schema
Twelve comprehension questions for each story were used. For the
story, One Eyed Jake, a literal question was, "What was the
protagonist?" An interpretive level question was, "Why did the
protagonist throw three crews onto other ships?" An analytic
question was, "Why did Jim, the cabin boy throw the cabin key to
the protagonist?" A critical question was, "What would you
want to recommend to the protagonist?" A creative level question
was, "Can you tell me what comes next in the story?" The
presented order of questions both vocabulary and comprehension followed
the sequence of story. Students were asked his/her answers in Japanese
on the answer sheet. Regarding the rive literal questions, two
interpretive questions and two analytic questions, the way of multiple
choices was conducted and students were asked to read questions and to
choose the right answer from four alternatives which were written in
Japanese. The alternatives consisted of one right answer and three
fillers on the answer sheet. The three fillers consisted of the event
which students were able to associate with other events from the same
page, from whole pages and from students' general schema. Regarding
the two critical questions and one creative question, students wrote own
ideas or thoughts in Japanese. It was difficult to measure the score,
therefore, nine comprehension questions were measured and the right
answer was given one point. Therefore, a perfect score was nine points
in comprehension test. In addition, both vocabulary tests and the
comprehension test were marked by a researcher and checked by two
graduated university students.
To assess vocabulary gain, a two-way repeated-measures ANOVA on
each story was performed. The independent variables were mode and grade
while the dependent variable was the pre and post scores of the
vocabulary test. To assess differences in comprehension, a two-way ANOVA
was performed. The independent variables were again grade and mode of
reading/storytelling, and the dependent variable was the score of the
In the Story, One Eyed Jake, the mean score of the CI (2.72) for
the pre-vocabulary test increased to the score (6.26) of for the
post-vocabulary test. The mean score of SR (2.67) for the pre-vocabulary
test increased to the score (5.33) on the post-vocabulary test. In both
modes, vocabulary gain dramatically increased. It can be seen that the
total of story modes showed good evidence of vocabulary gains in initial
learning. A two-way repeated-measures ANOVA was performed as outlined in
the methodology section. Table 1 illustrates that there was significant
difference between vocabulary in pre-test and in post-tests with F (1,
117) = 203.385, p (.000) < .01. For mode, F-ratio was significant
with F (1,117) = 4.149, p (.044) < .05. No effect for grade or any
interaction of grade and mode were anticipated, and no significant
results were round for these two-tailed hypothesis.
In the story, Silly Billy, the mean score of the CI (5.30) for the
pre-vocabulary test increased to the score (9.57) of for the
post-vocabulary test. The mean score of SR (4.83) for the pre-vocabulary
test increased to the score (8.65) on the post-vocabulary test. In a
two-way repeated-measures ANOVA in the story, Silly Billy, Difference in
mode was somewhat directional with F(1,119)=0.958, p (.330)> .05.
A two-way ANOVA was performed as earlier outlined in the
methodology section. For One Eyed Jake, difference in mode was
significant with F (1, 117) = 9.059, p (.003) < .01 (Table 2).
Difference in mode was also significant for Silly Billy with F (1, 119)
= 4.216, p (.042) < .05 (Table 3). No significant effect for grade or
interaction between mode and grade was found. In addition, the mean
scores of both modes in the story, Silly Billy were higher than those in
the story, One Eyed Jake.
Figure 1 shows results of the difference between modes. The CI mean
scores, (5.25 for One Eyed Jake, 6.53 for Silly Billy) are higher than
the SR mean scores, (4.31 for One Eyed Jake, 5.75 for Silly Billy).
Discussion of findings
The answer, whether storytelling affected student's
vocabulary, appears to be positive. Using stories told with both CI and
SR in vocabulary learning could be greatly effective for young second
language learners. Studies on story reading/telling and incidental
vocabulary learning are again proven with positive findings. Vocabulary
learning using CI is effective. Students listening to stories using CI
had higher comprehension than students who listened to stories using SR.
Results were significant in a positive direction. The technique of
storytelling with CI, using sounds and gestures promoted understanding,
which may have also reduced student anxiety toward L2. Sounds give
meaning to a word and students not only identify sound units within
words but also perceive "emotion, involvement, and empathy"
(Harmer, 2001, p.28) by listening to sounds. Students encounter
pronunciation and individual phonemes in the word and also recognize
word meanings from pitch, intonation, and stress of the word. The pitch
range shows human tension. Low and slow tones represent fear and sadness
and a high and fast pitch shows happiness and cheerfulness. Intonation
conveys emotion and empathy. Intonation tone is exaggerated when we are
surprised or frightened. Harmer (2001) insists that "stress is
vitally important in conveying meaning in phrases and sentences"
(p.33). Therefore, the sounds through storytelling with CI are an
indispensable factor in order to understand meanings. So far, many
factors corroborated, such as visual aids, auditory aids and context
clues, to enhance guessing the new word's meaning.
Students giggled when they saw a storyteller who wore a
protagonist's costume, including a hat with bird feathers and a
black patch for one eye (for a pirate) and a big red ribbon (for Hazel).
They were admittedly relaxed. To convey the emotions, flamboyant
gestures and a range of facial expressions were used. Those props and a
storyteller's attitude drew students into real life situations and
students involved in the enthusiastic world. Students could extend their
knowledge beyond what they have at present and information is stored
emotionally and meaningfully. The storytelling using CI drew students
into the fantastic world and they could connect with the protagonist and
other characters there that enhanced his or her memory and could recall
the story line easily.
There are some limitations that should be acknowledged within this
study. The current study was conducted with approximately 120 subjects
who were randomly chosen in a public school in Tokyo, but not other the
fifth-and the sixth-graders in Japan. With respect to who read or told
stories, a storyteller might favor storytelling with CI, therefore,
story reading in SR might be disregarded. But when the same person read
and told stories, equal opportunities were given to subjects differing
from Brett, Rothlein and Hurley's study (1996), in which two
stories were read by six classroom teachers. They demonstrated the
limitation, that is, the way of instruction was different depending on
the classroom teacher, so that they were not able to "measure how
much the target vocabulary words were discussed in the
story-with-word-explanation group classroom" (Brett, Rothlein &
Hurley, 1996, p.420).
Storytelling not only provides language development to students but
also works as scaffolding for teachers. Storytelling or the story
reading technique could contribute to teacher education or teacher
training (Wright, 1995). If classroom teachers have some hesitation to
dress up as the protagonist, just reading stories aloud is also
beneficial. To memorize all story lines in a L2 is very tough for
non-native speaking teachers, but read stories aloud seems to be
There are some recommendations to extend the current research.
According to relation between vocabulary acquisition and academic
ability, Elley (1989) found that the lowest group gained target
vocabulary more than the higher group. If the result will be proven that
the lowest level students might increase their language ability, those
students could receive much benefit in language learning. In addition,
storytelling with CI in different genres without background knowledge
could be valuable.
Storytelling or reading aloud stories in L2 language classes
contain a lot of benefits so that teachers as long as possible take in
these techniques into their L2 language classrooms. If story
listening/telling is included in a curriculum steadily, students will
firmly make dramatic progress in English learning.
Brett, A., Rothlein, L., & Hurley, M. (1996). Vocabulary
acquisition from listening to stories and explanations of target words.
The elementary school Journal, 96(4), 415-421.
Cabrera, M. P., & Martinez, P. B. (2001). The effects of
repetition, comprehension checks, and gestures, on primary school
children in an EFL situation. ELT Journal, 55(3), 281-288.
Cameron, L. (2001). Teaching language to young learners. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Elley, W. B. (1989). Vocabulary acquisition from listening to
stories. Reading Research Quarterly, 26(2), 174-187.
Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching.
Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Huang, H. (1991). The effects of storytelling on EFL young
learners' reading comprehension and word recall. Retrieved December
5, 2009 from National Yunlin University of Science and Technology Web
site: http://campusweb.yuntech.edu.tw/~huange/p aper/paper.doc
Hulstijn, J. H. (1992).Retention of inferred and given word
meanings: Experiments in incidental vocabulary learning. In Arnaud, P.
J. L., & H. Bejoint (Eds.), Vocabulary and applied linguistics
(pp.113-125). London: MacMillan Academic and Professional Ltd.
Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T. D. (1983). The natural approach,
language acquisition in the classroom. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are
learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McWilliams, B. (1998). Effective storytelling: A manual for
beginners. Largo: Indian Rocks Christian School. Retrieved August 16,
2009, from http://www.eldrbarry.net/roos/eest.htm.
Pinter, A. (2006). Teaching young language learners. Oxford: Oxford
Trostle, S., & Hicks, S. J. (1998). The effects of storytelling
versus story reading on comprehension and vocabulary knowledge of
British primary school children. Reading Improvement, 35(3), 127-136.
Wright, A. (1995). Storytelling with children. Oxford: Oxford
Wright, A. (1997). Creating stories with children. Oxford: Oxford
I would like to express my gratitude to supervisor Dr. Steven
Renshaw, Graduate School of Language Sciences Kanda University of
International Studies in Japan for his helpful comments, insights and
encouragement. His support, moral and academic, especially statistical
analysis has been invaluable throughout my master's course.
Takumi Uchiyama taught primary grade in public schools for 30 years
in Japan. She studied for her Master of Education and Master of TESOL
from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia and her Master of Arts
from Graduate School of Language Sciences Kanda University of
International Studies in Japan. Her special interests are to create
English activities for young second language learners and to form
syllabus includes a teaching plan. She is currently working as a teacher
trainer at public primary schools in Tokyo.
A Two-Way Repeated-Measures ANOVA in the Story, One Eyed Jake.
Sum of df Mean
Vocabulary Squares Square
Vocab Linear 564.704 1 564.704
Vocab * Grade Linear .610 1 .610
Vocab * Mode Linear 11.521 1 11.521
Vocab * Grade * Mode Linear 2.908 1 2.908
Error(vocab) Linear 316.524 114 316.524
Vocab 203.385 .000 *
Vocab * Grade 0.220 .640
Vocab * Mode 4.149 .044
Vocab * Grade * Mode 1.047 .308
A Two-Way ANOVA in Mode Effects in the Story, One Eyed Jake
Sum of df Mean F Sig.
Grade .306 1 .306 .107 .744
Mode 25.817 1 25.817 9.059 .003 *
Grade * Mode 8.541 1 8.541 2.997 .086
Error 324.896 114 2.850
A Two-Way ANOVA in Mode Effects in the Story, Silly Billy.
Sum of df Mean F Sig.
Grade 14.669 1 14.669 3.514 .063
Mode 17.599 1 17.599 4.216 .042 *
Grade * Mode 3.321 1 3.321 .796 .374
Error 484.201 116 484.201
Figure 1. Comprehension Test Scores in the different modes in the
story, One Eyed Jake & the story, Silly Billy
CI 5.25 6.53
SR 4.31 5.75
Note: Table made from line graph.