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Mini Stories for engaging and effective language learning

When a story peaks our curiosity and interest, it compels us to stay the course.

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Season 1, episode 25
14 min / Published

Mini stories are roughly 3–5 minutes long, they consists of audio and text and is made up of three sections, where the vocabulary and patterns are repeated in each section.

The stories introduce the basic patterns of a language and a lot of basic vocabulary.

Typically, these stories depict people acting in a variety of everyday life situations.

Show notes

Mini Stories & TPRS engaging & effective language learning

Curiosity might have killed a cat or two in its time, but it has certainly had a rewarding and overwhelmingly positive influence on language learning. When a story peaks our curiosity and interest, it compels us to stay the course. In a sense, the feeling to find out more can be compared to the widely used, urban acronym FOMO, short for fear of missing out. Coined by author, speaker, venture capitalist, expert entrepreneur, and the host of a thriving podcast Patrick J. McGinnis, the term was widely popularized in a 2004 op-ed in The Harbus, the magazine of Harvard Business School. Basically, a person has a fear of being left out of the loop. The good people at The Urban Dictionary defines it as, “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.” I can totally relate as this condition can often cripple my state of mind at any time… Needing to know and wanting to be included as human, some folks just experience it worse than most.

Mini stories are roughly 3–5 minutes long, they consists of audio and text and is made up of three sections, where the vocabulary and patterns are repeated in each section. The stories introduce the basic patterns of a language and a lot of basic vocabulary. Typically, these stories depict people acting in a variety of everyday life situations.

The first part of the story is relayed in the third person and makes use of pronouns like he, him, his, himself, she, her, hers, herself, it, its, itself, they, them, their, theirs, and themselves. The nature of the story is simple and ordinary as mentioned before. We incorporate everyday, relatable actions and themes for better understanding and credibility.

An example might be:

Dave works for the San Diego Zoo. He loves all kinds of animals. From childhood, he has always wanted to work with different kinds of animals. When he wakes up in the morning, he is always excited to go to work. Every day he wakes up early, at 6am. His day starts with a cup of coffee, but no breakfast. He drinks his coffee and starts planning his day with the animals.

The second step in the mini story process is a first person delivery of the same story. We recount events from the main character’s point of view by using the first person such as "I", "us", "our" and "ourselves". All the while, we are very aware to use the same verbs, vocabulary and language phrases as in the first part.

For example:

My name is Dave. I work at the San Diego Zoo. I love all kinds of animals. From childhood, I have always wanted to work with different kinds of animals. When I wake up in the morning, I am always excited to go to work. Every day I wake up early, at 6am. My day starts with a cup of coffee, but no breakfast. I drink my coffee and start planning my day with the animals.

The third part of the story is where we ask questions about the story to determine comprehension and further engrain context. To make sure that the students understand the questions and the targeted language is clear, it helps to encourage answering in full sentences as opposed to just YES or NO.

For instance, you may ask questions like:

Q: Does Dave work in the bank?

A: No, Dave works at the Zoo.

Q: Does Dave only love certain animals?

A: No, Dave loves ALL animals.

Q: Does Dave wake up at 7am?

A: No, Dave wakes up at 6am

Unfortunately, to the untrained eye & ear or the intermediate level learner, this type of narrative can seem trivial and almost boring. It makes sense, and if I were to be brutally honest, it is partly true. In spite of this view though, the repetitive nature is in fact the very aspect that makes this language acquisition tool so effective.

The fact that TPRS is based entirely on the quality of the content through which it is delivered, is the secret to its success. To ensure it has the impact the language learner deserves, the input needs to comprehensible, yes, but it needs to be engaging and peak the learner’s curiosity. A real page-turner. A plot that intrigues, but one that is conventional or everyday enough for readers & listeners to relate to.

By most accounts, the repetitive nature of the story creates an interesting trend. Users report that some details are initially noticed, but then forgotten, only to be observed again when going through the stories again. I find that this constant rediscovery of patterns and phrases as one returns to the text, endears to story even more.

The process of “learning and forgetting” is actually part of a bigger knowledge acquisition progression known as interleaving. This process is based on the premise that instead of focusing on mastering a skill or ability before attempting to move forward to something more advanced, one would rather learn in association with other competencies.

In the case of mini stories, interleaving helps us to acquire chunks of related language simultaneously within the context of the story. The mindset of trying to master everything before you move on to something new, replaces the idea of learning a variety of structures, through association and as part of a whole.

If there is one universal truth, it is that humans need freshness and originality. This particularly true of stories and story learning. When we don’t have these we get bored and frustrated with the stale and the old. Mini stories offer us a mixture of repetition and novelty, which brings us right back to the process of forgetting and remembering or “learning and forgetting” as mentioned previously.

There is something strangely exciting about continuously being exposed to vaguely familiar ideas that are only roughly understood. Strangely exciting quickly becomes super exhilarating when one understands content that was incomprehensible, or at least very unclear, just weeks earlier.

Mini stories improves your laser-focus and helps with instantly recognizing certain words or patterns when you listen to any content in the target language.

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Engaging & original stories supplying concrete understanding of idioms for Intermediate English learners
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