Listening is an Act of Love

StoryCorps houses audio interviews on various themes (Family, Identity, Friendship, September 11, and Work, among others) that are terrific for listening practice and theme-based content. The interviews are rich for the content that they provide on topics, and they provide a wonderful opportunity for listening to two people speaking openly in a natural setting (real-life listening). Teachers could use just one interview on a specific topic, or listen to a series of them on a specific theme-based topic. StoryCorps audio interviews would be a great computer lab activity with a “Listening Guide” (listening for a purpose).  The interviews can be listened to directly online (on the website) or they can be downloaded, so students could potentially listen to them outside of class or computer lab. There are transcripts for interviews available. Transcripts could be used to work on vocabulary and grammar. In addition to the “live” interviews, there are also numerous animated shorts that provide insight into real stories in a more narrative form. The latest animated short is called “Traffic Stop” about a young black man who was badly beaten after being pulled over by police in Denver, Colorado.

The new StoryCorps application allows students to use an application to record their own interview and post it to the StoryCorps site. There are plenty of resources about planning for an interview available, and the length of the interview can be as short as five minutes, or as long as an hour. There are lots of possibilities for project-based learning using both the website and the application (on a mobile device).

Finally, there are three books published with StoryCorps interviews. One of the books could be used as a text (with highly functioning readers) using the theme of personal narrative.

It would be struggle for any low-level ESOL student to engage with the site, but I think high beginners and low intermediates could use it with some strong support from the teacher. It would require a lot of pre-listening activities about the two people in the interview and the topic they are discussing. It would be most ideal for strong intermediate students and above.

I love the idea of storytelling and StoryCorps does this so well. Their guiding mission statement is that “Listening is an act of love” and I think this idea resonates with students. All the stories come from real people (people like them), and students relate to the realness.

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About Moira Taylor

Moira Taylor loves her reading time on the C train as she travels from Washington Heights to Brooklyn. Her ESL career started at the Riverside Language Program more than 20 years ago. She's also taught in Thailand, the New York Public libraries, and The New School. She's been at CUNY as an ESL professional developer for 10 years.

14 thoughts on “Listening is an Act of Love

  1. I love the idea of using StoryCorps in an ESOL and lower-level reading/writing class. I notice that many of the featured recordings on the web site have transcripts of the audio. I have used transcripts and audio recordings with lower-level students as a way to use comprehension to focus on reading instruction. If students already understand the story, you can use the transcript to focus on listening skills (erase words from the transcript to make a cloze exercise or ask students to highlight particular words when they hear them in the audio).

    You could also use the text/audio as a jumping off point for student writing. How about a writing prompt about fatherhood after listening to an interview between sons and their fathers (http://storycorps.org/listen/dekalb-walcott-jr-and-dekalb-walcott-iii/ or http://storycorps.org/listen/albert-sykes-and-aidan-sykes-150320/)?

    I’m curious about how other teachers use StoryCorps in the classroom.

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    1. Hi, Eric! What levels of ESL do you teach? I teach at Mid Manhattan Adult Learning Center, ESL 2 & 4… I would definitely like to start using STORY CORPS in my intermediate class… Then, I’l see if my level 2’s can comprehend… Definitely will make it available for independent computer time (with transcripts, how great!). Thanks to Moira for reminding me about this resource… I’d like to have students record their stories for the site as a culmination of their speaking & writing in class. 🙂

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  2. Actually, I don’t teach ESOL… I taught a bit a long time ago, but have done most of my teaching in ABE and HSE for adults. I have used Storycorps and transcripts with beginning literacy classes, though. I look forward to hearing about your experience using this site with your students. Could you post a comment telling us how it went?

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  3. Story Corps looks great! Because the stories are presented in audio clips and written transcripts there multiple ways to resource. It would be great for students to look at the picture accompanying each story for a pre-reading activity to guess what the story is about. Student could then have discussions about the story title to guess more about the story. Students gradually read through the transcripts before listening to the audio version of the story. Finally, the class could have a discussion about where they imagine Story Corps individuals are now. It’s nice that the stories are told so powerfully and so much inspiration is packed in only two or three minutes. I think advanced ESOL students would enjoy this resource.

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    1. I agree that StoryCorps has great value for advanced ESL students. I love the fact that you can get an exact transcript, as well as an accompanying picture of the storytellers. One thing I tell my students is that this is a way to hear many different American voices and accents.

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  4. I just watched one of the animated shorts, “The Saint of Dry Creek,” about a father’s powerful message to his gay teenage son in the 1950s: “Don’t Sneak.” I was touched and can see how these stories could open hearts and minds. I plan to use it with my ABE class–it gets right to the power of story. I can see having students summarize the stories and write recommendations for the class. Wouldn’t it be grand if they’d record their own stories?

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    1. I have taken ESL students to record their own. It was a great experience — to see the mechanics and technology of a recording studio, preparing in class to interview one another in pairs, and the experience of having one’s voice and story recorded, and to keep a copy of the recording!

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  5. I love StoryCorps! I have used the StoryCorps animations with intermediate (non-academic/CBO) students. I choose one that’s relevant to the topic (e.g. “Eyes on the Stars after studying about MLK). I do a basic comprehension check & go over some of the slang & phrasal verbs after the 1st viewing, then have the students discuss questions I’ve prepared in small groups after the 2nd or 3rd viewing. I’ve also had them watch it during tech lab & discuss it in pairs or 3s, then they can go over different parts, or watch it as many times as they need.

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  6. I created some vocab, writing, and comprehension questions to accompany this interview with a father and his veteran son:
    https://storycorps.org/listen/zach-skiles-and-scott-skiles-150418/

    Here are the exercises:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/10cx8MuOt197thF7lH1JSurxLhtts7parWyf31PuCYOk/edit?usp=sharing

    This went well in class, and I incorporated some of the vocab. ideas from Kate’s workshops.
    Feel free to use!

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  7. I heard a story last Friday on StoryCorps that would resonate with a lot of students, I think. Kayla Wilson was interviewed with her grandmother while her mother was in prison, then again years later after her mother was released from prison. There is a transcript of the story. I would imagine this story would be useful for literacy and pre-HSE classes where students read the transcript and listen to the story, then write their own family stories, possible.

    https://storycorps.org/listen/kayla-wilson-and-wendy-founds/

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  8. I am here attending a professional development workshop. I’m learning about this site and others. I can’t believe I didn’t know about it.

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  9. I’m looking forward to using the new Mobile app – good resource for almost all ESL students.

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  10. I think the idea of using StoryCorps is fantastic for intermediate to higher level groups. I think especially immigrant stories could motivate students to write their own stories (even record them perhaps). Obviously the listening practice would be very good with the transcripts. I use music with lyrics as cloze exercises with students, and I use sections of movies for listening practice in class. I have also used some famous speech transcripts in class (ML King, Robert Kennedy, Ghandi, etc.) with good results. Years ago I did a book project with a class, telling their stories. So StoryCorps could fit right in and be very motivational.

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