Learning The Power Of Storytelling With My ESL Students

I have long had a curiosity about the power of storytelling and realized that I could connect this passion to my teaching.

In reflecting about my teaching with English language learners in the summer of 2011, I thought about inspiring the imagination of storytelling as bridge between the spoken word and the written word. Ultimately, as a teacher of English Language Learners, I am on a quest for fluency. Only by attaining proficiency in writing as well as speaking can we truly say a student is fluent in English. In my experience, the level of engagement has a significant impact on my students’ progress, and designing lessons that are consistently relevant and engaging to my students, has been both a challenge and inspiration to me.

So I designed a project in which my students would write their own stories. Working with graduate students in creative writing from Columbia University, my English as a Second Language students described their experiences leaving their families and home countries and living in the United States. Students read their stories aloud to seniors at the Cobble Hill Nursing Home, and we published a book of those stories, “Stories That Changed Us Forever.” Proceeds from book sales will go into a scholarship fund for the students who worked on the project.

My guiding questions for myself for this project were: 1. How do adolescent immigrants find their voice in writing and in life? 2. What strategies engage students in using their voice to transform their writing, while also building confidence, strengthening literacy skills, and providing real audiences for their stories? My guiding question for my students for this project was: What impact does my story have on peoples’ lives?

Below are excerpts from my students’ stories and from reflections that they wrote after reading their stories aloud.

After dinner, my brother went to his room to change his clothes, but he probably was looking at himself in the mirror.  I was in the kitchen, helping my mother clean up when suddenly, our house started wavering. It was like our house was being swallowed by the earth. We were really scared. My mother grabbed my hand, and the both of us were trying to get out of the house, but the building started to really shake. My skin was burning with fear. The dishes were dancing on the shelves and falling on my mother. At that moment, I knew it was an EARTHQUAKE. My mother started yelling “Jesus, protect us!’’. My brother ran toward us wearing only his underwear. The three of us collapsed in a corner of the room and we yelled together ‘’Jesus protect us!’’. As soon as we finished the sentence, the EARTHQUAKE stopped. Our next door relatives came and helped us to get out of the house.

By Darlie Firmin — Born in Haiti

I was in born in Ghana, which is in West Africa. I left my mom and her mother, my grandmother, when I was 5 years old. From that time I began a new life. My grandparents are the only parents I have ever known as parents, I grew up with them as parents. I never knew where my Mother was at while I was growing up. My Mother told my Pop’s parents to come and get me and take me to another country, Burkina Faso. All I know about my father is that he was living in New York for my entire childhood. My father left the country before I moved to Burkina Faso, he left in 1998. So I never got a chance to know my father. All I knew was what he looked like, I had a picture. After I left my Mother I didn’t know where she was or what she was doing.

By Adboul Zoure — Born in Ghana

“Dont worry” the black cars pass again but this time they stop and five black boys come out the car with a ak-47. Trison takes out a gun. Bruce drops on top of me I never saw Raquira, the gang  starts throwing bullet on us. I was so scared I peed myself.  I was crying and nervous, when everything stopped I was looking for Raquira and she was in a corner bleeding.

By Shanikua Barrows — Born in Panama

The morning of the day I found out my mother had cancer was the last day of school. I should’ve felt happy but instead I felt as if something bad was going to happen. I thought to myself that maybe the bad feeling was that I was going to have an argument with someone. When I got to school the feeling went away. I had forgotten all about it.

By Jackie Perez — Born in Puerto Rico


My story has impact on peoples’ lives. By asking other people their opinions about my story I found out that it affect their live, and have connection with it. At first I wasn’t sure about asking people for their opinion about my story, because I know that I wouldn’t like some of the answers that they might give me. We went to a nursing home to read our story to elderly, and ask them questions about it. Does my story have an impact on your life? I asked. Yes because you can remember the past, and write about it but I can’t do that the man answer. By hearing that I know that it affects him in a way because he can’t remember anything from when he was a child, and I was able to.

By Joaking Jean-Baptiste — Born in Haiti

It impact people’s lives by making connections with others. When I was in the nursing home I ask an adult: How do you feel now after you heard my story? After she listened to my story she feels good and my history is interesting and amazing and she also said that it’s important to learn about others peoples’ stories. The second question I asked is: Did you have any connection with my story? She did have connections with my story because a few days ago she lost her roommate. She had a connection with my story because my story is about my little brother who passed away. Isn’t easy to deal with someone that you know and this person gone forever. When someone gone people would ever see that person anymore. My story feels amazing to read to others and they also can learn a lot from my story, to never give up when you lost something that is really important to you.

By Kimberly Volcimus — Born in Haiti

My story changed people because when I read my story at the nursing home for the patients they said it’s emotional because my family could be in the same position as you. While I was at the nursing home I read aloud and asked” does my story affect your life”?  One of them said, yes your story affected my life because when you finished reading it I felt so much pain about the event that happened to you. After I heard it I felt like it was me who was there during the earthquake. I asked one questions again “how did my story change your life? One of them answered me, yes your story change my life because after you read to us your story and you say how this moment was struggled for you and how you have courage to survive after that. Now I would be brave like you and if will have an earthquake in N.Y I will remembered how you survived in Haiti. I felt so much pain and the other person said your story is emotional because your story has so much pain and suffering in it.

By Emmanuelle Desmourses — Born in Haiti

Jes Kruse is an English as a second language teacher at Kurt Hahn School for Expeditionary Learning in Brooklyn. Kruse’s students will be reading aloud from their personal stories at the Crown Heights Library on Tuesday. More information.

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