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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Everyone has a story to tell

Language: EN

Posted by Linda Berg

Tone Evensen works at Ringsaker adult education centre with newly arrived adolescents. She also teaches adult participants in introduction programmes. Tone emphasises multilingualism and diversity as a resource in the classroom. 

In addition to teaching, she is the author of the blog Glimt fra et flerspråklig klasserom (Scenes from a multilingual classroom) and holds courses and lectures across Norway. In her blog, she shares her experiences from the classroom, gives advice to other teachers and shares materials and learning resources. Her interest in storytelling in the multilingual classroom comes from her work in the National Centre of Multicultural Education (NAFO) and the Tema morsmål website. For the past four years, she has gradually worked more systematically on different approaches to stories and she has achieved good results. You can read more about this work on her blog and in the book Grenseløse fortellinger (Limitless stories), which was published in 2019.

In 2017, she was awarded the European Language Label for ‘promoting language learning, with particular focus on multilingualism, inclusion and identity creation’. In 2018, she was named communicator of the year by Kopinor. Tone Evensen is one of the authors of the digital teaching material Hugin og Munin, which was published in spring 2020.


During the winter of 2018, we started a new course for adults participating in the introduction programme. The teaching was held on Friday afternoons and the course is entitled fortellernorsk (storytelling in Norwegian) in the teaching plan. I was given free reign and the opportunity to make use of creative processes in the Norwegian lessons. The participants are adult immigrants in the introduction programme with different languages, cultures and background. What do they have in common? They are learning Norwegian and they have all heard fairy tales and stories growing up.

Many of the participants have children waiting at home, a part-time job, and they are often tired after a busy week. Practical training, lorry driving courses, courses in Norwegian and other introductory courses. It was important to create a course that felt relevant and useful and that would engage people on a Friday afternoon. Participants in the introduction programme must be prepared to actively participate in society and I therefore wanted to create a course with a lot interaction, varied oral exercises and the possibility of cooperation. It became an oral storytelling workshop for adults, where we have played, talked, listened and drawn stories of all types.

Stories from different cultures illustrate the similarities and differences between cultures. Telling stories presented an opportunity to share and explore these similarities and differences. Seeing the world through other people's eyes can influence how we interpret the rest of the world and relate to others and their way of doing things. We are also able to gain new perspectives that we can use in our own lives.

Why oral storytelling? 

Stories are everywhere and are found in all cultures. They are sometimes called narratives, life stories, anecdotes, myths, legends and fairy tales. Oral storytelling is different from written stories in that this limits the length of the story and the complexity of its contents.

Working on oral storytelling also means working on many basic competencies and skills, such as communication skills, intercultural understanding, cultural awareness, fantasy and creativity. 

Advantages of oral storytelling in adult learning

Stories are effective pedagogical tools because they are credible, entertaining and easy to remember. Through storytelling, abstract concepts and ideas can be communicated in a language that is easy to understand. 

By listening and telling stories, in which the participants make use of their entire linguistic repertoire, they have the opportunity to express themselves creatively. They will feel a sense of recognition and gain access to a language that can help them put thoughts and feelings into words. Using your imagination contributes to personal motivation, and it enables adults to come up with new ideas. 

From a teacher's perspective, oral storytelling is liberating. By telling stories without a book, you come into direct contact with the participants, and the situation creates a unique atmosphere in which the students are quickly drawn into the magic of the story. Stories and storytelling techniques are a great tool in the classroom. 

It is important to find stories that will appeal to adult participants, and which can be the starting point for discussions. Find stories with different forms of expression, content and topics, but that share common themes that the participants recognise and find thought-provoking. 

The storytelling workshop

We often start the class with a warm-up activity.
 Such activities help us focus, make the participants feel secure and ensure that the participants are present in the moment.

I model a story based on the topic of the day. The participants then work on retelling the story they have heard or retell similar stories from their own backgrounds. They sit together in pairs and tell each other stories. Each participant tells a story for three to five minutes before switching. I watch the time to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to speak. At the end of the class, some participants come to the front and share their story with the others. Traditional stories often entail more advanced vocabulary and more complex grammar than normal conversation. Listening and then retelling a story has a good effect on the students’ vocabulary. ‘The listeners meet both familiar and new linguistic patterns through stories. They learn new words or a new context for already familiar words’ (Smith and Guillian, 2014).

After listening to a story, the participants get the opportunity to share their thoughts on the topic. During these conversations, the teacher acquires a different role than in traditional education. The teacher becomes a conversation partner, who gathers insights and steers the conversation based on these insights. Oral storytelling permits the participants to relate to the teacher and each other as people, not only through the typical teacher-student relationship.

Connecting the heart and brain 

The Norwegian-Argentinian playwright and author Veronica Salinas (2018) talks about the importance of connecting the heart and brain when learning a language. Learning how to talk about what we carry in our hearts, both good and bad, will for many people be an extra incentive for learning. Stories make it possible for students to express their past, but also their current situation and future dreams. Participants who have arrived in Europe as refugees gain a tool for processing experiences related to moving from one country to another.

Personal stories are unique to the individual. They may build on personal experiences, come from the family, neighbours or other familiar contexts. It is worth noting that personal stories do not have to be true stories.

Each student has their own story, and longing, hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future. When the students encounter respect and recognition for their own background in the teaching, this contributes to a sense of belonging.

Fortellernorsk became a huge success. Through the course, the participants have told their stories about everything from love, a dramatic birth, a car breaking down on the road, cooking in a military camp, a father's fight to make sure his children could go to school and a grandmother’s kitchen.

Fortellernorsk was a successful course. The participants were engaged; they came well prepared and were eager to share their experiences. The participants came because they wanted to be there, and although the course was held on a Friday afternoon, the time flew by.


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Resource Author(s): 
Tone Evensen
Publication Date:
Wednesday, 28 October, 2020
Type of resource: 
Open Educational Resources
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