Special report: Catherine Whitaker

Special report: Paris Colloquium 2005, Agir pour apprendre

Workshop
Catherine Whitaker on “Finding the Plot: Using Stories for Business English”

By Faouzia Benderdouche

Aren't we all engaged, as language teachers, in making our students act rather than be spectators to our performance? We all know the processes of role play and strive to find stimulating situations that will strike a balance between classroom activities and our students' future professional environment.

Catherine Whitaker rightly points out the paradox of drama and stories being absent from business English materials while business is full of human interaction and story-telling. The workshop she led thus focussed on how stories offer interesting opportunities for creating activities geared towards inducing both interaction and language practice. Taking the Double Dealing stories as the starting point of her talk (Double Dealing by James Schofield, Summertown Publishing), she showed how materials incorporating stories add the extra emotional dimension which is lacking in textbooks. One scene from a movie can be used as a catalyst to induce the student to step into the role of a character or simply to make up the ending of a story by imagining what will happen next.

I tend to look at my business class students as people who ‘have the gift of the gab'. Yet, even when trying to improve their communicative skills through such means as giving them the opportunity to put on a mask and step into a role that is not necessarily their own, the gift rarely shines. C. Whitaker's suggestion to make them tell anecdotes does the trick. Telling their own stories appears to help them build the confidence they seem to lack when they are asked to reconstruct a story they have read, listened to or watched.

Details of how to carry out the activity were explained to us, the participants of the workshop who willingly embraced the role of students. We were split into groups and were asked to listen for specific parts of speech and focus on idiomatic expressions while Catherine told an anecdote. The purpose of such instructions was to encourage the learner to focus more on the ‘how' rather than on the ‘what' in a bid to improve language retention.

Stories and how they could be incorporated into business language teaching, making our students read materials other than text books is basically what I expected from C. Whitaker's talk. Making my students shed their inhibitions, engage in classroom discussions and build up rapport amongst themselves by telling each other their own stories are the main ideas I walked away with so as to foster communication in the target language.


Contributed by: Faouzia Benderdouche
UPMC Paris 6
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