• ESL Students Can Increase Positive Emotions in Readers/Teachers with This Writing Technique

smiling teacher

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

After reading Curry’s essays, I often came away feeling especially good. This kind of surprised me because she wasn’t among the top writers in my class. Her grammar tended to breakdown at times, and her sentence style could be a bit simple. And yet, there was something special about her papers.

I eventually came to realize that she often illustrated the points that she was trying to make in her papers by including a brief story. This doesn’t mean that she was writing narrative essays in which one story is developed. Instead, in one or two paragraphs in an essay that might have five, six or seven paragraphs total, she would include a story that might be only a few sentences long.

For example, she wrote a paper titled, “How to Impress Someone on A First Date.” In one paragraph, she was explaining the importance of being a good listener. Then she told this story:

“My friend Rita went on a date in a French cuisine restaurant. She told me that she ruined her date. She knew she would go on a date at the French restaurant, so she didn’t eat anything before the date. When she got there her stomach was empty, but her date wanted to know more about her. He didn’t stop talking until Rita told him to “Shut up!” Rita’s brain was controlled by her stomach. She regretted her action because her date seemed like he was a nice guy.

Curry wrote this 2005, and I still remember and get a kick out of it.

According to neuroscience research, a good story can produce dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins in the brain of the reader. Dopamine is particularly known as being the “happy hormone.” It is responsible for our experiencing happiness.  Oxytocin is referred to before as the “love hormone,” since it is commonly associated with good feelings and emotions.  Researchers also found that a good story can produce oxytocin because it is making people feel close to each other.  And, when endorphins reach our limbic system, we experience pleasure and satisfaction

So, if our students can learn how to include a good story, it could have a positive effect on the reader, and perhaps more importantly, on the person evaluating their essay.

Helping our students develop this writing strategy.

To show students how to effectively use brief stories in their essays, I’ve given them this inductive exercise. By the way, this is the exercise that Curry did before she wrote her essay about a first date.

Ex. 22 ID narration shot

In the next exercise, students apply this technique.

Rev Ex 23 choose shot

Here is the link to download the complete Exercise 21 & 22 to use with your students. Use Narration in paragraph Exercises

A great opportunity for students to apply this “narrative” strategy is in their introductions. To read more about this and to download an exercise about “Dramatic Introductions,” see • Teaching the Most Interesting Type of Essay Introduction (an Inductive Approach)

In conclusion, this story-telling strategy gives students a great opportunity to be creative and to give us readers some dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. It’s one of the side-benefits to our job as ESL teachers. And maybe that’s one of  the reason so many of us are addicted to teaching ESL.

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.  

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