home | newsletter | web resources | summaries | get involved | feedback



Moderated and summarized by Wendy Arnold October 2003

KEY: green = request for help; purple = dilemmas/questions/considerations; blue = hyperlink to websites



Addy started the discussion identifying some problems using the story 'The Hungry Caterpillar'. The following suggestions were made:-


•  refer to Ellis, E and Brewster, J (2002) Tell it again. London:Penguin ISBN 0-582-44774 for detailed lesson plans, photocopiable activities, methodology etc. on using this and 10 other stories
•  the story could be supported by showing the video published by Polygram (which also has 5 other Eric Carle stories)
•  note that these are for older children. Addy's question arises out of reading the story to 4-5 year olds and the approach has to be different
•  detailed lesson ideas used by Sandie Mourao with this story which includes the value of :-

•  play

•  visual cues
•  games
•  song
•  linking cross-curricular
•  adapting story to meet the needs of the YL
•  using mother tongue (L1) to ensure meaning
•  the importance of considering your contexts eg. class size, time constraints etc.
•  2 nd resource using stories Mourao, S (2003) Realbooks in the Primary Classroom. UK:Scholastic. 9 stories with photocopiable activities and detailed lesson plans
•  caution not to overuse a story, can be an 'overkill' if you focus too much on the language
•  suggestion that song helps to retain language and so introducing language using a song should help
•  useful websites relating to stories
•  www.teachingenglish.org.uk (older YL)
•  www.learnenglish.org.uk/kid_frame.html (upper primary)
•  3 rd resource using stories Eleanor Watts and Amos Paran (eds) an IATEFL publication Storytelling in ELT with 18 stories for children and 20 stories for teenagers and adults. Complete with teaching ideas, lesson plans and story! Available from www.iatefl.org
•  4 th resource using stories 'Telling Tales in English' written by Wendy Superfine and Megan James (ISBN 9 781900 783491) Published by Delta. For 8 - 11 year olds (6 stories including photocopiable activities, stories, cassette and detailed lesson plans)

Addy asked the question ' … Has anyone tried Eric Carle's very hungry caterpillar? tried it with YSL learners (4-5 yr old) --and it didn't work too well. Perhaps it was technique and not being able to get them to follow the story was a problem. Maybe a different way of introduction- any ideas? …'


Wendy (Hong Kong) replied by recommending ' … a wonderful … is the 'Tell it Again' by Gail Ellis and Jean Brewster . I've just had a look at what they do with 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' (their lesson plans make for at least 6 x 1 hour lessons, I know I've done them and they were perfect with a class of 20 pupils ranging from 6 - 8 years old). So the activities sequenced from:-


- eliciting and predicting information from the frontcover of the book

- eliciting information about what happens to a caterpillar

(the above two stages could be done in L1)

- introducing/revising adjectives eg. tiny, big, fat

- introduction of the lifecycle of a butterfly (an enlarged poster for display) and worksheet for the Yl to label and colour

- introducing/revising days of the week (with emphasis on stress and syllables by clapping)

- listening to cassette with days of the week song

•  introducing written form of days of week and playing sequencing game/what's missing game (taking one away)

And that is just lesson one! So you can see the writers have found a great way of using the text in the story to introduce/revise vocabulary as well as bring in other aspects of the curriculum. And this is before you have even opened up the book, so the suspense is kept. All the worksheets are included, as is the cassette. You do need to get a copy of the storybook and obviously the 'Tell it Again' resourcebook.


Another great resource is a VHS video of the Eric Carle stories, I'm at home now so don't have the exact reference (maybe BBC?) but this story is on it too and I used it to help the YL visualize what happens in the story more clearly. It's also another way of having the story told in another genre and great for stopping and getting the YL to predict or fill in the gaps with the language they have picked up.


I think if we believe in different learning styles then having a variety of ways of presenting material and interacting with it helps to ensure that we are engaging our YL ie T reading story = combination auditory/visual (probably more auditory); video of story = visual; role playing/interacting with worksheets = kinasthetic, so all 'vehicles' are probably needed to ensure maximum attention.


Sandie replied pointing out that ' VHS video is by Polygram
with five Eric Carle goodies, including: the very hungry caterpillar
and the mixed up chameleon etc.


The activities in the book Wendy mentions are really for older children , I notice you are working with 4-5 year olds. I've used this book again and again with this age group and they love it. here are some of the things I do, which you may also be able to try.

Context: I work in Portugal in Portuguese pre-schools, I work with the
pre-school teacher, integrating English into the children's daily learning
programme. This is important, as the pre-school teacher is either doing
something similar, which I am supporting in English, or will use what we
have done in English to start a project and therefore support their learning
in many different ways.

I always tell this story once the children have an idea of some of the
language it includes, and there is a lot! So normally I tell the story
after we've played with words for fruits, a seasonal theme for the autumn
term, as apples, pears and oranges are around in Portugal now...
strawberries are not and neither are plums, but we look at which fruits is
in season now etc (this is usually something the pre-school teacher is doing
too, in more detail)! We pretend to eat the fruits, I also introduce lemon,
grapes and banana, and we mime the different tastes, lemon is bitter and the
cc love making a face! You can also make fruit salad or have fruit tasting
/ smelling / feeling sessions.

I make brightly coloured flashcards , which I leave in the children's
classroom and they can play all sorts of games .

We sing a version of a Carolyn Graham song:
I like (...), yes I do! I like (...), yes I do! I like (...), yes I do!
Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum!
Slightly adapted, from her famous jazz chants book (OUP)

It's a super song very simple - the children stick their thumbs up and rub
their tummies while they sing!

Sometimes the pre-school teacher ties this in with early mathematical
and makes an <<I like>> graph for fruits ... the children also
decorate their classrooms with fruits which have been collaged, coloured,
cut and hung as mobiles etc.

I then start counting using numbers 1 - 5. I make more visuals, using
numbers and groups of fruit... the groups of fruits don't have to be the
same as in the book. We play lots of number games using fruits and a dice,
their fingers, them jumping ... The pre-school teacher also works with
number groups ...

Only now do I tell the story , and there is still a huge amount of language
they don't know, so it is still very challenging for them.

I adapt the story and use the book as a prompt - I make no reference to the
days of the week, pre-school children in Portugal are still struggling with
days in Portuguese and as yet I have not attempted to introduce the words in
English, though I dare say they wouldn't cause any problems! I elicit a lot
in Portuguese, we guess what the egg could be from, as they usually say it
comes from a chicken for example. I personally feel that the Mother tongue
plays a very important role with VYLs during storytelling activities, as the
illustration in picture books are so enticing and we can use them to extend
what the children know, helping them to understand how pictures and
illustrations work
. While telling the story I use lots of gesture too,
rubbing my tummy when the caterpillar is hungry, hand to my eyebrows
searching when the caterpillar looks for food, licking my lips when ever the
caterpillar finds something to eat... delicious! Here is may adaptation...

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Look! A moon and a big green leaf. What¹s this? It¹s an egg. A little
white egg on a big green leaf.
When the sun wakes up in the morning the egg goes POP!
It¹s a caterpillar, a very hungry caterpillar.
So he goes looking for some food.
First, he finds an apple. A red apple. Umm! Delicious! But he¹s still
hungry! So he goes looking for more food.
What does he find? Pears, two pears, two green pears. Umm, delicious! But
he¹s still hungry!
So he goes looking for more food.
What does he find? Plums, threes plums, three blue plums. Umm, delicious!
But he¹s still hungry!
So he goes looking for more food.
What does he find? Strawberries, four strawberries, four red strawberries.
Umm, delicious! But he¹s still hungry!
So he goes looking for more food.
What does he find? Oranges, five oranges, five orange oranges. Umm,
delicious! But he¹s still hungry!
So he goes looking for more food.
Look! Lots of delicious food! UMMM!
A chocolate cake, an ice cream, a pickle, some cheese, some salami, a
lollipop, a tart, a sausage, a cake and some watermelon. Oh dear, he¹s got
tummy ache!
The next day the caterpillar eats a nice green leaf! Ummm, that¹s better!
But he isn¹t a little caterpillar now! He¹s a big, fat caterpillar.
He makes a house all around him, and goes to sleep.
He sleeps for two weeks, and when he wakes up he isn¹t a caterpillar
What is he? A butterfly! A beautiful butterfly! (The book works
wonderfully here, as you can actually open and close the last pages and make
the butterfly look like he's flying away. )

When we get to the cocoon bit we talk about what they know about
caterpillars, and we all pretend to go to sleep, snoring for two weeks!
Making the story interactive is a lot of the pleasure for the children!

Once I've told the story several times we sometimes play with the food words
but not always! Last year, with one group, we also had some food tasting
sessions, with pickles, salami and a fruit tart, which are not part of the
Portuguese eating culture... so it brought other tastes into their world...
cup cakes are not on their cake menu either and I made little ones for them
to see what they are like... getting the paper cases was a problem, but I
found some small ones!

In fact last year I used this story several times with different pre-school
groups and one group in particular I told the story in Spring. We had
played with fruits during the Autumn, then the pre-school teacher had asked
if I could teach them words for mini beasts, it had been an exceptionally
hard winter and Spring was celebrated with gusto last year, mini beasts were
a favourite topic for several pre-schools! She also got a box full of silk
worms, which were perfect for the caterpillar story, as they are
caterpillars and turn into moths (which in Portuguese is the same work as
butterfly!) So once I'd done minibeasts, I told the story ... and we sang a
song called <<Flutter by butterfly>> from an Early learning center cassette
called Going to the Zoo.

They loved the story and wanted to taste English chocolate cake, as I said
it was tastier than the Portuguese one! We ended up celebrating our English
puppet's birthday (a frog called Freddy) with a huge frog shaped chocolate
cake... and of course we all sang <<happy birthday>> and <<I like chocolate
cake yum yum yum!>> And it tasted very good!

Wendy responds with ' … YL of pre-school age are just not cognitively ready for some of the language in L2 and probably not even in L1. I think this illustrates very clearly the need for us, as teachers, to be aware of what our YL have 'conquered' linguistically and not to assume that because some 'seem' to have grasped meaning that automatically everyone else also knows .


I still make this silly mistake ... I work hard to create interesting, motivating, devilishly clever lesson plans and tasks, only to have the wind taken from under my wings by the (usually) very quick realization that I'm expecting my YL's to run before they can walk! And back to the drawing board I go ...


I really like the way that Sandie uses L1 and swops between the languages to ensure meaning. I guess at the end of the day that is our absolute aim - 'to make meaning' (I'd love to claim that as my own pearl of wisdom but Gordon Wells and probably many others got there before me).


I also like the way that Sandie seems to work alongside the pre-school teacher, who appears to be helping her to reinforce the language points in L1?


Sandie, you don't mention how big the class sizes are, but I'm guessing they might be quite small (whatever that means). I wonder how we could adapt some of these ideas for a larger context (30+) with a timeframe of 30 minutes?


I'm always aware that between us we have distinct camps, being language schools and extra-curricular activities at one end of the continuum and regular mainstream schools where English is either integrated in the curriculum and may well be the medium of instruction, or could well be a subject in isolation. Teaching in any of these contexts will have distinct features of what is possible and what is not, but what I have learnt is that being flexible/adaptable makes, what might have been inconceivable, possible with a few adjustments. I suspect that Sandie is a great mentor to the pre-school teachers and I guess that is what we all need, someone that gives us confidence to have a go at something new


Sandie replied ' … Apologies I didn't mention groups sizes when I was describing my context! I have groups from 20 to 25 students , the pre-school teacher is always there to help and support the children during my visits, which is useful, as two of the groups I work with have handicapped children , and they need a little bit more from an adult at certain times of the class.

I teach the groups twice a week for just 30 minutes each visit . Not a lot of time, but having English as part of the classroom project, means in fact the children are exposed to English much more during their day at school, with peer and pre-school teacher input. I'm just there to start them off really!

Adapting for larger groups? Well as long as the pre-school teacher is present I think it's possible to do most of the activities I've described. As you can see I only have 30 minutes with them as well, but as I said, as the pre-school teacher is involved much of what we do in English goes over into what the children do daily, especially if we are leaving prompts in the classroom for the children to play with during my absence. I mentioned sets of flashcards which are left in the classroom, the storybooks can also be left (I try to get the school to invest in a couple every year...) children are making visuals in arts and craft activities in MT which will also prompt their use of English. Songs are known by the pre-school teacher, so the children can sing them with her too - sometimes I think I needn't even go on my English visits, they get so much done without me!

Debra (Hong Kong) added ' … I used Ellis and Brewster's ' Tell it again' [ISBN 0-582-44774-7published by Penguin] lesson plans to do the Hungry Caterpillar with my young learners . It worked a treat. In fact, I really enjoyed teaching it. The other stories in this book although, vary in age range are all excellent. A must buy if you would like some guides to using stories in the classroom.


Another nice one to use is S Mourau ' Real books' in the Primary Classroom' .


Jennifer suggested ' …. with the five year olds I've found the story especially good for counting , fruits and generally having fun making gobbling noises and lots of over-acting. It's also nice for night and day, and the whole caterpillar to butterfly idea. I was lucky enough to have a toy furry caterpillar and some plastic fruit to aid me, and as with most stories I also like to get children up to the front of the class to help mime.


Re stories in general at this age, I really like to try and tell one story a class where possible, as the children love them so much. This means scouring for books or inventing them on the board or with toys. I often also make a story from a song . I know many people believe stories should be exploited to their utmost, but I sometimes feel it's important not to overkill the story by concentrating too much on the language around it, as opposed to the actual joy of listening to one . I know with my own daughter there were some stories she loved to have repeated again and again, yet in the classroom this doesn't seem to be the case. What do others think?


Wendy suggested ' … well worth looking at the following site, to see other Eric Carle books - they are fabulous:-




Try this site, which takes you directly to resources and lesson plans based on The Hungry Caterpillar (and others)"-




I also believe that song helps to retain language but what a great idea to 'make a story from a song' - I guess I've sort of done that from nursery rhymes but I think this could really be developed. The following 'Junior English Timesaver' is wonderful:-


Songs & Rhymes by Annie Hughes, published by Scholastic (comes with a CD)


I also think that Jennifer makes a valid point about not going into 'overkill' of a story, it is quite easy to get carried away and attempt to get your money's worth out of a story and then deadening the experience of enjoying the story itself! I think I've made this mistake a few times, so finding a balance and knowing your learners is essential .


Nik suggested the following resource of a story telling lesson plan and materials on the teachingEnglish site at www.teachingenglish.org.uk which is free to download.


Wendy responds with ' … I've just visited the link you gave us

www.teachingenglish.org.uk and had a rummage through the lesson plan and worksheets.


I really like these aspects, this was for the older end of the YL spectrum I guess, although I can see that there could be some primary YL who would be able:-

1) to construct their own text within a given theme (so I guess giving them ownership of the story as well as being within their linguistic ability)

2) a chance to 'have a go' and 'trial' what they've done in a non-threatening way ( with a peer)

3) consciousness-raising activity of identifying the different tenses used and linking them to a timeline.


Wendy says ' … thought I'd bring to your attention this one:-




It is a British Council site and their 'story' section is wonderful!


I choose 'Hairy Henry's Holiday' and enjoyed:-


- seeing the text and pictures

- listening to the text being told (as opposed to being read)

- stopped to focus on the concept checking questions

- could have checked up unknown words in the dictionary provided

- stopped to create my own monster with an interactive game

- visited the London Eye website so I could see what that was

- visited Madame Tussaud's to see what that was all about

- took a virtual tour of the Tower of London

What an amazing resource. Well done British Council, fab work!


Dominic congratulated ' … Eleanor Watts who has co-edited an IATEFL publication with Amos Paran, Storytelling in ELT which has been the subject of much discussion on the young learners discussion list. Definitely global in that it has stories from all over the world. I recognised one old friend from Southern Africa (the donkey, the goat and the dog). I remember my pupils telling it to me in Botswana.


I have used the Fox and the Crow as a straight story with 16-18 year olds even though the recommended age group is 6-12. Everyone loves a good story (like a good joke) and this one crossed the boundaries of four different cultures.


I then went on to use it for a dictation cloze and it worked very well…'


Wendy added ' …I've had a 'hot off the press' resource brought to my attention. 'Telling Tales in English' written by Wendy Superfine and Megan James (ISBN 9 781900 783491). It is geared towards 8-11 year olds and tells 6 'well-known' stories. There are a variety of activities which include:-


- card games

- bingo

- worksheets

- spot the differences

- picture dictations

- things to make

•  word puzzles


As well as a cassette with all the stories, listening texts, songs and chants .