Forever stories: The River in the Pines
Stories are the pith of our existence: we tell stories to pass the time, we listen to or watch stories to entertain ourselves or to excite our imagination or even to test our limits (thrillers will do that for you). Books tell stories; poems can be narrative; films show stories just about anything. There is a very basic feature in stories: beginning, middle, end – though not all stories are told in this strict order.
Reading or watching stories has its unquestionable merits for language learners, but creating stories brings together all kinds of skills learned and can be entertaining and rewarding.
So this time I used a song to elicit story-telling from my students. The song happens to be one of my favourites though my criteria for choosing it were other than my personal preferences.
The song is The River in the Pines by Joan Baez. It tells the sad story of two star-crossed lovers who live in Wisconsin, him a river boy and her a maiden.
It is evocative swaying between spring and autumn, happiness and sorrow and engaging all our senses: birds singing, cedars whispering, rapids pounding, birds twittering, a riot of colour in spring and autumn, a cold gravestone where wild flowers are left and smells of budding trees and a blooming rose all in one mind-boggling go.
This time I thought I would tease my students’ brains by preparing a slide show and providing a key word or phrase on each slide and asking them to compose a story on the basis of the slide show. Working with the visual stimuli before the learners make up their stories helps clear up some lexical or cultural issues that might detract from the thorough enjoyment of the song while the key words facilitate production but also per force maintain a certain level of language.
Students’ stories can be read and shared in class or stuck on a noticeboard (traditional methods of presentation still have their value) and finally the song can be played so that the students can discuss how their tales relate to the one told by the song.
Here is the link for the song.
And here is the slide show turned to video.