1.1 Background and Purpose
Writing is a powerful means of self-expression
that can be used to convey creative ideas, persuade the opinions of others, and
spread information (Smith, 2011). It is a valuable form of record keeping and
allows stories of important historical events to be passed from one generation
to the next (Smith, 2011). The act of writing is a complex process, requiring
the coordination of numerous low and high-level skills (Smith, 2011). There are
four main types of writing; expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative
(Jeffrey, 2016). Each of these writing styles is used for a specific purpose. When
authors write in a narrative style, they do not merely try to impart
information but they attempt to construct and communicate a story, complete
with characters, conflict, and settings (Jeffrey, 2016). There are different
ways to improve narrative writing ability of L2 learners. The present study aimed
to examine how role-playing in storytelling classes affects Iranian young EFL
learners’ narrative writing.
The simple view of writing has two
central claims. First, writing is a product of spelling (encoding) and ideation
(composing) and second, both spelling and ideation are essential components for
writing (Berninger, Vaughan, Abbott, Begay, coleman, & Curtin, 2002). Spelling involves the process of
encoding that requires the analysis of spoken words, where individual sounds
are represented in print (Berninger et al., 2002). Some level of phonemic
awareness is required as writers segment and use phoneme-grapheme knowledge to
represent the sounds of spoken words in print (Berninger et al., 2002). The
second component necessary for writing, ideation, is conceptualized as the
ability to generate and organize ideas in writing (Berninger et al., 2002).
Both spelling and ideation are essential processes for writing; to have
spelling without ideas is an empty skill on its own, and ideas cannot be
expressed in print without spelling knowledge (Berninger et al., 2002). Lower
order processing includes spelling skill, while ideation is viewed as higher
order processing skill and Proficiency in lower level processing skills has a
significant impact on higher order processing (Bereiter, 1980; Gundlach, 1981;
Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1986). For example, when the spellings of
high-frequency words are automatic, the writer can divert more attention to the
demanding task of composing (Bereiter, 1980; Gundlach, 1981; Scardamalia &
The act of writing is a complex
process, requiring the coordination of numerous low and high level skills
(Smith, 2011). It is an intricate form of expression that requires writers to
generate and organize ideas, plan, and review and revise what has been written,
all the while monitoring one’s own performance (Bereiter & Scardamalia,
1987; Flower & Hayes, 1981). Writing is a multidimensional process that
involves knowledge of story components, word level skills (e.g., spelling),
language skills (e.g., grammar and syntactic awareness), vocabulary, mechanics,
conventions of print, cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory), and audience
awareness (Lesaux, Koda, Siegel, & Shanahan, 2006; Roth, 2000).
Lanauze and Snow (1989) examined
the relationship between first and second language writing skills of Puerto
Rican elementary school children in a bilingual program (Spanish and English).
Fourth and fifth graders were rated as having good proficiency in both
languages (GG), poor proficiency in English but good in Spanish (PG), or poor
proficiency in both languages (PP), on the basis of oral, aural and reading
skills in both languages. They found that the GG and PG groups obtained higher
scores than PP on both Spanish and English writing. Overall, first language
proficiency was a better predictor of writing performance than second language
proficiency. Lanauze and Snow argued that the fact that PG students wrote
longer, syntactically more complex and semantically more complex essays in
English and Spanish in comparison to the PP group, suggested that they were
able to use their first language writing skills to help facilitate writing in a
second language. They concluded that poor performance of the PP group was taken
as a reflection of their poor first language literacy skills.
Writing instruction usually occurs
after children enter school, whereas children’s oral language skills begin to
develop long before children receive their first writing lesson. Therefore, it
is reasonable to assume that oral language would become a natural foundation
for writing (Smith 2011). It is difficult to imagine that one could comprehend
written text or construct written sentences without having some knowledge of
the various aspects of oral language such as vocabulary and grammatical and
syntactic awareness (Smith 2011).
The research literature exploring
the relationship between oral language and text level writing is sparse, and
few studies have examined the impact of oral language on composition writing.
From the limited literature that does exist, some researchers have attempted to
examine the connection of writing and oral language by exploring the underlying
components of language, for example verbal working memory. When children have
weak verbal working memory, they struggle to produce written compositions
(McCutchen, 1996; Swanson & Berninger, 1996). Young writers are initially
better at oral composition than they are at writing. As they mature, and other
sub component skills become automatized (e.g., hand writing and letter sound
knowledge), they become better composers, producing longer and better quality
written compositions (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Cox, Shanahan, &
Sulzby, 1990; McCutchen, 1987). It is conceivable that children with a greater
repertoire of words will likely use them in writing to express thoughts and
ideas, in more interesting and eloquent ways (Smith 2011). Therefore, children
who are weaker in oral language skills may be limited in their ability to
express themselves adequately in writing (Smith 2011). Vocabulary knowledge, a
component of oral language skills, is defined by Isaacson (1988) as the
originality and maturity of a student’s choice of words. The development of a
rich and varied vocabulary is considered an essential step in becoming an
effective writer (Baker, Gersten, & Graham, 2003; Roth, 2000).
The interactions of oral and
written language have been explored in the research of Sulzby (1986, 1996) as
she attempted to chart the paths that young writers follow as they move towards
conventional literacy. The research of
Neelands, Booth, and Zeigler (1993) suggested that drama in the context of
writing with young learners facilitates positive attitudes toward writing.
Other preliminary investigations by Moore and Caldwell (1990, 1993) examined
the value of drama work as a rehearsal for writing and looked at how drama
enriches drawing and promotes narrative writing with primary school children. Dyson
(1993, 2003) presented detailed accounts of how young children draw upon
cartoon characters, television, popular music, and other media as they
construct written texts.
Role-play is commonly recognized as
providing opportunities for young children to develop communicative skills,
make representations of real and imaginary characters and events, engage in
fantasy play, and experience and create different text types relating to their
everyday experience (Cook, 2000). Role-play supports the development of a
different way of learning literacy that treats children as active knowers and
doers, rather than passive learners, providing real life purposes and
engagement with genres and text types in the context of real life problem
solving (Hall, 1998). Magos and Politi (2008) investigated the contribution of
the role-play technique to the teaching of a second language in immigrant
classes. They observed that the students engaged more actively in the role-play
when the vocabulary they needed was familiar to them. They showed that the
availability of time for preparation and in general for the role-play exercise
was an important factor in its success. Time pressure had negative results,
since it created anxiety for both the teacher and students and consequently
they failed to enjoy the exercise (Magos & Politi, 2008). Student
participation in role-playing, and thus its contribution to effective second
language teaching is achieved at the highest rate when the exercise content is
close to the learners’ interests and experiences (Magos & Politi, 2008).
Diaw (2009) examined the influence
of storytelling as prewriting activity on narrative writing and showed that storytelling
stimulates the imagination and creates a learning experience for a young child
that is interactive and personal (Diaw, 2009). According to Diaw, storytelling
has an inspirational influence on the writing experiences of eighth-grade
language arts students. The young writer is motivated to begin the writing
process and to expend time and invest effort in learning to write (Diaw, 2009).
Storytelling provides insights that enhance skill and self-confidence in
writing (Diaw, 2009).
Despite the importance of writing,
there is considerably less research on young learners’ writing that extends
beyond spelling as the variable of interest (Smith, 2011). In comparison to the
research available on reading development, there has been less focus on
writing, especially within the L2 population (Smith, 2011). The purpose of the
present study was to investigate the effect of role-playing in storytelling
classes on the narrative writing of Iranian young EFL learners.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Ornstein and Hunkins (2004) opposed
the view that a student is primarily a response machine and to engage students
in learning; affective needs must be met. Smithrim and Upitis (2005) asserted
that students do not learn in the same way; as a consequence, a variety of arts
experience helps ensure that all individual and groups of students are engaged
in learning. Arts-based teaching engages the learner and increases his or her
interest, motivation, and enthusiasm for learning (Rooney, 2004). Teitelbaum
and Gillis (2004) insisted that drama instruction is an arts-based teaching
method and it is positively correlated with writing quality. One problem in
teaching writing is that some learners refuse to undertake any writing task
(Cook, 2000). In Iran, learning the English
language appears cumbersome for learners because it is handled as a foreign
language (Raftari, Ismail, & Eng, 2016). Iranian EFL learners are
confronted with plethora of problems in writing the language because it is not
utilized in real life conversation or situation (Raftari, Ismail, & Eng,
2016). The aim of this study was to show the effect of role playing in storytelling
classes on narrative writing of Iranian young EFL learners.
1.3 Significance of the Study
There is a need to identify
component skills that are related to writing development and explore how these
sub-skills contribute to various aspects of writing for L2 learners (Smith,
2011). The research literature exploring the relationship between oral language
and text-level writing is sparse, and few studies have examined the impact of
oral language on composition writing (Smith, 2011). Children who are weaker in verbal
language skills may be limited in their ability to express themselves
adequately in writing (Smith, 2011). Role-play encourages peer learning and
sharing the responsibility for learning between teacher and student (Ladousse,
2004). With suitable and effective role-play exercises, teachers can meet an
infinite variety of needs (Ladousse, 2004). Role-play lightens up the
atmospheres and brings liveliness in the classes and Students learn to use the
language in a more realistic, more practical way (Huang, 2008). Iranian EFL learners
are confronted with a plethora of problems in writing the language because it
is not utilized in real life conversation or situation (Raftari, Ismail, &
Eng, 2016). The finding of this study revealed the effect of role-playing in
storytelling classes on the narrative writing of Iranian young EFL learners.
The results of this study can guide teachers to the selection of more useful
techniques for teaching narrative writing to Iranian EFL learners. With
suitable and effective role-play exercises, Iranian EFL learners participate
eagerly in writing activities, and they will benefit to improve their narrative
1.4 Research Question and Hypothesis
In order to achieve the objective
of this study, the following research question was formulated:
RQ: Does the employment of role-plays
in storytelling classes affect narrative writing of Iranian young EFL learners?
In order to investigate the
research question of the study, the following null hypothesis was formulated.
H0: There is no statistically
significant difference between the narrative writing of Iranian young EFL
learners who engage in role-playing and those who do not.
1.5 Definition of Keyterms
Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) defines narrative writing as the
recreation of an incident or event that is real or imagined in order to make a
point. Narrative writing occurs when an individual recounts an event or
experience from his/her point of view (Carter, 1993).
In this study, role-playing refers to acting out different characters in a
story. However, since acting out is usually done on a stage with the use of
decoration and different costumes, the researcher used the term role-play.
Thus, giving a role to one or more members of a group and assigning an
objective or purpose that participants must accomplish (Brown, 1994) is considered
as role-play in the present study.
The oral presentation of a story from memory by an individual to a person or a group
in which teller and listener interact as transmitters and receivers of thoughts
and ideas (Gallets, 2005).
Young EFL learners:
In this research, young EFL learners will be considered learners between nine
and sixteen years of age.
1.6 Limitations and Delimitations of the Study
This study like similar studies, had
some limitations and delimitations that affected the quality of the research
procedure and the results of the study. First, the literature exploring the
relationship between oral language and text-level writing is sparse, and few
studies have examined the impact of oral language on composition writing
(Smith, 2011). Second, students’ shyness affected the way they engaged in the
classroom activities. Third, over acting
of some students interrupted the logical process of role-playing. Finally, lack
of a stage and costumes were other limitations in this study.
The delimitation in the present
study was the selection of stories that researcher has gathered from different
websites. The selection of these stories was based on the applicability of assigning
the characters of the story to students that employ role-play technique in the
experimental groups (Appendix B).
Although co-ed classes are not allowed in Iran, to
control the effect of gender as a variable and to increase the external
validity of the study, both girls and boys in two separate classes participated
in the study.