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Aufsatz zum Themenschwerpunkt

Participation in Storytelling Settings. Multimodality in Multilingual Contexts


In this paper, I present my research study Erzählbrücken (Narrative Bridges)and selected findings on the potential of storytelling and its multimodality for participation, meaning making and language acquisition in multilingual contexts. Next to participation and multimodality (cf. Stein 2008), crucial theoretical concepts are holistic, (syn)aesthetic and mimetic learning (cf. Spinner 2008; Wulf 2008). Erzählbrücken accompanied a storytelling project for newly immigrated primary school children in Berlin for six months. This article focusses on two video sequences. The interpretative, multimodal ‘interaction analysis’ (Krummheuer/Naujok 1999; Schmitt 2015) shows how two children participate in storytelling events even though they only understand a few words.

Partizipation in Erzählkontexten – Multimodalität in mehrsprachigen Kontexten
In diesem Beitrag stelle ich mein Forschungsprojekt Erzählbrücken und ausgewählte Ergebnisse zu den Potenzialen des Geschichtenerzählens und seiner Multimodalität für die Partizipation, das Herstellen von Bedeutung und Spracherwerb in mehrsprachigen Kontexten vor. Neben Partizipation und Multimodalität (vgl. Stein 2008) sind ganzheitliches, (syn)ästhetisches und mimetisches Lernen (vgl. Spinner 2008; Wulf 2008) zentrale theoretische Konzepte. Erzählbrücken begleitete sechs Monate lang ein Storytelling-Projekt für neuzugewanderte Grundschulkinder in Berlin. Dieser Artikel fokussiert zwei Videosequenzen. Die interpretative, multimodale Interaktionsanalyse (vgl. Krummheuer/Naujok 1999; Schmitt 2015) zeigt, wie zwei Kinder in Erzählsituationen partizipieren, obwohl sie erst wenige Wörter verstehen.

Partecipazione in contesti di narrazione – Multimodalità in contesti multilingue
In questo articolo presento il mio progetto di ricerca Ponti narrativi (Erzählbrücken) e i risultati selezionati sulle potenzialità della narrazione e della sua multimodalità per la partecipazione, la creazione di significato e l'acquisizione della lingua in contesti multilingue. Oltre alla partecipazione e alla multimodalità (cfr. Stein 2008), l'apprendimento olistico, (sin)estetico e mimetico (cfr. Spinner 2008; Wulf 2008) sono concetti teorici centrali. Erzählbrücken ha accompagnato per sei mesi un progetto di narrazione per bambini delle scuole primarie appena immigrati a Berlino. Questo articolo si concentra su due sequenze video. L'analisi interpretativa dell'interazione multimodale (cfr. Krummheuer/Naujok 1999; Schmitt 2015) mostra come due bambini partecipino a situazioni di narrazione pur comprendendo solo poche parole.

Keywords: Storytelling, Multimodality, Interaction, Participation, Multilingual learning contexts, Multimodalität, Interaktion, Partizipation, multilinguale Lernumgebungen, multimodalità, interazione, partecipazione, ambienti di apprendimento multilingue

How to Cite: Naujok, Natascha (2023): Participation in Storytelling Settings. Multimodality in Multilingual Contexts. Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht 28: 1, 35–56.

1 Introduction

The study Erzählbrücken (Narrative Bridges) investigates the potential of storytelling with newly immigrated primary school children who know little of the language. As storytelling is multimodal, the children have more than the words to make meaning from. The study focusses the opportunities for communicative participation, meaning making and language acquisition in a storytelling project. It describes the use and the interplay of different expressive modalities and reconstructs meaning making in productive and receptive processes. Erzählbrücken accompanied the Berlin (Germany) storytelling project Erzählen beflügelt (Storytelling gives wings). The storytelling project was conceptualised and carried out by an association of storytellers called Erzählkunst (The Art of Storytelling). It was independent of the study. There were no active research interventions. So, Erzählbrücken is an ethnographic study which reconstructs selected sequences of interaction.

The children (ages 6 to 12 years) of the storytelling project join ‘welcome classes’ (German: Willkommensklassen) with up to twelve children. In these classes, they get to know the school system and learn German before entering regular classes. They join their welcome classes for individual periods of time depending on the time of their arrival, on their learning processes and on the capacities of the regular classes. For this reason, the composition of a welcome class changes frequently.

The contribution starts in section 2 with framing scenic storytelling and a description of the project Erzählen beflügelt. Section 3 is dedicated to the theoretical concepts of participation, multimodality and learning. An overview of the research design of Erzählbrücken is provided in section 4, and section 5 reports on and analyses two selected video-sequences. The article ends with findings and conclusions in section 6.

2 Scenic storytelling and the project Erzählen beflügelt

The following section clarifies the notion of scenic storytelling and presents the practical context of the study against this background.

2.1 Scenic storytelling

Scenic storytelling is a form of oral storytelling and, as such, is generally characterised by close contact between the storyteller and the ‘listeners’. According to Wardetzky, storytelling is a dialogical form of communication “between everyday life and art” (2007: 8). Merkel sees its potential – especially in comparison to the reception of audio-visual media – in the special “resonance between storyteller and child audience” (Merkel 1991: 82). This resonance concerns movements, the expression of feelings, as well as the content of the story. The audience reacts to the storyteller and to the narrative event; the storyteller – directly or indirectly – reacts to these reactions. In this way, the audience influences the realisation of the story.

When a story is told scenically, the act of narrating (cf. Lander 2017) is of particular importance. This performance-orientated scenic storytelling contains theatrical moments: roles are alluded to and objects are included. Thus, in addition to the spoken language, other means and modalities (see 3.2) come into play in scenic storytelling. At the same time speech itself is shaped in a special way using various linguistic devices, e.g. great attention is paid to prosody. Clear prosody facilitates the segmentation of the flow of speech (cf. Kauschke 2012: 24–26). This is especially important for language acquisition and learning. Lander (2017) talks of storytelling performances.

The many facets of storytelling and the emotional moment of personal contact can facilitate entry into a language that is still not familiar; this applies to the passive as well as to the active use of language, as will be shown.

2.2 The storytelling project Erzählen beflügelt

The storytelling project took place during the summer school semester 2017 at a primary school in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhood of Berlin. It lasted almost twenty weeks. The Protestant foundation Evangelisches Johannisstift sponsored the project as part of its program Kinder beflügeln (Give children wings). Therefore, the project was called Erzählen beflügelt (Storytelling gives wings). The conception and execution of the project were mainly in the hands of members of the association Erzählkunst (The Art of Storytelling), who offer storytelling in welcome classes (cf. Wardetzky 2017).

In the school of the storytelling project Erzählen beflügelt, there were four mixed-grade welcome classes: two with children assigned to grades 1 to 3 and two with older pupils assigned to grades 4 to 6. Each welcome class enjoyed one storytelling session a week. A total of six professional storytellers were hired for this purpose, three for the younger and three for the older groups of children. In the course of the week-long interval between each of the storytelling sessions, the children were asked to draw a picture to go with the story they had heard.1

The project began with an introductory day and ended with a final celebration. Within this frame, the individual storytelling sessions were structured in a highly ritualised manner: they began with a welcoming song and a phase during which each child – with their knowledge of German growing over time – presented the picture they had drawn to accompany the story from the previous session. (The video sequence in 5.2 shows how a boy with little German fares.) This was followed by a phase of vocabulary work, during which the narrators introduced central words of the story. With a joint ritual, the storytellers and the children opened up the storyworld. Then, the narrators told their story. Sometimes, the children were invited to answer questions or participate in the storytelling. After the story, the children applauded and there was an exchange about what had been told. So, the storytellers could gather what the children had understood and help them understand more. Each storytelling event ended with a joint ritual to close the storyworld again.

For their sessions, the storytellers chose fantasy stories with clear narrative patterns, e.g., fairy tales or fables, some of which are known internationally. Pattern-like stories and rituals offer orientation to the recipients, in this case to the children. The repetitions they include allow the children to recognise elements and to anticipate the course of events. Such pattern-like repetitions in interactions have been prominently identified by Bruner (1983) in the peek-a-boo game and the joint viewing of picture books. Bruner showed that these interactions support learning in the context of first language acquisition and coined the now widely used term format for them. Formats are helpful in second language acquisition as well.

3 Participation, multimodality and learning

Humans are social beings. They have a natural desire to participate in interactions and communications, i.e., to interact and communicate with others. At the same time, since they are learning creatures, they strive to make sense and they strive to make meaning mutually using various different modes or modalities. This section unpacks this phenomenon by addressing participation, multimodality and learning.

3.1 Participation

Participation can be seen from different perspectives. This section outlines the perspectives of linguistics and pedagogy and shows how these are integrated in Stein’s multimodal pedagogy (cf. Stein 2008). From the perspective of linguistics – and beyond – a means of communication specific to human beings is language. Language, its acquisition and use are of central importance for participating in interactions with others. In first language acquisition, adults introduce young children to the use of language by talking and singing to them, as well as by telling stories and inviting them to tell stories themselves (cf. Naujok 2021b). Children participate in these interactions in a receptive and productive way. Thereby they learn to use language (cf. Bruner 1983). Essentially, this is also true for the acquisition of new languages, although depending on preceding experiences, other learning strategies may come into play; e.g., from the perspective of linguistics, participation in conversation can be analysed via the well-known organisation of turn-taking (cf. e.g. Sacks/Schegloff/Jefferson 1974).

At the same time, participation in social interactions is a sine qua non for every democratic society – democracy itself is defined by social participation. Thus, participation is a crucial theoretical concept of pedagogy in democratic societies. This is the focus on participation from the perspective of pedagogy (cf. e.g. DeGeDe 2016; Hansen/Knauer/Sturzenhecker 2011; Reichert-Garschhammer 2013; Sturzbecher/Großmann 2003). On 28 March 2012, with the idea to strengthen democracy and children’s rights, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted the “Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the participation of children and young people under the age of 18”. In section I of this text, participation is defined as follows:

‘participation’ is about individuals and groups of individuals having the right, the means, the space, the opportunity and, where necessary, the support to freely express their views, to be heard and to contribute to decision making on matters affecting them, their views being given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity. (CM2012, Section I)

The meanings of participation outlined above are integrated in the theory of ‘Multimodal Pedagogies’ developed by Stein (2008) in the context of South Africa’s extremely diverse post-apartheid classrooms. Stein focusses on communication, but not on language. This idea is also highlighted in interaction linguistics (cf. Haldimann/Hauser/Nell-Tuor 2017). Stein’s democratic aim is to widen the opportunities of participation in classroom interactions by allowing multiple ways or modes of meaning making. She explores how “language and literacy classrooms can become more democratic spaces through addressing a central issue in teaching, learning and its assessment: namely the forms of representation through which students make their meanings” (Stein 2008: 1).

3.2 Multimodality

As mentioned above, an important, though not the only, mode of communication is verbal language, whether it be in speech, writing, or via signs. Multimodality points to the fact that meaning can also be made and is made with other means or semiotic resources. Wangerin (2003, ref. to Langer 1942) calls this language-related symbol mode discursive and distinguishes it from the presentative mode, which is realised in more sensually and aesthetically experienceable Gestalten. At the same time, Jewitt, Bezemer and O’Halloran emphasise that multimodality does not refer to the senses but to “the cultural and social resources for making meaning” (2016: 5). However, from the perspective of aesthetic learning (see 3.3), the senses play an important role in meaning making, too. Multimodality, in the present contribution, refers to spoken and written language, to gesture, facial expression, eye contact, body movement, pictures, objects, music, dance and so on. As Jewitt et al. put it: “Meaning making involves the production [and the reception; N.N.] of multimodal wholes” (2016: 5). When looking more closely at verbal language, it comes to fore that there are many different verbal languages. The idea of using different language resources leads to the theory and practice of translanguaging, of living and using one’s “complete linguistic repertoire” (Panagiotopoulou/Rosen/Strzykala 2020: 1). In the context of this contribution, translanguaging is regarded as a dimension of multimodality.

Jewitt et al. (2016: 3) claim that each semiotic resource offers “distinct potentialities and limitations”. In keeping with this, correspondences between different simultaneously realised modalities of the whole, e.g., word and gesture, can support (language) learning processes by referring to each other (cf. Andresen 2005); simultaneously, they can be interpreted as redundant to those who are familiar with all of the resources.

While Merkel (see 2.1) refers to the manifold possibilities of participating in the production of a story for the child audience, the analyses of the present paper will also reconstruct forms of reception-related participation. Both participation dimensions – production and reception (cf. Krummheuer/Brandt 2001) – are closely connected to the multimodality of scenic storytelling.

3.3 Learning

Human beings make meaning and learn from all semiotic resources. The outlined perspectives on participation and multimodality are linked to an understanding of learning as a holistic, (syn)aesthetic and mimetic process. It is holistic because, besides the mind, all senses and emotions are involved. In aesthetic learning, “perception, feeling, thinking and knowledge merge” (Mattenklott 2014: 135).2 Spinner (2008) points out that aesthetic perceptions in one sense can open up other senses, which raises the issue of synaesthetics.

Solche Verbindungen bergen auch die Chance, dass Kindern, die eine besondere Affinität zu einem bestimmten Sinneskanal haben, z.B. zur Musik, darüber der Weg zu anderen Sinneserfahrungen geöffnet wird. (Spinner 2008: 11)

Such connections also hold the chance that children who have a special affinity to one certain sensory channel, e.g. music, will be opened up to other sensory experiences through this. (Spinner 2008: 11) [translation N.N.]

Furthermore, both Mattenklott (2014) and Spinner (2008), distinguish rational from aesthetic perception. The example Spinner gives is snow. Snow can be perceived as something enchanting, something magically glittering, or as something to be shovelled away.

The constructive character of learning does not contradict that learning can be mimetic at the same time (cf. Wulf 2008). This also becomes clear when, with reference to Wulf (2005), Karimi writes:

Mimesis ist also immer zugleich reproduktiv und kreativ. Der Mensch nimmt Bezug auf eine Handlung und ahmt sie nach. Dabei sucht er in ihrem Nachvollzug eine Ähnlichkeit sowohl zu seinem Vorbild als auch zu sich selbst, zu seiner Einzigartigkeit herzustellen. Mimetisch richtet sich der Mensch auf die Welt aus, holt sie in sich hinein und erschafft sie noch einmal als seine eigene. In jedem mimetischen Bezug entsteht ein Beziehungsnetz zwischen der im Menschen bestehenden inneren Welt und der wahrgenommenen äußeren Welt. Mit den auf diese Weise erschlossenen Korrespondenzen liest der Mensch mimetisch die Welt und erlebt sinnlich und emotional den Sinn seiner Wahrnehmung. (Karimi 2016: 20)

Mimesis is therefore always reproductive and creative at the same time. The human being refers to an action and imitates it. In doing so, they seek to create a resemblance both to their model and to themselves, to their uniqueness. Mimetically, the human being aligns themselves with the world, bring it into themselves and create it once again as their own. In every mimetic reference, a network of relationships is created between the inner world existing in the human being and the perceived outer world. With the correspondences revealed in this way, the human being reads the world mimetically and experiences the meaning of their perception sensually and emotionally. (Karimi 2016: 20) [translation N.N.]

Merkel (1991), too, describes aspects of children’s mimetic perception in storytelling settings. In doing so, he focusses on the idea of a resonance between storyteller and audience. In such contexts, children get to know the contents of a story and have the opportunity to widen their familiarity with the language of narration.

Altogehter, learning and storytelling

sind auf vielfältige Weise miteinander verbunden. Kinder wachsen in ihrer sprachlich-kulturellen Sozialisation in eine Kultur der narrativen Sinnkonstruktion hinein, erwerben Sprache und Bewusstsein in narrativen Zusammenhängen und auch Lernprozesse in schulischen Unterrichtskontexten sind narrativ geprägt. (Hoffmann 2020: 61)

are linked in many ways. In their linguistic-cultural socialization, children grow into a culture of narrative construction of meaning, acquire language and awareness in narrative contexts, and learning processes in school teaching contexts are also narratively shaped. (Hoffmann 2020: 61) [translation N.N.]

4 The research design of the study Erzählbrücken

The Erzählbrücken research study accompanied the storytelling project Erzählen beflügelt described above. It is ethnographically oriented, insofar as the storytelling project was conceived independently of the study and the research did not actively intervene in the project events. A detailed description of the study can be found in Naujok (2018). This section only addresses the aspects relevant to this article. The overarching question is: What potentials do scenic storytelling and its multimodality have for newly immigrated children with regard to participation and the acquisition of the German language?

Besides the storytelling project, the research design includes the methods of data collection and analysis. This research focuses on a subject that has been systematically empirically researched only to a limited extent so far, storytelling in German with children newly arrived in Germany. For this reason, a qualitative-reconstructive approach was chosen (cf. Flick 2019). Observations were conducted and video recordings and handwritten field notes were made in the younger and the older group almost every week, thirty-five in total. On the basis of the field notes, digital memory protocols were written. These protocols can be coded in the sense of Qualitative Content Analysis by searching for certain keywords (cf. Mayring 2010). For this article, two key incidents were selected from the handwritten field notes and the video recordings for closer analysis (cf. Kroon/Sturm 2007). A key incident is a scene that points beyond itself in relation to the research interest, i.e., from which something general can be reconstructed. Working with key incidents allows for an examination of different aspects of social events without having to conduct a comprehensive ethnography (ibid.). Both key incidents were transcribed. The transcriptions are made according to the minimal procedure of the Gesprächsanalytisches Transkriptionssytem GAT 2 (Conversational Analysis System of Transcription 2) (cf. Selting et al. 2009) and supplemented with descriptions (from the videos and the field notes) and visual material (like children’s drawings and texts) on further dimensions of multimodality (cf. Naujok 2012; Schmitt 2015; Wittig 2020). The procedure for the analyses is finally based on the ‘interaction analysis’ developed in the context of interpretative classroom research (cf. Krummheuer/Naujok 1999; Naujok 2021a) as well as on the key incident analysis (cf. Kroon/Sturm 2007).

5 Analyses of two selected video sequences

The following two selected scenes stem from two different sessions with the younger children assigned to grades 1 to 3 (ages 6 to 10 years). The first is a sequence from a phase in which a narrator tells a story and the second is a presentation of a drawing by a pupil. Thus, one scene represents the receptive and the other the productive dimension of participation. Both sections start with an introduction to the scene, followed by the transcript and the analysis which includes the discussion. A transcription legend is located between the text and the references. The transcripts are translated from German into English. All names are changed, and for reasons of data protection, the children’s origins are not mentioned.

5.1 Storytelling and experiencing storytelling

The following sequence is part of a storytelling event in which the narrator tells the tale of Lazy Jack. In the story, Lazy Jack, at his mother’s insistence, finally goes to work. At the end of his working days, he receives his wages in kind, but time and again he loses them on the way home to his mother. The analysis focuses on how ten-year-old Mustafa, who has been attending his welcome class for only about six weeks, participates in this event.

The main purpose of this scene is to reconstruct how Mustafa follows the narration on different levels in a visible and active manner. The narrator begins to speak and makes a gesture <1> which attracts Mustafa’s gaze <2>. In his following speech <3>, the narrator completes his gesture into a kneading motion. In doing so, he tells us that Lazy Jack worked at the baker’s the following day and begins to say what Jack did there, his gaze falling on Mustafa. One child quietly comments on this with yummy <4> and the narrator finishes his sentence by saying <bread.> in English and by repeating this immediately afterwards in German <5>. He seems to have woven in the English word especially for Mustafa, who knows English even if it is not a first language for him. In his next sentence <5> he talks about the wages Jack received for his work. He speaks the beginning of the sentence and at the end he completes the statement by showing a wooden toy cat. This object of the wages is then named by a child, thus completing the narrator’s open sentence <6>. The narrator repeats the cat affirmatively. <7>. Mustafa then also speaks the word, including the article <8>. It is assumed that Mustafa is relearning the word at this moment.

The narrator continues to tell the story with pronounced gestures <9>. He brings his hands together with their outer edges so that the palms show upwards <9>, whereupon Mustafa looks upwards <10>. Mustafa seems to conclude from the palms held upwards that something must come down from above in the next moment. He listens and watches the narrator attentively, tries to interpret his perceptions, and to make meaning. This also includes anticipating events or completing what has been hinted at. In this case he is not quite right, because nothing comes down on the palms from above, rather Jack, played by the narrator, puts a cat on them. The narrator stands up and walks a few steps <11> and as if in resonance Mustafa moves slightly back and forth, swinging mimetically along <12>. Some children meow, first once <13>, then twice <15>, whereupon Mustafa also meows <17>. It is not only the storyteller but also the children he imitates and learns from. The joint meowing, on the one hand, supports the storytelling, on the other hand, doing this, the children actively share their storytelling experience with each other. They realise a potential for togetherness and sociability inherent in these storytelling situations. Mustafa also takes up movements in the following: Immediately after the narrator throws his arms in the air <18>, he does so <19>, and after the narrator puts a hand to his heart, Mustafa imitates this movement, too. Something similar can be observed during the subsequent joint retelling. While one child, supported by the narrator and other children, retells the story, Mustafa imitates and participates in the gestures and movements: from spinning to shovelling to playfully throwing up pieces of money.

From the scene as a whole, it was reconstructed how Mustafa participates multimodally, mimetically and holistically in the storytelling event. He sees, hears, feels with his whole body, he focuses his attention, makes contact, moves, makes noises, speaks. Mustafa is totally involved, he is not just a listener, he experiences the storytelling and participates. Mustafa learns mimetically. He enters the story physically and, at the same time, he enters the (German) language. Mustafa becomes part of the group and the teaching and learning interaction. Overall, this key incident shows that there are many modal possibilities to participate in storytelling events even as part of the audience who is not familiar with the language of narration.

5.2 Presenting a drawing with self-written words

In the second scene, a boy – whom we have called Musa – presents his drawing to the folk story of the stone soup. Musa has only been attending his class for about four weeks. He is nine years old and literate in English, i.e., with Latin letters, although English is not his mother tongue. The story was followed up in class, as is typical in this learning group, and this included writing. Musa drew his picture during this wrap-up lesson (see Figure 1). It shows the soup pot with vegetables in cross-section and a bowl underneath. Musa labelled the vegetables and the bowl well, legibly and faultlessly, with the German nouns which had been written on the blackboard (see Figure 1). The following analysis focuses on how Musa uses different semiotic resources.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Musa’s drawing of the stone soup

Kartoffel = potato / Zwiebel = onion / Paprika = pepper Karotte = carrot / Schüssel = bowl


The scene begins with the storyteller asking the boy in a somewhat implicit, but friendly way if he would like to come forward and present his drawing <1>. Musa then actually goes and hands him his drawing. The storyteller makes a short, unintelligible statement and Musa begins his presentation by pointing at the potato and speaking in single syllables: that is ka-rot-te (ka) <<carrot>> <4>. So, Musa already knows how such a presentation proceeds; he has the corresponding action pattern knowledge. His utterance consists of a simple sentence; only the article is missing. However, pointing at the potato (Kartoffel), Musa says the German word for carrot (Karotte). Both words are very similar, especially at their beginning, and both occur in the story and are in his drawing. At the end of his turn, Musa starts again indistinctly. He seems unsure; possibly he suspects the mistake and wants to fix it. The narrator encourages him to try again by clearly pronouncing the first syllable of the word himself for Musa to bring it to its correct end <5>. Now Musa says kar-toF-FE:L <<potato>> in clear syllables, stressing the second and third syllable <6>. The narrator repeats the word in fluent stress <7>, thus confirming his utterance and at the same time giving him an example of pronunciation. Musa takes this up by speaking the word once more, this time without breaks <8>. This expresses his willingness to learn; he thus brings the short learning sequence to completion.

He then continues, points at the right at the word "Karotte" (carrot) and speaks fluently karotte-, leaving his voice suspended at the end. This may indicate that he is not yet at the end of his utterance; he may also be waiting for feedback from the storyteller. Immediately afterwards, Musa moves his finger to the lettering "Zwiebel" (onion). He speaks three syllables, the first one is very difficult to hear, especially at its beginning. The consonant combination "Zw" is a particular challenge. Musa takes his finger away and speaks the word again. He also points at the word "Paprika" (pepper) and reads it, at first in disjointed syllables, then in a flow.

Next, Musa says and that is and reads schi- (.) ku- (.) uschel> <<bowl>> <8>. The word "Schüssel" (bowl) causes Musa the most difficulties. He reads it in syllables and with pauses: schi- ku- uschel. The storyteller then speaks the word to him with pronounced mouth movements <9>. Musa simply confirms <10> but does not use the pronunciation example for repetition. The storyteller repeats the word again, this time prefixing the indefinite article <11>. This utterance can be interpreted as an invitation for Musa to try it himself and Musa interprets it as such. He now purses his lips as well and says, barely audibly schüssel (bowl) and nods once more: yes. <12> By nodding and affirming, he seems to be meeting an expectation attributed to the narrator and possibly wanting to compensate for the fact that he does not speak the crucial word loudly and clearly. It can also be interpreted as an attempt to bring the situation to an end.

The teacher seems to interpret Musa’s statement as an attempt at closure: she claps once loudly, then once more softly <13> as if to prelude the applause each child receives at the end of their presentation in the story project. With this she sets about ending the situation and releasing Musa from the effort. The storyteller, however, continues with and <14>. Towards the teacher, he briefly and affirmatively comments on her clapping <14>, as if to signal that he too finds Musa’s performance up to this point worthy of applause. The teacher tentatively starts clapping again <15>, but the narrator now asks Musa if he knows how the things got into the pot <16>. With this, he makes a new, even more challenging demand of Musa, because now it is no longer a question of naming visible pictorial or legible written elements, but of narration that transcends the situation and requires the ability to use language in a decontextualised way.

Interestingly, the storyteller does not make the request in a clearly audible sentence melody, but rather falters, possibly unsettled in his intention by the (non-verbal) statements of the teacher. Into the storyteller’s halting question, Musa once again nods yes. <17> This can be interpreted as a further indication that Musa wants to conclude the interaction and be dismissed from the stage. He does not seem to understand the question or maybe he suspects that he cannot meet the new expectation. Even when the storyteller finishes his question <18>, Musa responds with a nodding yes. <19> and after the narrator follows up with well how? <20>, he does so once again <21>. Musa’s repetitions support the interpretation that he wants to end the interaction and at the same time represent great effort, cooperativeness and politeness. At this point, the storyteller concludes the dialogical picture presentation with an okay- <22>, the audience claps <23> and Musa goes back to his seat <24>.

In summary, in the context of his drawing presentation, Musa shows many experiences and abilities. He can cooperate and he wants to learn. He knows how to present a picture to a group, e.g., it is noticeable that Musa presents his drawing essentially in one fell swoop. After initially naming the first vegetable item incorrectly and successfully correcting himself with encouragement from the narrator, he continues until he has virtually worked through the whole drawing. Looking at his contribution without the corrections and stalling it reads: "This is potato, carrot, onion, pepper, and this is bowl." Musa thus gives his contribution a clearly recognisable, cohesive shape (Gestalt). Moreover, Musa knows reading and writing and is familiar with the Latin script. And he is able to change his strategy in presenting his drawing. First, he does not succeed in transforming the sight of the drawings into German spoken language, because he does not yet know the German words for all of the objects. Then, he shifts his focus from the drawings to the written words. Due to his literacy experience, Musa is able to use writing and reading to speak, to remember and to learn the words. He uses his English literacy experiences to learn German. He moves between the modalities and also between the languages. He is translanguaging. The multimodality and translinguality in this sequence enable Musa to participate in the interaction with the storyteller, to present his drawing even with little German vocabulary, and to learn the new language, German.

6 Findings and conclusions

This contribution reports on the research study Erzählbrücken and on the storytelling project Erzählen beflügelt. The theoretical section and the above analysed video sequences investigate the potential of multimodal storytelling settings for communicative participation, meaning making and language acquisition in welcome classes for newly immigrated primary school children. These children speak many different languages, while German is new to all of them. The narrators of Erzählen beflügelt tell their stories in German and at the same time multimodally. In this way, the children have more than the words to make meaning from. The analyses of the two video sequences show that this is not only a theoretical assumption but can be empirically grounded. In the first sequence, Mustafa experiences the story with his whole body: he listens to the storyteller and the other children, he watches them and he whispers and moves along. He uses many modalities and it is obvious that he makes meaning even if he is mistaken. Verbal language, however, is more precise and therefore worth learning. The sequence shows that there is a clear resonance between the storyteller, the children and the boy. It shows that receiving the story can go hand in hand with productive activities, namely with producing noises, words, gestures and movements. Engaging in this way, Mustafa seems to learn mimetically. He is learning about the story and the language and the storytelling events in this Berlin school. The second analysis focusses on the presentation of a picture drawn to a story. It shows objects, mainly vegetables, and written words. Musa only has a few German words but knows well how to use them. In the interaction with the storyteller who invites him to present his drawing, Musa is very polite, attentive and cooperative. Moreover, he is able to use different strategies to present his drawing. First, he tries to name the drawn symbols and when he gets confused with two very similar German words, he switches his focus to the written words and reads them. Here he is using different modalities. Moreover, he transfers his English reading competence to German which can be interpreted as a form of translanguaging. Altogether, the analyses show how multimodality opens opportunities to participate in interaction, be it in production or reception processes. Both boys participate in multimodal storytelling settings in German before they are really familiar with the language.

In light of the above, it can be concluded that discourse spaces in classrooms and schools (and in society in general) should be opened up to all semiotic resources, to all modalities and languages of meaning making, because this enables (not only) children to participate in interactions by whatever means. As language is acquired in interaction, this is helpful for language acquisition at the same time. The idea of opening up discourse spaces for more than the official verbal language is crucial not only in the context of Stein’s multimodal pedagogies (Stein 2008) but in the theory and practice of translanguaging (Panagiotopoulou/Rosen/Strzykala 2020) as well. The idea of opening up discourse spaces has to do with a stance of confidence which possesses a political dimension. In the context of translanguaging García describes:

A translanguaging stance has to do with the firm belief that minoritized bilinguals have the agency to fully leverage their unitary semiotic repertoire made up of linguistic and multimodal signs in ways that does not correspond to the strict parameters of one named language or another or one mode or another established by schools. The actions of bilingual students that go beyond those legitimated in schools are then perceived as virtuous, complex, fluid, creative and critical, and not simply as deficient. (García 2020: 16)

Stein connects this thought to the right to learn, especially for children who have just arrived in a new and unfamiliar situation. In the context of Stein’s research, these are children in diverse post-apartheid classes in South Africa; in the context of the present article, these are refugee children in a German school. Stein emphasises: “But what is the meaning of the ‘right to learn’ if who you are and what you know, in other words your resources for representing your meanings, have no value for those who hold power in classroom spaces?” (Stein 2008: 152).

Storytelling is a very suitable setting to enable refugee children from the very beginning to participate in interaction.

Transcription legend

The legend has been drawn up following the transcription conventions of Selting et al. (2009), whereby only those aspects have been included which are necessary to read the transcripts presented in the text.


  1. The storytellers were Dörte Hentschel, Soogi Kang, Christine Lander, Yifat Maor, Sven Tjaben and Arna Vogel. [^]
  2. The original German wording is: „verschmelzen […] Wahrnehmen, Fühlen, Denken und Wissen“ (Mattenklott 2014: 135). [^]


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Prof. Dr. Natascha Naujok (PhD) is full professor of Language and Communication in Childhood Education at the Evangelische Hochschule Berlin EHB, Berlin (Germany). Her main fields of research and teaching include social interactions in the classroom and among peers, interpretive classroom research, multimodality, storytelling, language acquisition, multilingualism, literacy and literature education.


Evangelische Hochschule Berlin EHB

Studiengang Kindheitspädagogik

Teltower Damm 118–122

14167 Berlin



  • Natascha Naujok





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  • Themenschwerpunkt: Erzählen in multilingualen und interkulturellen Kontexten


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