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Use Aboriginal Storybooks to Teach ESL Students About Australia

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

Aboriginal storybooks are a handy way of teaching learners about Australian people and animals, as well as learning some of the words and phrases which are part of the Australian way of life. "Bawoo Stories" is a gorgeous book that would be popular with most English language teachers.

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    Australian People and Animals

    Australian people and animals hold great fascination for many people from all around the world. Some common examples of Australian animals include kangaroos, kookaburras, magpies, platypuses, opossums, emus and galahs.

    Australia was inhabited by Aboriginal people at least 40,000 years ago. It has only been in the last 200 or so years that white people have lived in Australia. In recent years there has been an effort made by some writers and publishers to tell and preserve the stories of Aboriginal Australia through Aboriginal storybooks and traditional tales that were often told from one generation to the next, but were never written down.

    “Australian people and animals" is a great theme to use in an English language classroom with learners who want to find out more about this exciting part of the world. It is important that teaching English language learners about Australia does not simply involve a 21st century view. Australia has a long and extensive Aboriginal history so learning about Australian people and animals should involve some content related to Aboriginal culture as well as other topics.

    Learning about Australian people and animals in the context of aboriginal storybooks is a useful way for teachers of English to show learners some of the words, phrases and customs that are important to the traditional owners of Australia as well as the more recently arrived white population.

    The Bawoo Stories Book by May L O'Brien combines the rare art of storytelling with a well-researched set of stories and information about Aboriginal culture and language and an extensive word and phrase listing.

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    The Art of Storytelling

    Not everyone who writes has the art of storytelling --of really sharing the mood, the experiences and the feeling of a story. When creating Aboriginal storybooks, this art is vital. Aboriginal culture needs to be shared, told and retold to current and future generations so that the stories of the first Australian people and animals are not lost over time.

    Aboriginal storybooks that show respect for the time and place in which they are set and which accurately portray the Australian people and animals in a realistic manner are a rare find. Often, artwork is inaccurate, stories are poorly concluded or the reader is left guessing about what the original meaning of the story really was. This is not so with "Bawoo stories." The artwork by Angela Leaney and Sue Wyatt is splendid and captures the colors and feelings of the Australian landscape well. The art of storytelling shown in the book is strong and vibrant, with dialog and narrative combined well to give learners of English experience at reading a variety of text forms and sentence constructs.

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    Aboriginal Storybooks to Teach English Language Learners

    English language learners can understand more about Australian people and animals through the Bawoo Stories. The book is divided into four colored sections, with each one containing a separate story. The stories explain some of the beliefs of the Aboriginal people of one small region of Western Australia. The stories were told through generations to explain the world to the Aboriginal children who lived in that region. Originally, these traditional tales were not written. They were shared through the much older art of storytelling: the oral tradition. Now the stories have been written down and illustrated, so they can be enjoyed by a new generation of Australian children and English language learners around the world.

    Teachers using "Bawoo Stories" will find them easy to use, with handy picture cues as well as a language and reading level suited to English language learners with a reasonable word vocabulary and grasp of English sentence structures. The word list at the back of the book gives a pronunciation guide and information about saying various words and word parts aloud.