By ‘stories’ I mean stories made from imagination or experiences in daily life or retellings of traditional stories.
Motivation. Recycle language. All skills. Experiencing and not just studying language.
Age and proficiency
Everybody can be helped to create a story. People work with what they have. We help them to take the next step.
Revel in what can be done with very few words. Show your joy at what they achieve rather than the mistakes they make. Help them to achieve what they can achieve rather than produce a pale imitation of your ideas.
All of these examples offer great ways of making grammar memorable!!!!! Technique 6: Creating a 5 part story
(Protagonist) Toby is sad.
(Problem) He wants a friend.
(Action) He walks in the forest.
(Climax) He hears a noise! It’s a dog. The dog is crying.
(Resolution) Toby and the dog go home.
A fundamental technique: questioning and positively responding to ideas
A technique which can be used on its own or as part of the 15 techniques given in this handout is based on the four question words: Who? Where? When? What? Must be used in an atmosphere that stories are much more important than mistakes in language:
Who do you want in your story: a man, woman, boy, girl, or an animal?
Where are they at the beginning of your story?
When does you story begin?
What are they doing?
OF COURSE you can use other questions:
What is his problem? What does he want?
Why can’t she run?
How strong is he?
Your questions are used to encourage their invention rather than for them to guess at the story YOU have in your head!
If you feel the need to help them then never offer less than 3 possible answers.
In this technique you re-tell their story as it grows and you include EVERY contribution you hear in the story. If there are conflicting bits of information...THEY must explain why...’She is 21 but she looks like 50’...in order to explain a woman having two ages.
They make their story with what they know in English and do not think of a story and try to translate it.
You can tell the class they are going to make a story with the English words you know…and you might say, they can request five more words or phrases, which you translate and incorporate in the story.
The class can make the story or pairs can make their own stories.
Add art and a little bit of language becomes part of something bigger.
‘This is me.’ written at the bottom of a
self portrait is MUCH ‘bigger’ than merely written or spoken.
‘Fat, cat.’…is a strong image and a rich sound. Content and form.
In all the techniques given below your questions help them to find THEIR story rather than trying to see if they can find YOUR story. Technique 1: just telling or writing
Just telling and/or writing whatever they think of.
Technique 2: re-telling
Re-telling a story exactly or with changes
Changing: geography, culture, history, roles, point of view, protagonists (the children?) etc.
Changing medium: speaking, writing, dramatising, video, audio, etc.
Technique 3: completing
Adding the middle, beginning or end or just another paragraph.
Orally or in writing.
Technique 4: enriching
Starting with ‘bare bones’ texts and adding ideas bit by bit. You can ‘drive’ this enriching by asking questions.
The boy…can become…
The little boy ran quickly to the old house.
He was crying.
Start with a single sentence or with a story summary.
Techniques 5: bits of information in sequence
A sequence of bits of information: questions, statements, single words, pictures (face of an angry man), bits of music, things to eat. objects (in a box) OR a single bit of information. The students use them as a starting point for their story…guided by your questions.
The students create a set of characters and then see what sort of stories happen. Characters can be based on: people (soap opera), one person, animals, puppets, masks.
Characters can be straight (simple or complex) or comic or caricatures. Students can remain creators or can role play the characters.
Technique 10: create the character of a place
And then put someone in it.
Technique 11: starting with ideas, feelings and values
Think of an idea, feeling or value which is important to you. Think of an example of a situation in which it might occur, either to you or to someone you imagine. Examples: loneliness, jealousy, shame, jumping to conclusions, the idea of ageing but of seeing someone inheriting some of your characteristics.
Technique 12: starting with an experience
A short factual account of an incident…examined, reflected on and imaginatively expanded…before, during and after.
Technique 13: starting with desires and difficulties
Discussing desires and difficulties in everyday life. Choosing one 'pair' and writing it as a story…could be related to 'characters established'. Example: The cat wants to eat/play/fly but it can’t.
Improvise a drama situation. Re-tell it afterwards…as a protagonist..from different points of view.
Make use of various aspects of drama eg mime, gesture, scenary
Example: You are crying. Where are you?
Example: They mime and then weave a story around the mime.
Mime somebody + action…others guess. Other students join and mime and others invent a continuation
Students mime a feeling eg happy/frightened/sad/angry…
others guess and guess why
A chair, a box, a hat…decide who they belong to and what has happened.
Technique 15: starting with a visualisation
You or the students take students on a visualisation journey and then write it up as a story or focus on one part of it.
Technique 16: starting with, ‘What if…?’
Students take one thing they know and then imagine putting it into a new context…which they know (or can research fairly easily). Example: What if a boy got into the wrong car because it was like his families car?
Start a description of an ordinary incident in your life…stop…pick up a card (picture/word etc) and put that into the incident and see what happens.
Technique 17: starting with an established story structure
An obvious story structure would be that of a fairy tale in which the hero befriends three animals who later befriend him.
Technique 18: starting with grammar
Sounds horrible but it needn’t be…it is an intriguing challenge and a super way of practising and remembering grammar.
Technique 19: starting with music
Investigate sounds. Discuss and interpret them. Make a story illustrated by the sounds.
Listen to music and tell the story as if the music is the music score of a film.
Technique 20: starting with a story summary
Give the students a summary of a story which omits any reference to specific people, places or incidents.
Choosing a protagonist, a problem, a place etc. Researching. Creataing the story
Technique 25: Starting with history
Ditto technique 24
Publishing and performing
Students often like their stories to go beyond the classroom.
Conceiving, researching, drafting, redrafting and fashioning for the reader, medium and context of reading and hearing (if you know it) is challenging and a great experience in communication…thinking about how to communicate ideas and feelings engagingly and clearly to other people…it is not just a matter of expressing yourself.
Books, leaflets, postcards, posters, exhibitions, plays, mime, audio, video, drama and now the Internet, emailing to twin schools, sharing in chat rooms or contributing to web sites.
A few tips 1 Usually try to respond to the story before you respond to the language errors. Don’t let the students feel that making a story is just a language teaching technique and that really you are just testing their language. In my opinion any creative activity is ‘sacred’ and must NEVER be polluted by a focus on language point practice. Creative activities allow you to see how your teaching is going. If they make mistakes, make a mental note, to give language point practice later. Of course you can restate their contribution using correct English but don’t give them a lecture on their mistake! 2 When a story has been created orally I always say, quite genuinely, Gosh! This story is now living! We cant just let it disappear! Then I try to find a way of recording it…perhaps audially or audio visually but also by asking them to make the story into a book or to put it on to the school website, etc. 3 When they write the story may I suggest you respond to it twice? First of all respond to the sense of it…interesting, very particularized descriptions, cohesive and logical plot, etc. When that is OK then you can respond to the accuracy of the language. That two stage process is exactly what happens in my publishing work. 4 Do a lot of oral story creation with the whole class so that the students can experience how a story can be created (characters, desires and difficulties, interesting sequence of events, consistancy). A variation is for the whole class to work on how to improve one student’s story….you lead with questions constantly provoking the students to re-think, to particularize (go/walk/walk slowly/stumble) , to link ideas, etc. 5 Developing and modifying the story orally and then writing it.
I have 3 books on stories in language teaching two published by Oxford University Press and one by Helbling Languages:
Creating Stories with Children
(Helping children to make stories. Gives you many of the ideas on this handout in full with pictures, lesson plans, etc.)
Oxford University Press
Storytelling with Children
(Helping children to respond to stories)
Oxford University Press. This is a new edition and includes many new activities you can do with stories.)
Co-authored with David A Hill
(Specifically about the craft of writing stories which is one the best ways of developing language skills and one of the best preparations for life.!)
Also with Oxford a series of six story books for children at three levels.
The series is called: Spellbinders
The THIRD edition of my book, Games for Language Learning published by Cambridge University Press contains 211 games and many activities for story making.
Would you like to improve your storytelling? If you are interested in Craft of Storytelling workshops then please contact Andrew and give him your name, address, telephone number and email:
International Languages Institute, Korosfoi utca 2, Godollo, 2100 Hungary.