Consolidating narrative tenses: a storytelling lesson/lesson series idea

Level: Pre-intermediate but adaptable to higher levels by increasing the demands imposed in the collaborative writing stage.

Time: +/- 45mins (but time increases with class-size)

Materials: A story told in a series of pictures, all cut up. (E.g. a comic book story – blank out the dialogue, or leave it in to add reading to the skills used in this sequence; but such stories exist in ELT books too e.g. Straight Forward Teachers Resource Book Communicative Activity 2D – of which this activity sequence is an adaptation and extension. Alternatively, if you are of an artistic bent, create your own picture story!)

Focus: Narrative tenses (past simple and past continuous); question formation (the bane of a pre-intermediate learner’s life!); speaking; writing; listening.

This worked well with both my pre-intermediate classes yesterday, so I thought I’d share it here…

  • Stick cut-up pictures on the walls around the room in random order.
  • When you’re ready to start the activity, draw attention to the pictures. Tell learners the protagonist names and explain that the pictures tell a story about them.
  • Put learners in pairs (and one group of three if an uneven number, or groups of three if a larger class/you’re worried about time). Tell them to walk around, look at the pictures and decide what the story is: they can carry a notebook to make brief notes but at this point the focus is on speaking, brainstorming and logical deduction. There should be a lot of moving about to-ing and fro-ing between pictures, as they try to pick out the story.
  • When they have decided what the story is and have the key points established, they can sit down again. (They can always jump up for another look subsequently if needed!)

Now it is time for some collaborative writing:

  • In their pairs/groups, learners need to build their notes up into a story. Challenge them to use past simple/past continuous and linkers (when/while/because) – so that the story is not just a series of simple sentences and the target structures are used. For higher levels, require use of other tenses and encourage them to use as great a range of vocabulary as they can.
  • Feed in any vocabulary learners need (this gives them practice in verbal circumlocution too – e.g. “how do you say when you like someone very much in the first time of look at them?” [answer: it was love at first sight] ). This stage involves a lot of discussion, as the learners decide/agree on how to formulate their story. 

Finally, some storytelling and listening

  • When a pair/group of learners have finished writing their story, ask them to write three questions that are answered in their story. (You could stipulate that at least one question should use the past continuous.) If a pair/group hasn’t made much use of the past continuous, get them to look again and see if they can change that.
  • Now each pair/group takes a turn to tell the rest of their class the three questions they have decided on (the teacher can either have checked and corrected, where necessary, prior to this, or do the checking/correcting at this point, asking the rest of the class for help) and then tell their story. (Encourage learners to tell the story expressively,with lots of drama!) Classmates listen and answer the questions. The teacher listens and makes notes on language use and pronunciation for delayed feedback.
  • After a pair/group has finished telling their story, the rest of the class provides the answers to their questions. The teacher can then give feedback by writing up phrases to be corrected on the board (or, if available, using a good old OHP, having written language for focus directly onto a transparency! An I-pad/projector could fulfil the same function if you are a techie) and eliciting the corrections. Don’t forget to give positive feedback as well – pay attention to good use of language e.g. adverbs, dramatic language, good use of past simple/past continuous and linkers, and, of course, the content and coherence of the story.

(Of course, as the learners are reading a written story, this activity is not focused on the sub-skills of spoken storytelling, for either storyteller or listener. However, gaining better control over the past simple and past continuous will be a useful base for learners to approach an activity with such a focus e.g. the follow-up activity below…)

A homework/follow up activity sequence idea:

  • Get them to go away and prepare a story about something that happened to them (you could use the same past time point as you used for the picture story) – it can be real or invented.
  • They should come to the next lesson prepared to tell their story to a small group. Encourage them not to write it, but just to make notes. 
  • In the next lesson, get learners to tell their stories. You could these as the basis for a lesson on spoken story-telling skills, enabling learners to upgrade their stories by focusing on structure of spoken narrative and associated language/evaluative language/listener responses etc.

*******************

(For example: A sequence for focusing on structural language: 

  1. Give learners a spoken storytelling frame, with chunks of language for introducing different parts of a story.
  2. Ask them to listen to a recording of a story, which uses some of these chunks of language and identify which chunks are used.
  3. Get them to upgrade their story using the frame, deciding which chunks of language to use at each step.
  4. Ask them to re-tell their upgraded stories to different partners, decreasing the time they have for each telling.)

*******************

  • Then, for the next piece of homework,  ask learners to write their stories up (encourage use of a computer), using linkers to encourage the complex sentences that are typical of writing but not speaking, and bring these (i.e. a print-out/i-pad/laptop) to a subsequent lesson. (Having done the initial collaborative writing activity, this should be less daunting for them!) If learners are bored of their stories, let them choose a classmate’s story to write up instead! (It doesn’t matter if two learners have written up the same story, in fact it could yield some interesting comparisons in the peer-editing phase of this sequence…)
  • Use the pieces of writing as the basis for a peer editing activity, where they work on upgrading each others’ stories. They could then implement peer edits and upload the final version on a class blog or Edmodo

I hope you enjoy using these activities with your learners – do pop back and let me know how it went, if you can find the time! 🙂

1280px-Stipula_fountain_pen

Picture taken from Google advanced image search, licensed for commercial reuse with modification, source – http://commons.wikimedia.org

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5 thoughts on “Consolidating narrative tenses: a storytelling lesson/lesson series idea

  1. Pingback: Consolidating narrative tenses: a storytelling ...

  2. Pingback: Speaking and storytelling | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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