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.

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(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.)

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  • 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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#Eltchat 29.05.13 Summary: How to use a great resource like eltpics for your teaching

For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #Eltchat is a Twitter hashtag which offers Twitter-based discussions that take place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the ELT industry, are listed on the  #Eltchat website, together with some background reading, a few days in advance of the discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.

On 29.05.2013, the 12.00 BST discussion was on the topic “How to use a great resource like Eltpics for your teaching”. Here is a long-overdue summary of all the fantastic ideas that were generated during this #Eltchat:

First of all, what is Eltpics? 

  • Eltpics began in 2010 as an image resource bank created by and for teachers in the ELT sphere  (tweeting an intro from FB page) (@Marisa_C)
  • Great idea by them, and helps to avoid copyright issues etc. Also, nice and easy to access. (@jo_sayers)
  • RT @Marisa_C: huge congratulations for making the shortlist at the #Eltons awards in 2013 #eltchat > yay, seconded!! (@cerirhiannon)
  • Here is the link to the #eltpics on facebook  (@Marisa_C)
  • Here also you can find the #eltpics photostream on Flickr (@Marisa_C)
  • So, it looks like a great collection of free images for teachers by teachers (@Marisa_C)
  • best to follow the #ELTpics FB page. Every 2 weeks new set announced (@JulieRaikou)
  • And here’s an article in Spanish to introduce #eltpics to non ELT Spanish teachers (@pacogascon)
  • And great to not have to worry about copyright (@jo_sayers)

Ok, great, sounds good, but how do I use these #Eltpics images correctly and legally?

  • What’s the proper way to attribute #eltpics if using them on the web? #eltchat – in class I would assume there is no issue right? (@Marisa_C)
  • [This is] for [correct] image attribution  (@JulieRaikou)
  • If using pics on the web, author name, license details (for example, CC BY-NC 2.0) and link back is good practise (@esolcourses)
  • Using them in class is not an issue, although if you are printing out/sharing then you should include author credits (@esolcourses)
  • And if you embed in blog, the photo itself will link back to the flickr page (@jo_sayers)

What about some practical ideas for what I can do with these images in the classroom?

  • The “take a photo and…” #eltpics blog is a great place to start  (@cerirhiannon)
  • I like using the sets with  mosaic maker    –  set the no. of squares  for mosaic , paste in the URL & voila! (@cerirhiannon)
  • Another thing I like to do is ask students to spot pics that have been/could have been taken in their part of the world (@cerirhiannon)
  • Making collages can be useful. was introduced to @PicMonkeyApp the other day too, via @ij64 (@teacherphili)
  • Great for personalising vocab sets (@cerirhiannon)
  • Picmonkey is one of my favourite sites for editing images, with great tools for adding text and effects (@esolcourses)
  • Picture Karaoke is a fave – slideshow images with or without words/phrases to use obligatorily (@Marisa_C)
  • –> Slideshow of images – with timer – and you can add a word or phrase at bottom or not. Ss keep talking storytelling (@Marisa_C)
  • Students can choose photo and write crazy captions a la Spike Milligan – see old post here  (@Marisa_C)
  • For anyone who’s interested there are a few ideas and a web tutorial on PicMonkey here  (@ij64)
  • Did a 10min talk on mobile photos recently, ideas would work just as well with #eltpics (@Shaunwilden)
  • Do check out the blog (address here) lots of guest posts on how to use #eltpics in different ways (@Marisa_C)
  • Here’s a link to a write up of @fionamau ‘s presentation on using #eltpics at TESOL Spain this year (@cerirhiannon)
  • Ask ss to find the pic that best represents them (either from topic or all) (@jo_sayers)
  • Good use for critical thinking skills is getting students to find/make connections between pics (@jo_sayers)
  • Students makes a connection (the less obvious the better), and others decide if they agree/it’s true and discuss. (@jo_sayers)
  • Like @fionamau ‘s idea – choose faces from feelings set to set up role cards and talk about different opinions on the same topic (@cerirhiannon)
  • Learners take pictures of places that are important for them and then describe them here or upload ELTPics (@Whippler)
  • Here is one of the reasons I love #ELTpics
  • Start the class with 4 pictures based on the same topic/subject and ask students to work out what the connection is between them (@nroberts88)
  • Describing pictures in only 6 words (@nroberts88)
  • Loved this close-ups post by @cerirhiannon on #eltpics back in the days (@Marisa_C)
  • Describing pictures in only 6 words #eltpics; nice one.. then make a poem 🙂 (@Marisa_C)
  • ask students to look for images to replace the ones in a CB  from one of the #eltpics sets & explain their choice (@cerirhiannon)
  • Term-long proj: redesign CB! (@BobK99)
  • Here’s a link to the post (replacing images in CBs) (@cerirhiannon)
  • You could get students to take a pic to add to #eltpics themselves! (@jo_sayers)
  • How about getting students to choose an eltpic and then try to recreate it for homework, then show result next lesson and tell about how they did it (@LizziePinard)
  • Then play spot the difference between students’ pictures and originals (@LizziePinard)
  • A follow-up to idea of a pic for HW: Ss pick one write detailed description – exchange with sb else who must draw pic (@Marisa_C)
  • More ideas for using images: here (@LizziePinard)
  • Give students a few key words/ask them to think of words related to topic, then give random pic and challenge to make relevant sentence (@pjgallantary)
  • If you make mosaics mixing students ‘like/hate/love’ or ‘wish I had,could,were/wish I hadn’t/wish people wouldn’t pics, partners speculate (@fionamau)
  • Give ss a pic each – they describe and partner draws pic OR they arrange items in room/other students into a tableau (@pjgallantary)
  • You can use images from the Sequences set for “blind” ‘spot the difference’ pairwork i.e. don’t show partner, describe & find differences (@fionamau)
  • Choose four/five pics – ‘which one is the odd one out and why?’ (@pjgallantary)

And if I want more images than #eltpics has to offer?

  • You can use this page to just search Flickr for creative commons images (@esolcourses)
  • Or this has all kinds of search options (@jo_sayers)


I know – hard to believe so many ideas could be generated in a single hour! But so it was. I hope you enjoy experimenting with them – why not comment below and let us how it went? And if you have any ideas for using images, please also share them with us by commenting below. 🙂

5 ways of using Images in the Classroom

Pictures can pack a powerful punch and they can be a very handy tool for use in the classroom. Here are five different ways of using them:

1.

  • Choose a selection of images from the ELTtpics idioms collection.
  • Write out the corresponding idioms on separate pieces of paper and attach these to the classroom walls.
  • Put your learners in groups and give each group a few images to look at.
  • Each group should walk around the classroom, look at the idioms on the classroom walls and stick each picture they were given with the idiom that they think goes with it.
  • Form new groups, each consisting of two of the previous groups and give the learners time to explain their choices to the members of the other previous group.
  • Idioms are often used as a means of evaluating a situation or a story. Ask learners to think what kinds of situations could be evaluated using their idioms. Ask learners to think of a story that could be evaluated using their idioms. This could be of their own creation or a story/fairytale/myth/folktale of English or L1 background.
  • Do a mingle, allowing learners to tell their stories, using idioms to evaluate them. Give them a purpose such as deciding which story they hear is a)the funniest  b)the most interesting c)a superlative of their own choice

2.

  • Find some interesting pictures, with lots going on in them.
  • Put learners in groups and give each group a different picture.
  • Ask learners to discuss what’s happening in the picture.
  • Ask learners to think about who the people in the picture are. Learners should give them names, personalities etc.
  • Ask learners to think about what happened before the picture was taken and what happened after the picture was taken. Encourage creativity.
  • Get the learners to turn their responses to the above three bullet points into a short skit.
  • Give learners the opportunity to perform their skit for the rest of the class to watch.

3.

  • Find some interesting pictures, with lots going on in them.
  • Put learners in groups and give each group a different picture.
  • Ask each group in turn to use themselves and anything else in the room (except other people) to make a tableau of the picture.
  • The other learners should then be given a few minutes to discuss what might be happening in the tableau and turn it into a short story.
  • Each group tells their short story to the tableau group.
  • The tableau group get to choose which story of their tableau they like best.
  • Optional writing activity could be done as a follow up.

4.

  • Gather a fairly substantial number of pictures together.
  • Put learners in groups and give each group a reasonable number of pictures.
  • Ask learners to look at all their pictures and think of a way to categorise them.
  • Learners should discuss what the categories should be as well as which pictures should belong to which category and why.
  • Once learners have finished doing the above, gather all learners around each table in turn and let the group whose table it is explain how they categorised their pictures. The other learners can make suggestions for how else the pictures could have been categorised.

5.

  • Give each learner a different picture. (Pictures should have people in them)
  • Put the learners in pairs
  • Each learner should take it in turns to tell their partner about their picture as though they are the person or one of the people in it. They will need to talk about what’s happening in the picture, why it was happening, why it was photographed/painted/drawn and why it’s special to them.
  • Do a mingle activity where learners start by telling their story (repeating roughly what they talked about in the above bullet point) and then have the opportunity to steal their partner’s story and tell that to somebody else. Each time they hear a story they prefer to the one they’ve been telling, they steal it and tell it.
  • When this has been done a handful of times, get learners to establish whose stories are still being told.
  • You could use this activity in conjunction with a lesson on storytelling (using structural language, evaluative language, responding appropriately etc)

Let me know how it goes if you use any of these activities, either by commenting on this post or letting me know if you’d like to do a guest post about it. If you have other ideas for using pictures or for adding to the above ideas, feel free to share them by commenting – the more the merrier!

Enjoy!