Activity 6: Storytelling by Turns

▶ Duration:  5–15 min
▶ Aim:  Oral fluency practice
▶ Summary:  Working in groups, students invent a story, taking turns to speak.

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Inventing a story is a personalised, communicative activity, and often humourous. But unless your students are especially imaginative, it needs some sort of goal or stimulous to keep the story rolling. What I used was simply a list of words written on the board: each student in turn must take the next word in the list and incorporate it into the story.

Just prepare a list of words. For an intermediate class, at least 20 or 30 words are required, since the groups will move through the list quite quickly. Of course the words should be ones that they will know. For variety, try using a few different word classes: some nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. You want the students to use their imagination, so don't prepare a list of words which actually suggests a particular storyline!

  1. Write the words on the board. To save time, or to avoid scaring the students with a blackboard full of words (!), you may choose to just write the first dozen and then add more words while the activity is in progress.
  2. Begin with an example (this will pique the students' curiosity). Begin telling a story, incorporating the first word in the list, then the second, and so on. Point to each word as you use it. You don't have to use a new word from the list in every sentence, every second or third sentence is enough. Try to make your story humourous, so the students get the idea that the activity is supposed to be fun.
  3. After a few words, choose a student and ask them to continue the story by using the next word on the blackboard. Make this clear by marking or pointing to the word on the blackboard. Repeat with another one or two students.
  4. Explain that students will do this activity in groups, with each person using the next word in the list to continue the story. Explain that each person can speak one, two, three, or more sentences, but should only use one word from the blackboard. Also explain that for verbs, students can change the form (eg. for "run" they could say "runs", "running", "ran", etc). Check:
  5. Erase the already-used words from the board, and tell them to start a new story using the next word. The students form groups and do the activity.

You could use an object or a picture as a starting-point for the story.

Another possible twist is to just make a list of 20 words or so, and then when the class is near the end pick a few groups and ask each person to add a word to the list. I found that students seemed to enjoy doing this.
Rating: 4 stars


I tried a variation of this activity in order to practise past simple and past progressive: all the items on the list were verbs in one of these tenses: "ate, remembered, was/were reading, etc". Although this is a bit of an odd way to form sentences (we usually choose the grammar to match the context, rather than choosing a context to match the grammar!), I hoped that it would at least raise awareness of the distinction between the two tenses. But in fact the activity just seemed to generate more grammatical errors than ever before, and it's not something that I would recommend trying.
20.08.2003 , 11:55

I've tried this with my middle school students, with mixed results. My class sizes are 40-50.

I first asked my students for about a dozen words - any words that came to their mind - which I listed on the blackboard. I then used these words to write a story on the board myself, just to illustrate the point.

Once they got the point, I asked the students for another short list of words. I then formed 3-4 teams, and got one student from each team in succession to come up to the board and write up one sentence to continue the story. After writing that, the student would add one more word to the word list. Thus, all the words came from the students themselves.

One difficulty with this activity was that most of the students had nothing to do for most of the time. Also, when someone's turn came up, he/she had no time to think or to discuss the word. It can be quite daunting for some students to have to come up and make a sentence on the board. Most students would try to shy away from it, and you'd find mostly the same few students volunteering to do it repeatedly.

In another variation, after my initial illustration, I elicited a sizeable list of about 20-30 words, and then asked students to work in groups of four and make up stories using these words. One student in each group was to do the actual writing for the group. I thought this would make better use of everyone's time, and also give them an opportunity for discussion (hopefully in English) before writing their sentences. A few students came up with pretty humorous stories which they then read out to the class.

I noticed that Chinese students seem to love the word "W.C." A sentence like "Superman was eating a hamburger in the W.C." usually has them in fits. If you have a problem with getting them into the spirit of this activity, use this word "W.C" in a sentence example and you'll see the light of comprehension suddenly dawning in their eyes regarding the endless possibilities in this activity.
Natesh []
05.12.2005 , 08:36