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Teaching Tips 144

Building up a narrative
Picture the Story



Last week we looked at eliciting a narrative on to the board to give very controlled oral practice.
Clearly the same procedure can apply to a dialogue - a dialogue build.

Here's a simple low level dialogue to practise inviting, giving, rejecting & accepting suggestions:

a: Would you like to go out?
b: Yes, where?
a: Why don't we go to the cinema?
b: No, there's nothing on. How about an exhibition?
a: OK, there's the Picasso at the Prado.
b: Yeah, that's a good idea.

1. elicit the first line.

2. model x 2/3 times - highlighting the parts.

3. drill chorally - x3/4

4. drill individually a few students - dotting around the group - x3/4.
Put up prompts on the board for each line as you go along eg.

a: Would ___ ___ to ___?
b: Yes, ___?
a: ___ don't we ___ to the ___?
b: No, ___ ___ on. How about ___ ___?
a: OK, ___ the Picasso at the Prado.
b: Yeah, ___ a good ___.

I wouldn't write the complete dialogue on the board until the end as they will simply be reading from the board. With the prompts there is an element of mental effort involved.

5. do the same with the next lines.

6. after every two lines an open pair - choose two students to have the conversation from the beginning for all to listen.

7. at the end an open pair & then into closed pairs, all the students practise the dialogue. You go round, listening & correcting. Tell them to try to sound interesting!

8. you could then give out some ideas for them to substitute in the dialogue:

a: theatre
b: boring - football match

a: restaurant
b: not hungry - disco

9. if it is an easy dialogue the students can then invent their own dialogues using the structure on the board - ie. they think up their own idea to insert.

10. elicit the full dialogue, write in the missing bits & the students copy it down.

This is a very useful activity with lower levels as it contextualises the target language straightaway & it's very safe, in effect a repetition drill.

An alternative to the prompts on the board is to write up the functional meanings - a flow chart:

a: Invite your friend to do something
b: Accept & ask what
a: Make a suggestion
b: Reject the suggestion & say why & make another suggestion
a: Accept the suggestion & say where
b: Agree & say that is a good idea

Or this could be used as a follow up in the next lesson.
For more on flow charts see the Tip 'Going with the flow:


With the heart-breaking images & news coming out of Iran, you might want to have a lesson, or part of one, on Iran. It is a country that not many know much about. Here are a few links to get you started:

The Guardian's coverage of the elections & aftermath.

Wikipedia - history of Iran

Things for the traveller to Iran.

Facts about Iran - the CIA World Factbook.

BBC Iran profile
Some Iranian media in English.

Iran Election Crisis: 10 Incredible YouTube Videos - Warning - there is the very harrowing video of a young girl having just been shot.

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Building up a narrative

Last week we looked at developing narratives through the use of picture stories. Another way of dealing with narratives to develop oral skills is to build a narrative on the board.

You need to think carefully about how you're going to build the story, as this activity will draw on your powers of elicitation. You need lots of visuals to help you on your way. Here's a narrative to practise the past simple I use on training courses to show how to build them on the board:

'One day John went from Nottingham to London by train. On the way the train went through a tunnel. John met Paul in London & stayed there for four days. When he left London he was very happy. On the way back to Nottingham the train went through the tunnel. John stood up, walked to the door, opened it and jumped out.'

A pretty gory story - see later for reasons for choice. A procedure for building this up:

1. elicit the first clause/sentence

2. model x 2/3 times - highlighting the parts.

3. drill chorally - x3/4

4. drill individually a few students - dotting around the group - x3/4

5. the students together - chorally - give you the story from the beginning again - this is important - if you don't do this they'll forget. After each time you elicit & drill a part, return to the beginning.

6. while the students are recounting the story, put prompts for the part you have just elicited on the board. This can be done with lines to signify a word & pictures - these help them remember when recounting the story. The board might look like this:

'One ___ John ___ from N_ to L__ by ___. On the ___ the train ___ through a ___. John ___ Paul in London & ___ there for ___ days. When he ___ London he ___ very ___. On the way ___ to Nottingham the train ___ ___ the tunnel. John __ up, ___ to the door, ___ it and ___ out.'

If you have pictures they can substitute the dashes. By providing the prompts you are providing a little mental effort that makes it much more interesting than simply reading off the board.

7. do the same for the next sentence/clause until you have the whole story on the board.

I chose the above story because it is a 'logic problem' - there is a 'logical' explanation to the story. This makes the narrative build much more interesting. When you have finished the story the students ask you 'yes' or 'no' type questions to discover the explanation to the story.

Narrative building can be used to introduce a theme, as a link between stages or as an isolated activity. You have to keep it snappy with both the eliciting & the drilling in order to keep everyone's attention.

If you don't know the answer to the story above you're probably wondering about the explanation.

There are more 'logic problems' in Challenge To Think' by Rinvolincri, Frank & Berer (ELB Publishing)

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picture stories

Picture the Story

There aren't enough picture compositions or picture stories around. These are a series of pictures that are simply drawn that follow some short sequence of events or story. Very useful material for many occasions. Traditionally they were used to provide the stimulus for narrative writing & here are a few other ways to use them:

1. Cut them up & give a picture to each student. Without showing each other their picture, i.e. they explain their pictures, they put the story in order. At the end they show the pictures to see if they were right. It's usually worth designating a secretary to note down the order. A very communicative activity.

2. Give out each picture at a time & the students discuss what might come next. Teach predictive language first.

3. Jumble up the pictures & the students sort them out.

4. Give just the beginning/the end/the middle/the beginning & end/ & the students predict & write the rest. They look at the missing parts to see if they were right.

5. Each student acts out his or her picture in the correct order of the story.

6. Give the description of the picture & the students draw the picture & then they put their pictures in order.

7. For picture stories with speech bubbles, tippex out the text & students fill them in.

Don't forget to think about the language they will be using while doing the above activities. Maximise the activities by jogging their memories with some useful sentence stems on the board to use.

If you're lucky enough to be able to draw, get your own together.


As a follow up to the writing tasks that we've been talking about recently in the Tips - see 'Counting Words -, Alicia writes to tell us about a couple of ideas:

'I use 'Writing Simple Poems: Pattern Poetry for Language Acquisition (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers)' by Vicki L. Holmes and Margaret R. Moulton (CUP) about every third lesson with my private clients.

We usually begin by having them do an autobiographical acrostic poem of their first or last name...whichever is closest to seven letters, thus:

1. J
2. U
3. L
4. I
5. A
6. N
7. A

Today's client's name ended in A and she said, as her friends always tease her about buying clothes in pink, her poem should end "Always in pink." This lead to a discussion of "in the pink" and "always in the pink." I went home to look up the origin of the phrase and found a fun website called the phrase finder: You will find all sorts of phrases there.

In the pink means to be in perfect condition, especially of health or fashion.

1. Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, 1597: Mercurio: "Why, I am the very pinke of curtesie."
2. Leigh's Kensington Gardens, 1720: "'Tis the Pink of the Mode, to marry at first Sight: - And some, indeed, marry without any Sight at all."
3. Kynoch Journal, 1905: "Makers may dispatch explosives from the factory in the pink of condition."

So you may recommend people sign up for 'A Phrase A Week' - a free service - they e-mail an explanation of the origin of a commonly-used English phrase each week. The site itself is expensive! Like one of those on-line dictionaries.
Alicia Delahunty'

To get hold of 'Writing Simple Poems: Pattern Poetry for Language Acquisition' (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers) by Vicki L. Holmes and Margaret R. Moulton (CUP):

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