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Teaching Tips 184

Story time
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Story time

I came across a story writing competition on the BBC Radio 2 web site recently.

'Top Stories Shortlist - We're proud to reveal this year's shortlisted 500 WORDS stories! We received over 74,000 entries from children all over the UK, so these talented young writers should be extremely proud of themselves. Now it's up to Chris Evans and our expert judges to choose the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners in each age category. Browse our story tree and find YOUR favourite!'

They really are excellent, well worth devoting some time to read through them. And they are also read aloud in mp3 format.

And then you can use them in class. Careful though as some might have quite a lot of unknown vocabulary so choose carefully.

- Rotate seven or eight stories & the students choose & negotiate the class top three favourites.

- For the more advanced group, play the mp3 & follow up with the written story to listen & read at the same time.

- Give a different story to each student, they read & then think of how to tell the story without reading it aloud. The students then mingle telling their stories.

- You tell the stories to the students - every other lesson begin or finish the lesson with a story. Don't read it aloud as it will not be natural, try to memorise the key points & then tell it.

- Provide prompts/ideas for students to write their own stories, reducing the word count from 500 to 200.

During all the activities there will be opportunities for noticing tasks (focus on language) & lots of micro-teaching (teaching individuals/pairs).


A lesson plan that uses a Manual for Storytelling as the text:

YOU are a story absorber and a story teller by Andrew Wright:

A couple of related books by Andrew:
Storytelling with Children - Andrew Wright (OUP)

Creating Stories with Children - Andrew Wright (OUP)

Teaching Global Unity Through Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling by Vivan Chu

Storytelling for the Classroom by Michael Berman:

An excellent book for storytelling & the ELT classroom is 'Once Upon a Time' - Morgan & Rinvolucri (CUP) - every school should have one. There is some sound advice on how to go about telling a story, lots of classroom ideas & best of all, a collection of story skeletons. A skeleton is the best way to begin as you can make the story more natural as you fill in the language. If you read a story aloud it will come out sounding contrived. With a skeleton all you have to remember are the facts.


A few ideas connected to storytelling:

As a way of getting your students into stories, tell stories about events that happened to you since you last saw them & encourage them to do the same. Use stories for introducing a new theme/lesson.

Play around with beginnings, middles & ends of stories - the students providing the missing parts.

Drama - mime stories

- tell the story & the students mime - the students could walk around in a circle as you tell the story.

- students tell each other stories to mime.

- give three key words - the students invent a short scene & the others try to guess the original words.

- a variation on the above - give a short story to mime plus three or four adjectives - surprise, anger etc that they should include - the others guess the adjectives.

Chain stories:

- you begin eg. 'One morning Ben got up & went to work.' A student is invited to continue with another sentence & so on round the class. You provide the linkers - 'and then', 'so', 'next', ....' finally'.

- good for conditionals. 'If Josh had gone to the party he would have met Helen', 'If he had met Helen he would've seen the film', 'If he'd seen the film, he would've .....' etc....

- to teach vocabulary - choose a group of vocab that you want to teach & think up an anecdote or story that includes the vocab. As you tell the story use the vocab naturally but check the meaning as you go on. At the end elicit the meaning of the words & if told clearly they should be able to come out with them.

- give key words or picture prompts & students invent a story.

- there are some ideas in the Teaching Tip 'Picture the story' - - which gives some ways of using picture stories in class.

- A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements:

  • religion
  • royalty
  • sex
  • mystery

The prize-winning essay read:

"My God," said the Queen. "I'm pregnant. I wonder who did it?"

This is an excellent site. It looks at the why & how of storytelling, has a great story library - the stories in the plan are taken from here - & with the link below, lots of ideas for storytelling in the classroom.

Article on storytelling:

Youtube video of the advantages of storytelling with idea of pictorial outline to get away form the word, so that students use their own words:

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I came across an interesting extension for the Chrome browser the other day. It's called 'Language Immersion for Chrome' & this is what they say about it:

'Language Immersion for Chrome is an experimental extension that aims to simulate the experience of being immersed in a foreign language. By switching certain words and phrases from English into a language of your choice, the websites you already visit can provide a way to experience the world from a different perspective.

- Choose from all 64 languages currently supported by Google Translate.
- Novice-to-fluent skill settings let you immerse at your own pace.
- Click on a translated word to switch it back to English.
- Roll-over a translated word to hear it pronounced.

Note: Language Immersion for Chrome is very much an experiment. That means the translations won't always be 100% accurate, and it probably won't turn you into a language genius overnight. That being said, we think it's pretty cool to be able see the web from a different perspective, and we're excited for everyone to give it a try.'

If you've already got Chrome installed, you can get the extension here:

If you haven't got Chrome installed, which by the way is well worth trying out, you can download it here:

When playing around with the extension with Spanish I was impressed by the
accuracy of most of the translations. So when you're browsing & reading web pages you can also consolidate & expand any of the 64 languages listed - excellent. Unfortunately English isn't among the 64 languages, so for our students it can be used for translating bits into their mother tongue. The spoken translations are lost.

But the idea is an interesting one, combining two, or more, languages in a text. Clearly language doesn't work on a word-to-word translation but if this is taken into account then it could be a very useful tool for the classroom. Here are a couple of ideas:

- In class, if you have access to the internet, direct them to an article to read & ask the students in pairs to play around with the 'Novice', 'Intermediate' & Fluent' settings of the extension & they discuss the accuracy of the translations. Then onto the content of the text afterwards. Check out the article yourself beforehand & be prepared for questions about the language from the students.

- With a challenging text, give the text with the difficult bits in the mother tongue. Use the text for reading skills & then work on the mother tongue chunks of language afterwards.

- Be more selective about what you choose to put into the mother tongue. For example you want to review some multiword verbs so you could translate all of them in the text. Go through the reading process & then focus on the verbs after, the students translating to English, comparing with your version & then onto looking at the different types of verbs.

- Give out a different text to each pair of students, on a word processor to make changing it easier, & they change parts they are sure of to their native language. They then all swap texts & choose more parts to translate, then hand on to another pair for the same until the whole text is translated. Then one more hand on for the final pair to translate the text back into English. Go round & check, correct & help out through the process. Then onto a discussion of the activity & some exploitation & response to the content of the text.

- Mutual translation - choose a text & make two versions of it, one with half of it translated & the other with the other half translated - make sure the translations are spread over the text. The students read their texts to each other & when they come to a translated part they read it translating it in English & the other student who has the English version corrects if necessary.

- Dictation - choose a text & translate parts or vocab items into the mother tongue, dictate the text & then students discuss how to translate the mother tongue parts into English.

- When students are doing some 'Fastwriting', see - tell them to simply write words they don't know in their mother tongue, so the flow is not stopped, & then after they ask each other for the words.

Teachers tend to be either afraid of using translation as they feel it is a 'bad thing' or they are lazy with it. If you take a principled approach, you have clear aims when using it, then it can be a great resource. It is a natural resource for our students after all.

For an excellent, very practical book, on using translation in the classroom see:
Using the Mother Tongue by S.Deller & M.Rinvolucri (Delta)

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Among the features of spoken discourse that need attending to is the adjacency pair. The 'Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics' defines this as:

‘a sequence of two related utterances by two different speakers. The second utterance is always a response to the first.’

In the following example, speaker A makes a complaint, & speaker B replies with a denial:

A: You left the light on.

B: It wasn’t me!

The sequence of Complaint-Denial is an adjacency pair. Other examples are Greeting-Greeting, Question-Answer, Invitation-Acceptance/Refusal, Offer-Decline, Complaint-Apology.

Adjacency pairs are part of the structure of conversation’

An additional aspect is that usually there are two different responses to the first utterance. These are called ‘preferred’ – the polite expected response, & the ‘dispreferred answer’, the unexpected response.

We usually deal with the preferred answers in coursebooks, dialogues, matching pairs. The following task is fairly typical:

Match the following pairs:
Would you like a drink? Every half an hour, I think.
Lovely day, isn't it? Don't worry, No harm done.
What time does the bus come? Here you are.
Oh, I am sorry. Yes, beautiful.
Could you pass the salt, please? Yes, please. A pint of bitter for me. Thanks.

But what of the dispreferred answers? These are more difficult to produce as a degree of sophistication is needed to be appropriate. They might also mean more language as reasons might be needed.

So how to develop these with our students? A couple of ideas:

1. Listening & more listening – pick up on this aspect in the text analysis stage - noticing. If you had the following:

A: Could you give me a cigarette, please?

B: Sure, here you are.

ask the students to storm as many alternatives to the second utterance as they can think of. Eg.

  • I’m afraid I’ve only got a couple left.
  • You really shouldn’t. It’ll make your cough worse.
  • That’s rude. Why don’t you buy your own?
  • Etc...

In the feedback, discuss the situation of each. eg. the last one is culturally inappropriate in the street in the UK but not in Spain.

2. Using the matching task above, first get the students to match up & then they think of other ways to respond, together with the situation.

3. Develop the manipulation of the language through spontaneous roleplays. Give out the first part of adjacency pairs. The student with the utterance says the sentence & the partner has to respond immediately & carry on the conversation for a couple of minutes. Have a different starter sentence for each student in half of the class. After each conversation rotate the starters to different people.

That’s my seat you’re sitting in.


Do you mind!

Would you leave me alone?


4. A slight variation on the Train Compartment activity in that you give out sentences & the student has to try to make the other say the first utterance that is in response to their utterance. So say one has ‘I’d rather not.’, this student has to either simply wait to say the utterance at a suitable time or direct the conversation so that a request is made by the other. Try to encourage the proactive approach. Tricky but fun.
For the Tip 'Stranger on a Train':

5. Choosing the Correct Response. In the excellent book Conversation by Nolasco & Arthur (OUP) there is the activity ‘Do you come here often.’ (No. 11) The students have rolecards & choose the best option to respond with. Students are given the following rolecards:

A: You are by the swimming pool of an exclusive club. You start the conversation:

A: Do you come here often?

B: .....

Now choose the best reply in response to B

Strange, I’ve never seen you here before.
Are those the people you’re with?
Oh, just curious. It’s always nice to see a new face.


Well perhaps we’ll see each other again.
Oh, how fascinating. I’m an artist.
No, but I’d love to meet him.


B: You are by the swimming pool of an exclusive club. Choose the best reply to A.


Why do you say?
Yes, I’m a member.
No, I’m here with friends.


No, they’re inside, Do you know Sir Charles Stutton?
Well, I’m afraid I must go. My friends are waiting.
I don’t have time to come too often. I’m a model.


Well, come on in & join us. I’m sure Sir Charles would be delighted to meet you. What’s your name?
That’s funny, my husband’s as artist too. Here he is now. Hello, John.
I doubt it.

Easy to design your own rolecards.

Conversation by Nolasco & Arthur (OUP)

6. Use lots of flow charts, a very underused activity, see the Tip ‘Going With The Flow’:

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