[Lesson] Story Telephone

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

I was inspired to do this activity with some older students who have a higher than average ability in English than the rest of my students. The focus on this activity is WRITING and SPEAKING (and creativity, which most of my activities try to encourage).


Target Audience:

- students with higher than average ESL English

- can make some complex sentences that are comprehensible without teacher guidance

- teachers who want individual work or pair work

- want something fun but not too disruptive/noisy


Not Good for Students:

- who still have lots of difficulty making sentences on their own

- who get upset easily if they cannot be in control of the situation (students will have to put their trust on other students to complete their story, so if you foresee this as a huge problem, you might want to tweak it or not do this)

- with a class dynamic that isn’t supportive and encouraging of group work


This activity can be attempted by students individually, or in pairs.


My students are just not at a level where they are able to make sentences on their own in a timely manner, so I usually encourage pair work to speed the writing process up. However, if your students are advanced level, it may be a good idea to challenge the students and do it individually.


Start your students off by briefly explaining what’s in a story.


I used this photo from a google search to help me make my own version of this. As I assume you’ll be teaching older students, they shouldn’t be foreign to this idea in their own native language, so you shouldn’t have to spend too much time on this. But always good to make them conscious of the lesson first!

Explain then to your students that they will be making a “Story Starter”.


They should write a sentence that will include some of the 5Ws (who, what, when, where and why). They don’t have to answer ALL of them, but they should focus on at least the who, the when and the where. The point is so the students can provide some information for the next pair to expand on and go off of.


(They don’t have to be detailed, but I personally struggle to get students to expand and write complex sentences, so I try to encourage students to use more adjectives or some grammar point they learned)


Make sure they are not COPYING each other!


Discourage talking to other pairs while working through this stage. You don’t want students yelling across the room spoiling their story from the beginning! It ruins for the fun for everyone.


Try to discourage talking to other pairs during the entire activity if you can, but sometimes it cannot be helped if you have some weaker students amongst the stronger students in the class, so I allow it.


Once they are done, SWITCH.


I have them pass it to the pair behind them, but you can do it anyway you want.


Have the next pair continue to the story with one or two sentences.


Continue this process until you feel you have a good amount of sentences or you’re running on a time crunch (end of the period). I usually give my students 5-10 minutes to think of one sentence before switching, so the activity itself can take 2 or more classes.


(ask your students to write their names next to the sentence they wrote so there is liability, and also if they’re splitting the activity into multi-classes, you may want to collect them after class and distribute them again)


You may also want to stop in between to remind students what they should think about writing. After 3 or 4 switches, check in with them and make sure they’re working towards a climax/middle of the story. You may want to write out some checkpoints on the board before starting the activity with your students, so you don’t have to stop and check in.


Collect them and check them for grammar/spelling/content.


After writing and teacher evaluation, it’s time for the speaking.


I’ve decided to do two types of speaking. Presentation and Individual speaking.


The presentation will be done in pairs. Since I have an individual speaking part where they will read the story they create the story starter for, I wanted the presentations to be a bit different. Instead of reading their own stories (the one they wrote the story starters for), I mixed them up and had them read someone else’s story instead.


Give them a few minutes to practice and encourage students to read the story in interesting ways. You may want to encourage them to change their voice, or do actions. Whatever you feel your students are capable of pulling off during the practice time (however much time you give them).


The focus for me is pronunciation. I encouraged the students to really get the pronunciation down and ask me any questions if there is a word they are unsure of.


Since they are reading someone else’s story, I told my students to make sure to listen carefully to their own stories and take notes on anything they thought the pair did well or didn’t do well.


At the end of the presentation, I give them constructive comments individually. I have a history with this class where I give constructive criticism to each presentation afterwards, and they are very receptive of it. It is a time consuming task and some classes/students may not care to get these comments, so that’s all up to you.


After the presentations, it’s the individual speaking.


My students all have technology available to them provided by the school, so it’s very easy for me to do this part without wasting in-class time And instead give it out as homework. You may not be able to find time for this, but if you can, here’s what I did.


I told my students to record themselves retelling the stories by themselves at home. If they make a mistake, start over. They should make sure the pronunciation of the word is correct and to avoid Japanese-English sounding pronunciations. They will be heavily graded on their pronunciation for this part of the assignment.

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