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Storytelling Activities for Adult Learners

December 03, 2019 by s.nagele

Do you teach young adult and adult classes? Do you ever find that they would like to do more speaking practice, but are still looking for words and phrases to describe their ideas and often they need help to put these ideas in context?

Storytelling is the solution for these learners as it comprises a wide range of language skills and knowledge. You can practise new vocabulary, revise all verb tenses, use linking words and phrases, and you can do it in speaking or writing. How can you motivate your students to talk more and feel confident about telling a story? The answer is reading, as it will help you kick-start exciting and relevant conversations, and reading classics or original stories will inspire your students to come up with narratives of their own or make links to their own experiences.

Let's look at a couple of activities which can work independent of reading tasks, and some, which are based on reading literary texts. Some activities will be paper-free, and some will have a touch of digital innovation.

Story maps

Use either a paper map or an online map, and build this activity, or even a whole lesson around it. You can use extra materials like vocabulary cards or a vocabulary list, which you need to prepare ahead. If you would like to make sure that your students use a certain set of words, prepare these cards, put them in the middle of the table, and tell them to use them up by the end of their story. Of course these cards can contain linking words, adjectives, nouns, verbs, idioms - anything you have covered in previous lessons.

My story

Now use the map. You can demonstrate the activity by telling your own story based on a world map. Start with your birthplace, then move on to the places you have lived, travelled, would like to travel. The map will become your reference, and you can even use sticky notes or coloured pins to mark the places and then point back at them.

The story of a day

A map can be used to tell the story of a single day. Use a city map, or zoom in on your online map to a certain area of your city. Describe the places you have visited that day, talk about what you have done and how you have felt. You can use this activity to practice giving directions.

You can make these activities more adventurous and memorable if you add unexpected details and invent scary or funny scenes. Add phrases to your word lists or cards which will surprise  your students, phrases like 'spill coffee on a stranger', 'a kangaroo on the corner'.

Retelling a classic

If you have just read a classic (see our Red Series titles here), you can do very simple storytelling activities.

Use the illustrations

Use the illustrations in the reader to retell the story. Let your students use their imagination if they can't remember the plot.

Retell the story in first person

Retell the story in first person, picking any character they liked. They can tell the story from the character's perspective.

Classic retelling

Use the classic retelling activity which also works very well with young learners. Each finger represents an aspect of the plot: when, where, who, what and why? This will help your students to focus on all aspects of the story and practise various groups of vocabulary.

Change a passage

Change a passage. Do your students find a certain scene or storyline too sad or scary? Ask them to retell the story, changing the atmosphere of the scene and the mood of the characters.

My favourite characters today

Imagine that Jane Austen's Emma is a friend of yours, or Dorian Gray is someone that you heard about at a party. Retell their stories as if they were living today, adding contemporary touches to the setting.

You can find similar activities in our Book Club and Reading Games series.

Story writing activities

In the resource book Writing Stories (written by Andrew Wright and David A. Hill, in The Resourceful Teacher Series), you will find a collection of storytelling activities. Let's see two activities from this book.

Story seeds

(from Writing Stories, page 82)

Focus, time: Inventing story seeds to start writing, 40 minutes

Preparation: Print one copy of Story seeds for each pair of students (download the sample page here).

  1. Whole class: give out the photocopy of the Story seeds examples, and discuss the seeds with the students.
  2. Individuals: tell the students that they have five minutes to write down as many new and different story seeds as they can, based on their daily life or the lives of people they know, and guided by the three examples of story seeds you have given them.
  3. Pairs: share their story seeds and discuss which ones would make good stories.
  4. Whole class: ask for examples of story seeds.

Two versions of the same story

(from Writing Storiespage 77)

Focus, time: The students experiment with the sequencing of events in what is, essentially, the same story, 40 minutes

Preparation: Make enough photocopies of the nine sentences in 'Two versions of the same story' so that there is one set for each pair of students. Cut them into nine strips and keep them together with a paperclip. Download the sample page here. Make two A3 copies for your use in class. Cut one of these copies into nine strips.

  1. Whole class: say that you are going to give them nine bits of a story, and hand out the strips. Ask them to read all the strips and decide on two different sequences for all nine strips. If they are concerned that they cannot remember the sequences, they can write down the sentences in them.
  2. Pairs: ask the students to brainstorm their interpretation of each part of their two sequences, using exactly the same characters, settings, problems, struggles and outcomes for both.
  3. Ask the students to talk more about the two sequences and to agree on the character of the person, the place and the problems.
  4. Individuals: each student then drafts the story of one of the sequences.
  5. Pairs: ask them to read their draft to their partner, and both work on clarity, interest and accuracy of language.
  6. Individuals: they write an improved draft of the story.
  7. Fours: each pair of students reads the other pair’s two stories and comments on them, guided by clarity, interest and accuracy.
  8. Whole class: discuss with the class how many alternative sequences have been made by the class. Ask for one or two of the stories to be read out. You can tell the class what the most traditional sequencing of the events is  Stress, however, that there is no right or wrong sequence.

Call your bluff

Anecdotes are fun activities in the classroom, especially if you have to use a bit of imagination to invent them. Give your students a list of situations or story beginnings. You can also use first lines from famous classics (here's a list of 100 opening lines). Your students will tell a story (ask them to speak for about 3-5 minutes), and then the others have to guess if it is a true story.

Would you like more activities to practise storytelling and speaking? Check out these resource books from the Helbling Resourceful Teacher Series and the Photocopiable Resource Series: