Issue 22, Autumn 2010
The McMillan Magazine Online


Teaching English through stories

Thanks to her pupils’ enthusiasm for stories, Patricia Sáez was inspired to write tales of her own to tell in class.  Here, she writes of her experience.  She also shares one of her stories, along with a range of related activities.


'Are you going to tell us a new story today?' This is the question my 1st cycle pupils often ask at the beginning of each English lesson. They love stories.  My eight years teaching English at Primary and Infant levels have confirmed to me what a fantasic tool storytelling really is for getting young learners involved with the target language.


The main reason why stories work so well in the ESL classroom is that children are intrinsically motivated by them.  They are not yet influenced by the external factors that might prompt an adult to decide to learn a second language, but they are always willing to engage in a well chosen story.


Using stories as a base for lessons
Using a story-based approach to teaching involves planning activities based around the linguistic and thematic content of a story.  Useful words and expressions from the story are practised in class through the development of story-related activities, which can include songs, games, rhymes and drama, etc.  In this way, the language becomes more and more familiar and significant to the pupils.  In fact, after the right amount of practice it is possible to hear children using words or expressions from stories such as Run! or Oh, dear! in their daily playground games. When this happens, it is truly rewarding.

The fact that children use expressions from a story in contexts out of the English class is evidence that they can take possession of the language, that they are able to transfer the language and use it in their everyday lives.  Even though this is a long way from being able to master the language, we can consider it a first step towards achieving communicative competence in English.


An example of a story-based lesson
Having experienced success with the story-based approach, I decided to write some stories of my own to further develop the objectives and contents of the English curriculum in the 3rd level of Primary. I would like to share one of these stories.  It is titled Let’s visit Grandma! and was inspired by a song of the same title that I found in a magazine. The story combines two lexical areas: days of the week and types of cake.  As a unit of work, the story and related activities can be developed over 5 or 6 sessions.


Here are some activities that can be used before and after listening to the story:


  • A guessing game

Put the flashcards of the different flavours in a bag or box and get the children to guess which one you are taking out each time. You can help them by using facial expressions.                                            

        • It’s a fruit.  It’s small and red. (cherry)
        • It’s a fruit.  It’s yellow and sour. (lemon)
        • It’s not a fruit.  It’s brown and very sweet. (chocolate)


  • Cakes cards

Give each student seven cards and have them draw and colour the seven different types of cake. Check pupils recognize each flavour by asking them to show the cards in the order you say: Show me the chocolate cake! Show me the lemon cake! etc.


  • Flavours train chant

Write on the blackboard the following vocabulary pattern or create your own:



  • The odd one out

Give each student a worksheet with a grid formed by 4 columns and 5 lines. Prepare several strips of paper with 4 vocabulary words already written on each (so the pupils will see the four words at the same time), as in the following example:


The pupils will have to copy them in their worksheet and cross out the odd one out as fast as they can.

Matching games
Get the pupils to read the days of the week on the word cards. Spread them out around the class, on the walls, on the windows, etc. Then, give each cake card to a child and ask them to find their match (according to the story), as quickly as possible.


Write about the story

Get the pupils to complete the worksheet, writing the seven days of the week and seven different types of cake in the gaps.


Activities that work on expressions from the story:


  • Timed chain drill

Divide pupils into two teams.  Sit each team in a line.  In this game, Pupil B asks Pupil A: Can I have some honey cake, please? Pupil A answers: Here you are! and passes Pupil B a picture of the cake.

The dialogue is then repeated between Pupil C and Pupil B, and then between Pupil D and Pupil C.  The objective of the drill is to pass the cake from Pupil A to the end of the chain as quickly as possible.  It is a good idea for the teacher to time both teams for an element of fun and competition.


  • Play At Grandma’s house

Choose one pupil to play Grandma and put the apron on him/her. Sit the pupil in front of the class with the cakes cards. Explain to the class they are going to visit Grandma. Ask several children to go to Grandma’s house and ask for their favorite cake. The teacher can choose the day of the week so that the pupils have to ask for the corresponding type of cake:

    Teacher: Today is Monday.
    Pupil:  Hello, Grandma.  Can I have some honey cake, please?
    Grandma: Yes, of course.  Here you are.
    Pupil:  Thank you.  …  Bye!


Repeat the activity with the rest of the days:

    Monday: honey cake

    Tuesday: orange cake

    Wednesday: apple cake

    Thursday: lemon cake

    Friday: cherry cake

    Saturday: cream cake

    Sunday: chocolate cake

Act out the story: put the pupils in groups and ask them to act out the story with your help. Use the apron and the cake cards. Encourage the children to use the dialogues from the story: 'Grandma, can I have some cream cake, please?' 'Yes, of course, here you are!'

Activities that work on cross-curricular areas related to the story


Classroom survey
The children choose their favourite type of cake.  They gather the information and present it in a graph. After that, they answer the questions in order to find which cake flavour is the most popular. The teacher can also make the pupils practice other mathematic questions such as:

     Are there more honey cakes or orange cakes?
     How many more?
     How many cherry cakes and chocolate cakes are there in total?


Give each student a piece of plasticine.  Ask them to pat their cakes, in their hands, while they say the rhyme. Get them to choose the initial they
want to put on their cakes - the initial of someone in the classroom:

     Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man, (move your hands, molding the cake mixture)
     Bake me a cake as fast as you can; (pat your tummy)
     Pat it and prick it, and mark it with C, (pat the plasticine and sink your finger in it)
     Put it in the oven for Carla and me. (Pretend you open the oven and put the cake inside)

I can recommend the following websites for activities and materials related to the themes dealt with in Let’s Visit Grandma!



Patricia Sáez teaches at CEIP 8 de Abril in San Antonio de Benagéber, Valencia.



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