Who is this man? Where is he? What is he doing? Who knows his story?
One of my favorite speaking activities is called “Tell me a story”. It’s simple enough, and allows every child the chance to speak for at least two or three minutes during the lesson. Here’s how it works:
- The children pair off, and each pair gets a picture. This particular picture comes from an Oxfam Novib calendar, which I use because I enjoy exposing children to images from other cultures during my lessons.
- The children then spend about five minutes brainstorming a story. I tell them, that only they know the entire story, including the stuff that’s not in the picture. That’s an important piece of information, because it allows them to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. In the case of the man above, we could say he’s listening to the radio with his camel friends, or we could enrich the story with tales of how that thing is really a camel-language-translator and how he and his camels talk with each other by having everything translated.
- The children practice telling their story to each other, making sure they have all of the words and phrases they need.
- Now for the mix-n-match part: of each pair of students, one of them becomes the story-teller, and the other one becomes the story-getter. The story-getters all stand up, and find themselves a new story-teller.
- The story-tellers tell the story they practiced with their buddy. They story-getter listens carefully, asking questions when needed, and repeats the story back to the story-teller.
- Time for unmix-and-rematch: The story-getter takes the picture and the story back to the original buddy.
- The story-getter now becomes the story-teller, as he/she relates the new story to his/her buddy.
If you like, you can have the children repeat this process of story-telling and story-getting a few times, but I find that one round is usually enough.
To simplify the activity, you might use only one picture or poster for the class, and then start the activity by brainstorming as a class for various words and phrases that the children can use. You can also simplify the activity by shortening the story: instead of a full minute, each child has to make up only two or three sentences about the picture. You can also select a picture that is more familiar and therefore a bit easier, content-wise.
The process of mix-n-match may sound complicated, but, in all the times I’ve done this activity, it’s usually the adults who have more difficulty with the buddy exchange. Children usually have no difficulty with it. For us as teachers, it’s important to realise that even if they don’t get back to their original buddy, the point of the whole thing is to have all children speaking with each other for at least two or three minutes in the target language, using their imaginations to create stories all their own. If they manage that, then the activity was a success.