Oct 21

Picture stories

teaching productive skills
Using picture stories to encourage communication
Want a fab activity for your lower level learners? Try these picture story ideas. The example I'm using here is from a book that is out of print, so you can download this exercise  below.

Telling jokes feels as if it should be a great activity to include in language classes, but in my experience, it can often backfire, especially with lower level learners. If you have to explain something too much, it’s usually not very funny anymore. But the little picture story of a joke that I’m going to show you is a fantastic activity that works well and has always made my elementary learners smile.

Hi – I’m Jo Gakonga and if this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m an English teacher, a CELTA tutor and assessor and I’ve got a website at ELT-training.com where I make video based material to support you whether you’re just starting out on your CELTA course or if you’ve got a bit more experience and you’re looking for some new ideas.

The story I’m going to show you is one that I first used in 1989 (yes, I am that old!) in my very first teaching job and it comes from this book Picture Stories for Beginning Communication – there’s a link for it right here.

This one is my favourite, but the book has lots of other stories in picture form with simple language, that are great at low levels -all of them with a gentle twist that elicit a bit of a grin or at least a rueful smile. So here’s the story...

A country woman goes to the city for the first time. She sees many cars, lights and tall buildings. She walks into a big office building and looks around. She sees an old, old man with grey hair, standing next to two doors. The doors open and the man walks in. Over the doors were some lights. The lights change – 1 -2-3 -4 -5 and then back again 5-4-3-2-1. Then the doors open and a young handsome man with black hair walks out. The country woman says ‘My goodness – that’s fantastic – I’m going to bring my husband here tomorrow!’

You can see that the language is straightforward and the pictures support it. There are all kinds of ways to use this, but this is what I do:

Show the pictures to the learners in a random order and ask them to label everything they can see in pairs – woman, bus, tall buildings, lift, lights, old man etc. This will allow you to help with vocabulary that they need but also give them time to look at the pictures and see what’s going on.

Now, tell them the story and ask them to order the pictures as they listen. Note that the text is written in the simple present – it’s a joke and that’s standard joke form – but if you think that this might be confusing, you could easily change it to the simple past.

When they’ve ordered the pictures, tell the story a second time and then then ask them to re-tell it to each other in pairs. The pictures and the vocabulary that you elicited at first will help them to do this and there’s a real sense of achievement in being able to tell a joke, even if a slightly feeble one, in a foreign language that you don’t speak well yet.

There are lots of other activities you could do to follow up on this and get more out of it. Here are a few ideas:

Ask them to write questions about the text for each other ‘Where did the country woman go? What did she see? Then give their questions to a partner to answer. Again, you could do this in the simple present or the simple past.

Use it as a dictogloss and get them to work in pairs to write the story down – again, the pictures will help and you can give them the original afterwards to see how close they were. Want more information about Dictogloss? I’ve got a short course on the site - it’s on the link here.

Use it as pronunciation practice. It’s a short text, so you could work on connected speech issues and sentence stress as well as individual sounds.

Go through it with them helping them to see where the weak forms, linking sounds and stressed words are (drilling here is good) and get them to retell the story to each other again. You could also use a shadow reading technique with this - I’ve made a video about that, too – you can find it here

Finally, a nice homework task for this is to ask them to find someone they know who speaks English and tell them the joke before the next class.

I hope that you get as much fun out of this rather silly story as I have, over the years. Thanks for watching.

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