Stories with teens and adults

As I said in my previous post, everyone loves a good story. However, the way we deliver them and activities around them need to change as the students get older.

I currently have a group of 17-year-olds studying for FCE. They’ve been doing a lot of exam practice and mock tests recently, so I thought it would be nice to break things up with a Friday afternoon story.

roald-dahl
Some of Roald Dahl’s short stories.

I love the work of Roald Dahl. I read his revolting rhymes and classics like Matilda and The Twits as a child, and as an adult I really enjoy his short stories. If you haven’t discovered them yet, then you’re in for a treat! Each one is dark, funny and (unsurprisingly) has fantastic characters.

Although I’d recommend buying a copy of his books, you can find some of his work online free to download at this site, among others.

If you’re going to use the online stuff, then make sure you check for errors in the text as the websites I’ve come across all have typos.

Choosing a text.

This is, of course, entirely up to you. The great thing about these short stories is that they’re all about the right length to read in an hour or so with some analysis of vocabulary included. They’re also at a great level for B1+/B2 students.

I often start with Lamb to the slaughter (sometimes called The leg of lamb in earlier publications). Some of them are unsuitable for younger learners, so make sure you read the whole story first!

Using the text. 

I simply read it to the students while they listen and read along with the text. We stop just before or just after crucial points and I board any vocabulary and explain it to them. I ask a few questions to check that everybody has understood what’s going on, but other than that the students have no task. The idea is simply for them to sit back and enjoy the text.

The pressure is on you a bit here to bring the text to life, so any voices or small gestures you can add in here tend to help the students visualise the characters. If you really don’t feel comfortable with this, then why not get a friend to record the text for you and play it to the students.

lamb to the slaughter
Hitchcock’s Lamb to the slaughter.

Lamb to the slaughter was adapted into a TV movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock (although this has now mysteriously disappeared from Youtube). I normally use this to help students picture the characters, or play it after we’ve read to see how they pictured it differently.

Following up. 

It’s nice to read a story, but I try to exploit the text as a springboard for other language work. Here are some ideas for what to do in the following class…

  • Board some of the more unusual vocabulary and have students try and remember what it means.
  • Flip the above idea round. You give a definition and the students have to give you the word from the text.
  • Make this student-centred – Get them to make vocabulary quizzes for each other.
  • Add new lexis to your vocabulary bag.
  • Summarise – Using the key words, get the students to write a summary. This was particularly useful for my FCE students, as this is something they need to practice for the exam (same with CAE ).
  • Have students read two different texts for homework and then explain them to each other in class.
  • If your group enjoys acting, then have them choose a scene and play it out for their classmates. You could even film them.
  • If the ending is ambiguous (as it is in Lamb to the slaughter) then get students to continue the story.

    socratic seminar
    Layout of a Socratic Seminar

Or simply give the students a choice. Not everyone has to do the same thing.

The most important thing is that they enjoy the story and that this hopefully gives them a taste for more!

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