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15 ways to keep playing with stories in language class

April 9, 2019

Maybe you just finished co-creating an EPIC class story, or perhaps your students are still collapsed on the floor after listening with rapt attention to your terrifying true tale.

No matter what kind of story you've just shared with your students, you're likely to find that no one is ready to let it go just yet. This should come as no surprise–we humans often prefer familiar stories to new ones. In language classes, our students enjoy repeated exposure to stories because the repetition builds their confidence. It makes them feel SMART! With each repetition, they can anticipate what comes next with greater success, and they are able to participate more actively in the story.

"It was very clear that the children enjoyed the repetition and that they relished knowing the story and being able to chime in with words and phrases. They asked a lot more questions than we are accustomed to hearing, because with the repeated readings they were thinking more about the content of the story. They also used their concepts from the familiar stories in their play and creative activities."

Mark Mabry, Head Teacher at Stanford's Bing Nursery School

Told a story in class that your students aren't ready to let go of just yet? No problem! Use one of these 15 student-approved activities to keep the story alive!

Play with familiar stories for engagement, not practice

While a well chosen activity can increase a learner's confidence and connection to a story, a poorly chosen activity can kill a good story and a love for language learning. Activities aren't the most efficient way to move along on the path to proficiency, but they can still have a valuable part to play in the journey. Choose wisely!

As you consider how you'll play with a story or other piece of content, consider how you can do just that: keep the focus on play, not practice!

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In this post, I'll share with you 15 ways to play with your class stories, broken down into 5 categories of 3 activities.

Shared a story in class and not ready to let go? Use these 3 'story regurgitation' activities to retell it in a new way!

3 ways to regurgitate the story

You're welcome for that graphic title, by the way ;-). 'Regurgitating' a class story means generating a complete, sequential retell of the story, even if the pieces are initially retold out of order. In keeping the focus on the message of the story and students' connection it rather than on form and rote memorization, consider allowing students to retell a summary of the story or to otherwise put it in their own words. Here are some basic frameworks for activities that will regenerate a version of the story:

Write and Discuss

Write and Discuss is the classic way to retell a story or other piece of content. In Write and Discuss, the teacher stands at the front of the room or sits at a keyboard and asks leading questions to guide the class in retelling the story. As students provide new pieces to the story, the teacher writes them on the board or types them in a projected document. The teacher also asks a smattering of clarifying questions and personalized questions, again with the dual purpose of increasing both student confidence in understanding the story and their personal connection to it.

Back At'cha

This fun activity is one that I learned from my dear friend Cynthia Hitz. The class is divided into 2 teams (could be more). The teams take turns sharing events or details from the story, and they collect points for each piece of the story that they share. The teacher types each detail into a document–either sequencing them appropriately on his or her own or with input from students ("When did this happen? Before or after [other event]?"). When the game is over, the document should contain a pretty solid retell of the story.

Sticky Retell

Sticky Story Retell is an activity that provides a way for a class to retell a story together, scene by scene.

Give each student a sticky note (or a scrap piece of paper and a piece of tape!) and have them illustrate a scene from the story on it.

Sit down at your document camera with a pad of blank sticky notes at your side, then start collect the stickies from your students one by one. Each time you receive a new sticky note with an illustration on it, show it under the document camera, then...

  1. Ask students to describe what is happening in the scene.
  2. Write the description on a second sticky note.
  3. Stick sticky note #2 (description) to sticky note #1 (illustration).
  4. Stick the pair of stickies to your front board – in the correct order based on the story! (Ask your students for their input in where to place it in relation to any other description/illustration pairs that are already there. Duplicate? No problem! Stick it above or below the one that's already posted on the board.)

Once you've collected all illustrations, read through the story that is now displayed on a series of stickies on the front board. As you do, have one of your students type the story so that you have it for later! Ask your students what details are missing. Write those details on the board, and have student artists draw illustrations for the missing events on new sticky notes. Have your secretary (the student that was typing out the story) add the missing events to their version, too.

When you're done, voilà! You'll have a complete retell AND a complete set of illustrations to use moving forward!

Shared a story in class and not ready to let go? Use these 3 drawing activities to keep playing with the story!

3 ways to draw a story

Whether or not your students consider themselves to be artists, low no-stakes drawing is a relaxing activity that helps listeners to visualize a story. After all, you've got to form a picture in your mind before you can put it on a page!


Nothing against framed storyboards (I use those too), but I like murals because they are free form and so offer the maximum amount of artistic freedom. Telling a story while students sketch an individual mural is low-energy for you and calming all around! It's one of my go-to During Reading activities. If you're looking to switch it up, try out a Cooperative Mural. As you retell a familiar story to your class, students take turns coming to the front of the room and drawing the scene that you describe.

Before & After

Each student quickly sketches out four scenes from a familiar story, then uses a Kagan structure like Stand Up Hand Up Pair Up or Inside/Outside Circles to find a series of partners. They show their partner one of their pictures, then pass them the paper to have them write down what happened immediately before or after it. Once they have their own paper back in hand, they find a new partner.

Class storybook

To illustrate a class storybook, individual students, pairs of students, or groups of students will each be assigned a scene to illustrate. Consider how many scenes are in the story that you want to retell and how many students are in your class, and decide how many students should be assigned to each one. For example:

  • 10 students, 10 scenes = 1 student illustrates each scene
  • 35 students, 9 scenes = 4 students illustrate each of 8 scenes; 3 students illustrate 1 scene

Instead of dividing up your students into groups before you start assigning scenes, do it as you go. Retell the story, scene by scene, and call out student names for each scene to assign them to it as illustrators. Have everyone wait until all scenes are assigned before they start drawing. When you're done, use the illustrations to create a storybook to pop in your class library.

Shared a story in class and not ready to let go? Use these 3 passing games to keep playing with the story!

3 passing games for stories

The great thing about passing activities is that they offer the illusion of interaction: students aren't working together or even talking to each other, but they kinda feel like they are. Good for kiddos, good for teachers!

Word Race Retell

To prepare for this sub-plan-friendly passing activity, you'll need to plop the story into a Word Cloud generator. There are gazillions out there, and this one is my go-to because it offers so many ways to modify the cloud. Make a copy of the word cloud for each student, then play two rounds of Word Race. Afterward, have students use the words from the cloud to jog their memory as they write out the class story sentence by sentence, passing it after each one to a new partner.

Write, Draw, Pass

Write, Draw, Pass is one of my favorite party games and the original Telestrations. Have each student copy a sentence from a story into the first box on a WDP form or at the top of a piece of paper, then pass it to the next student to illustrate. That student hides the original sentence before passing it to a third classmate, who tries to guess the original sentence. Play continues until the form is full or the teacher calls time!

Grab and Go

Jason Fritze came up with this activity, and I love that it gives students an opportunity to interact SILENTLY with their groupmates! Students sit in a circle, each reading the same story independently. As they read, they write questions about the story and respond to questions that have been passed to the center of the circle by their classmates.

Shared a story in class and not ready to let go? Use these 3 cooperative learning activities to keep playing with the story!

3 cooperative learning activities for stories

Before I was a Comprehension Based Teacher, I was a Cooperative Learning Teacher. I'd call myself a recovering addict, but the truth is that I haven't ditched my addiction to Cooperative Learning activities...nor do I believe that I need to. Cooperative Learning activities offer students the opportunity to interact with each other in safe, supported contexts. There are many ways to keep Cooperative Learning activities focused on input, and I lay out three of them below.

Curious to learn more? Kagan Publishing & Professional Development offers extensive resources and trainings. I've taken two Kagan courses and own a few of their books!

Quiz Quiz Trade

Quiz Quiz Trade is a super flexible Kagan structure that can be used in many different ways! I like to combine it with Who Said It? or Two Truths and a Lie after we've shared a story in class, but there are many other kinds of content that you can use with this versatile cooperative learning activity!

Fan N Pick

If you can survive your first day using Fan N Pick, I know you'll love it as much as I do. It's a bit complicated to explain and for students to figure out, but after the first use, it will run like clockwork. Traditionally, my classes played Fan N Pick with sets of 12 questions, but there are tons of different ways that you can use this Kagan structure.

Team Windows

Each student identifies the most important events from the story (5-10; you choose, depending on the length of the story). Then, they get into groups of 4 students and share the events from their list. Their groupmates listen and consider whether those events also appeared on their lists (not word for word), and one group member records the event on a form according to how many group members had written it on their lists.

Shared a story in class and not ready to let go? Use these 3 partner activities to keep playing with the story!

3 partner activities for stories

Whether they're cooperating or competing, planning a partner activity into your lesson is an easy way to break up the monotony of a class period. Partner activities (and small group activities) do cause many students anxiety, so it's important to keep the activities low-stakes and to think of them as confidence builders. I typically grade partner activities for participation–if at all–and the grade goes into my catch-all Work Habits category for almost zero impact on their grade in the class.

Pencil Grab

Come to class with a set of True/False statements prepared for this favorite game, or think of them on the spot to keep your work/life balance...umm..balanced! Partners sit with a pencil, pen, marker, ruler, ball (anything!) between them, and they race to grab it first when you say a TRUE statement about the story. If they grab it and the statement was false, they lose a point.

Consider different ways to use this activity here or try it out in the Lion and the Zebra story from SOMOS 2 Unit 1 (available on its own in Spanish or French)!

Blind Retell

Sometimes I start to feel like I talk about this activity too much....but....NOPE! Not possible! Betsy Paskvan nailed it when she came up with this secret input activity. Students think it's a speaking activity, but it's all about the reading!

Volleyball Reading

Admittedly not my favorite activity due to its reliance on translation, I believe that Volleyball Reading does have a place in your reading activity repertoire. During Volleyball Reading, partners take turns listening to one partner read a sentence aloud in the target language and then translating it aloud back to the reader. We didn't do it often, but my students enjoyed it. It was a confidence building activity for them and an eye-opening activity for me as I wandered through the room and listened in on pairs of students.

But wait...there's more!

15 activities not enough? No problem! I got through this whole post (well, until now) without mentioning Running Dictation, Simultaneous Acting, or Draw 1 2 3. At the time of writing, I've got an archive of 86 posts sharing story activities for you to check out.

Which activities would you add to this list that fit into one of the 5 categories? What are some of your favorite activities that don't fit anywhere on this list?

Pop links or descriptions in the comments...and HAPPY STORYTEACHING xoxo!

Told a story in class that your students aren't ready to let go of just yet? No problem! Use one of these 15 student-approved activities to keep the story alive! Activities shared by The Comprehensible Classroom

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