This post is for you if..’re preparing students for the Cambridge B1 writing part 2, writing a story. want to teach storytelling and writing in one class and kill two birds with one stone.


Divide students into pairs. Assign roles to students:

Student A: teller Student B: recipient.

Student A is given the first sentence and has to come up with a story.

I was nervous when the phone rang.

Student B has to write down a list of questions they can ask student A and if you’ve taught back-channelling devices, B can also write down some listener responses to express surprise, sympathy,etc.

Give them 5 minutes to prepare for the task.

Storytelling – run the activity

Student A (the teller) starts telling the story while student B (the recipient) responds verbally/non verbally and asks questions, to find out more information. By doing so, they co-construct the narrative (Norrick, 2000).

When this part is over you can do one of the following:

1.Student B tells the story to class.

2.Students co-tell their stories. (Teller in first person, recipient adds information in third person)

Why do that?

Through telling and retelling, narrators achieve automaticity, i.e. sound more confident and fluent, and usually organise information to larger chunks (Norrick, 2000).

It’s not boring or underchallenging if you change one variable, for example asking students to co-tell the story (Thornbury, 2020).

Co-telling stories is something we do in real life, when we want to narrate something that happened to us and our friend or colleague as a way to enhance rapport (Norrick, 2000).


Students (A&B) write their story (using Google docs in online classes).

When they finish, give them this checklist and ask them to tick yes or no and then make any necessary changes.

(This is view only , you need to make your own copy)

If there’s time, I recommend doing a gallery walk or digital gallery walk. Students can read each other’s work and give feedback on content. If you’re using google slides for the digital gallery, students can insert comments and if you’re teaching face to face, students can write their comments on sticky notes and stick them over their peers’ writing. You can provide sentence starters like these:

More on back-channelling

An activity I use to introduce backchannelling devices is this one:

I draw three columns on the whiteboard and ask learners to brainstorm three ways in which they can react when they’re listening to someone’s story.

Neutral/continuers (show that you’re following)
Empathizing (show some emotion)

Then, I provide 10 cards with back-channelling responses that students must place on the whiteboard, in the right category (see picture for example).

I draw attention to the 3 arrows (rising, falling, flat) and ask students how they think intonation might affect the message. I model right➚  and right➝ and they usually notice the difference immediately. The answer is that :

flat tone means: I understand what you say, e.g. right sure ok

rising is for positive responses/agreement, e.g. right ➚ , great ➚ , exactly ➚ , wow ➚ , good for you

falling intonation for sympathetic responses, e.g. what a pitypoor you

Some notes:

1.There’s more to intonation than that of course, but I think these basic guidelines are fine at this stage.

2.When we practise storytelling, I usually project these responses to remind students to be active listeners.

More on written and spoken narratives

If you wish to go into more detail about written and spoken narratives, here’s a section of my DELTA background essay on Spoken narratives:

Chronotope  ( from Greek: χρόνος and τόπος, can be translated as time-space.

De Fina and Georgakopoulou (2015) state that narrators transport the audience in time and space in two modes:

Displaced or retrospective
Narrating in past time to separate here-and-now from there-and-then.
I was studying when I heard a noise.

Narrating events as if they are happening here-and-now, using historical or dramatic present.
I pick up the phone and it’s him!

I tell my students to choose the former for written narratives. Spoken narratives are more flexible and both narration in past time or historical present are acceptable.

Herman and Vervaeck (2005) list two narrative styles:

Spoken narratives are usually informal and unplanned or partly planned; they tend to feature disfluencies, or spontaneity phenomena (Cauldwell, 2018), e.g.:
• Hesitations: So erm..I left.
• Repetition: It’’s great
• False starts: She was..anyway she left.
• Repairs: I bought er I ordered this book..
• Co-ordination: and they left+and I was alone+and sad..
• Ellipsis: He cheated on her. Not cool.
• Fillers: well.., you know..

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5 Ways to Do a Digital Gallery Walk – Srta Spanish

ELT Concourse: backchannelling

What is Gallery Walk? (

Brown, G. and Yule, G. (2001). Teaching the spoken language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cauldwell, R. (2018). A syllabus for listening. speechinaction.

De Fina, A. and Georgakopoulou, A. (2015). Handbook of Narrative Analysis. Somerset: Wiley Blackwell.

Norrick, N. (2000). Conversational narrative. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Herman, L. and Vervaeck, B. (2005). Handbook of Narrative Analysis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Cambridge University Press, 2020. ‘Play it again, Sam!’ The value of task repetition with Scott Thornbury. Available at: <; [Accessed 15 May 2020].