How to use stories in ESL classrooms with young learners

Using stories with young learners in ESL/EFL classrooms

Using stories with young learners in ESL/EFL classrooms


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Reading stories has long been one of the key resources for learning English as it provides a natural, interesting context. When we read to children, we do much more than just teach them English.

We develop their imagination, explore other cultures, and teach our students. Listening to stories and role-playing also develops a number of language, psychological, cognitive, social and cultural skills. Nowadays, there are so many wonderful stories for children, but not all of them are suitable for learning a language.

Before choosing a story for classroom work with YL, we suggest reviewing the characteristics you should pay attention to first:

  • repeated words and expressions; rhyming;
  • easy to perform sequence;
  • illustrations that help to understand the text; interesting characters;
  • humor and various events;
  • exciting resolution with the appropriate conclusion;
  • appropriate length for age group and level;
  • topic and content that are relevant or related to the syllabus.

From the sources I use myself to teach young learners and teenagers, I can recommend One Stop Drama Shop and Andrew Articles and Stories. There are a lot of stories you can learn new vocabulary with and even role-play with your students. My young learners really like them.

How to spark interest

If you are not passionate about the book you are reading, your students will not be thrilled either, so always be enthusiastic. By the way, a book or a story can be presented in different ways. For example, you can talk about a book by hiding it before class, and ask students to find it. Or hide it in a bright box as a gift,  and unfold that “gift” with the learners .

Of course, you need to prepare the learners before reading the story – provide them with so-called language support. To do this, you can show your students the cover and ask them what ideas they have about the story based on the pictures on the cover, for example.

You can also prepare pictures or cards and pre-teach the most commonly used words or phrases in the story. If the students have already read this story or heard about it, you can ask them to remember as many facts as possible about the main characters and so on.

Using stories in English classes

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How to use stories

1. Story sequencing

Objective: Students illustrate the key stages of the story and retell the story to their classmates.

Procedures: students work in groups and identify the key stages of the story they are going to illustrate.

Distribute a sheet of paper to each group and ask them to draw lines to divide the sheet into blocks of the same size. They will need one block for each key stage of the story. If the group has more stages, it is best to give them several sheets of paper so that they have enough space for pictures (or you can prepare the worksheets in advance).

Students draw something that presents the key stages of the story in each block. Depending on the level (grade), students can even write a sentence under each picture. They take turns telling the story to the other group based on the drawings they have created.

  • You can ask students to cut each block separately and, dividing the pieces between the group members, retell the stories one by one, showing their pictures in the correct order.
  • Drawings can be collected and saved for later use in the classroom.

2. «Lift the flap» book

Objective: in this version, children learn the meaning of words in context by creating illustrated stickers to replace the keywords in the story.

Procedures: Divide the students into several groups and prepare one copy of the story for each group. Each group member selects a word from a page of a book and copies it on a piece of paper (sticker). As a teacher, you can control the words students choose so that they are easy to illustrate and understand.

Also, one of your tasks will be to make sure that all students have different words. Students prepare small illustrations of the words they have chosen and stick their stickers in place of the printed words in the story. Then the groups exchange their «encrypted» texts and try to read the stories, guessing the words from the stickers.

3. Storyboarding

Objective: to create living illustrations for the story.

Procedures: After reading the story aloud, instruct the students. They have to choose between 5-10 key points in the story, and then recreate these scenes with their body language and facial expressions or other props (if your class is very large, you can choose more key points and assign roles to each student).

Take photos of each scene, upload the photos to your computer, and print them out. Students can share images with each other and retell stories using their own photos. Alternatively, students can write a short description under their photo. You can also create a book with your own photos instead of illustrations.

Using stories in English lessons is an extremely effective way of learning a language. If you have never tried it or tried but did not have the inspiration to continue we hope these tips will come in handy.

Be prepared to facilitate learning in the CELTA course

Article authors & editors
  • Yulia Chorna

    Yulia Chorna


    DELTA Module 1, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English



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