Narrative Writing Activities for ESL

ESL students of all levels can practice narrative writing, and most enjoy narrating events from their lives.
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ESL students gain many skills from practicing narrative writing; they can practice English storytelling conventions, learn more about word choice, work on grammar and use English as a mode of expression, among others. For the greatest success, look for narrative writing activities that focus tightly on one or two skills, engage the students and offer the chance for feedback.

1 Building Blocks: Words and Sentences

Give students a chance to get creative by collaboratively building narrative stories one word and one sentence at a time, which lets them practice listening, sequencing and fluency in addition to writing. To begin, have the students sit in a circle. Explain that everyone will participate in telling a story by contributing one word; you may find it helpful to give them a topic to work within. Start the story off with the first word, and then have the story continue around for a predetermined length of time. Set a time limit for choosing individual words, as well, so that students must think quickly.

Give feedback; then increase the difficulty by having students contribute an entire sentence. Once they’ve produced an entire story collaboratively, have each student write his or her own version to have a written text for feedback.

2 Chaining to Acting

Kinesthetic learners enjoy rearranging and acting out stories in this activity that focuses on reading, sequencing and writing. Before class, prepare a few short narrative texts by cutting them up into individual sentences; for low-level classes, use short texts, but don’t be afraid to give high-level students a text of several paragraphs. In class, put the students into pairs and have them chain the sentences into the correct order.

Ask one student from each pair to act out the story when they have finished. Next, ask students to think of their own story, assigning topics if they need prompting. One of the pair should act out the story while the other one writes notes; they can then switch. Once they have their notes, they can write down the stories together, helping each other as needed. Give whole-class or individual feedback.

3 Comic-Book Stories

Students who are having difficulties finding the words to sequence stories might enjoy an activity based on the comic-book format, especially since graphic stories are probably already familiar to them. Use this activity after giving a reading lesson with a story that has a strong yet simple plot structure; in this way, students’ knowledge of how to choose plot points is activated. Inform them that they will create their own story, but, instead of writing, they will draw the main actions in comic-book format. This is essentially prewriting, so don’t focus too heavily on the artwork. Instead, get the students to identify the main actions through illustration. Once they have their comics, or the rough drafts, they can then move to writing stories in traditional formats.

4 Reporter Activity

Use narrative writing as a chance to encourage shy students to get to know one another by asking them to be journalists and conduct interviews. This bolsters their speaking and listening skills in addition to teaching them about writing. To get started, preteach asking questions and question words. Next, ask students to think about a meaningful personal event, giving a prompt, if necessary; then, put the students into pairs. The students take turns as the reporter, asking questions to learn all about their partner's story. Once they have the information, they can write the stories down. Consider extending the activity and providing feedback by creating a class booklet or newspaper with the written works.

Melissa Harr is a writer and knitting pattern designer with a range of publication credits. Her latest work includes blogging for Smudge Yarns, judging fiction for Ink & Insights 2015 and creating patterns for I Like Knitting magazine. Harr holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a CELTA.