This is an idea I learned when I first started teaching and still use to this day. The main focus of the activity is on developing writing skills, but it’s also good for developing listening and reading skills and also for practising past tenses and descriptive vocabulary.
The activity should work at most levels above elementary, as long as your students have some knowledge of past tenses, but it works best when they also know past continuous / progressive too. All you need to get things started is a sheet of plain paper for each pair of students.
The listening part comes first:
- Ask the students to draw the face of a person in the top right-hand corner of the page.
- Once they’ve done this ask them to give the person a name.
- Then on the top left of the page ask them to write five adjectives to describe the person’s appearance.
- Next ask them to write five more adjectives to describe the person’s character.
- After they’ve done this ask the students to write three things that the person likes doing.
- Then ask them to write who the person lives with.
In this way they build up a character profile for the person they are going to write about.
The writing part:
- Now dictate the following sentence to your students: ‘It was a dark and stormy night and’. Stop at this point and ask them to write in the name of the person they have drawn and followed by the word ‘was’.
- Then ask the students to complete the sentence from their imagination and add one more sentence.
- Once all the students have added a sentence to their stories, get them to stop and pass the paper to the pair on their right (this means that every pair of students now has a new character).
- The students then read through the information and the beginning of the story and then add one more sentence to it.
- Once they’ve done this you ask them once more to pass the paper to the next pair on their right. Continue to do this with each pair of students adding a sentence to each story, gradually building up each story as the papers are passed around the class.
- Continue with this until you decide that the students are starting to lose interest or have written enough and then tell them to finish the story.
- Once all the stories are complete there are a number of follow-up options you can try.
- Put the stories up around the class and get the students to read them all and decide which is best.
- Give each pair of students a story and get them to try to find and correct errors.
- Get the students to write the stories up on a computer and then ask them to add more description and detail to the stories.
This activity is fun and creative and has always worked well for me both with adults and younger students.
Nik Peachey, Teacher, Trainer, Materials writer, British Council