Published 27th July 2017

Talking about ourselves is something we all do, and we all enjoy doing. Whether it’s complaining, telling a funny story or talking about something sad that happened to someone we know, we spend most of our time talking about our personal lives.

What happens in the classroom should be an extension of real life, so this aspect of our daily lives shouldn’t change. Teachers and students should bring their personal stories into the classroom as a way of creating interest and motivation. There is no doubt that our students would be more interested in talking about themselves and their friends and family than about a random celebrity or fictional family from the coursebooks.

The trick is to utilise our stories in an educational and linguistically relevant way.

There are two ways to approach this. The first is to start with a story you would like to tell; the second is to start with the language.

Option 1: A story you would like to tell

The first option will usually happen when something has happened in your life that you think your students will find interesting. Maybe you saw an accident on the way to school or it was your birthday on the weekend or you’ve just bought a ticket to go on holiday. Just by looking at those three scenarios, the language prospects should be jumping out at you:

  • you saw an accident on the way to school – past simple vs past continuous, car vocabulary
  • your birthday on the weekend – narrative tenses, adverbs, vocabulary of celebrations
  • you’ve just booked a flight to go on holiday – present perfect, future tenses, holiday vocabulary

Option 2: A structure you would like to teach

The second scenario involves wanting to focus on a particular language structure and thinking of a story which can be manipulated to model the structure. For example, to teach the third conditional you could tell the story of A Really Bad Day (“If I hadn’t overslept, I wouldn’t’ve missed the bus. If I hadn’t missed the bus, I wouldn’t’ve been late…”) or if you want to teach past modals of deduction you could tell the story of when your cat was stolen and let the students try to solve it (“It might’ve been your neighbour; she could’ve tried to escape…”).

Of course, you may not have a true story which exactly suits your purposes but there is no reason you can’t stretch the truth to help your lesson or even to fabricate a story entirely. Whether you tell your students the truth is up to you!

In all these instances, the teaching of the language is secondary to the telling of the story. What this does is make the lesson much more interesting for your students who will be listening for meaning first before they realise there is a language focus. It’ll also add interest to your lesson for you and, in fact, make the lesson easier to teach. You won’t need to keep referring to the coursebook to remember the details of the reading text or the context of the lesson because you know the story inside out.