Cooperative Tall Tale Telling

Adrian Heinel, Ehime University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Speaking, sequence words
  • Learner English level: Low intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity: High school to adult
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Activity time: 15-45 minutes
  • Materials: Tell Tale (Hirschfeld & Bleuze, 2011) cards or other similar picture cards

Recounting an event or telling a story is often a required speaking task in English courses in Japan.  This speaking activity uses Tell Tale cards or other similar picture cards as a creative stimulus for students to make original stories to tell their classmates.  The activity is student-centered as learners have to come up with and share entertaining stories, both as individuals and collaboratively in pairs.  The activity also gives the students the opportunity and incentive to practice using sequence words such as ‘first,’ ‘after that,’ and ‘finally.’  Due to the nearly infinite number of ways the images on the cards can be interpreted, this activity can harness students’ imagination and help them to come up with fantastical ways of using their English.


Step 1: Pre-teach some sequence words and how they are used.

Step 2: Prepare enough Tell Tale or other picture cards so that each pair will get at least 3-4 double-sided cards with different unrelated images on each side.


Step 1:  Show students the double-sided Tell Tale or other similar cards.

Step 2:  Then take 3-4 cards yourself and demonstrate how to tell a story using the cards.

Step 3:  Explain that a single picture can be used multiple times, and that it is unnecessary to use every card.

Step 4:  Put students in pairs and pass out at least 3-4 cards per pair.

Step 5:  Put any extra cards on a desk at the front of the classroom and tell the students they can exchange any of their cards with these cards if they need to.

Step 6:  Give students a few minutes to look at their cards and ask each other or the teacher any questions.

Step 7:  Give students a few minutes to quietly look at the cards and individually come up with a story.

Step 8:  Give students about 5 minutes to take turns telling their individual stories to their partner.

Step 9:  Give students 5 minutes to choose which of the two stories they liked best, improve it, and then retell the story, taking turns showing each card and using sequence words when appropriate.

Step 10:  Have students stand up, meet with another pair, and take turns telling their collaboratively created tall tales while showing the picture cards and using sequence words.

Step 11:  Students move around the room meeting other pairs and telling their stories until the time is up.


Students could be given feedback sheets for either assessment purposes or to help students to find the best stories.  The pairs that score the highest can tell their tall tales to the whole class as a finale.


This creative speaking activity gives students a chance to both tell and listen to many unique stories.  The combination of visual cues together with students’ original interpretations of what they mean can be amusing, so motivation to participate in the activity is high for both speakers and listeners.


Hirschfeld, Y., & Bleuze, F. (2011). Tell Tale [card game]. San Francisco, CA: Blue Orange Games