Draw and Tell

Gary Henscheid, Nihon University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Japanese stories, folk legends, memory, recall
  • Learner English level: Junior high to high school
  • Preparation time: 15-30 minutes
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Handouts, chalk, blackboard

This activity uses Japanese stories provided by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, Kids Web Japan <http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/folk/>, to support students in telling Japanese stories in English. The website provides 19 well-known children’s stories with numerous pictures throughout each. Students are able to infer the meaning of new English vocabulary and expressions from these illustrated versions of tales. The lesson is designed as an exercise in memory and recall of key events, and it challenges students to describe various stories in exciting ways. 


Step 1: Prepare a list of stories from the website. Allow students a little time to peruse the list and to choose one for the next lesson.

Step 2: Print a copy of the selected story before class.

Step 3: Have colored chalk and erasers ready.


Step 1: Talk briefly about some well-known English children’s stories and ask how many students have heard them. Ask about students’ favorite Japanese stories.

Step 2:  Distribute stories to students and read from hard copies. Students can listen and repeat after the teacher or they can each read one paragraph of the story aloud. Unfamiliar words or expressions should be marked or highlighted and dictionaries can be used as necessary. For a higher level of challenge, second or third-year high school students can read a story without the illustrations.

Step 3: Explain some key language forms used in the story such as past progressive. Cite examples of how it was used throughout the narrative.

Step 4: Divide the students into groups and assign each group one section to retell in their own words. Explain that they will be allowed to draw a picture on the blackboard to help them explain what is happening in their scene.

Step 5: Divide the blackboard into sections, one for each section of the story in chronological order. Have students go to the board and work together to draw a picture to illustrate their scene.

Step 6: After finishing their pictures, give students some time to regroup at their desks and plan how to explain their picture in English.

Step 7: Have groups return to the blackboard following the chronology of the story and tell their scenes to the class. The teacher and other students listen and then ask questions after each scene.

Step 8: After the final scene of the story is presented, ask higher-level classes to explain any lessons or morals being taught in the story.


Junior high and high school-age Japanese EFL students have reasonably good passive knowledge of English, but a fair amount of support is required for them to produce sustained output. Students’ memories of the folk stories found on Kids’ Web Japan are clear enough for them to usually follow what’s happening with fairly high comprehension, and the language is familiar enough that most of them can recall and apply key expressions when retelling the stories after reading them. Confidence is naturally built when young students realize how much they know about Japanese children’s literature, but they are especially excited when they see that they can successfully share this special part of their childhood memories with others in English.