Who’s telling the truth?

Mary Hillis, Kansai Gaidai University


Quick guide
  • Key words: Oral fluency, question formation, discussion, narrative, learner-centered
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity level: College and university, adult learners
  • Preparation time: About 10 minutes for the teacher to explain the activity
  • Activity time: About 60 minutes, depending on the number of students
  • Materials: None
In this activity, a small group of students shares only part of an interesting story with the whole class. The students who are listening need to ask questions, not only to find out the details of the story, but also to find out which member of the group actually experienced that event. Therefore, this learner-centered activity focuses on improvement of question formation and past tense usage.
Students should be prepared to tell a short, personal story that the other members of the class don’t know. The story could be a funny or memorable incident from childhood, something interesting that the student saw, or an embarrassing moment. The most important point is that the students choose true stories that no one else in the class knows.
Step 1: In class, put students into groups of 4-6 people. Each student should tell his or her story to the other group members. Students can ask questions and discuss the stories to clarify their understanding of the details, but students should not let other groups hear them.
Step 2: Each student writes a one-sentence summary of his or her story. The sentence should not provide too many details about the story. “When I was a child, I ate an earthworm,” “I saw a man wearing a costume on the train,” or “I fell into a ditch” are all good example sentences. 
Step 3: The teacher collects the sentences from each student. One group of students goes to the front of the class, and all other students are the audience. The teacher reads one of the one-sentence story summaries from that group aloud to the class.
Step 4: The objective is for the audience to guess which member of the group told that story. In order to discover whose story it is, the audience asks questions to the group at the front of the room, and each member of the group must answer the question. Of course, only one student is telling the truth, and all of the other group members have imagined their answers. It is the audience’s job to discover who is telling the truth, and they continue asking questions until they determine this.
Step 5: When the audience thinks they know who is telling the truth, they stop asking questions. The students vote by a show of hands which group member they think is telling the truth. Then the student who was telling the truth should step forward.
Step 6: This activity can continue through other members of the same group.  Play continues with the next group.
This activity could be extended by having students write narrative paragraphs about their experiences.
From my experience with this activity, it is useful and enjoyable because it is learner-centered; furthermore, the material is student generated, all students can participate, and because the audience is genuinely interested in finding out who is telling the truth, appropriate questions are asked.