Stop the Story: A Game for Encouraging Interruptions and Practice of Short Question Forms

Josef Williamson, Nippon Steel & Sumikin Intercom

Quick Guide

  • Key words: Interrupting, fluency, question forms, game
  • Learner English level: Lower intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity level: Junior high school and above
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes to make a one-time reusable handout, 5 minutes to make copies
  • Activity time: 15 – 25 minutes
  • Materials: Single handout (see appendix)

I developed this activity in response to a lack of willingness on the part of learners in corporate language training classes to engage in interrupting speakers to clarify information and to abbreviate question forms in informal speech. It’s a fast-paced, competitive activity that brings shy or reluctant learners out of their shell and can be easily used as a filler activity at the beginning or end of lessons in any teaching context.


Write three or four short stories, each lacking in detail, and, therefore, requiring clarification. A suitable example would be the following:

“It was a cold, rainy day. A woman waited inside a café. She was looking at the clock. The radio was on. A man came in. He sat down next to her. She looked angry. He said something to her and she smiled. They stood up, she paid her bill and they walked out of the café together.”

Alternatively, you can copy the handout in the appendix as it has four suitable stories.


Step 1: Put the students into pairs and hand out a worksheet to each student.

Step 2: Tell them they are going to play a simple game with their partner in which one will attempt to read to the end of a story within two minutes (they will need to time themselves) while the other will attempt to stop them by interrupting and asking short clarification questions. The only rules are that the reader must answer the question (by inventing missing details) and that they cannot say “I don’t know.”

Step 3: Ask for (or pick) a volunteer to help you demonstrate. Choose a story and begin to read. It is unlikely that your volunteer will interrupt you much, if at all, and you should be able to read through the story pretty quickly.

Step 4: Next, reverse roles with your volunteer. Have them read through the same story while you interrupt and pepper them with questions, thereby showing the class what is expected.

Step 5: Have pairs play the game a few times together.

Step 6: Options at this point would be to finish there, have champions from each team compete with each other, or to highlight some short question forms or other strategies to speed up questions and practice again.


This activity has been successful at giving learners an authentic context to practice real world English speaking strategies such as abbreviated question forms and requests for clarification. In addition, it has helped my students overcome their reluctance to contravene Japanese turn-taking rules. Even more importantly, it has proven to be a lot of fun, both for me and my students, in every context I’ve tried it.


The appendix is available below.