Vocabulary Review Through Narrative

Jeremiah L. Hall, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Speaking, comprehension, vocabulary
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-45 minutes
  • Materials: Vocabulary list

People have long used stories to help remember things as attested to by oral traditions around the globe. Narratives surround us for most of our lives, and thus, stories provide us with a natural format for practicing and remembering vocabulary words. Using narrative forms in the class can help make learning more fun while unobtrusively assisting with the transition from vocabulary memorization to practical language production.

Choose words from class materials to make a vocabulary list, including definitions and appropriate grammatical permutations for each.

Step 1: Arrange students into groups of three to five.
Step 2: Direct groups to each create a short story that incorporates all of the provided vocabulary words. Have them try to use at least one vocabulary word in each sentence. Teams may choose any kind of scenario they like (scary, silly, etc.).
Step 3: Have groups write out their stories and remove the vocabulary words, leaving a blank space for each word.
Step 4: Instruct teams to exchange stories and fill in the blanks in the story they receive.
Step 5: Have teams present the results of the fill-in-the-blank exercise. Then, have the team that originally created the story present the original version. Ask students to discuss any differences and see how the stories may have changed.

Allow students to develop the vocabulary lists themselves, giving them more control over which vocabulary words are used in the stories. These lists can be different for each team, or the same.
Skip Steps 3, 4, and 5, and instead have teams present their stories to everyone. Ask the students to vote for their favorite story.

I have found this activity to be most helpful when used for vocabulary reviews near the middle and end of term. It not only helps students remember vocabulary, but it helps them use it in a meaningful way. At the same time, having students get their creative juices flowing makes studying more fun, making this a potentially powerful tool for language instruction.