Telling tales: Student-centred narratives and peer-assessment

Jon Mitchell, Tokyo Institute of Technology


Quick guide

  • Key words: Story-telling, peer assessment, speaking
  • Learner English level: High beginner and up
  • Learner maturity: High school, university, adults
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes
  • Activity time:One 90-minute class
  • Materials:Apoorly-written short story (approximately 200 words) tailored to the level of the class, a well-written story (approximately 200 words), a pre-drawn four-frame comic strip.


This lesson plan introduces one way in which the power of stories can be harnessed in the classroom. At its heart is a student-led exploration of what makes a good story good. These narrative guidelines provide learners with both the tools to structure their own stories and the confidence to assess the work of their peers.


Step 1:At the outset of class, divide learners into pairs and hand them the poorly-written short stories. Ask them to place themselves in the roles of teachers and explain that you would like them to grade the story. Tell them to focus not only on grammar mistakes, but also to consider whether the story was interesting for them—whether it held their attention.

Step 2: After allowing the students time to discuss the story in pairs, elicit from them the story’s weaknesses. As they tell you what they think is wrong with the tale, encourage them to think about how they could make it better. Write their ideas on the board, starting with “A good story…” Some of the guidelines that my learners often come up with include: A good story uses tenses carefully, A good story includes speech and emotions, A good story flows smoothly using so, then, in the end.

Step 3:Having now elicited what makes a story good, hand the learners a better-written narrative. Ask them to find instances of the guidelines within it, and add any extra examples that they find to the Good Story…list created above.

Step 4: In this stage, hand the learner pairs the four-frame comic strips. For the more adventurous of you, these can be hand-drawn, but for the artistically-inept (like myself) try snipping Garfield and Sazae-san cartoons from the newspaper and blacking out the speech bubbles with a magic marker. Tell students that you would like them to write a short story and they should try to make it as interesting as possible. Encourage them to refer to their guidelines if they become stuck, but make yourself available should they have any questions. Be sure to tell them that their classmates will be assessing their tales, so they should write clearly.

Step 5:Collect the completed narratives and then redistribute them to different pairs. Ask them to assess the stories according to the guidelines that they produced earlier. Ask the students to produce written feedback on the stories along the lines of What we liked about this tale was…, What we didn’t like as much was… and In future, you might like to try….

Step 6: After the students hand their comments back to the stories’ authors, provide some feedback on common strengths and weaknesses.

Step 7:As homework, have the learners write a short story of their own choosing. With the learners’ permission, these stories can be recycled into Step 3 of future classes, thereby creating a truly self-sufficient learning community.


The lesson plan above is based upon a four-stage cycle: Text exploration—Short presentation—Pair production—Peer assessment. It is designed to provide a high level of support for students who are often reticent about critiquing the works of their peers. From the outset, the plan encourages the learners to place themselves in the role of assessors. The Good Storylist provides them with a means not only to guide their own creation of stories, but also for assessing other students. Since this list is created by the learners themselves (albeit with your guiding hand), it should give them a vital sense of ownership of the criteria, more so than if you had given them a ready-written handout.


Appendix 1

An example of a poorly-written story

(A story designed for late beginner students to highlight the importance of tense, conjunctions, emotions,and speech)

I went to the beach with my friend. It is a sunny day and the beach is very crowded. We ate ice-cream and we drink soft drinks. My friend and me went into the sea. We swim for about one hour. The sea is very cold. My friend screamed. I looked at her leg. It was very red. There are many jellyfish in the water. We went to the life guard station and we asked for help. The life guard is very handsome. He give my friend medicine. My friend smiled at him. Next week, they are going on a date.

Appendix 2

An example of a well-written story

(A story designed for lower intermediate students to highlight emotions, conjunctions, past perfect,and the use of a final coda)

Last summer, I went to the beach with my best friend. The beach was very busy, but we could find some space near the water. We sat down and relaxed. After about an hour, we were hot so we decided to go into the sea for a swim. The water was cool and we felt very refreshed. However, when we came out of the water, we discovered that our bags were missing. In a panic, we rushed to the life guard’s hut. We asked him if anyone had handed in our bags. He checked in the back room and came back with our bags. He told us they had been washed away by the incoming tide and we were very lucky that someone had spotted them. We were so relieved and from now on we will be very careful.