Using pop-up books in class

Kim Bradford-Watts, Kyoto Women’s University, Kyoto University


Quick guide

  • Key words: story telling and retelling, listening, speaking, writing, negotiation of meaning, pairwork
  • Learner English level: Beginner and above
  • Learner maturitylevel: Elementary and above
  • Preparation time: About 15 minutes
  • Activity time: About 40 minutes
  • Materials: Large pop-up book, pencil and paper for each learner


Did you have pop-up books when you were a child? Did you spend hours marveling at the intricate cutting and folding that made the pop-ups so magical? This activity uses two current popular pop-up titles by Faulkner and Lambert: “The wide-mouthed frog” and “The long-nosed pig.” I have used this story retelling activity with first-year university classes, but the activity could also be used in elementary, junior, or senior high school classes using different and more appropriate materials.


Step 1: Divide the class into pairs.

Step 2: Explain to learners that one person from each pair will leave the room for a short time while you tell a story to their partner.

Step 3: Show the book cover to everyone. This adds to the sense of excitement that all students feel.

Step 4: Have one person from each pair go outside (or an empty room nearby, if available) with instructions to wait quietly so as not to disturb other classes.

Step 5: Read the story, but don’t go too quickly. The learners will want a chance to appreciate the pop-up artwork. Don’t forget to move the book around so that they can see the various aspects of the three-dimensional pictures.

Step 6: Read the story again.

Step 7: Invite the waiting learners back into the room.

Step 8: Have the learners who listened to the story tell it to their partners using English. Those hearing the story for the first time should ask questions if they do not understand something.

Step 9: The learners who have just heard the story retell it to their partner to check for understanding.

Step 10: When everyone is happy that the meaning of the story has been clearly shared and understood, read the story again slowly. This will be the first time for half the learners to see the artwork; the others will be happy to listen and see it again.

Step 11 (optional): Ask the pairs to cooperate in writing out the story they have just heard. This provides an artifact of the lesson for the learners, giving them the chance to incorporate new vocabulary and grammar they have noticed in context, and allows you to assess the success of the activity.

Step 12: Do the activity again the following week using a different book, sending the first week’s storytellers outside to wait while their partners hear the new story.


Although this is a simple activity, it generates a lot of discussion between partners at the first retelling stage, and again while they are cooperating to rewrite the story. In my experience, most pairs add cute drawings to their written work and frequently include comments about how much they enjoyed the books. Learners have also identified this activity as one of their favourites for the semester. It can also be done using big picture books; however some of my learners have felt that the pop-ups added impact to the story. Finally, I have found this activity an enjoyable one to teach, and I’m confident you will too.


Faulkner, K., & Lambert, J. (1996). The wide-mouthed frog. New York: Dial Books.

Faulkner, K., & Lambert, J. (1998). The long-nosed pig. New York: Dial Books.