Narrative structure & video lesson plan
by Sandra Bradwell

Preliminary Information

Time: 1hr 20mins

Level: Advanced (CAE)

Class focus: Materials/Resources - Video

Timetable Fit:
We use Advanced Gold as a course book preparing for the CAE exam and at present are working from unit 9. In the last lesson we were looking at the variety of tenses in written narratives. The course book suggests students choose one of the stories to expand it and tell it to the other students in more detail to practise extended speaking or long turns. This provides an ideal opportunity for looking at the discourse features of story telling which as McCarthy (1991:139) rightly states, are rarely found in text books. It also provides an opportunity for consolidating some language for telling anecdotes and maintaining interest which came out of a listening task in unit 8.

Main aims:
· to sensitise students to the discourse features of oral narrative (stages 4/5/6)
· to raise further awareness of the listener's active role in story telling (stage 6)

Subsidiary aims:
· to develop the listening skill: listening for pleasure, gist (stage 3)
· to widen the students' range of vocabulary and expressions (stages 5/6/7)
· to provide an opportunity for students to prepare and practise story telling (stages 8/9)

Lesson rationale
Students at advanced levels need to be aware of features of a variety of spoken discourse to be able to perform well in this skill. The course book encourages students to tell stories but offers no linguistic or paralinguistic guidance on how to perform this very difficult task. I would like to take this opportunity to widen their repertoire of language skills and sensitise them, through awareness-raising activities, to the discourse features of story telling. Having a story on video provides the additional advantage of illustrating many of the paralinguistic features of spoken discourse: body language, facial expressions, eye contact that would be lost on cassette. I spent a lot of time looking for a video extract from a film to prepare this lesson but have ended up preparing a home-made version with a colleague. I think it is sufficiently natural and hope the quality will not impede comprehension or pleasure.

The first five minutes of the lesson I would like to welcome back students who were not in class on Tuesday and provide the students who were in class with an opportunity to share information about the lesson. We will then begin the lesson by discussing and commenting on prompts around the room in pairs. Not only will this provide some very valuable speaking practice and be an opportunity to move around, it will also lead into and involve them in the topic of the lesson: relating anecdotes and stories.

The next two stages of the lesson involve listening to a home-made video where I am telling a colleague a personal anecdote. The first listening is for pleasure - I only want the students to listen out for the bare facts of the story. Students will have an opportunity to share ideas before asking them what happened and eliciting the story.

In the next stage students will see the video and have a copy of the transcript. As this is the first time I have prepared a transcript indicating overlaps of conversation and turn-taking, I will invite students to skim read it to understand how it is set out before watching the video a second time. Reading the transcript will hopefully draw students attention initially to the 'messy' nature of spoken discourse: the hesitations, false starts, repetition of vocabulary, and incomplete sentences. While students listen I will ask them to pay particular attention to the paralinguistic features of spoken discourse: the voice changes, intonation and body language. They will again comment on these features in pairs before discussing them as a group.

The next two stages of the lesson draw direct attention to the structure and discourse features of the story telling. I will hand out a worksheet with information taken from McCarthy about the structure of stories and details about 'evaluation'. The back of the worksheet draws attention to the different strategies a person can use to show they are actively listening. First of all I will ask students to read the information about the structure of a story, check they understand it and then invite them to highlight language in the video transcript which could fit into each section. I will encourage them to use highlighter pens so that it will be easy for them to see the structures during feedback. I have also put letters at the side of each intervention to facilitate locating structures.
The next stage focuses on 'evaluation' features and on the use of tenses and vocabulary. I will encourage students to work in the same way with a different coloured highlighter pen, again to facilitate feedback. Finally I will ask students to look at the listener's role to analyse how many different strategies she uses to show she is actively listening. Students can compare their results with the back of the worksheet. I have decided to work on the transcript in depth, hoping that "..if learners are conscious of the strategies they could use and the pitfalls they should avoid, if they have a wider repertoire of set expressions and conversational formulae on hand , they could make faster progress towards becoming relaxed, polished conversationalists" (Dörnyei /Thurrell 1992: introduction x Conversation and Dialogues in Action)

In stage 7 students will predict the stress on key expressions for telling stories (the expressions in bold may be new to students). We will deal with each group of expressions in turn, students in pairs will predict the stress and intonation, I will highlight it on the OHP and we will drill it quickly. After each block of expressions, I will encourage students to spend a minute repeating the expressions they want to drill to themselves. There are four blocks of expressions. I realise that this is a lot of drilling but it is important that students feel comfortable with the expressions if they are going to use them later. I will try to keep the activity snappy and the student 'mumbling' drill will break it up.

In the next stage students will have five minutes to prepare a personal anecdote. Students who attended class on Tuesday should have prepared this as homework. It will mean a little less preparation time for the students who were absent. Preparation may help the students perform more confidently and successfully in the final stage of the lesson.

Students will have an opportunity in the final stage of the lesson to practise telling personal anecdotes and listening actively. I imagine that the need to concentrate on new language and expressions as well as trying to put into practise as many strategies for active listening as possible will affect fluency in this activity. I hope there will be time to change pairs and repeat the activity for this reason, to give them a chance to perform more successfully.

As a homework task I will encourage students to practise telling a different story and to tape it on cassette as oral homework. We have done this activity with other speaking tasks and some of the students have found it useful. I keep insisting with those who have not yet handed it in.

Assumed knowledge
· Some vocabulary may be new to students: to take some time off, to be up, to turn up, raring to go, to nip up to the toilet, to get worked up about something, grin
· Students will be familiar with narrative tenses but not with the use of the present tense in oral anecdotes
· Students are familiar with ellipsis

Anticipated problems and solutions
· I have never handed students a transcript with details of the overlap of conversation or turn-taking features. For this reason, I would like to explain the layout and give students a chance to skim through it before doing the second listening.
· Telling stories is a difficult task. Some students may find it difficult to speak fluently while incorporating new features and expressions into their oral discourse. I will drill the stress, intonation and mention body language when appropriate and then will give students time to prepare what they are going to say before they perform the task.

Class Profile
There are 8 students in the class. We meet twice a week for one hour 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 20.35 to 21.55. The age range is between 19 and 32. I have been teaching the group since the beginning of October 2002. Some students in the group have been studying at Chester for several years, others have just started this year. Marcial and Eva started classes in January. They are a lively class, who enjoy English and love speaking. Most students work and so find it difficult to do a lot of homework. I include a list of the students and a brief comment about each one.

Elisa - Keen, confident. Good at reading and writing. Interested in vocabulary, expressions and makes an effort to incorporate them into work. She has made steady progress in the exam preparation so far but recently has been very busy. She studies French too and this sometimes interferes.
Mª Mar - Lacks confidence, gets nervous when speaking in front of the group. Good at reading, ambitious when writing but makes mistakes. Keen to do well. She has made steady progress in the exam preparation so far. She works in a bank and has been very busy in the two months.
Ana - A shy member of the group who speaks quietly. Good all round student but a little lazy. She started work a month ago and has missed a lot of classes since then. She loves cinema and music.
Javier - Busy at work so doesn't have much time for homework. He is an engineer and uses English occasionally on the phone and to send emails. Makes careless mistakes when writing and speaking. Needs to work on grammar. He likes to provoke students and joke in discussions.
Carmen - Initially a quiet student in the group but now she participates a lot. Speaks well, works better in pair/ group work than in whole group work. Writing so far good. Not done much homework because she is very busy at work and studies French too. She has been applying for jobs recently and has had interviews in English and French.
Marcial - He studies engineering. He is very good at grammar and knows a lot of vocabulary. He is going to England next year on an Erasmus scholarship and so needs English for this reason. He hesitates a lot when he speaks but participates well in class. He doesn't do much homework.
Estibaliz - She is the youngest in the group and quite shy and quietly spoken. Her writing and knowledge of grammar are very good but she sometimes has problems understanding me. She lacks confidence in the listening and speaking. She has a sister living in London and so is excited about going to visit in the summer although she is terribly concerned she won't understand anything. It will be great for her confidence. She is lazy about handing in homework.
Eva - She is a journalist and needs English for interviewing film directors and stars. She also watches a lot of cinema in English. She changed into my group at the end of January. She likes speaking and makes notes of vocabulary and expressions that come up in class. She doesn't hand in much homework but participates actively in class.

Elisa, Mª Mar, Ana and Estibaliz have all done the FCE exam.
Javier, Carmen and Eva use English at work.
Mª Mar, Javier, Carmen and Eva have all been abroad to English speaking countries.


Lesson Procedure

Stage, time & interaction
5 mins
1. Ss arrive and chat about holidays /recap last lesson
Find out what ss have been doing
Share information from last lesson with those who were absent
menu on board
10 mins
t -ss
ss - t
1. Introduce topic of lesson: telling anecdotes, stories
2. Discuss questions(remind ss of language: opinions, describing..)
3. Feedback (strips)
To involve all students in topic of lesson
To activate schemata
To provide oral fluency practice (language of description and giving opinions)
To focus on structure/features of good story
questions on wall
music notebook
strips for ideas
10 mins
t - ss
ss - t
ss -t
1. Change pairs
2. Explain task
3. Video - extensive listening
4. Ss in pairs compare what understood
5. T ask ss what happened
6. Compare to what discussed in stage 2 activity 3
To vary student groupings
To inform students of task
To listen for pleasure
To listen for gist
To encourage ss to share ideas
To provide basic outline of story
To highlight structure of oral narrative discourse
To encourage ss to reflect and give general impression
homemade video
10 mins
t - ss
1. Hand out transcript and explain layout
2. Students read through quickly to check they follow it
3. Watch video and follow with transcript(ask ss to focus on voice/intonation/body language)
4. Ss comment in pairs
To draw attention to features of spoken conversation
To facilitate listening in next step
To draw attention to paralinguistic features of spoken discourse
To contrast opinions
homemade video
video transcript
music 2
5 mins
t - ss
ss - t
1. Hand out worksheet + highlighter pens
2. Read about typical structure and highlight expressions on transcript to fit into each section: abstract, orientation, remarkable event, reaction, coda
To check students understand and can identify expressions
To focus specific attention on structure of oral narrative discourseTo provide clear record
music 2
highlighter pens
10 mins
t - ss
ss - t
ss - t
1. Change highlighter pens
2. In new colour highlight features of 'evaluation'
3. Feedback on OHP
4. How many different ways does Jane show she is actively listening?
5. Check with back of worksheet
6. Last question on worksheet
7. Feedback
To focus specific attention on discourse features of story telling which students usually find difficult
To provide clear record
To focus attention on variety of active listening features
To draw attention to this very important skill
To highlight the interactive nature of spoken discourse
To check students understand
as above
10 mins
ss - t
1. Predict stress
2. Indicate stress on OHP
3. Drill items
4. Encourage ss to mumble drill
To apply knowledge/encourage reflection
To provide record
To give opportunity to get feel for expressions
To provide opportunity to gain confidence saying items
5 mins
1. Prepare story telling
To give time for planning task
To provide opportunity for ss to practise
music 2
post-its (hot correction)
15 mins
1. Perform task story telling
2. Change pairs - retell story
3. Feedback on story telling techniques
4. If time Diary - reflect on usefulness of lesson
To give opportunity for relating personal anecdote
To practise active listening skills
To encourage active use of variety of expressions and vocabulary
music 1
1. Choose a different story, practise telling it employing some of the techniques, tape it
2. Maximiser
To consolidate, give opportunity to practise in stress free context


Stage 1

Prompts for discussion

Do you enjoy listening to stories or do you think it’s a waste of time? GIVE YOUR OPINION

Are people born story-tellers or is it a skill to be practised? GIVE YOUR OPINION

Do stories have a typical structure? DISCUSS then WRITE THE STAGES ON THE CUE CARDS

What ingredients make for a good story? DISCUSS then WRITE IDEAS ON THE CUE CARDS

Do you revel in telling stories or find it tedious? DISCUSS

Stage 4

VIDEO Transcript

a Jane: Easter isn't a religious festival any more is it, in Britain?
b Sandra: No, probably, unless you…unless you're involved in the church. My sister's become
quite..quite involved in the last few years.
c J (nodding): uh-huh
d S: Did I tell you about what happened at
East, at Easter I was going to say , in February? I went back for her baptism, do you call
it baptism? Yeah baptism.
e J: Ah yeah I remember you taking some time off.
f S: Yeah in the middle of February it was and er it was so funny.
It was on the Sunday morning and and I think the baptism was at .. the service started at
one o' clock and the baptism was
g J (nodding): mmm
h S: at the end of the service half past ten
we were all ready, waiting for this big event..
i J (nodding): raring to go
j S: ..I'm never usually up before half past ten
but ..but there, with the children and everything, we'd been up since 8, and my uncle …
Roy and Valerie, cousin turned up at quarter past twelve
k J: Oh, so the whole family
were involved then?
l S: Yeah family erm and we were having a drink and anyway I nipped
up to the toilet ..and suddenly, …I was in the in the toilet, …the next thing, everything
went quiet and
m J: Yeah?
n S: and I thought that's strange, especially with the children.
o J: Yeah
p S:
Anyway I open the door, go downstairs, nobody around, er ...go into the front room and Stella
is backing off the drive in the car.
q J: You're joking!
r S: I'm not, no, and she's so busily talking
s J: oooo! Ssshhh! Aargh!
t S: to my cousin .. chatting away.. doesn't see me standing there, waving, shouting "Hey,
hey I'm here!" Oh I couldn't believe it, so I thought well.. what do I do next? So, go to
the front door.. locked, go to the back door.. locked, all the windows had these special
locks on them.. couldn't get out of the house.
u J: Did you panic?
v S: Well, I was a little bit,
just shocked I think, that they could forget me. Just shocked!
w J (moves hands): guest of honour!
x S: Well yes,
some guest of honour. Anyway then I realised that everybody has mobile phones so I rang
my cousin Valerie, no answer, I rang Stella's sister-in-law erm….., she'd ..left a little bit
earlier, Linda, no answer, anyway finally I got through to Stella's and there was a
leave a message.
y J (mouth open): Ah!
z S: So I left this really weird message of me shouting down the phone
"Hey I'm here, in the house, when are you going to come and get me?", laughing
a2 J: Aha!
b2 S: Anyway I thought there's no point getting all worked up about it,
might as well just stand by the window
c2 J: uh hum
d2 S: and hope that somebody will come
soon …come to get me.
e2 J: And they did?
f2 S: Yeah about, it must've been.. about ten..
fifteen minutes later..
g2 J: What a relief!
h2 S: brother-in-law came back, David , big grin on
his face as he walked down the path
i2 J: yeah
j2 S: and me at the window, looking stupid ..
But anyway he asked what had happened, and I told him what had happened. Anyway,
silly really but...
k2 J: yeah
l2 S: and fortunately we arrived at the church just in time
m2 J (nodding): Great!
n2 S: Well it'd started a little bit but in time to see most of the service.
o2 J (hands open): So a happy ending?
p2 S: Yeah there was and I think it was good for Stella in the end because she'd been quite
nervous and I think that made her, certainly calmed her down, I don't think she'll
forget her baptism in a hurry
q2 J: Ah so you've got a good family story now to……talk about
r2 S: Yeah, I
don't think she'll forget er the incident ..I certainly won't let her forget it easily
Yes it was nice,
s2 J: Good
t2 S: we had a nice afternoon..

… pauses
overlapping conversation
connecting conversation

Stage 5

Typical structure:

Abstract optional
Opening, at beginning of anecdote, summarises for listener what the story is about.
I'll always remember the time …
Have you heard about the time I…
I must tell you about the other day …
You'll never guess what happened yesterday…
I had a funny experience last week …
Near beginning of story to tell the listener(s) about people involved, time, place.
you know that secretary in our office, well, last week…
Remarkable event
Temporally ordered actions, outlining a remarkable event which the narrator wants to share his reaction to.
And then, suddenly ….
Next thing we knew…
Then you'll never guess what happened …
But wait, there's more!
Anyway, to get back to the point …
Oh, by the way …
How the characters in the story or the listener(s) react to the events related.Typical reactions include expressions of anger, fear, amusement etc
And you know what?
So I …
What amazed me was …
I couldn't believe my eyes/ears!
I was over the moon!
Coda optional
Its function is to round off the story by building a bridge between the story world and moment of telling.It may focus on progress of one of the characters or the lasting effect of one of the incidents in the story.
Makes you wonder.
So, there we are.
And that was it, really.
Looking back, it was all very …

While these five elements give the story its structure, there is another element which can occur throughout the story, to maintain interest and make the story worth telling. The term to describe this feature is 'evaluation'. Labov (1972) says story tellers use evaluation devices to help the listener(s) appreciate that something is funny, embarrassing, humiliating or unusual.
Storytellers use exaggeration, repetition, noises, mimicry, changes of intonation, emotive language, gestures and attention to small detail to interest and involve the listener(s).
Language learners usually find it difficult to use these devices and tell the bare facts of a story with little evaluation (McCarthy 1991)


There are several ways people can show they are listening:

back-channel responses (I am listening!) To evaluate or summarise
Go on (disbelief)
Oh dear, I'm sorry to hear that
That was awful!
How funny!
You must be joking!
Oh no!
You're joking!
What a relief!
So a happy ending?
uh -hu
Repeating vocabulary or expressions or ideas
' raring to go'
Be careful!
Asking questions to fill out details:
what happened next?
Did you …?
And they did?

To check details:
hang on but…I didn't catch that!
So you …
So the whole family …

Predicting details:
Guest of honour!
Paralinguistic features Nodding head
Looking serious
Look of astonishment (mouth open)
Moving hands

One story usually sparks off another, each person who has a story to tell may demand the floor to tell it. Why does Sandra tell the story of the baptism?

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