Interactive Storytelling for English Exams

How much can we actually teach students for exams without being exam-oriented?

Wherever we go in professional development the reality of teaching to the test always crops up as something to avoid or get around somehow. Yet, we want our students to achieve high standards and we want them to have qualifications.

For me, it’s a matter of teaching BEYOND the test.


Exposing them to real English before they ever see exam-type structures, whilst getting them used to such structures in fun, stress-free environments is a great way to raise competency well before exam deadlines loom ahead.

This is a topic I wish to expand upon and develop through my blog in upcoming features. I presented this topic at the Virtual Round Table Conference.

Here is the recording of my presentation:

Watch live streaming video from letstalkonline at

Here is the powerpoint to go with the presentation:


I felt that I needed to expand upon what I said in my short presentation as well as add an infographic and mind map as examples of ways to present phrasal verbs for revision, fluency development and memory work, as well as for showing how we can integrate use of English transformation structures into fun storytelling comics before students ever even realise that these are official parts of the exam.

The Art of questioning:

One thing I wanted to develop further was the art of questioning. After presenting new phrasal verbs on comics strips, or even when revising phrasal verbs through comic strips, we need to draw students into the story and also get them to think for themselves. I feel that by consciously adopting good questioning techniques, we can also train students to think for themselves when they come across new language in context independently.

I love this quote about ‘minds-on’ learning by Neil Stephenson at🙂

“The power of an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning is its potential to increase intellectual engagement and foster deep understanding through the development of a hands-on, minds-on and ‘research-based disposition’ towards teaching and learning”.

Metacognition through storytelling, visual literacy for fluency development is a rich, rewarding approach to going beyond our targets and objectives.

“….powerful learning occurs in the space between what is known and structured and what is yet to be”

Neil Stephenson

Here’s a simple summary of Socratic question types that can train students to engage with stories enough to think for themselves and ultimately absorb new language more deeply and memorably.

1: Clarification of a key concept

‘Could you explain that answer further?’, ‘What led you to that judgement?’, ‘Why did you come to that conclusion?’. ‘What made you say that?’

2: Challenging assumptions and misconceptions

‘Is there another point of view?’, ‘Is this always the case?’, ‘

3: Arguments based on evidence

‘What evidence do you have to support that view?’, ‘Is there any other information would help support this?’, ‘Could we challenge that evidence?’,

4: Looking at alternatives

‘Did anyone look at this from a different angle/ perspective?’, ‘Is there an alternative to that point?’, ‘Could we approach this from a different perspective?’

5: Consequences, implications and analysis

‘What are the long-term implications of this?’, ‘ However, what if…….happened?’, ‘How would ……affect..?’

6: Questioning the question

‘Why do you think I asked you that question?’, ‘What was the importance of that question?’, ‘What would have been a better question?’

Another powerful benefit of Socratic questioning is the impact it can have on students answers if they start using Socratic questioning themselves when completing units of work within the classroom or at home. By using Socratic questioning themselves they can often analyse and evaluate at a much higher level.”
Graham Prior

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living; perhaps we should consider that an unexamined lesson is not worth learning?

 Examples of visual learning through infographics and mindmaps.

Below is a simple infographic of a mixed-up story. Of course, mixed-up stories are  well-known in traditional ELT, but I am a teacher who loves to integrate the best of traditional creativity into digital visualisation. Here students have to read and put the story in order, and in doing so practice comprehension and meaning-making with regard to the phrasal verbs.

More things we could do with this infographic:

1) Just show the story in chronological order so that it becomes a visual poster display for the classroom or for students bedroom walls, class blogs etc.

2) Add captions for use of English transformation stem prompts (see recording above), provide a  mindmap with synoyms as well as explanations of phrasal verbs and usages, and then guide students towards creating their own direct speech diaologues using transformation stems and phrasal verbs in the speech bubbles.

3) Different infographic designs lend themselves to alternative ways to display phrasal verbs. Playing with visual design like this can generate many new ways to present, learn and engage with the target language.

Putting the P into Phrasal Verbs
Phrasal families on mind maps:

These mind maps can  be used a posters or as the basis for storytelling. Students in pairs could create their own comic dialogues from the phrases on the map.

This map could also be extended to add common collocations along the relevant branches and images could be added for key words or situations in the sample sentences.

There are many ways to use mind maps  creatively and many reasons why we should use them. A topic I hope to write about soon.putmap

My powerpoint presentation is full of related links and the presentation is very short. You can fully benefit by watching the presentation and by exploring everything embedded in the ppt. you will also be inspired to try other idea derived from the tasters here.

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Sylvia is is an online teacher & writer with a background in English Literature, history and education. She is also an award winning blogger featured by The British Council, online teacher, official blogger for WiziQ, professional development organiser, and passionate researcher into creative learning via Educational Technology @Eslbrain. She is currently focusing on ELT publishing and children’s publishing. Her personal projects for 2014 include writing ELT books through story-telling, comics, poetry, and social and emotional learning, while continually creating and sharing brain-friendly learning materials and ideas online. Her other main interests are art, writing, poetry, and psychology, which which help her to create fun quality time with her children and add colour to her language lessons. When she's not teaching online, she's writing course books, blogging or running her English language Facebook groups.
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1 Comment

  • Hi Sylvia,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be making a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.


    ann foreman Reply

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