Making Stories

Making Stories

Andrew Wright  (collection of articles)


Why make stories?

Some people use more brain cells if they can be creative.

What better ways are there of developing fluency?

Story making and story telling are a natural way of using language for real purposes.

Are there better ways of revising and re-using language?

And what better way of integrating the four skills?

What better way of linking work in the classroom with the outside world?

Which language level?

Any level…you make something with what you have got.  Isn’t confidence ‘to have a go’ the basis of fluency?

Beginners benefit by experiencing their modest range of language being used to create something new.

Advanced learners benefit through the opportunity to refine nuances of ideas and hone their language skills.

Any effort for the teacher?

No preparation.  No cost.  No talent except giving value to what is created and considering that your cup is half full and not half empty.

The only other effort is controlling your desire to do it for them.

But the curriculum is already very full!

If storymaking does not provide the students with rich and relevant experience of using language and developing fluency in the four skills then don’t do it…but feel sure that what you do instead is more effective.



Your enthusiasm for storymaking is important and the students mustn’t feel that it is just a technique for teaching English.

Your encouragement to the students to ‘have a go’ and not worry about mistakes.  Language use and desire for accuracy must be a consequence arising from a desire to express and understand ideas and feelings.


Apart from enthusiasm you need to get them going and you may need to nudge them towards: finding fresh ideas; particularising the information they use; developing dramatic tension; keeping to a consistent plot.

Do this by asking questions.



Technique of asking questions and building the story

  •  Ask the questions but try not to have in your mind a good answer…be open to any ideas even those which seem silly at the time.
  •  Don’t add ideas to make it better from your point of view.
  •  Don’t show special enthusiasm for one suggestion and none for another because this suggests that you have a hidden storyline which you want them to confirm instead of letting them feel it is THEIR story.
  •  Don’t ask closed questions: Is it a boy?  Give lots of alternatives so it is a genuine choice.  Is it a boy or a girl, or a man or a woman, etc.?
  •  Don’t correct mistakes but in your re-telling give the correct version.
  •  Every so often re-tell the whole story.
  •  Don’t ask the students to re-tell the story while making it…this is worthy but damaging to the dramatic pace necessary for making the story come alive.
  •  Remember: you are the story collector not a guide to higher qualities (at least, not on the surface!)
  •  From beginners be happy with single word suggestions and from more advanced students expect phrases or full sentences.
  •  The questions given below are not sacrosanct in choice nor in sequence!  Begin with the weather or with a woman crying or a box if you wish.

Two special tips!

  • If they are really stuck and don’t suggest something then you can suggest a lot of possible answers…not one!  In this way, by choosing it remains their story!  For example, when you ask who is in the story, you don’t say, How about a boy?  Say, a man, a woman, a girl, a boy or an animal.  That gets them going and leaves the choice in their hands.
  • I always tell the students that everything I hear from them will go in to the story.  This prevents a division in the class with one group shouting for one bit of information and another group shouting for a bit of information given by one of their members.
    If I ask, how old is she?  I may hear, 12, and then, from someone else, 16.  I say to the students, “I heard 12 and I heard 16 so both must be in the story.  But how can she be 12 and 16?  The students must find the answer, not you.  For example, someone might say, “Well, she’s 12 but people think she is 16.”
    If nobody can explain why she is 12 and 16, I re-tell the story by saying, “People don’t know how old she is.  Some people think she is 12 and some people think she is 16.”

Questions you ask to kindle the story into being

Who is in the story? 

Beginners and elementary

For beginners and elementary basic questions you might ask and suggestions about what might be said are given below either as content words or as examples of what the student might actually say.

T: Who is in the story?

T: Is it a man, woman, boy, girl, animal…?

T: Name, age, appearance? (Find your way of asking these questions!)

Intermediate and advanced

For intermediate and advanced students you might well begin by asking simple questions…but then follow them up by questions or requests intended to help the students to particularise: character and consequent behaviour, concerns and consequent actions,  relationships and consequent actions.

T: Tell me more about….

T: Was it just grey or a particular kind of grey?

T: Give me a metaphor or a simile for her character.

T: Tell me about her.   Is she nervous or confident, an extrovert or an introvert?  And how does that show itself in the way she sits? Etc.

Sts: (prompted by detailed questions from you) She is nervous.  She has lost all her self-esteem. She still tries to give the appearance of being in control and sophisticated but she deceives nobody, not least herself. Etc.

Where are they at the beginning of the story?

If the students give you a detailed location, for example, in a box, then ask questions to find out about the box and then ask questions to find out where the box is.  If the students give a very broad location, for example, in America, then ask questions to find exactly where in America, right down to the house, the room and under the bed in the room.

 Beginners and elementary

T: Where is she at the beginning of the story?

T: Are they/is he/she in the….

Examples of locations: country: mountains, hills, forest, desert, fields, river, lake, sea, etc. City, town, village, house, castle, etc. Under a tree, in a hole, in bed, etc.

Intermediate and advanced

T: You say she is in York but tell me where, exactly.  Describe the place for me in detail so that I can see it.

Sts: (prompted by detailed questions from you) She is in an upper room in a Georgian house in York.  There is a dormer window with one pane of glass missing and the other cracked, jagged like a trace of lightening seen against the grey, overcast sky outside.


When is it at the beginning of the story?

Beginners and elementary

T: When is it at the beginning of the story?  When does your story begin?

Examples of times: months of the year, weeks, days, seasons, times in the day.

Intermediate and advanced

T: Alright it is September but make me see it, smell it, feel it.  Make it vivid.

Students:(prompted by detailed questions from you) It is early September, the time when swept up piles of fallen leaves are burning slowly and there is a chill in the air and children are going to school for the first day of the autumn term with their new school bags proudly carried on their backs.

What is the weather like?

Beginners and elementary

T: What is the weather like?

Examples of weather conditions: It’s raining, snowing, windy, stormy, the sun is shining, etc.

Intermediate and advanced

T: It is going to rain, I understand the general idea but make it special, individual, a particular moment which I can see and feel.

Sts: (prompted by detailed questions from you) The sky was overcast with heavy, grey, pillows of cloud sagging with the deluge about to fall. In the street below there was a stirring of air, a plastic bag lifted for a moment and fell, then turned and moved a few centimetres along the side of the curb.


What is the main protagonist doing?

Beginners and elementary

T:  What is she doing?

Examples of answers: hiding, sleeping, eating, cooking, reading, etc. Crying, laughing, shouting, etc.

Intermediate and advanced

T: Show me how her character and concepts affect where and how she her sits.

Sts: Her thin legs were crossed, her spine arched forwards, her head with its froth of blonde dyed curls filtered the smoke from her cigarette which she held in her slightly trembling fingers.

What happens then?

You ask questions to invite them or push them to say what happens next.  Only use your suggestions for what happens next as a very last resort and if you do then give, at least, three possibilities.

What do you do with the story?

To create something and then to let it disappear seems such a shame!  Ask the students to write up their version of the class story for homework.  Publish the stories for others through books, posters, websites, plays, videos, audio recordings.  The students will want to get their text to be as accurate as possible if it is published!

Don’t select the ‘best’ stories for publication!  Publish all the stories or ask the class to vote on what should be published.  No prizes!  Competition and selection label losers as no good and fix the winners in roles they ultimately may not wish to have.

Further reading

Wright, A. (1995) Storytelling with Children.  Oxford University Press

94 activities for use with most stories

Wright, A. (1997) Creating Stories with Children. Oxford University Press

Wright, A. and Hill, D.  (2008) Writing Stories.  Helbling Languages

71 ways of promoting story making

Johnson, K. (1981) Impro. Methuen

A book for actors and a source of inspiration for others.

Copy Wright and Copyright

Please Copy Wright if it is for your students only but if it is for use outside your own classroom then the material is Copyright.  However, please write to me and we might be able to come to an agreement.

Contact me if you like

If you want to know more about me and my articles and stories:                


I run international workshops in my lovely, flower full school on:

  • Writing stories
  • The craft of telling stories

In other countries

I run workshops and give talks in other countries on:

  • Making stories
  • Writing stories
  • Writing poetry
  • Being creative
  • Making books
  • Being an event maker


I have published my first collection of short stories!

Beggar in Bogota

Perfect for a present to yourself or to a friend!

10 euros plus postage

Alan Maley read it and said, ‘

‘What a wonderful collection of stories from life!  Andrew Wright has the artist’s gift for close observation, noticing the things others overlook, and the story-teller’s gift for narration, spinning a yarn.  In this richly varied collection of incidents and characters, we are, by turns, moved to tears, surprised by the unusual, and reduced to helpless laughter at the sheer eccentricity and wonder of this life.’


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