The Farmer and the Fortune Teller: Using stories to teach grammar

Some of us love grammar lessons, but others…teller

If you, or your learners, fall into the second category, one great way to make grammar meaningful, interesting and even edifying is to adapt stories to include a little grammar that you can then extract and analyse.

Stories provide for ‘Context, Analysis and Practice’ (C-A-P: something I’ll be talking about more at IATEFL Glasgow 2017, watch this space). Here’s how you can use them:

Context – Live listening

If you’re confident telling the story yourself, you can turn it into a listening activity even if you don’t have an audio player or speakers. Alternatively, you could get them to read it themselves, providing a few comprehension questions that help them to focus on the meaning of the story first.

Analysis – Noticing and understanding

It’s useful at this stage to give them a copy of the story, and get them to underline examples of key words, tenses or sentences that you want them to notice. Don’t forget to get them to think about who used the grammar, and what their reason was for using it, whether this is the writer or characters in the story, just like Danny Norrington-Davies recommends in his new book: From Rules to Reasons.

Practice built-in!

A particular advantage of using stories is that once you’ve done the analysis, you can use the same story for the practice. First, turn the story itself into a gap-fill that they have to complete without looking at the original story. This encourages them both to draw on their memory of the story and the context provided, but also to apply the logic of what they have understood about the grammar itself during the analysis.

Then, for freer speaking practice/production, they can either retell the story, or role-play it if it involves characters (which most do). Alternatively, for writing practice, you could get the learners to rewrite the story with an alternative ending!

Here’s an example from my website. It’s a story adapted from the Alchemist by Paolo Coelho that I love to use to teach first conditional. Try it out with your learners and let me know how it goes!

The Farmer and the Fortune Teller – First Conditional Grammar Lesson

Do you have any other stories that you use to teach grammar? 

16 thoughts on “The Farmer and the Fortune Teller: Using stories to teach grammar

    1. Picture stories are good for continuous forms, but not so easy for the simple contrast, unless you tell a personal story. For e.g. tell them about your sister or brother (with picture) who’s on a diet to lose weight. Show them what s/he usually eats, does, drinks, doesn’t do, and then what s/he is doing this week.


  1. It was very interesting Jason, I am definitely going to use the story. Could you also share the way you find the appropriate story for the grammar you intend to teach or practise? Or does it work the other way round: first finding a story and while reading it you decide what it would be suitable for?


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