This is an activity that I call a storytelling gapfill. Preparation involves selecting a short narrative text and isolating a number of phrases or sentences from it. The text that I have chosen is a simplified version of Simon Armitages ‘Knowing what we know now’ from his book Seeing Stars.
- Language level: Intermediate (B1) +
- Learner type: Teens; Adults
- Time: 50 minutes
- Activity: Gapfill storytelling
- Topic: Morality and ethics
- Language: Present tenses
- Materials: Materials light
The Elf said to Kevin:
You’re probably wondering why I’m sitting here at your breakfast table this morning, helping myself to your toast and cereal. I’m here to make you a very special offer. You could call this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Today, is the 11th December and this is a very special day for you. You are exactly forty-four years and thirty-six days old and that is exactly how long you’ve got left.
Let me do the maths for you Kevin. You are going to live until you’re eighty-eight years and seventy-two days. And you have just crossed the halfway line.
Now Kevin. You have two possibilities: You can carry on – continue your life and pretend that we never met. Or you can accept my offer and let me flip the hourglass of life.
Do you see what I’m saying Kevin? Instead of getting older, you’ll be getting younger. I’ve got all the forms. All you have to do is sign here. And it’s goodbye incontinence, hello Ibiza.
What do you say Kevin?
The arthritis in Kevin’s shoulder had been painful recently. He was starting to go bald and his beer belly was getting bigger every year. The elf was right – this was a very special offer.
Kevin imagined how fantastic it would be to go back to his youth, knowing all the things that he knows now.
But what about Annie – the woman he loved? The woman he loved more than anything in the world? The only woman he had ever loved? What would happen to her? Would it be fair if, while Kevin was wearing fashionable T-shirts, she was losing her teeth?
No! I made a promise to Annie and I’m going to keep it. I won’t do it. I won’t sign.
The elf said:
Well Kevin, there aren’t many gentleman left in the world. But you are one of them. And your Annie – well, she is one in a million. She is a fantastic woman: beautiful, attractive, gorgeous, outgoing.
Yes – a great woman Annie. I had breakfast with her just the other day. And I’ll tell you something: she’s looking younger every day.
And then the elf clicked his heels together and he was gone.
Isolate a number of phrases or sentences from the main story text and write each one on an individual scrap of paper. Look for structures that you want your learners to learn or revise.
Example sentences/phrases from the part one of the text could include the following:
- you have just crossed the halfway line
- flip the hourglass of life
- you’ll be getting younger
- a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
- you’re probably wondering why I’m sitting here at your breakfast table this morning, helping myself to your toast and cereal.
- sign here
- exactly forty-four years and thirty-six days old
- pretend that we never met
From part two:
- just the other day
- his beer belly was getting bigger every year
- one in a million
- I’m going to keep it
- there aren’t many gentleman left in the world
- had been painful recently
- knowing all the things that he knows now
- younger every day
Lesson plan outline
This activity will work best if students sit in circle or horseshoe formation around the teacher.
- Make sure that your students know what an elf is. For example, show them covers from the film Elf or the book the Elves and the Shoemaker.
- Tell students that you are going to tell them a story but first you want to give them some key pieces of language from it. One by one, introduce students to the isolated sentences/phrases from part one of the story (see above). Teach unknown words as you go along, drill the language and distribute the words/ phrases so that everyone has one if possible.
- Ask everyone to put their pieces of paper on the floor, text side up.
- Tell students part one of the story. Pause whenever you require one of the sentences/phrases and invite students to find the corresponding piece of paper, read it out aloud and hand it to you.
- Continue this way until you have completed part one of the story.
- Put students into pairs or small groups. Ask them to decide what they would do if faced with the elf’s offer and why.
- Take feedback and allow students to share ideas.
- Repeat steps 2 – 5 for part two of the story.
The Elf Story is an adapted version of a short story by writer Simon Armitage. The original title is Knowing what we know now. It is from the book Seeing Stars I am grateful to my friend Chris Rose for introducing me to the writer and this story in particular.
Follow up 1
Ask students to rewrite the story as accurately as they can in their own words. They should start by putting the isolated sentences and phrases into the correct chronological order and then continue by incorporating them into their own written versions.
Follow up 2
Get hold of a copy of Simon Armitage’s book Seeing Stars. Show students the original version of the story Knowing what we know now. Draw attention to aspects of the original version which has not been simplified. For example, the original version contains a lot of lower frequency words and idiomatic expressions, all of which may cause problems for language learners. This could serve as an introduction to the world of graded readers.