Posted 19/2/13
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
Elf story pdf [downloaded 4404 times]

The story

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.

Elf sentences

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.

  1. The_Elves_and_the_ShoemakerMake 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.
  2.  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.
  3. Ask everyone to put their pieces of paper on the floor, text side up.
  4. 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.
  5. Continue this way until you have completed part one of the story.
  6. Put students into pairs or small groups. Ask them to decide what they would do if faced with the elf’s offer and why.
  7. Take feedback and allow students to share ideas.
  8. 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.
Elf square

Posted 19/2/13

15 Responses to Elf story

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I enjoy the way you tell the story and the students are engaged with it. I think the storytelling gapfilling will help them when writing a new tale, what in my experience is not easy for them. Thank you for sharing!

  2. lucila Barbosa says:


    This one was definetely the best. Of course. Congratulations! If I were to present this class in front of headmasters of a school while looking for a job, I’d certainly be the chosen one among hundreds.

  3. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Elizabeth. Thank you Lucila.
    Let me know how you get on with it in class. Good luck!
    Jamie :)

  4. Graziela says:

    Another great activity!! I decided to start with an excerpt of that movie ‘The Curious Case of B.Button’, though. So I chose a little excerpt when B.B. is 7 and he goes to a church because people thought the had the devil on his back and that’s why he couldn’t walk. I played the sound of this part, but did not show the scene. Students had to listen and then tell me about what was going on in the scene. There is a part when the shepherd asks how old benjamin is and he answers 7. I try to elicit this from the students and then ask them to describe this 7-year-old person physically. Some will describe him as a true 7-yr-old, others will find his voice strange – he sounds like an old man. After we’ve discussed for a while, I show them the scene. Lots of students here in Brazil are familiar with the movie, so it’s easier to link with your activity. You can even ask some deeper questions, if you want. Later, I do your activity as instructed, and to finish I do Rod Stewart’s Forever Young song. It was a great class! Thank u!

  5. Jamie Keddie says:

    Graziela – coincidentally, I did a similar thing
    Since my students were aware of the film, they were quick to point out the similarities between the film and ‘Knowing what we know now’ (The Elf Story). That was the first time I did the activity.
    The second time, I decided to start with a picture of the Benjamin Button film poster. That way students that had seen the film were able to explain the backwards-aging principle. It worked quite well. Unfortunately, I edited that part out of the classroom clip that I made.
    Great minds think alike, eh? (That’s what they say)
    Jamie :)
    PS I just discovered that the Curious Case of Benjamin Button dates back to 1922. It is a short story by Francis Scott Fitzgerald:

  6. rayman says:

    thank you , really good

  7. Nikki says:

    Hi Jamie,

    This lesson worked really well with four of my groups, who loved the story! Thanks for the idea :-)


  8. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Nikki
    Nice to hear from you
    Hope all is well in Brno
    Jamie :)

  9. Graziela says:

    Hi Jamie,

    I didn’t know the movie was based on a short story by S. Fitzgerald!
    I wish my mind were as great and creative as yours! Thank u so much for all the amazing ideas you share with us! A friend of mine, Lucila, gave me your book as a gift. It’s great!

  10. Juan Manuel Verduzco Recillas says:

    It was a vey lovely story. Thanks a lot for sharing with us!!!

  11. Anna says:

    Hi, Jamie,

    I loooved this activity, just like loads of yours!
    Thank you so much for being so generous and sharing your ideas with teachers from all over the world!

    Greetings from Siberia, Anna :)

  12. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Anna
    Nice to get your comment. Happy new year to you in Siberia!
    Jamie :)

  13. Thank you so much for sharing the idea . I really liked the way of telling story. I got a clear new way of teaching story. I believe my students will certainly enjoy this and my students will be able to write stories on their own.

  14. It really me touched how emotional you made and how easy procedures you made to teach a story. I read it three time and shared the story with my children they were so patient and curios to listen it. Finally they were exited to end the story on their own way. It was my very good of teaching story. I really felt great relaxed.

  15. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you Durga
    This is great to hear. Glad you and your students enjoyed it!
    Jamie :)