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Re-imagining Fairy Tales


A recent thread on a parenting forum about whether or not we should be reading Cinderella to our children reminded me of this activity I used to enjoy doing with my students. I’ve always loved the dark side of fairy tales – the side that doesn’t get into Disney films! If you haven’t read it, you should really get a copy of Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’. With advanced students I have read and discussed her version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which she calls ‘The Werewolf’ before doing the second half of this writing task. It is a very short story (2 pages) but is very dense and quite difficult for all but good advanced learners. Even though this activity is about fairy tales it is not necessarily a task for young learners, although you could use it with them without the reading and rather than re-writing the stories for adults you could just re-write them set in modern times. As the lesson is described here though, it should be a writing activity that teenagers and adults enjoy. It is a good activity on editing and re-drafting, and would be a nice, interesting follow-up to my lesson plan on ‘Getting some flow’.

Aim: For students to write two versions of different fairy tales, one for children and one for adults.

Level: B2 + (although particularly successful with C1 if you use the reading too)


1. Ask students if they read fairy tales when they were growing up, or watched movies about them. Brainstorm some different names of fairy tales and write the names on the board (often the names translated differently into English so sometimes you need to do a bit of detective work to work out which story they mean!). Some of the stories might be from your students cultures and unfamiliar to you.

2. Ask your class if they know the phrases that we normally use to begin and end fairy tales in English and teach the phrases ‘Once upon a time….’ and ‘Everyone lived happily ever after…’

3. Put the students into pairs or small groups and ask them to brainstorm some different vocabulary that commonly comes up in fairy tales for a couple of minutes then write the vocab they think of on the board. You will probably have words such as: Prince, princess, step-mother, fairy godmother, dwarf, castle, etc… Again, you might need to help with some of the translations as they can sometimes be different in different languages.

4. Ask the students to each choose their favourite fairy tale, or at least one they remember well. It doesn’t matter if it is not a really famous one, it might be one from their own culture.

5. Tell the students to imagine they are going to tell this story to a young child. They should write the story as simply and clearly as they can using simple vocabulary and short sentences.

6. OPTIONAL: This is the point when I would do the reading activity if you wanted to. First, I would give them a traditional version of Little Red Riding Hood, written for children, to read, such as this one. Then I would ask them to read Angela Carter’s ‘The Werewolf’. Students can compare and contrast: Which aspects are the same in both stories? Which parts of the story are different? How is the language different? How is the atmosphere created different (and how is this done)?

7. Put the students into pairs. Try and pair them up with someone who has written about a different fairy tale if possible. Ask them to swap stories. It shouldn’t matter if they don’t know the story their partner has written about as there should hopefully be enough information in the story.

8. Tell them they are going to re-write their partner’s story, but write it for adults. Discuss what changes they could make, i.e changing the ending (i.e do people really live happily ever after?), changing the time setting (making it modern?), bringing out the darker elements of the story (the death, dark magic, etc).

9. Give students time to re-write the stories. You might want to set this for homework to give them time to think about it and write.

10. When the students have written their new stories they should swap back with their partner to read the new versions and then they can discuss which versions they like best, how they have changed it, etc. It’s a nice idea to publish the stories on a class blog or wiki if you have one.

This lesson is based on and inspired by ‘Writing: Creative Writing’ from One Stop English.

Chain Story Activity


(Photo taken from by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

This activity was inspired by a great blog post by Rachael Roberts on ELT Resourceful on Collaborative writing activities. In the post Rachael mentions circle writing (or chain writing) activities and states she is “not actually very keen on this activity. It can have some amusing outcomes, but I wonder what exactly the students are learning, as the process rarely produces a coherent or cohesive outcome.” I also had the same issue with chain stories, it was hard to see the point to them! However, the students did seem to enjoy them, and it got even the most reluctant writers getting something down on paper. So I decided to try and find a way to make them work for me, and this is what I came up with. It is a simple solution but it has always worked well for me.

Aim: The class will collaborate on several stories and then edit and redraft to come up with (hopefully) coherent (although probably at times bizarre) stories. I like to use a guided chain story with prompts which can be found in many photocopiable resource books (the Reward series have a couple), or you can make up your own with the class.

Level: A2+


1. Carry out the chain story (I always remind the students to write clearly because another student is going to have to read their sentences afterwards). Set a time limit for students to complete the question before saying change and asking the students to fold the paper over and pass it to the person on their right. Monitor as they do the activity to check they have understood the questions and their sentences are answering them.

2. Once the last question has been answered ask the students to pass the paper one more time to the right. Tell the class that the paper they are now holding is their story and they are responsible for it.

3. Ask them to unfold the paper and read the story. If there is anything they don’t understand encourage them to find the person who wrote it and ask them to explain.

4. Now explain that they are going to redraft this story into a text. The text must be connected and logical. They can add information but they have to keep the facts of the story the same as they have on their paper. Ask them to try and make the story flow. Set them a time limit to complete the task.

5. When they have finished the stories it is nice if everyone has an opportunity to read them since they have all contriuted to them. If you have a class webpage or wiki they could be uploaded there, or you could stick them up around the walls of the classroom and the students could go round and read them. You could even vote on which was the funniest, strangest, etc.

A (Creative) Writing Editing Checklist

Aim: I find it useful to give students a checklist before expecting them to edit their own work, or indeed to undertake peer correction. The following checklist is from a creative writing module I taught. It can be adapted for almost any level or any type of writing. It can also be personalised for individual students and added to over time so it reflects errors or problems that they make. Over time it will serve as a memory jogger for common problems.

Level: A2+ (when adapted)


The first time you write something is only the beginning to get your ideas down. That is the fun part! After that, the hard work begins… Here we will look at three main areas: paragraphs, grammar and vocabulary.

Use this checklist to try and make your writing as accurate, clear and as interesting as possible. First make notes on your first draft and then write the piece out again.


Have you used any paragraphs? Have you used them in the correct places?

There are three main places where you would start a new paragraph:

  1. When you change location or time.

For example:

…..After they finished dinner, Jane was shattered and so headed off to bed to get an early night. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

The next morning the sunlight through the thin curtains on the window woke her early….

2. When you change to a new idea.

For example:

…her eyes met his and she smiled, a spark of electricity passed between them. His brown eyes reminded her of her father.

She still missed her father even now, ten years after his death. She thought about him every day….

3. In dialogue (start a new line every time someone speaks)

For example:

“Hello?” she called “Is there anyone here?”

Her voice echoed in the darkness. Suddenly she heard heavy footsteps behind her. Before she had a chance to turn she heard a gruff male voice.

“Who are you and what do you want?”

*Remember, when you start a new paragraph you need to start a new line and indent.*


Grammar is very important in making your ideas clear. You should know the errors that you often make and be checking for these. However, here are some common errors:

  1. Missing/too many verbs.

Does every clause have one main verb?

X He a big man.                                  X He has is long hair.

2. Using the correct tense.

Generally, when we write prose we use the past tense, but this could be past simple, continuous or perfect.  Also, when we write dialogue that could be in the present tense. You need to check your tenses agree after you finish writing.

3. Using the correct word form.

Sometimes you will be using the correct word but the form will be incorrect, for example nouns instead of verbs and adjectives instead of adverbs.

X She walked slow home.                   X He gave her lots of good inform.

4. Missing articles.

You need to be careful to include articles. Remember, normally the first time we mention something we use ‘a’ and then after ‘the’.

For example:

There was a young girl who lived in a forest. The girl was very beautiful.

5. Your own problems.

Do you have another grammar mistake you often make?

Write it here:



Your vocabulary is what makes your writing come alive and be interesting. Especially when creative writing – you need to use creative words!

  1. Repeating the nouns.

Try not to repeat nouns too much, use pronouns instead.

X  At six o’clock the man entered the bar. The man sat down and ordered a drink. The man drank quickly.

2. Repeating adjectives/adverbs.

Try not to repeat adjectives or adverbs either, it is boring! There are thousands of words in English, try and find some new ones. Check your writing to see if you are always using the same vocabulary to describe things.

3. Using boring adjectives/adverbs.

Boring words are words like nice, good, happy, sad, etc. Can you find a more interesting way to say this?

4. Use similes!

Similes are an excellent way to make your writing more exciting! Look at your writing and find a boring adjective. See if you can change it to a simile.

For example:

He had blue eyes.  =  His eyes were as blue as the ocean.

When you finish writing you should always go back and read your work and check you are happy with it. It is often a good idea to read it out loud as then you will read more slowly and carefully and are more likely to notice mistakes. Or give it to a friend to read and ask their opinion, they will notice things you may have missed and might be able to give you some suggestions.

Getting some flow


Aims: Often students (particularly EAP students) have a vague notion that they need to ‘improve their writing’. What does this mean? Well, for some students that might be working on grammatical accuracy, for others learning how to structure an essay, for others maybe expanding their vocabulary. For many though, what they really want to do is improve their writing ‘fluency’, that is to make their writing sound more natural, to ‘flow’. This isn’t an easy thing to teach though! However, apart from the (always good) advice to read, read, read, I have found this lesson to really help them to understand what you mean when you talk about writing fluency. As such it is a lesson I refer back to again and again.

Level: B2+ (and particularly good for EAP students)


1. Show the class the following text (or write one similar):

I woke up this morning. I was hungry. I didn’t have any food. It was raining. I walked to the shop with my umbrella. I bought milk and bread. I started to walk home. It was windy and there was heavy rain. My umbrella blew inside out and broke. I ran home. I got very wet. I made tea and toast. I went to bed.

Ask them: Is this a ‘good’ piece of writing? Why or why not? Is the meaning clear? How could we improve it?

What you should be able to elicit is that although the meaning is clear it is not very interesting. It has no ‘flow’. Suggestions to improve might include: varying sentence length, adding adjectives or adverbs, connecting sentences, giving more interesting details. Write any suggestions on the board.

2. Show them this text (or a similar one you have redrafted):

When I woke up this morning I was starving hungry because I hadn’t eaten any dinner the night before. I went to the kitchen to get breakfast, but my flatmates had finished all the food already and there was nothing to eat in the house. I looked out the window and saw it was raining. I was so hungry though! I decided I would just go to the corner shop to buy some food. I grabbed my umbrella and headed out.  At the shop I bought a loaf of bread and some milk. As I started walking home there was a sudden gust of wind, and my umbrella blew inside out. I heard a crack. It was completely broken! Just at that moment the rain started to pelt down really hard. I ran all the way home, but by the time I got there I was soaked through to the skin. I made some tea and toast and went back to bed.

Ask them if they think this text is better and why or why not (often they will suggest other improvements!) Ask if they can identify which of the things they had suggested before in the text and look through for examples.

3. Now it is their turn to try and improve a text. Show/give them a copy of this text.

I was tired. I was cleaning my teeth. I saw something in the mirror. I looked up it was a ghost. I screamed. My friend ran in. She said it was just the cat. I think it was a ghost.

You can give them different texts, or ask them to write simple texts and get them to swap around.

4. Ask them to swap around or read their stories out in groups and discuss what they changed, how different they are. You could even get them to collate their individual stories into one collaborative group effort.

5. Ask them what they think is meant by writing ‘flow’. You should be able to explain/elicit that it is connecting ideas together to make the writing interesting, easy to read and sound ‘natural’.

(This idea has been inspired and adapted from a lesson on Teachitworld called ‘Letting it Flow’.)

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