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ESL Story Sequence Activities

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Story writing can be one of the best ways to teach English as a second language (ESL) students the ins and outs of English. This lesson provides teachers with story sequencing activities for use in an ESL setting.

Story Sequencing 101

Of all the elements of English that English as a second language (ESL) students are tasked with learning, writing can often pose some of the most significant challenges. One effective way of minimizing these challenges is to provide students with creative ways to both learn and analyze writing, such as story sequencing.

First of all, story sequencing teaches students about structure, a vital skill in a variety of English writing disciplines. In addition to structure, story sequencing helps students develop ideas and promote content flow using transitional words and phrases. The more comfortable students are with sequencing words and phrases, the more cohesive and readable their writings will be. Finally, story sequencing helps students keep a critical eye on how a story progresses and can aid in the development of strong editorial and proofreading skills.

Sequencing Words

This activity will challenge students to identify sequencing words in a list. Begin by dividing the blackboard into five columns, and write each of the following lists in a column, making sure to leave out the answers in parentheses:

List 1

  • First (yes)
  • Later (yes)
  • Time (no)
  • See (no)
  • Last (yes)

List 2

  • Move (no)
  • After (yes)
  • Go (no)
  • Soon (yes)
  • Left (no)

List 3

  • Where (no)
  • Second (yes)
  • During (yes)
  • How (no)
  • Next (yes)

List 4

  • When (no)
  • Again (yes)
  • Right (no)
  • Additionally (yes)
  • During (yes)

List 5

  • Then (yes)
  • Use (no)
  • Finally (yes)
  • Before (yes)
  • Big (no)

1.) Explain to students that sequencing words shows changes in time, when something takes place, or the order in which events happen.

2.) Divide the class into small teams.

3.) Instruct the teams to identify the sequencing words in each list.

4.) Either have teams turn in their answers, or ask each team to share their answers with the class.

5.) Discuss any disagreements among the teams, and be sure to provide examples if necessary.

To extend this activity for intermediate or advanced ESL learners, have each group write sample sentences that include the sequencing words from the list. You can also have students create their own lists and challenge other teams to identify the sequencing words.

From Page to Picture

1.) Find a short story with an appropriate reading level for your learners.

2.) Divide the story into enough short sections (2-3 sentences) so that each student can have one section.

3.) Give each student one section of the story and instruct him or her to draw a picture that represents what's happening in that section. Students should also write the text of the section at the bottom of the picture.

4.) Collect the pictures and tape them on the blackboard.

5.) Ask for volunteers to come up to the blackboard and rearrange the pictures (with text) into the correct sequential order.

6.) Once the class is satisfied with the way the pictures are arranged, read the original story aloud and move any pictures that are out of place. This is also a good time to identify the sequencing words and phrases that students used to determine in which order the pictures should go.

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