Teaching Narrative Tenses using anecdotes

Narrative tenses can sometimes be daunting for students. But they are of course essential for communication, especially for telling one another about past experiences. Therefore this blog post will be focussed on how to teach narrative tenses using a dictated anecdote to provide the context. Below I will share images of the slides I use when teaching this lesson and the purpose behind each slide.

Stage 1

This stage is to generate interest and introduce the narrative tenses

I ask students to listen to the anecdote I will dictate and think about what tenses are used. This acts as an inductive, teacher-centred approach as students embark on a guided discovery – they identify the rules from the contextualised example. This approach of teaching grammar lends itself to the TTT (Test Teach Test) teaching model (which is arguably best for higher levels). In addition this, this stage also helps learners develop their listening subskills (Field, 1998):
– segmentation (identifying words in continuous speech) – you could further develop this by asking learners to write what they heard in a google doc and then compare the anecdote with what they heard. What did they struggle with? Highlight any features of connected speech they seem to have struggled with.
– monitoring for information


Stage 1 – slide 1
Stage 1 – slide 2

Stage 2

This stage is to test their knowledge and teach the grammar .

Ask students: what tenses were used? Then use the following slides to revise and clarify meaning for those who identified the tenses – and provide clear explanations for those who struggled to identify the tenses in the dictation. This stage also focuses on Meaning Form and Sound and usage.

The slide below highlights the target language (in this class of B2 learners the main target language was the use of the past perfect simple and past perfect continuous), and uses timelines to demonstrate the order of events. Concept Checking Questions are also used to establish if learners have understood the meaning in the anecdote.

Stage 2 – slide 1

This slide enables the teacher to elicit the different forms of the past perfect simple and past perfect continuous in a class discussion and provide direct explicit error correction when needed.

Stage 2 – slide 2

This next slide could either be used as a main part of your lesson, or alternatively could be printed and provided to stronger students as a meaningful extension task for advanced learners which you could then get them to either:
– peer teach to the rest of the class
– or create their own example sentences for a matching usage exercise to peer teach with (rather than providing them with meaningless extension exercises for which they receive no feedback on). This acts as a nice point of differentiation because as Roland and Barber (2016) state it is vital that we consider our class as being made up of individuals, with individual needs, and therefore it is essential that we plan both structured differentiation – e.g., pre-plan activities so they are differentiated:
– different versions of the same activity based on level (different instructions/extended activities)
– have a prompt sheet either explaining instructions or rules for weaker students
and differentiated support – how can we support students when they don’t know something?
e.g., Verbal prompts
non-verbal prompts (point an explanation on the board, etc.)

Stage 2 – slide 3

You could also provide a prompt/reminder worksheet explaining the meaning form and use of the present simple and present continuous forms for weaker learners.

You might then provide a pronunciation input stage – highlight how for past participles:
– if it ends with t or d we pronounce the ed as /id/ (voiced sound) e.g., wanted /ˈwɒn.tɪd/
– if it ends with a consonant we pronounce the ed as /t/ (unvoiced sound), e.g., helped /helpt/
– if it ends with a vowel we pronounce the ed as /d/ (voiced sound, e.g. called /kɔːld/

The next slide provides learners with an opportunity to practice listening to isolated words and identifying the different sounds. You could then board the correct sounds and drill the vocabulary. Alternatively you could play a back to the board game where you write the sound on the board and students list words until the person with their back to the board guesses the sound and provide direct feedback where necessary.

Stage 2 – slide 4

Stage 3

This stage is to test their knowledge and provide them with controlled practice

This slide provides learners with an opportunity to practice using the target language. This activity could be adapted for weaker learners by specifying in brackets which form of the past perfect should be used (Structured differentiation; Roland and Barber, 2016).

Stage 3 – slide 1
Stage 3 – slide 2

Stage 4

This stage is to test students use of the target language and provide them with the opportunity to produce the language in a personalised context

This slide explains the productive task which has been somewhat scaffolded and modelled by the initial activity. For weaker learners you could give them a handout of the anecdote you initially used (if they don’t have a copy already). Also by informing your learners that they will be asked to tell the class about their partner’s anecdotes informs them of the end goal and allows them to appropriately prepare (make notes if needed).

Stage 4 slide 1

Whilst monitoring consider how you will provide feedback. According to Long (2003) as cited by Tran (2017) learners prefer immediate direct feedback so they can process and begin to fossilise the correct meaning, form, and pronunciation of the language. Tran (2017) also notes that such feedback can interrupt the flow of conversation, so it could be worth sending prompts/reminders in the chat or writing it on the whiteboard for them.

Stage 5

Feedback slot

The slide below includes questions for checking with learners whether they were able to complete the production activity and thus reflect on their learning. It also enables teachers to practice reflection-in-action (see more on this in Foord, 2017) and consider how successful their lesson has been – how can it be improved if students were unable to complete the task? What can you change/add right now to aid understanding?

Also, note that the slide below has a section for ‘good language’ to praise any good use of language, a section for ‘how else could we say this’ in which we provide language upgrades through elicitation for weaker students (by prompting stronger students) and teacher provided upgrades to challenge stronger students.

If you had time you could also adopt Clandfield and Foord’s sandwich feedback model in which you provide feedback, then alternate the groups and allow them to repeat the activity and put the feedback into action.

Stage 5 – slide 1

The next slide involves learners presenting their partners anecdotes in class and provides students with an activity to ensure they are actively listening. When teaching this lesson I anticipated that stronger students would be able to note the use of form whilst weaker students could comment on whether they enjoyed the anecdote (an example of structured differentiation).

Stage 5 – slide 2

Following this you can provide feedback on what they just said. One option would be to mark every time they successfully use the past perfect simple or past perfect continuous on the board so they can clearly see how successful they have been in the activity. You could also note any errors on the board and turn it into a speed team correction game where students work together to correct the utterances. The quickest team who successfully correct the utterance get a point.

Stage 6

Reflection slot

The next slide allows students to reflect on what they’ve learnt in the lesson and therefore provides them with another opportunity to think about/use the target language and any other emergent language. By reflecting on their learning it also allows students to recognise what they need to practice. Reflection can benefit you as the teacher as it allows you to see what they feel they’ve learnt and plan a review lesson stage/lesson accordingly. Finally, this student reflection provides you with a potential base for completing a teaching journal or participating in reflection-on-action (see more on this in Foord, 2017) – where you reflect on your own teaching practice prior to or after teaching.

Stage 6 – slide 1

Exploiting this task

See different methods of implementing dictations

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