Lateral Thinking Stories/Black Stories

This exercise is possible at the A1 level (after the past simple at least has been learned), but better from A2-C2 levels. The focus of this exercise is forming questions especially in the past (past simple or past continuous). There are many of these games on the market (see amazon) or you can find them online. Lateral thinking stories or Black Stories are a mix of a riddle/puzzle and a story in which the learners are told the ending of the story and must ask questions (yes/no) to figure out how it came to be. One story could go on for anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, so be prepared. I usually just do one or two stories at a time.

  1. Choose a story (see here for some:
  2. Explain to the learners that they will ask you closed questions. You can have them work in pairs or small groups if you have a large class.
  3. You could allow a person/team to ask a follow up question if the answer is YES. (your answers will be YES, NO, or NOT RELEVANT)
  4. The person/team that solves the story wins.

NB: Be prepared to give clues if they aren’t coming up with. For example: Ask about the wife/what he looks like/her age etc. (especially if the exercise is taking longer than planned).


Folding Stories

This is something I used to do with my friends back home. It is best for levels from A2-C2. As the teacher, you should also take part!

  1. Give each participant a page with one sentence at the top (a different sentence for each sheet), such as: Bob had a problem at work./An old woman named Martha needed help./Sarah received an email with the best news of her life.
  2. Allow the learners to read their sentence and explain that they will write the next sentence under the original sentence.
  3. Then, everyone should fold the paper in such a way that only their sentence is visible.
  4. They then pass their paper to their left. When they receive the new sheet, they read the visible sentence (again ONLY THE LAST SENTENCE), they continue the story for that sheet.
  5. The process repeats for a certain period of time or until the sheets are full.
  6. Finally, the learners open the sheets and read their stories out loud to the group. Some of the stories will be quite funny, others strange, but everyone enjoys hearing them!

1-1 Adaptation: this exercise does not work for 1-1 situations at all. There need to be a minimum of 3 people who write.

One-Word Stories

This one is a little like “Fortunately, Unfortunately” in that the learners construct a story together. It’s not a specific use of vocabulary but can be used especially well for the past tense. Reviewing linking words could help. It really focuses on listening and syntax.

  1. Explain that the group is going to create a story and that each person will add one part (best if in a circle). Each person’s addition is to consist of just one word. Start the story yourself, e.g. Yesterday/Unexpectedly/In etc.
  2. The next person adds just one word to the story and it continues.
  3. You may choose to limit the story by saying the sentence should not end (hence the use of linking words). Or you can allow a sentence to end, but the person must use “period” to end the sentence.

1-1: This can also be used in 1-1 lessons as described above.

Fortunately, Unfortunately

Fortunately, Unfortunately

This activity is particularly good for practicing the past simple (or also past simple, past continuous and past perfect). It can be used for almost any level. It can also be used as a general fluency activity.

  1. Explain that you are going to tell a story and each person is going to add one line to the story. You will begin the story (the first part might be more than one sentence) and the next person will continue the story.
  2. The second person has to begin, however, by using “Unfortunately,…”
  3. The following person has to then begin with “Fortunately…”
  4. The story continues as long as you want. If it ends too quickly, simply start a new one.

Some beginnings I like are:

      1. Maria had many children and many problems. One day, she found a winning lottery ticket on the ground.
      2. Pablo was in a hurry to get to the airport for a flight with his girlfriend to Tahiti.
      3. The dog was very hungry.
      4. And so on.

1-1: This works for 1-1, but for the second round, have the learner begin so that they have an opportunity to give the “Fortunately…” lines.

How They Met

How They Met


This one is good for practicing the past tenses and vocabulary connected to stages in a relationship. If you feel it is too personal, you can have them describe a celebrity couple or even their parents etc.


  1. Explain that they should write the story about how they met their partner, best friend or neighbor. Again, if this is too personal, they can also research a famous couple or write about their parents etc. You might give this as home practice so they can take their time writing it. However, it is important that everyone does this activity for the it to work. If you want to be prepared for those who forget, bring extra celebrity stories that you can distribute. It is best if they type these stories so they are easier to read and less easily identifiable by the handwriting.
  2. Collect the stories (with no names of authors) and redistribute them. It is OK if someone gets their own back. Allow them time to read the text. Circulate and answer any vocabulary questions they might have.
  3. Have the participants read out the stories or summarize them in their own words and the others listen and guess who wrote the story. If it is a personal story, allow for follow-up questions. If it is a story about a famous couple, allow others to add information that was not in the text.


Collect the stories and redistribute. Have the participants write questions about the texts such as “Who met his future wife in 1988?” or “Why did X go to Cuba in 2009?” etc. Then collect the question slips and redistribute them (NOT to the person who wrote the slips or the person who the slips are about).

Liar! Liar!

Liar Liar


This one is good for practicing tenses. You can limit it to just the past simple, or include past continuous, past perfect or adapt it for present and future forms. It’s good fun.

  1. Prepare two stories which include the target grammar. One story is 100% true and the other is totally made up. Obviously, the more unusual or interesting the stories, the better. Use longer stories for higher levels and shorter stories (as short as one sentence) for lower levels.
  2. Explain to the learners that one story is a lie and one is true. They should listen and decide which is which (no asking of questions afterwards).
  3. Tell the stories.
  4. Allow the learners to talk among themselves and decide which one they think is true and a lie.
  5. It’s always fund to when you tell them which one was really the lie.
  6. Next, have them do the same thing. Because they usually need time (unless they are very proficient) I usually give this as homework.

Variation: If two stories are too difficult, you can tell them they must tell just one story but with two lies in that story.

Picture Sotries

Picture Stories


This exercise is good for all levels and there are different versions.


Version 1

  1. Print out pictures/clipart depicting actions/people/places etc.
  2. Give a pile of cards (about 12-15) to each small group (3-4 people).
  3. Explain that they are going to go in a circle, taking one card which they use to tell a story.
  4. Then the next person takes the next card and continues the story.
  5. Continue in this manner until all the cards are gone.
  6. The trainer should circle and assist when needed.

Version 2

  1. Instead of the participants taking the cards as they tell the story, distribute the cards and allow them to choose from the ones in their hand which card they will use to tell the next part of the story.

Version 3

  1. Lay all the cards on the table face-up and allow them as a group to create an order and negotiate the story.

Version 4

  1. Lay all the cards on the table face-up, and each player (going in a circle) can select ANY card visible to tell the next part of the story.

This exercise is good for speaking practice at all levels.