Controlled Narrative Writing

Controlled Narrative Writing

rated by 15 teachers

I find that students at lower levels get bogged down with narratives: they either try to be too imaginative and the grammar goes haywire, or they get all the tenses right but have added no description.

Although very controlled (and teacher centred) at first this task offers students a way to produce simple, but accurate and descriptive narratives on their own.


Procedure: Have prepared a short story in the past tense (below is a suggestion).

Tell the students that you will read them a story but you will pause after a noun for them to shout out suitable adjectives. As the story goes on they will get the idea. Listen to all the suggestions and write down the one(s) you think is most suitable (without telling the students) and carry on.


For example:

(T) There once was a woman….

(SS) old /mad/ugly/fat/stupid/lonely

(T) who lived with her dog…

(SS) fat/black/useless/lazy/funny


Then read it out loud again, including your chosen adjectives.

This time pause after a verb and elicit adverbs.


For example:

(T) There once was a lonely, old woman who lived …

(SS) alone/happily/

(T) with her useless dog. One summer’s day she walked…

(SS) slowly/quickly/

(T) to the…


Read it a third time with the added adjectives and the adverbs, this time eliciting any other interesting information, including past continuous tenses (E.g. The puppy was sleeping). Pause at a suitable point in the story. You may want to prompt the students with why? or how? If they say she walked with her stick, that’s great! Finally read the whole story out, completed. Tell students that in pairs they are going to follow the same procedure and develop a story step by step. Hand out the story on the first worksheet and guide them through the stages, encouraging the students to use their imaginations but making sure the added words and phrases are appropriate. Pin up the finished versions and invite students to read them all and to decide whose is best. Why is that? For homework they do all the stages themselves, but using the second worksheet to make sure they don’t leap to the last stage.


A possible story:

There once was a woman who lived with her dog. One day she walked to the village and bought some fruit and vegetables. When she came back to her home she found that her dog was gone. But inside the house she saw a puppy.



• put the original story on an OHT so students can see how you add the extra information

• also introduce linking words, or for higher levels, relative clauses or past perfect

• elicit the first simple story so students feel more involved but make sure it’s simple enough

• for a follow up lesson encourage a more interesting story line, perhaps by giving a suggested name: The Secret Door, Lost in Space, Never Again…this can be linked to a theme in the course book.


Worksheet 1 in class


1 Look at this story, and with another student add

• adjectives

• adverbs

• any other interesting information

One day Anna went to visit her father. She took some books and magazines. Her father was happy to see his daughter. They talked, and Anna went home.


2 Now write the full story here:



Worksheet 2 at home


1 Write a simple story with only four sentences.

2 Add

• adjectives

• adverbs

• any other interesting information


3 Now write the full story here: