Six Word Stories

Recently, I participated in a fabulous digital storytelling workshop through TESOL Electronic Village Online. One of the activities that caught my eye during the workshop was Six Word Stories. The process is simple: Students choose a picture and tell a story in six words.

I had so much fun doing the activity myself I decided to use it with both my young learners and my more mature learners. It worked beautifully! Six words doesn’t intimidate anyone, so even my weakest writers enjoyed thinking of their stories. Six words also creates an effective framework for activating some micro-grammar awareness—especially word order in sentences, and the need for pesky little words in English (like BE verbs and articles).

I did a Creative Commons search on Flickr to find funny photos for the project, and collected them in galleries. (Click on “dogs” and “class” in my galleries if you’d like to see all of the photos we used.) Then, I printed the photos so students could work with them more easily (especially since one of the places I teach doesn’t have Internet access). Students chose the photos that appealed to them, and worked on creating their stories.

Here’s one of the pictures my young learners chose, and how their story developed:

Funny Horse

Student 1: Horse angry.
Me: What kind of word goes in front of “horse?”
Student 1: A? The?
Me: A horse? The horse? Which one sounds right?
Student 2: The horse. (pointing to the horse in the picture).
Me: Right. It’s a specific horse.
Student 1: The horse angry.
Me: What’s missing? (pointing to the space between “horse” and “angry”)
Student 3: Is.
Me: Yes.
Student 1: The horse is angry.
Me: Not six words.
Student: 2: The horse is very angry.
Me: Still not six words.
(group pause)
Student 3: The horse is very, very angry.

The process was similar with my mature learners (the baby of the class is 50), but they worked in pairs and then as a group so they could pool their grammar knowledge and help each other. Their life experience led to some very different stories. This was their favorite story:

dog in suit

photo by Matt Barber

I would trade my husband for him.

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17 Responses

  1. Sherry Alvarez says:

    I love this!! I’m using it tomorrow!!!

  2. Hoon says:

    Nice one. Thanks for sharing. I’ll use this someday. =)

  3. Joanna Budden says:

    This is great. I’m going to use it too. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Barbara says:

    Thanks! I’m glad you all liked the activity. It’s incredibly flexible and easy for students to adapt to their individual language levels. The higher the English level, the more students can focus on word choice and packing an entire story into just six words 🙂

    Hope you’ll pop back in to let us know how the activity works in your classes!

  5. Ann Foreman says:

    Hi Barbara,

    What a great idea! Have just linked to this post on the TeachingEnglish facebook page so that our more than 16,000 readers/contributors can benefit from it as well.

    Feel free to post there directly when you have anything you’d like to share.



    • Barbara says:

      Wow! Thanks, Ann. I’m glad you liked the idea, and thought that your readers and contributors might enjoy it as well. Thanks for the offer as well, although I’m not sure if I can guess what other people might be interested in 🙂

  6. Tania says:

    nice and funny! it execises their minds!

  7. Burcu says:

    Excellent idea,thanks for sharing..

  8. Ha! Oh lovely activity, Barb!

    When you see your mature learners again, could you tell them how much I enjoyed their story? Still chuckling!

  9. Jessica Dubois (@Jessica_Dubois) says:

    Hi Barb,

    Thank you for sharing this idea. It’s a great idea to use high interest photographs with any students because they always engage and spark discussion and usually laughter! Thank you for sharing your gallery. Often that is what takes the time, finding these photos.

    Kind Regards, Jessica 🙂

  10. Sarah says:

    Under the dog photo that is 7 words….

  11. ms30sth says:

    I really love this one. I’m sure I’ll use it. Thanks.

  1. April 4, 2011

    […] Teaching Village: Six Word Stories Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto describes how to do a “Six Word Story” activity and provides a detailed description and actual student examples. […]