Once upon a time: 10 story activities for the primary classroom

Children love stories! Stories appeal to their vivid sense of imagination and appetite for fantasy. They help children understand and accept their own feelings and are a vehicle to teach values and about other cultures. And from a language perspective, they are a rich source of vocabulary and structures in context and lend themselves to both serious and enjoyable learning for our pupils.

In this blog post we will consider 10 classroom-ready activities to use alongside stories in the classroom. These are divided into three sections: before reading, while reading and post-reading

Before reading

Before we read a story we can have our pupils engage in a variety of prediction activities to spark their interest in a story and give them a reason to read. Prediction activities also help develop our pupils’ creativity and critical thinking (if they are making a prediction based on a stimulus). We may also consider pre-teaching some of the language in the story, though many stories are visual and the teacher can use mimes and gestures, so it often isn’t necessary. Of course there are many activities which combine prediction and pre-teaching vocabulary (rather than simply teaching the vocabulary in isolation) as we’ll see below.

1) Provide the pupils with some words that appear in the story. They predict what happens in the story based on these words.

2) Give the pupils the title of the story and a list of words, some of which appear in the story and some of which don’t. The pupils pick out the words they think appear in the story, giving reasons. Or, don’t give them the words, just the title or the front page: the pupils write down five words they think will appear in the story and five words they think won’t.

3) Show the pupils either the front cover of the story or a picture from one of the pages. The pupils describe what they can see and predict what happens in the story.

NB * Many of these prediction activities include some sort of categorisation and we can build in movement here, by putting words / sentences on cards and having pupils put the ones they think appear on one wall and the ones they think don’t on another wall for example.

While reading

Depending on the age of your pupils / your objectives, you’ll be reading the story to your class (perhaps sat in a semi circle or in the reading corner) with lots of mimes, gestures and exaggerated intonation (remember, telling a story is different from reading a story), you’ll be reading the story together with your class (with pupils perhaps taking turns), pupils will be reading the story in pairs or groups (meaning they don’t have to read aloud in front of so many people) or pupils may be reading alone.

4) What happened? After finishing a page, close the book and have the pupils tell you what happened / how much they can remember / how much they can remember about the corresponding picture.

5) What happens next? After a given page, have pupils predict what they expect to see happen on the next page / how a character will be feeling – to see if they can start making cause / effect links.

Post -reading

Post-reading activities can have a variety of different aims. We will want to check the pupils’ comprehension of the story (though we can do this while reading too, of course). This obviously can relate to being able to remember what happened in the story, but also to higher order skills like critical thinking (having students analyse and evaluate the story – see examples below).

We’ll want to exploit some of the vocabulary and structures (ie have students make decisions about vocabulary from the story and use it for themselves so they’re more likely to commit it to memory). But we should also allow our pupils the chance to express what they thought about the story and to be creative – perhaps having them retell or change the story. Stories can be a great inspiration for pupil production, be that writing or speaking.

6) Check predictions. Have students go through the story to see if they were right about the words or sentences they thought they’d see and compare their predictions to what actually happened in the story.

7) Ordering the story. Give pupils a list / strips of paper of things that happen in the story and have pupils put them in the right order. This can be a collaborative activity: split the story into, say,  twelve strips of paper and the pupils into groups of four. Each pupil receives three strips of paper and takes turns to put them on the table, one at a time, deciding where to position their strip in relation to those that have already been placed. Only once all pupils have placed their strips of paper can the group discuss the order and make changes (this way all pupils have a role and therefore all pupils have to think and work).

8) Ask follow up questions to develop higher order skills. Eg. What did Goldilocks eat in the house? vs. Do you think Goldilocks would be a good friend? What would you do differently if you were Goldilocks?

9) Pupils retell the story. There are many ways to do this.  It could be students writing their own personal version of the story (Goldilocks walked into my house…). It could be groups of students doing a ‘writearound’ (pupil writes a line for the story and passes it on to the next pupil, who adds to it). Or, we could get pupils to draw a pictures of what happens in the story as an aid for them to retell it, perhaps even drawn around the first letter in the story’s name (see picture). Or it could be pupils acting out the story. As a way to add interest, take the pressure off shy students and add a real sense of occasion and performance, masks, puppets or even a mini theatre are fantastic ways of spicing up this type of activity.

10) Pupils do a book review. They will likely need a frame for this with sentence stems. We might include information such as: name, author, what it’s about, favourite character, favourite scene etc.

And they all lived happily ever after. There you have it! 10 story-based activities for the primary classroom.

To find out more about Bug Club, a whole school digital and print reading programme, click here.

To have a look at Pearson English kids readers, click here.

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Bringing reading to life for young learners

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