5 – Story Gap Algorithm

Story Gaps (Meaningful Input, Language Focus, Fluency)
Many controlled activities are not communicative. For example, with pair dialogs, students practice fake conversations about other people, which may have a functional purpose, such asking permission, stating the time of day, or apologizing. But students are not communicating real messages to each other. With story gaps, however, students communicate messages using the information gap technique. We can do this using a handout, or we can use a projector, as follows:  

  1. Preview key words on the Preview Slide (Part 1).  
  2. Pair students as speaker and listener.
  3. Sit in “GAP” position. Speaker face screen. Listener face speaker.
  4. Show the Story Slide (Part 1).  
  5. Speaker: speak a repeatable chunk from the Story Slide.
  6. Listener: repeat the chunk by shadowing the speaker.
  7. Finish speaking and shadowing Story Slide (Part 1). Repeat a 2nd time for fluency.

After the Story Slide is done, students remain in “gap” position, for Q/A. The speaker asks the listener questions from the Q/A slide. Hints are provided if the listener needs help. After pairs finish the Q/A slides, the teacher can call on listeners to check answers. When the Q/A is done, the speaker and listener change places, and repeat the process with (1) Preview Slide (Part 2), Story Slide (Part 2), and Q/A Slide (Part 2).

Incidentally, in Gap position, the speaker faces the screen and the listener faces the speaker. Because the screen is removed from the pairs, the speaker tells a story that she “sees off in the distance.” This feels more naturally communicative than telling a story to a person which the speaker holds in her hand. Moreover, with the screen, it is a little bit easier for the listener and speaker to maintain eye contact and use gestures because the hands are free. When using a paper, the speaker can hold it up in one hand, and gesture with the other hand, but the set up with the screen feels just a bit more natural for communication than the paper version.  

For the meaningful theme (MT) for our Story Gap, we will use Part 2 of the John Wooden story, A Coach for Life. For the communicative principle (CP), the speaker has a message, which the listener does not have; therefore, the speaker is genuinely communicating to the listener. In addition, story gaps also use the following communicative principles, which we can summarize with the acronym “REALISM.” Students don’t need to know these principles, but they are helpful and remind us about the benefits of Story Gaps and how to do them.  

  • R: Pairs set a good “Rhythm” while speaking with each other. As the speaker speaks part of the message, the listener needs to repeat it, and when done well students get into a good back and forth rhythm when they do this activity.
  • E: The speaker needs to use clear “Elocution” to be understood and shadowed. If elocution is bad, the listener cannot repeat the text, so there is a kind of natural negotiation of meaning that takes place, where if a listener can’t hear or understand, she’ll learn forward, tilt her head, or say “What? Again please.”
  • A: The speaker says an appropriate “Amount” of text, so the listener can shadow easily. This will vary with each student, so as students improve at doing this activity, they will adjust the amount of text that they expect each listener to repeat back.
  • L: This activity is primarily a meaningful input activity that promotes Listening. It is also a meaningful output activity, but less so because the output is controlled and not generated by the speaker.
  • I: The text is graded at the level of the students, but they will face some new words or Idioms. The teacher can pre-teach words that students may not know, using the Preview Slide.
  • S: The teacher encourages the speakers to use gestures or Signals as they speak the story to their partners. Students may need some support to think of what gestures to use. But these gestures will greatly increase the effectiveness of communication, so the teacher needs to continue to help students use gestures or “signals” as they get better and better at this activity.
  • M: The key element of this activity is the Message. Speakers are communicating a real message to their partners. Though it is controlled, students are communicating and in many ways, they simulate a real conversation with the story gap activity.

Dr. Joseph Poulshock

Dr. Joseph Poulshock works as Professor of English Linguistics in the Faculty of International Communication at Senshu University.