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The Power of Narrative, Part 3


by Terry Phillips


Presenting and practising tense grammar in context

A narrative can be written in present tenses. In fact, it should be, for students when they are starting to read. We do not want a learner to have a first encounter with a verb in the simple past, since so many frequent verbs in English are irregular. Later, a narrative obviously offers perfect opportunities for showing the complex interaction of past tenses, and when past continuous or past perfect are required in English. But, as detailed above, when we bring in summarizing we can ask students to move into present tenses. Synopses of stories and films are normally written in the present, so this is not an artificial class activity. We can also ask students to consider the information critically in present rather than past tenses, e.g., Is A brave? Why does A go to B’s house?


Presenting and practising syntax in context

The possible exercises listed in Developing reading and listening skills previously which test prediction skills (i.e., What is the next word/phrase/sentence/discourse point?) can only be completed with full accuracy if students have followed the narrative and also decoded the syntax up to the point where you stop the sentence or paragraph, e.g., A goes to … (B’s house) because she wants to (borrow some money).


Other possible grammar targets?

Once we see narrative as more than just ‘reading for pleasure’, many activities beyond those detailed above come into view in a more effective way than if we base context on sentence level examples. To name but a few:

  • pronoun and possessive adjective reference,
  • discourse markers,
  • use of articles,
  • lexical cohesion,
  • use of adverbial phrases of time, place and method, etc.


To sum up, most ELT coursebooks no longer feature running narratives, but they are such a powerful teaching and learning tool, perhaps it is time for some brave writer – and publisher – to take the plunge and bring them back.



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