Pass-the-parcel story swap

For once, a double-whammy blog post – two posts in as many days!  But I just tried something new that I can’t wait to share.*

I started Friday’s upper-ints’ conversation lesson with a picture of my childhood home:

…and I told my students a little about it.  What the house was like, what the surroundings were like, what good memories I associated with it, what sights/sounds/smells I remember, etc.

I then told the students to think of their childhood home (or any place they’ve lived that they have good memories of) and take a few minutes to make a few notes, thinking about the sorts of things they’d just heard me describe about my home.

Then came the tricky part.  Organising the ‘story swap’.  It’s something like playing ‘pass the parcel’, but a bit more complicated to set up – but once it gets going it’s not that hard.

I demonstrated the concept first with pens – sitting in a circle, the students had to each hold their pen, then swap it with the person next to them (e.g. on their left).  They then turn to the student on the other side of them (e.g. on their right) and swap the pens they just received.  They then turn back (e.g. to their left) and swap the new pen they’ve just received… and so on, until they receive their own pen back.

By analogy, this is how they will now ‘swap’ their stories about their childhood homes.

If that doesn’t make sense, here’s a diagram showing the way students need to be paired (names invented) in alternate ’rounds’ of the activity:


And here’s the procedure:

Round 1
Pairs swap stories.

Round 2
New pairs swap the stories they just ‘received’ in Round 1.

Round 3
Back to original pairs, and swapping the stories they just ‘received’ in Round 2.

(And so on, for as many rounds as there are students, allowing each student’s story to make it all the way round the circle and back to him/her. So for example, 6 students = 6 rounds.)

Final round
Each student should, one last time, swap the story they just received with their partner – but this time the partner will be listening to their own story being told back to them!  Thus, they can each check which of the original details have been preserved, and which have gone awry in the ‘passing’ around the circle.
An example in action: Laura’s story
Round 1
Laura tells her story to Alex.
Round 2
Alex passes on Laura’s story to Maria.
Round 3
Maria passes on Laura’s story to Pierre.
Round 4
Pierre passes on Laura’s story to Enrique.
Round 5
Enrique passes on Laura’s story to Pavla.
Round 6
Pavla passes Laura’s story back to Laura, who confirms its accuracy.
It’ll work with any number of students as long as it’s an even number.  If you’ve got an odd number of students, you can join the circle yourself (it just might be a bit harder to monitor language use, though not impossible).
Between each ‘round’ you can feed back briefly on good language use and input anything the students seem to be needing, boarding it as you go for the students to refer to in later stages.
Allow at least 5 minutes for each round, plus about 5 minutes between rounds for language input.  (You could spend longer on language input, but the longer the delay between students ‘receiving’ and ‘passing on’ each other’s stories, the harder it will be for them to remember the details – so it’s up to you how challenging you want to make it!)
When I did this today, the students quickly caught on and had a great deal of fun sharing their stories (even dissolving hopelessly into giggles at one point – hence a lesson learned for next time: better class control!).
If I did it again (today I had very little time left afterwards), I’d go back and revisit the language that had emerged during the task, maybe gapping some of the phrases on the whiteboard and seeing what the students could remember, or getting them to make a written record of one of the stories they’d heard/told.  As this was a conversation class, I held off that latter option, but there’s no reason why that couldn’t be a rich source of further language work with a general English class.  Or for any class with more than a speaking focus, for that matter.
This is just another experiment of mine lately to repeat and recycle new language, and it worked out really nicely.  It seems a bit tricky at first, but well worth it!  Would love to hear from anyone else who tries it – how it went, any variations, etc.
…Good luck!
*I know I was inspired by something I’d read recently, but can’t for the life of me remember what/where that was, so if I stumble across it again, I’ll update this post appropriately.

About Laura Patsko

Teacher trainer, language learner, language teacher, linguist, researcher. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. I love this idea, Laura – I'll definitely use it in class as soon as a can. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Hi Cat, glad you liked it! Let me know if you try it out and how it works. The only trouble I've had with repeating it has been if odd numbers of students turn up… then it kinda all falls apart. The teacher can join in, of course, but then it's harder to monitor and take notes!

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