Retell the Story 1-2-3: A Fluency Activity for ESL Students

Retell the Story 1-2-3

Skills: Speaking

Time: 15-20 minutes

Level: Beginner to Advanced, 8+

Materials Required: Timer


This is a fluency activity which can be done with beginners by having them introduce themselves. Higher level students can tell a story they know or recap a story that was covered in class. Give the students a bit of time to think about what they’re going to say; the lower the level of students, the more time they will need.

Working in pairs, each student will tell the same story three times. The first time, they will each speak for one minute. Then, have the students switch partners. With their second partner, each person will tell the same story, but add more detail, so they speak for two minutes. Again, everyone will switch partners. The third time they tell their story, everyone should speak for three minutes.

You might need to reduce these times for beginner students if they are struggling to keep talking. With an advanced class, you might want to reverse the order to 3-2-1, in order to help them focus on retelling only the most important parts of the story and working on fluency.

Teaching Tip:

An orderly way to have students quickly switch partners for this activity is to have only half of the students move. If your students sit in rows, have even numbered rows move up one seat. If your students sit in blocks of four, number the students 1-2-3-4, and instruct which numbers to switch seats.


  1. The teacher can do a demonstration, telling either a story or introducing themselves.
  2. Divide students into pairs after giving them a minute or two to think of a story to tell.
  3. Tell students which partner will go first (ie: students on the right) and start the timer for one minute. When time is up, start the timer for the second partner.
  4. Instruct the students who spoke first to move to the seat in front of theirs (or according to your classroom configuration), set the timer for two minutes, and complete round two.
  5. After both partners have had a turn, have the same students move again, set the timer for three minutes, and complete round three.

Like this fluency activity for ESL students?

It’s from this book: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Kids (7+)

Plenty of ideas on how to get your kids speaking. It’ll make your classes enjoyable and fun, for both you and the students.

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