An anecdote (to quote OALD) is a ‘a short, interesting or amusing story about a real person or event’. They are a great way of learning English, they are fun, entertaining and whether you are listeing to them or telling them, they offer a real chance to practise language.
There are loads of ways you can use them in your class. First you need a good source of stories you can use. Everybody has their own life stories and funny things that have happened to them, but, as a teacher you might not like to share what happened to you when you were fifteen or that blunder you made at a friend’s wedding.
I’ve pasted a nice one at the bottom of this blog post which I took from the fabulous ELC study zone. Here are three good places to get your anecdotes:
1. The local library. You’ll find something if you look!
3. Get yourself a nice anecdote book from Amazon. I’ve pasted a few examples below
How to use anecdotes in the classroom.
1. Anecdote homework. Tell students a good, long anecdote (like the carpet fitter below) in your own words and explain to students that for homework, they have to find an anecdote to share with their partner in the next session. Explain that students won’t have to tell the whole class (but they can if they want to) and will only have to tell their story to a partner. Also, remind them that anecdotes don’t have to be true.
2. Anecdote reading and telling. Find two good anecdotes and print them out. Put your students into pairs and pass one the first story and the second to the other. Ask the students to read the anecdotes and understand what they mean. When both students have finished, ask them to turn over their anecdotes so they can’t read them. Now students have to tell the anecdotes to each other from memory.
3. Finish the anecdote. Find a nice story and cut off the ending. You could use the one at the bottom of the blog. Get your students to read it and guess the ending.
Eddie the Carpet fitter (taken from ELC study zone )
Eddie was a carpet fitter, and he hated it. For ten years he had spent his days sitting, squatting, kneeling or crawling on floors, in houses, offices, shops, factories and restaurants. Ten years of his life, cutting and fitting carpets for other people to walk on, without even seeing them. When his work was done, no-one ever appreciated it. No- one ever said “Oh, that’s a beautiful job, the carpet fits so neatly.” They just walked all over it. Eddie was sick of it.
He was especially sick of it on this hot, humid day in August, as he worked to put the finishing touches to today’s job. He was just cutting and fixing the last edge on a huge red carpet which he had fitted in the living room of Mrs. Vanbrugh’s house. Rich Mrs. Vanbrugh, who changed her carpets every year, and always bought the best. Rich Mrs. Vanbrugh, who had never even given him a cup of tea all day, and who made him go outside when he wanted to smoke. Ah well, it was four o’clock and he had nearly finished. At least he would be able to get home early today. He began to day-dream about the weekend, about the Saturday football game he always played for the local team, where he was known as “Ed the Head” for his skill in heading goals from corner kicks.
Eddie sat back and sighed. The job was done, and it was time for a last cigarette. He began tapping the pockets of his overalls, looking for the new packet of Marlboro he had bought that morning. They were not there.
It was as he swung around to look in his toolbox for the cigarettes that Eddie saw the lump. Right in the middle of the brand new bright red carpet, there was a lump. A very visible lump. A lump the size of — the size of a packet of cigarettes.
“Blast!” said Eddie angrily. “I’ve done it again! I’ve left the cigarettes under the blasted carpet!”
He had done this once before, and taking up and refitting the carpet had taken him two hours. Eddie was determined that he was not going to spend another two hours in this house. He decided to get rid of the lump another way. It would mean wasting a good packet of cigarettes, nearly full, but anything was better than taking up the whole carpet and fitting it again. He turned to his toolbox for a large hammer.
Holding the hammer, Eddie approached the lump in the carpet. He didn’t want to damage the carpet itself, so he took a block of wood and placed it on top of the lump. Then he began to beat the block of wood as hard as he could. He kept beating, hoping Mrs. Vanbrugh wouldn’t hear the noise and come to see what he was doing. It would be difficult to explain why he was hammering the middle of her beautiful new carpet.
After three or four minutes, the lump was beginning to flatten out. Eddie imagined the cigarette box breaking up, and the crushed cigarettes spreading out under the carpet. Soon, he judged that the lump was almost invisible. Clearing up his tools, he began to move the furniture back into the living room, and he was careful to place one of the coffee tables over the place where the lump had been, just to make sure that no-one would see the spot where his cigarettes had been lost. Finally, the job was finished, and he called Mrs. Vanbrugh from the dining room to inspect his work.
“Young man,” she began, as he climbed into the cab of his van, laying his toolbox on the passenger seat beside him, “while you were working today, you didn’t by any chance see any sign of Armand, did you? Armand is my parakeet. A beautiful bird, just beautiful, such colors in his feathers… I let him out of his cage, you see, this morning, and he’s disappeared. He likes to walk around the house, and he’s so good, he usually just comes back to his cage after an hour or so and gets right in. Only today he didn’t come back. He’s never done such a thing before, it’s most peculiar…”
“No, madam, I haven’t seen him anywhere,” said Eddie, as he reached to start the van.
And saw his packet of Marlboro cigarettes on the dashboard, where he had left it at lunchtime….
And remembered the lump in the carpet….
And realised what the lump was….
And remembered the hammering….
And began to feel rather sick….
MDH 1994 — from a common urban legend
Here’s another class that needs no preparation or materials to run, just a bit of showmanship and some paper.
1. Explain the idea of the quiz in your country (in my case, the pub quiz in the UK). You might like to borrow my annecdote about my dad, which is half true. ‘Every Tuesday night my dad, who’s seventy two, goes down to the local pub/cafe to do the quiz with his friends. There are three of them, all over seventy and they’ll all very serious about winning. My dad goes into the pub/cafe and pays his one pound/dollar to get a quiz sheet and then joins his pals to listen the questions. The quizmaster stands up and taps his microphone, ‘right then,’ he says, ‘Question 1: which is the longest river in the world?’ ‘Question 2: How many people live in the African country Sudan?’ At this point my dad politely explains that he has to go to the toilet [now walk across the class room and very slowly take your mobile phone/hand in the shape of a phone out of your pocket] ‘Hiya [your name] I’m in the quiz and we’ve got a question, would you mind getting on the computer and finding out a few answers for me?’ He does that to m every Tuesday night.
2. Now pass out some slips of paper and tell students they are going to have a pub quiz and that they are going to write two questions each. The number of questions very much depends on how many students you have and how good they are. In a class of ten who are pre-intermediate, I’d ask them to write three each. Ask students to write the numbers 1-30 on their paper. Tell student 1 he/she is writing questions 1-3, the next students 4-6, the next 7-9 and so on. This would give you 30 questions to ask and answer.
3. While students are writing their questions you must help them or the game will not work. Explain that students must not ask a question that is too difficult like ‘briefly explain relativity’ or ‘What colour are my grandfather’s eyes?’. Similarly they shouldn’t ask questions which are too subjective like ‘ Which is the best football team in the world?’. Students should also know the answer to the question.
4. Now get students to ask their questions to the class. Students answer by writing the answers on their paper. Hopefully there will be some banter around the questions – asking for repetiton. You might need to paraphrase but let the question teller do most of the work.
5. When all the questions are done – elicit the answers and find out the winner. Stuident get free points for the questions that they wrote.
The really nice part about this lesson is the genuine communication that it produces, especially when there is cheating and uncertainty among the answers and questions. There may be petty squabbles about the longest river in the world, and you might need google to help you, but this is all part an parcel of this lesson. I usually put a tea bag into a sealed envelope and write the word ‘winner’ on it in big letters, this is the prize for the winner and I continually refer to it throughout the lesson to built up student expectation.