Teaching Using Anecdotes and Stories

Teaching Using Anecdotes and Stories

An anecdote (to quote OALD) is ‘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 listening to them or telling them, they offer a real chance to practice language.


Telling stories is the cornerstone of language. Sometimes the stories have different names and conventions like reports or articles but they all have a structure and they all have ideas that need to be clearly expressed.

Three Quick Anecdotes

Here are three quick anecdotes you can use for any of the activities. See the bottom of the article for more!

Alex and the rich man
Alex was in a cafe when a rich man walked over to him. The rich man looked very healthy and sun tanned. He wore an expensive black suit and a silk tie. He looked at Alex with a frown.
“How much do think I’m worth?” said the rich man.
“I don’t know,” said Alex.
“Come on, guess how much I’m worth.”
“Okay,” said Alex. “I think you’re worth $100”
The rich man laughed. “Ha, that’s just the price of my suit.”
“I included that in my answer,” said Alex.
Joe and the Hairdresser
Joe’s wife was an ugly woman. She had horrible eyes a big nose and fat lips. One day she decided that if she had a nice haircut it would make her more beautiful. So Joe took her to the hairdresser.
When the hairdresser had finished he held up a mirror so that Joe’s wife could look at herself. She looked in the mirror and saw her ugly face. She saw her big nose and horrible eyes. She started to cry. Joe started crying as well. The hairdresser tried to calm them both down. He said he would give them a refund for the hair cut, but Joe would not stop crying.
Then Joe’s wife became angry.
“Will you shut up?” she said. “I’m the one with an ugly face”
“I know,” said Joe, “but I’m the one who has to look at it all every day.”
The workman and the beggar
One day a workman was up on the roof of his house mending a hole in the tiles. He had nearly finished and he was pleased was pleased with his work. Suddenly, he heard a voice below call.
When he looked down, the workman saw an old man in dirty clothes standing below.
“What do you want?” asked the workman.
“Come down and I’ll tell you,” called the man. The workman was annoyed, but he was a polite man, so he put down his tools carefully and climbed all the way down to the ground.
“What do you want?” he asked when he reached the ground.
“Could you spare a little change for an old beggar?” asked the man. The workman thought for a minute. Then he said, “Come with me.”
He began climbing the ladder again. The old man followed him all the way to the top of the house where he had been working. The beggar was red faced and tired from the climb. When they were both sitting on the roof, the workmen turned to the beggar.
“No,” he said.

7 Anecdote Activities

  1. 1

    Just Tell and Anecdote

    Just telling your students a funny story is sometimes a great introduction or filler task. Use any of the stories you find here or even examples from your own life. Your experiences that you share with students will make the language more authentic and more interesting. Students can also use you as a model to copy when they tell their own stories in English.

  2. 2

    Read and Tell

    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 (they can use their phone to translate if you want them to). When both students have finished, ask them to turn over their anecdotes so they can’t read them. Now get students to tell the anecdotes to their partner from memory. Get confident students to tell the whole class their story.

  3. 3

    Finish the Anecdote

    Cut off the ending from the anecdote/story. Get your students to read it and guess the ending.

  4. 4

    Arrange the Anecdote

    Print out a story and cut it up into pieces. Have students put the story back together in pairs or groups.

  5. 5


    Choose a short anecdote and dictate it to students. This might be a bit long winded for some stories. You could get students to read out sections of the dictation for you.

  6. 6

    Anecdote Homework

    After you’ve done some work with anecdotes in your class explain to students that they have to find an anecdote to share with their partner in the next session. They can be from their own lives or from a book or the internet – they don’t have to be true. 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.

  7. 7

    Write an Anecdote

    Have students write the anecdote that they collected for homework. They can do this as a class activity or as further homework.

More Anecdotes from Around the Web

Be careful searching for stories and anecdotes on Google. There are thousands of them!

One Stop English has a whole section of anecdotes based around the classroom.

You can find some great Fables on the BBC School Radio. These are quite easy and so they are great for lower level students but they can also generate a lot of good discussion for those with intermediate English.

The British Council has a wonderful and very large collection of short stories. They come as MP3 files as well and have a range of activities and teacher’s worksheets.

OUP have also written a series of interesting new books around using ‘reading circles’. You assign students different roles, get them to read the same story and then discuss it.

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