Adult Ed
Thinking Inside the Box



One of the ways that oral traditions are preserved is through storytelling. These stories seem to grow each time they are told, until they eventually become accepted as history. This lesson engages students in the process of building stories from a variety of objects stored in a box. It incorporates listening skills and creativity as a basis for developing writing skills.

Target Level
  • ESOL (Advanced)/Pre-GED
Subject Matter
  • English Language Arts

Learning objectives:

Learning Objectives: (Image)
Students will be able to
  • Identify elements of a story.
  • Gather word clues and/or artifacts to describe an environment.
  • Develop an essay or story from a group of pictures and/or objects.
National Council of Teachers of English
  • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

  • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Media Components


My Father's Love Letters by Yusef Komunyakaa (Real One Player required)
This audio file allows students to hear the author of a poem read the text. Learners can listen to clues provided by changes in the speaking voice that convey the mood of the poem and the meaning behind the words.

Rusty can of Jax
The author of the poem makes a reference to "a can of Jax". Some students may not be aware of this reference. Use this site to help verify the contextual clues provided in the poem. For a more historic view of the reference, log onto "The Story of Jacksonville" website at

Short story elements
This high school site describes the key components of most narrative writing forms.

Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab (Real Player required)
Go to the "Heavenly Pies Restaurant" section, at
This site allows students to hear conversational language. There are three degrees of difficulty from which to choose when preparing to listen. For this lesson, a two-speaker conversation (between a restaurant server and a customer) will be used to help students practice identifying story elements while also building listening skills and learning the impact of word choice in a conversation.

Northwest Territories (NWT) Literacy Council Literacy Games
This Canadian site provides teachers with an excellent classroom activity resource for building language literacy. The "How-To Kit" contains 24 activities that can be used for individual learning and class-based instruction. For this lesson, we will use the "Paper bag skit" ( and a modified version of the "Mystery box"( All of the activities are also available as a portable document file online (Acrobat Reader required)

  • Old magazines
  • Index cards
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Toy dolls (Miniature works well) and/or accessories
  • Various household objects (small toys, fruit, cans, cotton balls, music tapes, CDs)
  • Paper bags
  • Shoe box with lid
Prep for Teachers
  • Load appropriate plug-ins (Real player, Adobe Acrobat)
  • Before teaching this lesson we recommend that you do one of the following; bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, create a word-processing document with all of the Web sites listed as hyperlinks, or make paper handouts of the necessary information on the Web pages.
  • Make copies of the handouts
  • Place three or four household objects or toys in a brown paper bag. Roll the bag down so that their contents can not be easily determined. Put objects in the bag that can be used to build a story.
  • Preview all of the Web sites and videos before presenting them to your class.