I have had three bags of Rory’s Story Cubes just sitting in some random drawer in a dresser in my bedroom. I bought them originally for my children, but they haven’t seen much use for one reason or another. Actually, I hadn’t thought about them for the past year until yesterday when I was searching for “ESL writing games”.
Story Cubes come in different themes and sets, but the purpose is the same. Roll the 9 cubes, look at the pictures, and connect them into an interesting and imaginative story! A simple concept, but genius…and in dice form. There are three different sets and the bags run about $8 each or $20 for all three. There is also an app available for iOS and Android.
My intermediate writing class had just finished working on an interview turned essay and I wanted to end the week with something fun. I stumbled upon the words “story cubes” and my teachy senses started tingling. I immediately designed two activities using the story cubes that I knew the students would enjoy. We used them in class today and they were a big hit. Time flew by and students were engaged 100% of the time. It seemed like, were we not constrained to a 50 minute class, we could have just kept going.
So, here are the activities we did today (1 and 2), plus several other ideas for using story cubes in the ESL/EFL classroom.
1. Perfect Sentences
I put students into groups of two or three and explained that they had 10 minutes to write 5 “perfect” sentences. I told them to choose a cube randomly from the bag, roll it, and use the image to craft their sentence. Then, choose another dice for the second sentence, and so on. Then, I set a point system. I told them that all groups start with 20 points. Grammar mistakes will cost them 1 point, spelling mistakes would be half a point. Any other mistakes would be at my discretion. Finally, I told them about bonus points. I listed some of the grammar and sentence structures we had practiced and gave a point equivalent: 1 bonus point for adjective clauses (max two sentences), 1 point for subordinating conjunctions, 2 points for a wh-clause.
The end result was cleverly crafted sentences in which students took their time and really focused on the grammar. I could tell from the numerous words and phrases scratched out that they were working hard to write perfect sentences. They were noticing errors and thinking through their writing – two skills that hopefully transfer to their normal everyday writing.
While mistakes were still made, I corrected each group’s sentences with them and it was a great overall learning experience – something I will definitely do again. Some variations would be to give points based on sentence length or complexity, set specific errors with specific penalties (such as wrong word form -0.75, wrong subject-verb agreement -2). Overall, it was a great activity just the way it was.
2. Story Cubes
The original intention of Story Cubes is to roll all 9 cubes and connect all the images into one big, cohesive, coherent story – not an easy task, even for native speakers. But, we gave it a go and students turned out to have pretty interesting stories. I gave students about 20 minutes. First, they had to think through their story, and then write it. I assisted with feedback on language use along the way. Then, at the end of class, we gathered in a small circle and I gave a dramatic reading of each story. It was quite fun!
Making stories with Story Cubes serves as both an excellent writing activity as well as an excellent speaking activity. I can easily imagine it being transformed into a listening activity, too (dictation, comprehension questions, paraphrasing practice, etc.).
3. Discrete Grammar Practice
Whether you are writing or speaking, these cubes are very easy to adapt to any type of grammar practice. Past tense? Future tense? Adjective clauses? Even article usage and noun forms! All you have to do is roll the cubes and make sentences or a story. Students can roll the cubes individually, roll one cube for one group and make one sentence together, or roll one cube for one group and make individual sentences with comparisons afterwards. Share them on the board or read aloud.
4. Cube Race
Two students stand at the board, marker in hand. The teacher rolls a cube and the students race to write the best sentence. The class votes!
This idea would be great for younger learners. Each student rolls three cubes. These cubes define their superpowers. With their superpowers in mind, they create a superhero profile. This can be a speaking activity to practice describing or “can”, or it can be a longer role play in which students write a story with their superheros as main characters.
6. Role Play
Speaking of role plays, Story Cubes can easily be used in role plays. They can be used to set up the situation of a role play, or can be used during a role play to determine what happens next or what the speaker will say. It seems like a great way to keep advanced speakers on their toes.
7. DIY Story Cubes
You can easily make your own cubes to suit whatever needs you and your students have, as long as you are willing to do some literal cutting and pasting. You can easily find paper cube templates online. Modify them with class vocabulary and grammar and have custom cubes ready to go at any time!
Have you used Story Cubes? Do you have any other ideas on how to use them to practice language? Please share in the comments below!