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The Giant Storymaker – Ideas for a Hundred Million Stories

Teacher training and Development

The Giant Storymaker – Ideas for a Hundred Million Stories

<![CDATA[Storytelling is one of the most important acts of communication. Every day, in our contacts with friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances we share stories, anecdotes – things that happened to use, stories we read about in the news, on social media, stories we heard through others.
In class, story building and storytelling can get somewhat neglected. Most modern coursebooks have little by way of getting learners to narrate.

Photo Credit: Gisela Giardino via Compfight

And yet storytelling for fun, storymaking and sharing can be serious or playful, and learners can be given the opportunity to practise producing sustained talk/long turns or write imaginative fiction producing their own stories or story episodes.
In another post on this blog, on Digital Storytelling, I talked about the many benefits of using such activities for younger and older learners. Digital tools are wonderful but not available to every teacher and even though I have found some wonderful apps and online tools which you can read about in my other post, paper and pen, the board and our imagination are sometimes the best tools available.

My Storymaking Machine 

Here is a simpe tool borrowed from surrealist writers’ workshops; apologies for not being able to trace the originator of this idea – not mine originally. Apparently, surrealist writers used the matrices below as a source of inspiration for their writing!!!!!
I thought it was a wonderful idea when I saw this and translated it into language learning activities, quite a while ago; in fact this was the topic of a talk I presented in one of the early TESOL Greece Conferences.

How it works

There are four matrices: characters, places, situations and objects – which are in fact some of the ingredients of any story.
Each matrix is numbered from 1-9 vertically and horizontally. So, to choose a character, place, situation and an object as ingredients to create a story or part of a story, ask your learners (groups or teams) to decide on a two digit number from 1-9, e.g. 58.
This will give them  a giant baby, a dark cave, going on a hunger strike, and a whistle
Groups or teams will then have to build a story around these four ingredients.

The four matrices





Matrices are scanned images from work written by Marisa Constantinides

If the students run out of idea, they can look up their number backwards for inspiration or they can choose a new two-digit number.

Who controls the matrices

The teacher can keep the matrices, they can be posted on the wall of the classroom, they can be copied and distributed to the learners, or they can be posted on a class blog or wiki.


  1. You don’t have to use all the matrices – you can choose only two or three
  2. You can enlarge, print and cut out in the shape of cards. Packs of these cards can be kept in separate piles, or they can be shuffled and small selections cna be given to groups to play story telling games
  3. If you use card packs, you can play story-dominoes, where each learner continues a story started by the teacher or another learner: they can pick up a card, make a connection and build a colaborative story.
  4. If playing the game for the first time, or for learners who need more thinking time, you can deal out four or five cards to each learner and they can choose which one to put down in order to continue a group story
  5. You can make your own matrices with characters and ingredients more suitable for your own learners; for example, for a pharmaceutical company language course, I made character cards that had to do with their own business, such as a reluctant doctor, a persistent salesman, etc. For younger learners, you could make fairy tale variations or comic book hero variations.

There a millions of stories possible through such a tool and most of them will involve surprise, adventure, combining unlikely elements and, of course, laughter, a great tool for learning.
At the same time, you will be catering not just to language development but to creative thinking skills training as these activities help develop some of the most important aspects of creative verbal behaviours; flexible thinking, fluency, elaboration and originality.
Post Script – In a comment below, Michelle Wogan suggested some special dice – here is what I often use with young learners with a pencil stuck in a hole in the centre (you don’t want kids rolling dice off tables, etc. 🙂 )

9 sided dice for you YLs (and not only) just download and print

9 sided dice for you YLs (and not only) just download and print – cut the edges off neatly if you can turn into a henneagon!!!

Have fun making stories with your learners!!! All age groups love story building activities and I hope you will be able to share some of your class stories or how your learners reacted in a comment below the post.
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15 Responses

  1. Carol Rainbow says:

    Brilliant Marisa :-)Thanks!

  2. Michelle Worgan says:

    Hi Marisa! This is a great resource! You could also give students dice to choose the numbers (you can get special gamers’ dice with more than six numbers) to add an extra element of luck.
    I am also thinking that as cards, the words could be used in lots of games such as Pictionary or Taboo.
    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Thanks for lovely comment, Michelle. Yes, you can also make a simple wheel dice (with a pencil stuck in the middle) which I often make for young learners 🙂
      Will upload one and put in my post – the perfect circle may not work – I usually cut off the edges so the dice falls exactly on a number

  3. teacheralf says:

    Marisa, thank you very much, this tool will help us a lot for the brainstorm step in the pre-production procces, dumbs up! 🙂

  4. Nicky Webb-Laaroussi says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the storytelling idea, it’s right up my street! I initially pounced on the idea for my own bi-lingual twins to do in order to while away a few hours but both my own kids and my adult Proficiency class, threw themselves into it and I had some fabulously creative stories and loads of laughs!! For the lower ability group I actually put them in pairs and had them choose a number each and they came up with a combined story. Adults are now all penning their efforts for homework and want more… And my 7 year old son came up with this gem which I thought was rather touching.
    Words to include were, lonely child, circus, meeting an old film star and a piece of rope. So, the child goes to the circus and an old film star was doing the trapeze but the rope broke and he fell. When he was in hospital the child went to visit him and they became friends and the child wasn’t lonely anymore. (That’s the abridged version anyway!)
    Great idea that I never expected to go down so well, watch this space, I may have the next Tolkein on my hands!!!!!

    • Absolutely lovely to have some feedback!
      Thanks ever so much, Nicky – the tool may help the budding young Tolkien to get there more quickly, methinks 🙂
      Am watching this space, indeed!!

  5. Tara Benwell says:

    Hey Marisa!
    We are using your storymaking tool on MyEC this month! Thanks for the idea and inspiration.

  6. Debbie Tebovich says:

    Dear Marisa,
    Thank you so much for sharing this storytelling idea. My learners and I love storytelling.
    This ideas you are sharing remind me of my my 1st EVO where we learned about storytelling. Here is the link: http://classdigitools.pbworks.com/w/page/47831193/Week2
    Lastly I would like to thank you for inspiring me to write about our storytelling journey.

  7. Renka says:

    Dear Marisa,
    Thank you for sharing this idea.
    I kind of had this idea before, but I was not able to think of this many ideas, so I kind of give up.
    I will try it out with my class.
    I hope you will keep writing more different ideas because I found that your ideas are kind of similar to some of my ideas. The difference is that you actually “create it” and I only thought of it!
    Well, keep up the good work!
    Thank you, once again.

  8. annielaurie says:

    Hi Marissa, I took your course in Athens many moons ago. I have just been reading your blogs and came upon this writing game. I will download it and give you feedback in September. Thank you.

  9. Maliha says:

    Thank you. What a bright idea! I find it very inspiring ans as I work with adults, they would add some technology and turn their story into play. Bubbles , videos, podcasts are great tool to transform their sory into a project.
    Thanks again!

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