Classroom fairytales: Improving storytelling skills

Steven Silsbee, Momoyama Gakuin

Quick guide

  • Key words:Creative thinking, impromptu speaking, storytelling, oral presentation, teamwork
  • Learner English level:Upper intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity:All
  • Preparation time:2 hours, but can vary depending on desired cue cards
  • Activity time: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Materials:Prepared cue cards, each with an element from a fairytale or story-ending sentence (see Appendix for some examples)


This activity has been adapted from the card game Once Upon a Time, published by Atlas Games. The object of the game is for a group of students to create a fairytale using their cue cards. Working together, players try to create a fairytale using all of their cards.


Prepare cue cards for students to use (see Appendix). Card size depends on personal preference, although business-sized cards have proven to be easy to manage. The cue cards need only consist of words stating elements or endings inspired by fairytales (e.g., an evil prince, the queen left the kingdom forever, etc.) However, drawings or pictures may be added to cards to make the game more enjoyable. There should be enough cards so that each group of four students receives 20-25 elementcards and five to seven story-ending  cards. There should be no identical cards within one group of students.


Step 1:Since the game concept might be difficult for students to grasp, teachers can begin by eliciting or listing at least five fairytale elements and one or two story-ending sentences on the board. Check to make sure students understand the vocabulary and concepts.

Step 2:Begin by telling a story using the words on the board. Each time one of the elements is used, cross it off on the board. Continue telling the story until all elements have been used. Conclude the story using one of the story-ending sentences. Be sure that the story follows a logical storyline.

Step 3:Distribute the 20-25 element cards and five to seven story-ending cards to groups of four or five students. Have students place these cards face up in the middle of the group.

Step 4:Explain that students are to work together to create an original fairytale using the cards. Each group chooses one person to write the story as it is told. This student can participate in the game, or focus only on writing down the fairytale.

Step 5:One student begins by saying, “Once upon a time…” and continues by incorporating one of the story element cards. Students may speak and build on the story until one of the element cards has been used. The student removes that card from the group and places it in front of him. Play then continues to the left. Each student contributes to the story one card at a time. If a student is unable to think of something after a set period of time (e.g. 10 seconds) he can pass to the next person. For example:

S1:Once upon a time there was a king. (S1 removes the card labeled “king” from the group of cards and places it in front of him.)

S2:He had a magic sword. (S2 removes the card labeled “sword” from the group of cards and places it in front of him.)

S3:(long pause) Pass.

S4:One day, a young boy went to the king’s castle. He wanted the magic sword. The king became angry and put the boy in prison. (S3 removes either the card labeled “castle” or “prison” from the group of cards and places it in front of him.)

This continues until all the element cards have been used, or until a logical ending can be achieved using one of the story-ending cards. Instructors may wish to set a minimum number of cards to be used in each story.

Step 6:The student writing the story reads the story aloud to the group.

Step 7: Groups read their stories aloud to the entire class.


Students often have problems when it comes to telling stories or answering simple questions such as “What did you do last weekend?” This activity helps students to become more creative in their storytelling and facilitates descriptive speaking.


Element cards         

Ending cards                                     



And nobody ever went into the
forest again



And she never told a lie again



And the townspeople became very
rich and happy



But they never saw it again



That’s why the dragon hated
the townspeople



The evil king left the castle and
was never seen again



The ring fit perfectly