Hands and Feet Stories

The following activity is part of a series we created to support students, teachers, and caregivers, during this unprecedented time. If you try this activity with your student(s), we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Created by: Jenna Fournel and Aleta Margolis
Discipline:  A useful activity across all disciplines that require retelling or demonstrating understanding of concepts that have been taught.
Age level: Elementary through High School
Time:  10-20 minutes
Materials:  None

Learning to listen deeply may very well be one of the most important skills we can cultivate as members of a community. One of the ways we can demonstrate our understanding of what we hear, is by sharing back what was said. This activity challenges listeners to share back what they hear without words and provides the speakers with a unique glimpse into how what they said was received. 

What to Do: 

The structure of this activity can be adapted in many ways, some of which are listed below under variations and extensions.

  1. Students partner up and decide who will be A and who will be B.
  2. A’s make up a story to tell B’s beginning with, “Once upon a time…”
  3. B’s listen closely to the story.
  4. After three minutes pass, say: “Freeze, now B’s your job is to retell this story to A’s in as much detail as possible, using only your hands. Go!” Emphasize that no other part of the body should be used in this storytelling, including their face. 
  5. Pause to debrief asking the whole class:
    • A’s, what did it feel like to have your story told back to you in this way? 
    • B’s, what did it feel like to have to tell a story without any words? 
  6. Partners switch jobs. “Now B’s it’s your turn to make up a story to tell A’s – using your voice!”
  7. After three minutes pass, say: “Freeze. Now As, it’s your job to retell Bs story in as much detail as possible, using only your feet. Go!”
  8. Pause to debrief asking the whole class questions like:
    • B’s what did it feel like to have your story told back to you in this way? 
    • A’s what did it feel like to have to tell a story without any words? 
    • What skills did you each have to use to tell and retell your stories? 

Variations and Extensions: 

Consider doing this activity as a means of having students demonstrate understanding of content. For example: 

  • Using their body parts to show one another how a particular mathematical or scientific concept works and getting feedback from their partners on what actions conveyed these concepts. 
  • Retelling a particular event in history or in a book or story you are reading in class, having partners trade-off as they make their way through the plot. 
  • Explaining the rules of a field game for PE using only hands or feet.

Consider having students retell using different body parts or methods such as:

  • Facial expressions
  • Whole body
  • Sounds
  • Creating tableaux using a variety of objects
  • Emojis


Inspired Teaching Connection 

This activity is inevitably Joyful as students delight in seeing their stories retold and find an element of silliness in telling a story with one’s toes. But it is also deeply rooted in Students as Experts because the students are creating the stories themselves and then using their own creative thinking to solve the challenge of retelling without words. Nobody can be wrong in this activity which means students can find confidence in whatever they bring to the experience. In addition to these two Core Elements of the Inspired Teaching approach, Mutual Respect occurs when the teller sees that they were heard by the listener and then has the opportunity to do the same in a switched role. Each of the 4Is, Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity, is at play as students observe, listen, and learn from the observations and wonderings of their peers.

See our instructional model here.

Stay up to date with the latest news, resources, events, and other impactful information from Center for Inspired Teaching. Subscribe today!