Once Upon a Time

The following activity is part of a series we’re creating to support students, teachers, and caregivers, during this unprecedented time. Read more about the project here. 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: Britton, Elle, and Kaneia Crumlin
Discipline: Literacy, storytelling
Age level: Early childhood through adults
Time: 15 minutes, or as long as you like
Materials: None, or writing materials if you want to play the written version.

This storytelling activity can be played by 2 or more people.

  1. Player 1 begins a story with “Once upon a time…” and continues speaking (or writing) for a few seconds, or even a few minutes, then stops at an exciting moment, turns to the next player, and asks, “And then what happened?”
  2. Player 2 takes over, and continues the story for a while, stopping again at an exciting or important moment, turning to the next player and asking, “And then what happened?”
  3. Player 1 (or Player 3, if there are more players), takes over and continues the story, following the same pattern.
  4. Continue with as many rounds as you like.
  5. The story ends when the person speaking (or writing) decides it has reached a conclusion, at which point that player says, “The end.”

Guidance: In setting up this activity, challenge all participants to create characters (as opposed to using characters someone else has created, i.e. Batman or Harry Potter). If participants want to put themselves in the story, that’s great.

Extensions: Engaging in a playful, structured storytelling activity has value on its own – participants need to listen carefully and focus on details so each leg of the story builds on the previous ones. However if you want to extend this activity to focus on the elements of a story, here are some questions to discuss after the story is done:

  • Who were the characters in our story?
  • What was the main plot line? Were there secondary plot lines?
  • What was the setting of our story? Did it change as the story progressed?

If the story was created verbally, you can challenge your learners to write it down afterwards, with as much detail as they can remember. Then (once the story is written down, one way or another), learners can illustrate the story and/or turn it into a play with dialogue, cast it, choose costumes, create a set, rehearse, perform, and record their production.

However, simply making up a collaborative story for a few minutes, and then letting it go, is a joyful and productive learning experience on its own.

Inspired Teaching Connection:

This activity fully engages imagination, one of Inspired Teaching’s 4 I’s, as it requires participants to create and develop characters, plot, setting, all the elements of a story. It also requires careful listening and attention to detail, as participants need to acknowledge and build on elements of the story that their partners have created. Our Core Element Purpose, Persistence, and Action is present as well, since learners must work to incorporate all elements of the story into a coherent whole; and if they choose to turn their story into a full-fledged performance, they’ll need to persevere through many steps in order to put it on stage.

See our instructional model here.

September Inspired Teaching Institute

Teachers can’t control what happens between the time students wake up and when they arrive at school but they have a lot of control over what happens when students cross the classroom threshold. Participants in this fast-paced, idea-rich Institute will learn 20 different strategies for starting the school day!