Word-At-A-Time Stories

If you try this activity with your students, we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Discipline: This activity works well in subjects that involve narrative as a tool for demonstrating understanding. 

Age level: This will probably work best for grades 2 and above simply because it works best with more vocabulary but as soon as children can speak in sentences they can learn to play this game! 

Time: 10-20 minutes

Working with a partner or as a whole class students construct a narrative “one word at a time.” The challenge is to create something cohesive while depending on the creative input of each individual. This can be fun to do as a warm-up or brain break, or you can use it as a way to collectively synthesize learning at the end of a lesson or unit.

What to do: 

Pairs Version

Have students find a partner and explain. You and your partner are going to tell a story together with each of you adding one word at a time. You’ll want your story to have a beginning, middle, and end. As you construct the story together you will get a sense of when it is winding to an end but I will also provide you with a time check. (You may wish to choose a student to model the process with.) Here is an example of how this might look: 

Student A: Once
Student B: upon
Student A: a
Student B: time
Student A: there
Student B: was
Student A: a
Student B: giant
Student A: squid
Student B: who
Student A: lived
Student B: beneath
Student A: a
Student B: grocery
Student A: store. 

Make sure everyone understands how the process works, then let them construct their first stories. After about 5 minutes of back and forth invite pairs to share what their stories were about. 

Whole Group Version 

Your whole class stands in a circle and instead of pairs going back and forth, each student in sequence offers a word to construct a story as a whole. 

Content Specific Variations

For these activities, you might ask students to write down what they say and in this way, you have a running record of their thinking and either an assignment or an assessment. 

  • ELA: Create a poem using alliteration. 
  • ELA: Create a summary of the book we’ve been reading. 
  • History: Create a timeline of the major turning points in the Civil War. 
  • History: Create the first paragraph of a speech that Abraham Lincoln might give introducing the emancipation proclamation. 
  • Science: Explain the metamorphosis of a butterfly. 
  • Science: Create a story about species adaptation. 


Notes to consider: 

  • This activity improves with repetition. You might start out with simple made-up stories for a few days before branching out into content-specific variations.  
  • You may need to pause the activity at points as you see where students struggle and remind them to make their stories (or poems) coherent and to build on what partners offer instead of blocking it. 
  • If students get stuck, remind them that “and” or “the” can sometimes be the best thing to say.

Standards Addressed by this Activity

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating an understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

Dimension 2, Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools, provides the backbone for the Inquiry Arc. Working with a robust compelling question and a set of discrete supporting questions, teachers and students determine the kind of content they need in order to develop their inquiries. This process is an artful balancing act because the interplay between Dimensions 1 and 2 is dynamic: students access disciplinary knowledge both to develop questions and to pursue those questions using disciplinary concepts and tools. Children typically begin proposing solutions to compelling questions based on their experiences. Because social studies content is based in human experience, students will have hunches about the questions under study. Rich social studies teaching, however, offers students opportunities to investigate those questions more thoroughly through disciplinary (civic, economic, geographical, or historical) and multi-disciplinary means. Dimension 2 sets forth the conceptual content that defines the disciplines, such as the historian’s habit of describing how the perspectives of people in the present shape their interpretations of the past. This practice, along with the curricular content and the distinctive habits of mind from the other social science disciplines, informs students’ investigations and contributes to an inquiry process for social studies.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Competencies

Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.

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