Monday, December 2, 2013

Your Turn, My Turn: Writing Stories Together

We’ve all played this game: take turns writing (or telling) a story, one sentence at a time:
Player 1: Once upon a time, there was an ogre who lived in a castle.
Player 2: He had fifteen trunks of gold in the dungeon.
Player 1: One day, a sixteenth trunk fell out of the sky, but it did not contain gold.
Player 2: It contained a dinosaur!

It makes the blank page a little less threatening, makes room for (and even rewards) non-linear thinking, pumps up fluency.

Here are some ways to fiddle with it to make it more (or less) academic, more (or less) linear, and more (or less) predictable: 

1) Leave off the last couple of words of each sentence: 
Player 1: Once upon a time, there was an ogre who lived in a--
Player 2: --coffeeshop, because he LOVED coffee. One day--
Player 1: --he got a little out of control and ate up all the coffee beans. All that caffeine made him crazy, and the next thing he knew--

2) Make a standard requirement for every sentence.  This can be a good way to practice a specific grammatical or writing principle. Take conjunctions:
End each sentence with a conjunction: 
Player 1: Harry charged down the street, waving his hat and shouting because
Player 2: ...he was trying to catch the bus. He had almost caught it when

For these games, it helps to have a list (of conjunctions, prepositions, adverb phrases, whatever) handy.*

3) For a little more variety, make “requirement” cards beforehand labeled with parts of speech, number of words, vocabulary, silly requirements, whatever you want to focus on. Each player draws a card before his/her turn and must include whatever is on the card in their sentence. For example, if I draw a card labeled “adjective”, I must include an adjective (or more) in my sentence: He was rich, but lonely. Or I draw a card labeled “avid/Beyonce” and write: “The ogre was an avid Beyonce fan.” Maybe you’re working on sentence variety. A card labeled “two-word sentence” might yield: “Oh, no.”

4) Or use more global parameters and make it a cooperative game. For example, the story must include a setting, a protagonist, a problem, and a solution; all characters and places must have names (Frank the ogre lives in Tinkerbell Castle); the story must include a ninja, a hurricane, and a broken refrigerator; and it must be only twenty sentences long. That’s a little advanced. Maybe just start with one or two parameters. If your story fulfills all the requirements, you both win.

5) Make it rhyme. Or in rhymed couplets. Or do it in iambic pentameter. The possibilities are endless.

Sometimes even taking turns is difficult. I've found that dipping into my store of photos and paintings helps supply subject matter. We tell the story of someone or something in the picture.

*Conjunctions were tricky. Tai had a hard time ending sentences with conjunctions--we had to start off orally--just telling the story. He would say a sentence, and then pick a conjunction from the list. Then he'd say the sentence again with the conjunction at the end:
Tai: Once upon a time, there was an ogre who lived in a castle...(picks unless from the list, starts over:) Once upon a time, there was an ogre who lived in a castle, unless
Me: it was a Tuesday, when he went to stay at his mother's house in the city. On Tuesdays, he travelled 100 miles(pick a conjunction: if)
On Tuesdays, he walked 100 miles to the city if...
Tai: ...he was feeling good. 


  1. Misa
    This is a great post. I have been teaching 8th grade E/LA for 16 years now (yikes), and I know my kids would like to try something like this.

    Keep writing from the tree.


    1. Hi, Heather.
      Great to hear from you! If you try it in class, let me know how it goes for you, and if you have any suggestions to extend or change it.

  2. i'm going to try this with my kids. Thanks Misa