Using story cubes

I bought these story cubes a few months ago, and I’ve tried them out a few times this term. They are basically dice with pictures onstorycubes1 them, so it’s really up to you how you use them. You can find a few ideas on the story cubes site, which include some demonstrations.

These are a pretty good tool to have in the classroom, and it wouldn’t be too hard to make your own (they can be a bit costly if you want a few sets). I find with my EFL classes that there’s rarely time for storytelling lessons, which is a shame as these cubes would be a great resource. However, I’ve tried to integrate these into lessons, with varied success. As you’d expect, the cubes mainly help students generate ideas for certain tasks. They’ve worked best with my teens.

Note: If you know about the specific sets of cubes then I’ve got ‘voyages’, ‘actions’ and the standard set.

Grammar tasks

A few weeks ago we did a review of using articles (a fairly common error for Thai learners) which was based on Jim Scrivener’s activities in Teaching English Grammar. The basis of this was creating a short story (about 5-8 lines). Student’s had to use articles correctly for new/known information. They then cut their story up line by line and gave this to another group to put in the correct order. The cubes helped with ideas and made the stories fun for other students to read. This also meant lots of emergent language.

Grammar games

Sometimes I do simple grammar review games using cards and dice. I mix up the rules a bit, but the cards normally have verbs on them, the number on the dice represents subjective case (I, you, etc) or verb tense, and students generate sentences based on what card they choose/number they roll. The story cubes add another dimension to this. Sure, it’s just the verbs on a dice (like my action cubes set), but they seem to add a bit of interest/intrigue and again, a bit of new language comes out of it.

Getting into English mode

I would have titled that ‘warmers’ if I hadn’t just read the latest blog post by Chia Suan Chong on ETpro. In fact, I’m still going to call this a warmer as I disagree with Chia to an extent. A lead-in that sets the context for a lesson is pretty important, so I leave it until about 10 minutes into class when all my latecomers have arrived. In those ten minutes I either do a review or… a warmer.

I’ve used these at the start of class as a storytelling tool to get students focused and ‘switching to English mode’. They roll a set of dice and move from one picture to another, adding it into their stories. They work in groups so it gets them collaborating, they ask me (or other students) questions when they don’t know how to explain things so it gets them interacting, and they have a bit of fun so it relaxes them.

Challenging strong studentsstorycubes2

I have these really strong students in one of my primary level classes. They study at a government school with an English programme, so their general ability is way beyond the other students. I’ve used the cubes for ‘stretching tasks’ with them, and they seem to like them. We did a film topic recently, and while other students were getting to grips with vocabulary for different film genres, my strongest students were using the cubes to devise the plot for their own movie (then the script for scene one… yes, they’re a bit too good!).

What’s next?

It’s hard to say, as the cubes are a supplementary resource and I never really know when they’ll be relevant. I’m always on the lookout though! I haven’t used them with my adult classes, so I might try that out.

Recently I’ve been using a few activities from Grammar by Scott Thornbury. I’ve come across this book pretty late, but I’ve elevated it to my number two spot for grammar activities! There are a few activities I’ve seen in there that the cubes could supplement, e.g. ‘Grammar Poems’ and maybe ‘Grammaring a Sentence/Text’ (these mean nothing if you don’t have the book – I recommend getting it though!).

Do you use story cubes? Please share any cube activities you’ve tried! Cheers 🙂

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16 comments

  1. I have been aware of these story cubes but have never decided to make the purchase. I could see how they would be used in YL classes, particularly for creative writing sessions and perhaps getting a story chain going: students write a sentence based upon the roll of the dices/die and then move the story to the next student, they then continue the story with the dices/die and try to connect the previous sentence to the one which is just being written. Just a quick idea.

    Perhaps I will make the leap and get these for my classes. It is always nice to have a selection of materials to hand, just to jazz up a lesson.

    A quick question Pete, how would you use a pack of cards with a class/during a lesson?

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    1. Er… off the top of my head…
      1. could make a grammar review game like you would with dice, and assign cards different tenses or something
      2. higher or lower (for comparatives I guess)
      3. play some card games and the point of lesson is understanding/giving instructions (give lots of process language for the game too). A version of Uno would be good for that
      4. You could make some really cool ‘choose your own adventure’ type game where the card you pick determines the move you make, that sounds well fun!
      5. Er… I don’t know what ideas have you got?!

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      1. Not sure. I used cards to tell a story or something like that and each card represents a person, etc. It’s been far too long since I used it last.

        I was asked this question during my MA course and was stuck. Just wanted to know if you have ever used cards or have any cool ideas. 😁

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  2. My kids got bought the voyage cubes for Christmas and I keep meaning to try and incorporate them into my classes. Thanks for the reminder and some ideas to be started… Will post back if I come up with any other ideas when I use them.

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  3. Hi Pete,
    I have a whole category of my bookmarks dedicated to Story Cubes. I’ve only used them a couple of times with my students (mostly because I don’t have that many classes nowadays!) but teachers at my school borrow them all the time 🙂 Hope you find some activities here: https://www.diigo.com/user/sandymillin/%22Rory%27s%20story%20cubes%22
    By the way, the Straightforward Pre-Intermediate teacher’s book (1st edition?) had some activities for using playing cards in it if I remember rightly. I think I even tried one or two of them back in the day…but I can’t remember them!
    Enjoy 🙂
    Sandy

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    1. Cheers for the link, really useful. I have a feeling you wrote a blog on using diigo before, or maybe I’ve got my wires crossed. I have to say though it looks very useful, think I’ll start using it. I tried the cubes again today for some creative writing – didn’t work that well to be honest!

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  4. Great post, Pete and thank you for all the activities you’ve shared! I have a Greek variation of Story Cubes and I use them a lot for Speaking practice – telling a crazy story using 4-5 cubes in a row or to introduce an unexpected event in a story (pick a die, roll it and say what happens next). We also play a game of “Guess the… (place, animal, singer etc) where my kids have to decide on the object/person they want to describe, roll the die (without anyone else watching) and add the word for the picture showing to their description. I really like using the facial expressions cube when working on feelings – I usually give my kids statements which they have to read in the way the die shows – sad, angry, excited etc. Finally, I often use them in my mega vocabulary review game where they have to identify as many words on the cube/s as they can. As you can see, I love Story Cubes! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent! some lovely ideas there, cheers for commenting 🙂 I tried the cubes out today for a creative writing task. It was a review of vocab and structures we had covered… basically students used the cubes to write a diary entry of a crazy thing that happened to them. Because it was a fun creative task they generated a lot. Then I gave them a checklist of things they needed to include (things like time expressions, example of past continuous, etc), which we had covered in that unit. They tweaked to story to include these things. The idea worked well in my head, but could have been better to be honest – got staging a bit wrong. Still, another thing I’ve tried with the cubes…! Did you see Sandy Millin’s link in these comments? Useful stuff. Cheers again, and thanks for reading!

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      1. I know the feeling, Peter, it happens to me as well especially when I experiment with new activities 🙂 Yes, I checked Sandy’s link out – she always has great activities to suggest. Lots of interesting ideas there!

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    1. ah yeah, a teacher in the UK (Ian Macauley) mentioned it to me. It’s cheaper to buy the different sets of dice on the app. Trouble is it’s not free, so can’t get students to download it. Good for cubes on the go though! Have you bought it?

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      1. No, I was just thinking of those schools that work digitally and have tablets/ipads for all students (not mine!) Personally I like the idea of students “handling” the cubes although the app is a cheaper alternative if your school is not willing to fork out… Students could take turns “rolling” and the app could be projected in class for those of us with no access to tablets/mobile phone bans. Interesting to see of anyone has used the app…

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