One of the best activities in the classroom for students of all ages is definitely playing games. And one of the best and most creative games is Once Upon a Time by Atlas Games. If you check their website you will find some teaching tips, but I use it in a different way, simply because it is hard to tell a story for pre-intermediate level students – writing is easier, especially when they have dictionaries and work in pairs to make it even funnier.
- Pre-intermediate students
Before I let the students play the game, we cover some stories-oriented topics – genres, characters, the ideas of heroes and villains, how the plot is constructed and stuff like that (my lesson plan).
Then I divide class in pairs/groups and present them the cards – each of them has a picture and a word or phrase (e.g. king, someone disobeys, castle etc.). I explain that every group is to get 3 or 4 cards and make a beginning of the story using the words they have. Then they swap their stories with another group, get another random set of cards, read the previous story and continue using new words. And so on, until their original story comes back to them – then they finish it nicely and give the teacher to read.
Let me warn you: the more students are at ease with you, the crazier the stories get, you may want to read them at home to avoid embarrassing blushing!
- Intermediate students
If they don’t feel like talking, I let them do the writing activity (that is probably the only activity of that kind they seem to enjoy and are never tired of it), but they have to create their stories not in pairs, but individually, swapping with other students. I let them use dictionaries (look for new words and you may use their mistakes for a nice error-correction task later) and I give them the ending cards, so their stories must finish in a particular way.
If they want to talk, I play the game by normal rules, but without using ‘interrupt’ cards.
- Upper-intermediate and higher level students
With those advanced students I play game by normal rules, using all the cards and – well, have fun!
Of course, instead of buying the game you might think of making your own cards – but let me tell you that Once Upon a Time… is not only a nice teaching tool, but also a really good fun in out-classroom environment.