People Interested in Zippy and ZAny Zcribbling

PIZZAZ has been an Online Resource since 1995 from Leslie Opp-Beckman
For Scribblers and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)


Description for Story Boxes: An oral, "free-flow" method for creating stories.

ESOL student level:
These activities scale well to beginner through advanced level proficiency and can be used with all ages.

For more activities:
Return to PIZZAZ!

Materials for Storytelling Boxes

Storytelling Boxes are simple shoe-box size containers. You need one for each student or each storytelling group. Students can optionally decorate the boxes. This is a special box into which contains the following kinds of items:
  • Small, smooth stones (or ceramic squares) onto which words, signs or symbols are painted, written or imprinted.
  • Small, unusual objects (e.g. toys, things from nature, household items, small bits of clothing, coins, and so on).

Warm-Up Activities

Post examples of connectors and sequencing words (e.g. first, then, next, finally, etc.) on the board or wall for language support. You amy also want to post and review common story endings and beginnings (e.g. once upon a time, once long ago, in a land far from here....lived happily ever after, was never seen again, still lives there today, etc.).


  1. Students work in groups of 3-5. The instructor can frame a beginning, allow one of the group members to "set the stage", or leave it completely up to the individual storyteller from the very start. This, and any other parameters, should be clear from the start (e.g. a time limit, use of a tape recorder, a minimum or maximum number of items pulled from the Box, specific time/tense that should be used).

  2. The first storyteller begins by drawing out an object from the box without looking (the element of surprise makes it more interesting and challenging!). The drawn item must be used sequentially in the story and stays out of the Box until the story is finished; i.e. it can't be put back into the box and exchanged, or saved until later in the story, or redrawn in the same story.

  3. The story continues until such time as the teller becomes "stumped", and pulls out another object. This process continues until the teller determines that the story is finished.

  4. At this point there are several options for a corresponding written version of the story:
    • An audio or video taped story can then be transcribed.
    • Students in the group can write the story as they remember it.
    • The individual teller can write her/his own story as it is remembered.


  • Author the story as a group. One person begins a story and stops at a crucial point. The box then goes to the next person in the circle who draws out a new object from the Box, and uses it to continue the story. The Box continues to go from person-to-person around the group in this way, thereby creating a "chain" story.
  • See the activity "Basket Stories" for an activity that is similar, yet allows the teller more control over the sequence of events in the story.

Follow-Up Activities

  1. Students' work can be compiled into a class anthology or wall display.
  2. Students can illustrate poems with hand-drawn or computer-generated images.

© 2010, Leslie Opp-Beckman, Ph.D., Distance Education Coordinator and ESOL Instructor
Email: leslieob@uoregon.edu
URL: http://www.uoregon.edu/~leslieob/
5212 University of Oregon, Linguistics Department, American English Institute Eugene, Oregon 97403-5212 USA
Permission to copy and distribute for educational, non-profit use only.
This page last updated: 18 March 2010
University of Oregon