“If we learned how to walk and talk the way we are taught how to read and write, everybody would limp and stutter.” — Mark Twain

If you’ve ever met children who are naturally expressive, you’ve probably listened to them easily talk about their lives, share their opinions, and tell their favorite stories.

But if you’ve ever asked children to write down the thoughts they just shared with you, you may have noticed something strange: a pencil and a sheet of paper can cause even the most naturally expressive children to freeze up or close off.

Why does writing affect so many children (and adults) like this? I believe it is because many of us take the writing process too seriously. It’s as if the words we write are forever chiseled in stone the moment the lead or ink hits the paper.

So what’s the solution?

Using exercises and games to help students take writing a little less seriously can make writing feel like a more natural experience. Here’s an idea for helping your students experience writing as the fun and playful activity it can be: it’s a game I’ve played with children (and, with some variation, adults) with great success.

Group Story-Telling Game

This game is best for students who have already learned the basic elements of a story. If you’re looking for a fun and interactive way to teach your class about the elements of a story, use “Map It Out,” a Level 2 Imagine Learning English activity that uses story maps to teach kids about characters, plot, and other important story elements. Once your class has a basic understanding of what makes a story, they’re ready to play this game.

  1. Explain that you are going to play a game where you all write a story together.
  2. Hold up a plastic ball or beanbag (anything small and tossable will do). Explain that whoever holds the ball gets to create one sentence from the story.    
  3. Toss the ball into the group. The first child to hold the ball tells the first sentence of the story.
  4. Have each child who finishes a sentence of the story toss the ball on to another student, who provides the next sentence.
  5. Keep tossing the ball until the story has developed all the important elements, including a solution or resolution.

Helpful hint: It’s fairly likely that the story your students create will get pretty goofy. That’s fine. The children’s excitement and laughter will more than compensate for the lack of serious content. But feel free to steer the story back on track in terms of structure. Don’t worry that the story is about a purple pig from Mars who eats daisies – instead, make sure it has all the important elements of a story, like characters, plot, problem, and solution.

When the game is finished, ask students about the experience of creating a story. Was it fun? What did they enjoy about creating their very own story? Then, the next time you give a writing assignment, encourage your students to attack the assignment with the same fun and excitement they brought to the game.