Storytelling Games

Here are some fun games that we have played with friends, some with adults and some with children. These games will make you laugh and also make you marvel at the seemingly endless bounds of human creativity. They can be played by small or large groups. Most don't require anything at all other than perhaps a pen/pencil and piece of paper for each participant. One of the things we like about these games is that they do not have to be played with a competitive spirit; when we play with friends we never even keep score. We describe several more story games in Chapter three of Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom.

Same Letter Story Game

We love to tell a tandem version of a story whose four hundred plus words all begin with the letter "S." Written in the 1890's by a woman named Katie Wheeler, the story begins, "Shrewd Simon Short, Smithfield's sole surviving shoemaker, sewed soles. Seventeen summers saw Simon's small, shabby shop still standing . . ." Years ago, we went on vacation with our good friends Janet and Bob and their two sons, twelve-year-old Matt and nine-year-old Andrew. We did lots of hiking and discovered that word games could help get the two boys, who were not keen on climbing mountains, to the summit. It began because we had just learned the "S" story and told it to them. Afterward, we started to pick a letter and see how far we could get with making up a story. It became obvious that Katie Wheeler was smart to have chosen the letter "S" because, if you look in a dictionary, you will see that "S" begins far more words than any other letter. We didn't get very far with stories ("Matt made Mitch mad . . . ") but we did have fun. After the vacation, it turned out that Janet and Bob owed us money. When Mitch called to remind Janet, she was horrified that she had forgotten. Shortly afterward, an envelope arrived in the mail with a check from Janet (McCue). On the back of the envelope she had written, "McCue made Mitch mad. 'McCue's money management makes me miserable,' moaned Mitch momentarily. Mortified, McCue mailed Mitch money . . . "

Next time you're climbing a mountain or just taking a long car ride, pick a letter and see what you come up with . . .

Sources for the "S" story: This story resides in the Folk Song Section of the Library of Congress. Abridged versions have been published in Alvin Schwartz's A Twister of Twists, A Tangler of Tongues (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1972) and in Naomi Baltuck's Crazy Gibberish and Other Story Hour Stretches (Hamden, CT: Linnet, 1993).

My Grandmother's Trunk

The first person begins by saying, "In my grandmother's trunk there is an airplane," or any item beginning with the letter "A." The second says, "In my grandmother's trunk there is an airplane and a bottle," and so on until you reach the end of the alphabet. Each person must concentrate and really listen to be able to repeat all the items and add a new one. If you are playing with young children, keep it simple, and let them know you'll help if their memory fails.

As we hiked with our friends and their older sons (see "Same Letter Story Game"), we played what turned into a complicated version of this simple children's game. After going through the whole alphabet once and still not being down the mountain, we started to add adjectives (awesome aardvark, beautiful bellybutton, courageous captain . . . )

Seven Letter Sentence Game

We have played this many times with friends and it always makes us laugh till our stomachs ache. It's simple and really gets one's creative juices flowing. First, pick seven random letters. It doesn't really matter how they are picked. You can have a different person pick all seven letters each time, or go around a circle and have each person name one letter until you have seven. Next, each player makes up a sentence (or several) with words that begin with the seven letters in the specified order. We have not played with a time limit but you could make one if you find it works better. People then go around and read their sentences. Here are some of the better ones that friends recently came up with for the letters BRSEAMT:

Big Ron slew elephants at Mount Tandoor.
Barbara rode seagulls around many towns.
Brave rats see every ant made today.
Brother Robert sat each afternoon making tomahawks.
Being royal seems extremely arrogant, mostly treacherous.
Billing rates seldom ease at mid-term.
Brown residential seaside establishments are mostly tilted.
Better remember so everyone acknowledges momentous truths.
Biff ranks Sally excellent and marvelously tricky.
But Rodney says education always makes trouble.
Big rats seldom eat at mass transit.
Be rude so everyone avoids more togetherness.
Birds retreat, similarly eat, and migrate, too.
Believe regular sounds exist, always more tomorrow.
"Billy Ray!" shouted Ella angrily. "Make tracks!"
By running slowly each additional mile toughens.

When playing with children, start with fewer letters to make it simpler and stay away from harder letters such as Z, Q, X, J, etc. For the letters GJWEN, here are a few examples of what first graders came up with:

Gabe just wouldn't eat noodles.
Girls jump when eagles nod.
Grumpy James was eating nothing.
Good job with each number.
Gentle Jake went eating nachos.
Gorillas jump while emus nap.

A fourth grade class came up with these sentences for MTNARGS:

Muppets talk nonsense and read goofy stuff.
Mary told Nora about Richard getting sick.
Moldy toast never adds real good smells.
Mom takes naps and rides green snakes.
Mice tell naughty and really gross stories.
Making tall nests always requires grass supplies.
Most turtles need a restful garden setting.
Mountains tower nervously above roaring, gurgling streams.
Messy Tom needed a real good sponging.

(If you really want to know, this game was invented by our friend Ashley's friend John's brother.)

First Lines

This game has also been the cause of several bellyaches from laughter when we played with adult friends. It is good to play at a vacation house where there is a bookshelf; or you can take a few choice books out of the library. We don't see why it wouldn't be fun for older children as well, especially those who love stories and words. Here's how it works: choose a book and pass it around. We tend to choose romance novels or mysteries, for example, as opposed to what would be considered great literature. Everyone looks at the front and back cover but not inside. Then each participant makes up a first sentence for the novel. One person writes the real first line (and their own made-up one if they'd like). That person then reads all the first lines. Much hilarity ensues. People can vote on which they think is the real first line. Often we have agreed that some of our first lines were better than the real ones.

Note that this game is similar to "Fictionary," another great word game where participants make up definitions to unusual words in the dictionary. For details on how to play the game, and rules/methods of scoring that could be used for "First Lines" as well, just put "Fictionary" into any search engine.


"Geography," which was invented by the family of Francis Moore Lappé, is more sophisticated than the previous games or those in Children Tell Stories. We have only played it with adults but Lappé says that her children played it as well when they were quite young. The rules are simple. Make up a story that ends with the name of a geographical location left off for the listener(s) to guess (state, country, or city). You can play with local names as long as everyone in the group playing would recognize the place. It would be helpful to give several examples and walk them through the process of choosing a place and deciding how to go about telling the story. The first step is to choose a place that gives them an idea. For example, say they picked "New Jersey" because they thought they could tell a story about a football team that wanted to redesign their uniforms or "jerseys." They would want to add details to make the story interesting so they would need to pick a team (local high school, college, or professional). They would need to be sure not to use the word "jersey" in their story or it would be too easy. Here's how such a story might go:

The Dallas Cowboys were tired of their uniforms. They had been wearing the same blue and white outfits with stars for the past thirty years. So they decided to have a contest to see who could come up with the best design. They received thousands of ideas from all around the world. They hired some of the most famous fashion experts to judge the designs. At last the winner was picked and the uniforms were made. Everyone waited anxiously to see what they would look like. At last the Cowboys came running onto the field. All the fans stood and applauded. Everyone agreed that they loved the . . . (Answer: new jersey)

Here's another example:

Joe had a roommate named Stan who was a real slob. He never made his bed. He threw his dirty clothes on the floor. He wouldn't clean a dish. Every time Joe talked to him about it, Stan would say, "I'll try to be neater, Joe. I'll try to do my part." But it was all talk. Stan just kept on with his messy ways. Finally their apartment was out of control. Joe couldn't take it any more. He finally told his roommate, "I have had enough! You have to leave now. You can . . ." (Answer: Pakistan, sounding like "Pack it, Stan!")

Tell students to note that sometimes the storyteller uses a name that is a clue such as "Stan" in the Pakistan story. But at other times the teller may use a name just to throw the listener(s) off. Also, it's fine to take some poetic license with pronunciation. Lappé says the liberties with pronunciation are a big part of the fun. She also says that if the story is really good, it doesn't matter if no one can guess the answer. The real fun is in the storytelling and listening to original tales. The game can also inspire kids - and adults - to scour the globe and the atlas for inspiration.

Geography was adapted and reprinted here with the permission of Frances Moore Lappé from What To Do After You Turn Off the TV: Fresh Ideas for Enjoying Family Time (New York: Ballantine Books, 1985). All rights reserved.

More Games

If you want to find more games, try putting "parlor games" into a search engine.