Using story dice

A couple of years ago, at the London Language Live Show, I bought myself these lovely little “story dice”. The meaning of the word is, in my opinion, quite obvious. Story dice are sets of dice, not with numbers on the faces, but with all kinds of pictograms on them. These images can be completely random, but very often they are grouped into themed sets. The ones I bought e.g. deal with the weather, sports, hobbies, parts of the body, means of transport, food, people, daily activities, clothes etc. The original idea behind these story dice, as you can probably guess, is to inspire your students’ creative writing. They throw the (usually nine) dice, look at the images, brainstorm, and hopefully an idea or even a complete story pops up, ready to be written down.

Now, why do I feel the urge to write about these story dice? It’s quite simple: in a Facebook group for teachers of English, my attention was drawn to a virtual version by Dave Birss. You can choose to play with 5 or 9 dice with illustrations of everyday objects. This Facebook post stimulated my interest in these dice again, and I have even found a good smartphone app. I also want to share a couple ideas on how you can use the story dice, real or virtual, in the language classroom, apart from story telling.

Vocabulary drilling seems like a first evident activity to do. This is in my opinion the most basic use of these dice. Let the students roll them and simply call out what they see. This game can be played individually or in groups, as a starter or a filler. When you are using the real dice, you could even add a “real” number dice, deciding the number of points they will get for every correct word. Taking this a step further, you could turn it into a memory game. The dice are thrown and the students can look at them for 20 seconds. The dice are then covered up (or minimized in case of the virtual ones) and the students have to see how many they can remember.

You can also use the story dice for fun grammar practice. Let them combine different pictograms to practise grammatical structures or verb tenses. For the first conditional you could then get combinations like “If it stops raining, I’ll play tennis”, or when practising the use of the past continuous, the students would need to combine a longer and a shorter activity. You could take this sentence building to a higher level by not just focussing on one grammar aspect, but by just having the students combine two or more of the dice to make up proper complex sentences. This then brings you closer to what these cubes were originally designed for.