Writing with story grids

Books and writing
This activity needs minimal preparation and can be used as a filler, as written practice of a grammar point or to practise writing in different genres.


  1. Start with a simple grid like the one linked to at the bottom of this page.
  2. Divide your students into groups of 2 or 3 and tell them that something terrible (or exciting/fantastic/embarrassing etc, depending on your students, the mood, and so on…) happened to you yesterday.
  3. Tell your students that you are going to give them several clues as to what happened. At this point think of three or four vocabulary items that were involved in your story. These can be anything (a light bulb, a cup of tea, your grandmother, a dog, an adjective like “shocked” or “afraid”) – choose your items according to the type of thing you said happened to you and the level of your students.
  4. Ask your students to draw a representation of each of these vocabulary items in one of the squares of their grid. So, for example, if one of the items was “a dog”, they should draw a dog in a square of their choosing, and so on.
  5. In their groups, students must now construct their idea of what happened to you, writing just one word in each square of the grid. The vocabulary items that they have drawn in particular squares must fit in to their sentences accordingly, in a grammatically correct way.
  6. Monitor carefully and stop the activity when all or the majority of groups have completed the grid.
  7. Have several (or all, depending on the time you have) groups read out their stories to the class.
  8. Finish by giving them the “real” story. You don’t need to have done this in a grid in the same way, but your students will be curious to know what really happened with a dog and a light bulb. If the story is true and really did happen to you, so much the better of course.
  9. You can, if you choose, collect in the grids and correct them ready for the next class.

What do they get out of it?

Besides involving very little preparation, this activity:

  • is quite demanding – students need to plan carefully what they are going to write.
  • is a creative, group collaborative writing activity – most writing that we ask students to do is individual, private writing. Collaborative writing can be a fun, refreshing change and gives you the opportunity to bring the writing skill into the lesson, rather than relegate it to a homework activity as is too often the case.
  • develops writing fluency and provides potential for using a range of language.
  • has various possibilities to vary the task, as we’ll see below.


One possible variation is to restrict the activity to practise a particular grammatical structure. You could do this by substituting the pictures of vocabulary items for past tense verbs, or modal verbs, or whatever you choose. This may also involve changing the time that the story occurred (or will occur, or might occur…)

Another thing you can change is the genre. You could, for example, divide the grid into sections which represent paragraphs of different lengths, and have your students write a letter rather than a story, perhaps to practise following a format which you have previously worked on together.

Here’s the link to the basic story grid.

And here’s what it might look like when completed (you’ll need to imagine the pictures in the grey squares – the four vocabulary items in this case might have been “cat”, “cup of tea”, “shocked” and “my mother”):

Yesterday morning I was drinking a
lovely hot in a quiet
pavement cafe when suddenly from nowhere
a small came to the
foot of my table and scratched
my leg. I cried out in
pain because its claws were a
little sharp. The owner of the
cafe came to see what was
happening. When he saw the cat
he looked extremely and his
face turned white. “What’s the matter?”
I asked him. “Yesterday I gave
that cat to who lives
over 100 miles away!” he replied.
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  1. I use a scanner and a projector. I ask students to correct a (photocopied) piece of work, then project a scan of the work as I’ve corrected it. I usually choose a piece that contains a good range of ‘typical’ errors (but not TOO many, so as not to shame the author! I then go through each correction, discussing with the class what the options are for each sentence.


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