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The Magic of the Story Cubes


There is an inner child in everybody. For some of us, it is the always present part of our personality that simply refuses to grow up. For others, it is the reminiscence that comes with flashbacks to childhood. But when it comes to learning, it is just natural that the inner child awakens quickly.

Although there are certain things that adults find more important for effective learning than kids might, the science behind the brain-friendly learning process is based not only on much research but also on the fact that our brains do not change that much with age when it comes to absorbing new knowledge well. Learning should be engaging, fun, interactive and active no matter if you are 9 or 99. That is what the brain wants in order to stay concentrated and in order to have a long-term benefit of what you have just learned.

Basically, by doing you learn more. By playing you do more. Therefore it is no surprise that story cubes are widely used for learning, from classroom to the training room.

Rory’s Story Cubes

Rory’s Story Cubes are an activity and learning tool appropriate for ages 6+. It can be used by one person or a group. The classic set comes with 9 cubes of the usual size. Each side of a cube has a different picture that represents a noun. There are also additional 9-cube sets to collect: Actions (verbs), Voyages, Mystery, Heroes, Fantasy, Astro, Primal, Emergency. It is recommended to combine at least two sets, for instance Classic and Actions. There is also an app available at Google Play.

The usual way to use the cubes is of course for storytelling: throw the cubes on the table, line them up and say one sentence about each upside picture of the cube. This boosts creative thinking, engages the grey cells and is fun at the same time. But there are many different ways to use the cubes: to practice the alphabet, learn synonyms, sing the words, draw the words, play pantomime or do a memory game.

Imagine a group of people learning Italian as a foreign language. You put the cubes in front of them and ask them to tell a story in Italian. You could also use it as a vocabulary practice by just making them name the Italian word for the cube picture. Or let them put each word into a sentence. You could even play “Guess my Word”. Of course, this is a nice practice not only for foreign languages but also for a class of the mother tongue to boost vocabulary.

Let us use the example of a writing class to illustrate the many ways to use the cubes. These could be exercise instructions for the writers:

  • Throw the cubes at once and keep the random order. Then start writing a story.
  • Throw the cubes at once and then reorder them if you like. Write a story.
  • Throw the cubes at once and then reorder them if you like. Write a poem where the rhyming words are those from the cubes.
  • Throw the cubes at once. You can turn the ones you like the least upside down. Write a story.
  • Use a bag to put the cubes in it and then pull out one cube at a time. A sentence needs to be written after each cube is pulled. Optional: additional sentences in between cubes are allowed.
  • Pull one cube at a time, but write the story starting from the last sentence.
  • Pull one cube at a time and put it on the previous one. Continue writing as long as the pile is stable.
  • Pull two cubes and write a story about all their pictures.
  • Optional for all bag-exercises: pull a bonus cube or replace an already pulled one.

In a business workshop, you could preorder the cubes in an appropriate way to illustrate a scenario to analyse. The cubes tell the scenario, and after you describe it the participants get a chance to find solutions. Then let them change the cubes to alter the scenario and find a new solution.

For a personal coaching exercise, you could use the cubes to collect associations on them as you might do with photos or coaching cards.

In any kind of training you could use the cubes as a meta-tool:

  • Check-in. In order to help the participants to check-in and explain what is on their minds, you let them pick a few cubes.
  • Introduction. When the training begins, you let each participant pick a cube that helps them to introduce himself/herself or explain their expectations.
  • Ice-breakers. You let the group tell a story together. The topic could be free or related to the training. This fosters team spirit and also sends a clear message that everybody is supposed to actively participate in the training. Another kind of ice-breaker could be the trainer telling a story.
  • Energizer. When the energy is low in the group, you let them take a break and then ask them to tell a story where they need to come up with the funniest, craziest associations for the pictures in the cube. Put the cubes on different tables so that they need to walk around the room.
  • Brainstorming. Facilitation. Debriefing. Feedback. Let them pick a cube to help them express themselves in the mentioned activities. The cubes can be an illustration of what is being communicated, a source of inspiration or an association aid.
  • Check-out. For the check-out you let them pick a cube that symbolizes what is on their mind now and encourage them to explain it further.

Story Teller Cubes

Story Teller Cubes are a local storytelling product from Croatia. These cubes are beautifully formed and designed wooden cubes with a dimension of approximately 3cm x 3cm x 3cm. They come in two sets, for ages 3+. The “Classic” set has 5 cubes with the motives of place, time, person, transport, animal or object. The “Magic” set has 5 cubes and is most appropriate for fairy tales.

They are commonly used for preschool and school children and are popular with libraries, kindergartens, logopedic experts and even clinics. It is also easier to see the picture from a distance so this might come handy for bigger groups of all ages.

What to keep in mind

Not every group will find cube activities natural and fun right away. There might be too formal groups which find it hard to lose themselves in their imagination or are very unused to creative activities and therefore might find a cube activity harder. That is why you should keep in mind to try it out with a short activity in smaller groups or to do it with groups that are more casual and already know each other.

Combining the cubes

You can, of course, combine the cubes with other hard tools or different training activities.

In the Italian class, you could combine “Guess my Word” with a ball game. After a person explains the word to the group and the group guesses it, they need to shoot the ball through a hoop to double their points. They also get a treat for every 10 points.

Use a regular numeric cube to spice things up. For the writing class you could try the following: after every picked story cube, the numeric cube rolls to define the number of nouns used in the cube sentence or the number of sentences used between two cube sentences.

To explain concepts to your business class, you could use the cubes to complete drawings that illustrate those concepts. If you use Lego in your classes, you could combine the cubes with that too.

When the cube is a coaching or meta-tool, you could combine it with feeling cards or magnets, reflection cards, motivation cards, strength cards or  and association cards. Basically, anything could work and you could also give very loose rules on how to combine those, then watch how the participants choose to use them.

You can also use Rory’s Story Cubes together with Story Teller Cubes.

Basically, try to experiment with the cubes by putting them together with the games you usually play, with other tools and practices you like to use. Keep the activity sessions short enough, add some movement of the body for the better activity of the brain, include everybody in the group and allow the group to pick or shape the activities themselves. This is beneficial for the flow of the training, the engagement and the long-term benefits of what is being learned.

Digital Versions

Nowadays, education and work have moved to the virtual world, and one wonders how to create at least a part of the cube magic there. 

An excellent online solution called Story Dice is available at the website of Dave Birss, for free. You can take 5 or 9 cubes with illustrations of everyday objects to spark your virtual group’s creativity.

You might also like the mobile version of Rory’s Story Cubes, or Zuidsoft’s (Rene Zuidhof’s) impressive 40 Story Dice, or Cachucha Developer’s 16 Story Dice. While Rory’s Story Cubes app can be purchased for 1.99 USD at both Google Play Store and Mac Apple Store, Zuidsoft’s dice are free. Cachucha Developer’s version is free of charge but available only at Google Play Store.

I hope you have picked your favorite cubes while reading this, and maybe also your own combination with tools and activities you usually use. You are kindly invited to drop me a line on how you would do it or if you have already tried it out!

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