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30th November
written by admin

Once Upon a Time Card Game

I ran across this card game years ago in the US. You can imagine my surprise to find it on the busy streets of Shanghai, complete with Chinese translations for the English words on the cards. I’ve tried a variety of storytelling and improv games to spark student interest in storytelling. This one has been the most successful.

It’s a simple idea. A set of cards representing five basic story elements: Character, Place, Event, Aspect, Item. You hold five to ten cards in your hand depending on how many players are in the game. The goal is to be the first person to complete your story goal, which is a card drawn at the beginning of the game that says something like “The spell was broken and the king returned to rule the kingdom.” You play your cards one at a time as you tell your story. Other players can interrupt you with one of their cards if it fits in the story. When the students were just figuring the game out, I suggested they leave the special interrupt cards out of the game that allow a player to interrupt at anytime.

When a player won the game by completing their story goal using the cards in their hand, the students enjoyed continuing the story with an alternate ending. This allowed everyone to play their hand. The game makes a great warm-up to class, but groups larger than five break down quickly. I was surprised by how well students could create a fairy tale, particularly for many of my non-native English speakers. Even the quietest of my students were telling stories with the aid of these cards.

We just finished the novel The Giver. I’m wondering if we create a set of cards that match the Characters, Places, Events, Items and Aspects of the story will it help students discuss the story more effectively. We’ll see. I noticed on that they’re now selling a blank set of cards for you to create your own story cards. While the fairy tales are fun, I’d like to see a more modern set of characters, places and events that would help students flesh out an idea for a short story.

Story Spine App

I’m sure it won’t be long before the Once Upon a Time card game becomes anĀ iPad app. I’ll buy it when once it hits the store. If you’re looking for a quick story template tool. Story Spine is one of many tools students can use to either retell a book they’ve recently read or to create a story of their own.

You don’t really need an iPhone/iPad version of this. I print this out on A4 paper and laminate it to use in the classroom.


  1. 30/11/2010

    Tom this is awesome. Where did you find those cards in Shanghai? I would love to buy some!

  2. 20/12/2010

    Many thanks for your kind words. I’m one of the designers of Once Upon a Time, and it’s always great to hear that people are using it in the classroom–and that students are responding to it.

    The Chinese-language copy you found in Shanghai is actually a pirate edition, unauthorised by us or by Atlas Games. Rather than get angry, I prefer to take it as a huge compliment to the game’s longevity and worldwide appeal. However, because it’s unofficial it’s the only edition of the game that I don’t have a copy of. If you’d be willing to find another one and send it across (I live in the UK) I would cheerfully cover all your costs and would be eternally grateful.

    Very much enjoying your blog.

  3. admin

    Hi James,

    I just received three more copies of the game via the Chinese version of Would be happy to send you one. Send me your address to and I’ll send a copy your way.



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