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Story in a bag

Average: 4.5 (36 votes)

This oral story-creating and relating activity works best with intermediate level and above learners.

Maria Spelleri

I don't recall the origins of this activity. I picked it up from some book or workshop at least ten years ago!


Before class, the teacher fills paper bags with five or six random objects. You'll need one bag per group of four students. To make this activity interesting, the objects should be diverse and unrelated to each other. Go for a combination of the unusual and the mundane.

  • An example from my class is:
    • a postcard from Singapore
    • a can-opener
    • a candle
    • a surgical mask
    • a theatre playbill
    • a teddy bear


  • On a signal, each group of students opens their bag, removes the objects and invents an oral story incorporating all the objects found in the bag. The stories become very complex and creative in order to make each object a step in the plot.

    Here's an example based on the bag items described above.
    One morning Shelley received a postcard from her old college friend, Louise. The card was from Singapore, and in it, Louise had invited Shelley to come for a visit. Shelley flew to Singapore and met Louise. The first night she was there, they went to a play at a local theatre. It was a murder mystery and they were feeling a bit nervous walking back to Louise's home after the show. When they got home Louise tried to turn on the light, but there was no electricity. She lit a candle and …
  • It's important that the story be oral and not written and then read. This allows spontaneous changes, and for group members to jump in and correct each other or add details in the final telling.
  • When the groups have finished, each group shares its story with the whole class. Each student in the group should tell one part and hold up the related object when it's mentioned in the story.
  • Some group members may tell two parts, or tell one part that uses two objects – it doesn't matter. Most of the speaking is done in the creation of the story within the group.
  • Watch out for those clever souls who might say Shelley packed her suitcase for Singapore. In it she put a candle, a can opener, a teddy bear …


  • The teacher makes up a crime that has been committed, for example; Professor Whatsit found dead under a picnic table, Lady Wigglebiggle's diamonds stolen from her bedroom drawer.
  • The groups are then told that the items in their bags are clues to the crime collected by a detective. The story that the groups come up with then are the details of the crime. Here is an example.
    The teddy bear had been ripped open, to reveal a hiding place. It was now empty. The detective realised it was the place where Professor Whatsit kept the key to his secret laboratory. But how had the killer made it past the guard dogs? The can opener left on the kitchen counter was analysed and found to contain traces of dog food. Clearly, the killer fed the dogs, maybe even drugged them to keep them calm ...
Language level
Language Level: 
Intermediate: B1