One Word Story

Exercise Instructions

1.

Have participants stand in a circle.

(If online, the instructor should ask participants to rename themselves with a number before their names from 1 to the total number of participants so that a circular sequence can be followed.)

2.

Explain participants will create a story using one word at a time. Each participant takes a turn choosing the next word as the responsibility is passed counter-clockwise around the circle. The object is to tell a coherent story, one word at a time.

3.

The facilitator chooses the first word to get the story started. The person to the left of the facilitator says another word, then the next person says another word, continuing around the circle.  

4.

Once a sentence is complete, a participant should use their turn to add punctuation, choosing either a period, question mark, exclamation point or any other suitable punctuation.  The story can then continue.

5.

The instructor will choose when to end each story.  The activity should be conducted 2-3 times with corrections in between until the group is reasonably good at it.

Application

One Word Story is a flexible exercise that can be used to develop a number of different skill sets, including:

  • Collaboration

  • Communication

  • Staying In The Moment

  • Active Listening

  • Trusting Your Instincts/Confidence

  • Storytelling

Requirements

Number of Participants: 

Minimum: 4 participants / Maximum: 20 participants 

 

Time Required:

Minimum: 5 minutes / Maximum:  20 minutes

 

Materials Needed:

None

Variants

After participants are familiar with the basic format, try switching from a One Word Story to any of the variants below:

 

  • One Sentence Story

  • One Word/Sentence Business Letter

  • One Word/Sentence Advice From A Parent

  • One Word/Sentence Platitude

  • One Word/Sentence Ikea Instruction Manual

  • Or any other content you think would be fun.  Don't be scared to get creative!

  • One Sentence Story w/ Lead Ins (Every new sentence begins with a set or alternating phrase, such as, "Because," "Fortunately / Unfortunately," "But what no one could have guessed is..." and so on.)

  • Group Gift (For the Holidays!)

Instructor Talking Points

Collaboration

Try not to roll your eyes or give up when a partner makes what you regard as a difficult contribution.  If you think their contributions are difficult, chances are they think the same thing about yours.  Ask yourself how you can incorporate their contribution into the overall narrative in a helpful way.

Applied Mantra:  Yes And...

Staying In The Moment

It can be tempting to try to choose your word in advance without listening. This will disrupt the story. Holding and preparing your idea without listening disrupts work.  Explain, you need to know what your partner’s contribution is before you can select a contribution in alignment with it.  You need to listen before you speak. Hear what others contribute and look to embrace or augment that contribution.  

Applied Mantra:  Remember, Don't Invent

Facilitator, discuss how better stories are easier to create when listening carefully for the direction your partners are signaling for you to move in.  Listening is easier than inventing!  Another way of saying this is, no one needs to put on a cape and save this exercise singlehandedly.  It is a group effort and heroics are more likely to hurt than help.

Active Listening

Communication

First-time participants in this exercise are often shocked at the low-grade feeling of terror that precipitates their turn to talk.  It is similar to the terror felt by inexperienced public speakers before an address.  Point out that this feeling is about them, not the others in the room.  Advise participants to focus on helping their teammates understand their contribution, rather than self-evaluating.  This advice may or may not help them be better at this particular exercise, but it will certainly help reduce feelings of anxiety.

Applied Mantra:  Don't Be Coy

Terry Withers, 11.19.20