A low-prep writing game that gets your students excited to tell stories
My class was a little uninspired today. It’s the end of the year, and—like me—they just didn’t feel excited to write. There are many ways to get inspired when you don’t feel like it, but today, I knew it was game time. I chose an old favorite. This Jenga writing game takes little set up time, and it will get your students up and moving—and better yet, telling creative and detailed stories.
Object of the game
Students remove block from the Jenga tower in order to move their character through a dungeon and get the treasure.
- 1 Jenga set (around $9 on Amazon or Target)
- A couple sheets of copy paper for map-making (or whiteboard)
- Marker or pencil for map-making
- Some item to be a map game piece (I used a magnet on a marker board, but a penny would suffice—or have students bring in an action figure)
Set up the Jenga tower per game instructions.
Then draw a map with 10–15 spaces. Larger maps increase difficulty. Make a couple of branches for players to explore. This will make the game more interesting, but keep in mind that if players have to backtrack, the difficulty increases.
Here’s the map that I used in my class today. It has a total of 19 spaces if the players explore all branches. This actually made for a more challenging game, so I recommend using fewer spaces.
Draw a treasure chest (or write the word “treasure” if you’re not an artist) at one end of the map.
Draw two question marks somewhere on the map.
Draw three hearts on the paper to represent three lives.
You are now ready to dungeon delve!
How to play
Tell the students that they are treasure hunters exploring a dungeon in search of treasure. Unfortunately, the treasure is trapped behind a locked door. Tell them the key is hidden in one of the two question mark spaces on the board.
Each player will take turns removing a block from the Jenga tower and setting it on top (following game directions). When a player successfully removes and replaces a block, they may move the game piece on the map by one space. Then they must describe this space as if it were a new room in the dungeon.
Here are some questions for them to consider:
- How would you describe the room using the 5 senses?
- What are the key features in the room?
- Are there any enemies?
This part of the game is where your main story-telling comes into play. Feel free to jump in and ask the student questions to flesh out the story. Don’t settle for, “It’s a stone room.” Get them to give you a good, visual image. You can get other students involved here too by having them offer questions to the describer.
When they are finished, play passes to the next player who removes a block, moves the game piece, and describes the next room.
If at any time, the Jenga tower falls, they lose one life. If they lose all three lives, the game is over. The player who knocked down the tower describes how their character got hurt. They do NOT move the game piece forward.
Question Mark Spaces
Randomly choose which space the key is hidden in. Tell your students they have to fight a monster in order to get the key. The monster requires three successful Jenga block removals in order to be defeated (this is the equivalent of adding 3 additional spaces to your game, so keep this in mind when you’re mapping). The player who moves into this space gets to describe the monster.
Note: Defeating the monster does not require killing it. Tell the students they can convince it to join them. Then just use the hearts to keep track of how “persuaded” the monster is.
The other question mark space should give the players an extra life. The player that moves into this space gets to describe a laboratory where a healing potion is found.
The Treasure Space
If the players have the key, they may enter the treasure space and win the game. The player who moves into this space gets to describe the treasure.
Variations and optional rules
- Have students design the map.
- Instead of one game piece, provide one for each player. Have each player describe their character to the group. Only the player who knocks down the tower loses a life. This could be a race to the treasure, or the team could work together.
- Add additional question mark spaces to the board and have students decide what happens in these spaces.
- Have students write a short story about the adventure at the end of the game.
What games do you use on days when your students just don’t feel like writing?
Let us know in the comments so we can use them in our classes.