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The Magic Box

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By Alison Daviesprofessional storyteller and author of Storytelling in the Classroom

Open the box and you will open children’s minds to a wealth of imaginative creations

Magic box

As a storyteller, I’m always developing new and innovative materials that I can use to stimulate young minds and encourage them to explore language. Here are a few ideas you can use in your lessons based on a favourite activity of mine, ‘the magic box’.

I usually start my sessions with a story. This sets the scene and puts the class in a creative frame of mind. The story introduces a theme and encourages the children to think in pictures. The best tales always have the right balance of description to set the scene, action to move the story along, and emotion to create tone, colour and depth.

Telling the story

When telling a story, imagine you are watching a film of events. Visualise yourself in the story and describe the stream of images as they come into your head. Notice how the flow of words, the description, action and emotion, work together to create the picture for your audience. The secret of successful storytelling is being able to visualise the tale. If you can do this, you put yourself in the tale, making it believable, while also drawing on the right words.

‘The magic box’ is a tale about a shy boy who is afraid of the children at his new school. To help him out, he is given a magic box of courage. He keeps the box with him at all times, and immediately starts to feel better. His confidence grows, and he makes new friends. The question throughout this tale is What’s in the box? The story finishes with the boy opening it to reveal what’s inside. As a follow up, we discuss what could be in the box. The children draw pictures and write key words to share with the group. They learn to explore ideas, use their imagination, and question each other’s suggestions.

Finally, they report back to the rest of the class, sharing their thoughts. It’s important they have plenty of time to do this, so that they learn to value each other’s suggestions.

Next, I ask the children to make a magical memory box – either one very large box for the class, or lots of smaller boxes. I invite them to bring in objects that remind them of happy, special or funny experiences, to put in the box. They can also use pictures and words to describe these objects.

Creating new stories

Let the children decorate the boxes and add as many objects and pictures as they like. When they are ready, invite each child to hold up their object/picture and reveal the story behind it.

Ask plenty of questions to encourage them to describe their memory as fully as possible. Put the objects back in the box afterwards. As the children have created the box and filled it with personal experiences, it becomes an object of great power to them, sitting in the middle of the classroom. They respect and value everyone’s contribution, and enjoy having their moment to shine and reveal their tale.

Stories work because they make connections. Strands of the tale are joined together to form a parcel, which is neatly tied up at the end and leaves the reader or listener satisfied. To help the class understand the process of plot development, split them into groups and allocate a couple of items from the box. Get a child from each group to delve into the box and pull out these objects, or pick them yourself if you want to oversee who gets what. I find that pulling random items out of the box works just as well, and adds to the excitement.

Invite each group to make up a story that includes both of the objects from the magic box. To do this, they will need to make a connection between the objects and create a story around them. I usually ask them to do this in the form of a picture or a storyboard. This helps them come up with ideas and piece the story together. Once they have thought of a series of pictures, encourage them to write captions or sentences for each image, until they have the basis of their tale.

Talking about the stories

Provide each group with ‘magic words’, such as archetypes like kings, queens, witches, wizards, fairies and dragons, or settings like castles, woods, jungles, cities, islands, parks and playgrounds. Have a set of questions to help them form the tale – for example, Who are the characters in your story? Where do they live? How do they find the objects? What happens next?

Allow time at the end of the session for each group to run through their story. Ask the children to talk about the best bits of the activity and what they enjoyed, and to pick a favourite bit from another group’s tale. This sharing of feedback will help them understand which learning skills they have used and how they are developing. It will also highlight areas for improvement.

The magic box activity has endless possibilities. Use it as a tool for creativity, as a box that can be dipped into time and time again. Pull it out for impromptu storytelling sessions. Encourage the class to fill it with new items on a regular basis so that the box goes on producing magic and fun, as every magic box should!


  1. MChipperfield
    on 1 July 2011

    The Magic Box

    Nice idea but I would suggest the title has been plagiarised from Kit Wright’s Magic Box poem.