Today, Australian expat Chris Edwards based in the Shenzhen in China teaches English as a foreign language to over two hundred students at Beihuan Middle School in Guangdong province of China. Using Rory’s Story Cubes®, a nine dice story-telling game, Chris has broken down barriers and climbed the proverbial Great Wall to unleash creativity in his students, leaving them inspired, empowered and ready to develop their full potential.

Thirty four year old Chris Edwards left his home town Perth in Australia two and a half years ago, crossing the South China Sea to teach English in China. Residing at Beihuan Middle School in Shenzhen, the fourth largest city in China in Guangdong Province, Chris teaches a class size in excess of twenty grade 7 (12yrs) students at a time.

English as a foreign language is taught across schools in China and is seen as a necessary tool in the young academic's toolkit. As the gates of China are unlocked and slowly opened opened to the western world, the need to converse in the language of business is apparent. Children educated in monochronic cultures have little exposure to creative outlets and have less opportunity to explore and express themselves creatively; but as we find out, as a linear culture does not primarily focus on creativity and empathy this does not mean it isn’t there, lying dormant, awaiting to be awakened.

Enter Chris Edwards, a champion of change and a beacon in the mist for creative wanderers. As we sit on our video call, you can see and hear the clear enthusiasm and passion Chris has for teaching and for his students. If the meeting were in person, we just know he would be gesturing and leaping across the room, acting out sequences, re-telling the tales of his students and his experiences. Edwards frankly comments ‘’People think Chinese students are not creative, but this is not true. They aren’t allowed much opportunity to be creative’’. Edwards sees the potential in creative expression and knows it imbues qualities such as resilience, self-esteem and empathy. Using Rory’s Story Cubes, Chris holds group story-telling sessions in his classroom, where students can learn English through the medium of Story-telling. Chris tells us that ‘Rory’s Story Cubes unleashes creativity in my students’ and has found a change in some of his students as they find their creative fires are ignited and demonstrated in all areas of their creative work.

‘’People think Chinese students are not creative, but this is not true. They aren’t allowed much opportunity to be creative’’

What are Rory's StoryCubes?

Rory’s Story Cubes is a pocket sized story generator. Simply roll the nine dice and begin your story, ‘Once upon a time….’ and use the embossed images (fifty four of them) to spark your imagination. There are no right or wrong answers, anyone can become a great storyteller. They are a fantastic, fun way to inspire creative thinking, encourage social confidence, develop language, improve vocabulary and promote problem solving skills for ages six and above. Presented in a compact magnetic box Rory’s Story Cubes are perfect for travel, waiting in a restaurant in the classroom, as an icebreaker, for idea generation, or to make learning a new language more fun – the uses are endless. Each set can also be added to with Mix sets. Mix are three cube sets that introduce a new theme or genre to your storytelling. Craft tales of cracking crime with the Clues set, conjure fantastic fairytales with Enchanted and weave tales of primeval predators with Prehistoria. Rory's Story Cubes also have their own licensed sets including Batman, Moomin, Dr Who, Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo.

Back to the story. We are a good hour into our call and have yet to hear how Chris uses Rory's StoryCubes, but finally we reach that point. How does one create stories with students whilst maintaining egalitarianism and that notion of the group working as a whole, a notion so strong in Chinese culture? This is where Chris takes over in the article, I’ll step out and make a cup of tea, while you read this

Idea Generation

‘I decided to start with the Original set as the base, with occasional forays in to other sets as occasions dictated. The classroom breaks up into six groups with a maximum group size of four students. Encouraging group work is something that all teaching methods agree on. Using a digital projector, I would roll the cubes on the projector, which would then display the dice and their icons on to a smart board for all students to see and interpret. I would give students two to three hints about what the pictures could represent to encourage alternative thinking. If they have their own ideas about what the pictures mean, the students would be encouraged to use those instead of my thoughts – and some students did; independent thinking is always encouraged.

Each group received a small blackboard that was about A2 size and some chalk. I usually gave the students six to seven minutes to meet the target additions to the story (two to four sentences was my normal requirement for the classes). If they could write more, that was even better, and some students could write a lot in a short period.'

Story Collection and Voting

'After some time, each story board was collected and presented, so everyone could see the story ideas everyone had generated. The students would voice their opinions with either “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe”. Three or more ‘No’s’ from the group was considered for removal from the list of potential answers. Three or more ‘Yes’ votes put that story idea in the final list for selection. Three or more ‘Maybe’ votes were allowed in case there were no ‘Yes’ votes.'

'Students voted on how the story continued based on the submissions that their classmates wrote, however they could not vote for their own submissions, thereby eliminating some bias. but obviously, (there will obviously be some internal bias between friends sitting in different groups, such is the dynamic of a classroom)'

'On some occasions, class would run over time, or there would be a tied vote. In situations like this, I would opt to combine the popular submissions into one piece. Many classes enjoyed this approach and it challenged my own abilities to interpret what they had written.'

Hello again dear reader, I’m back. OK so where were we? Ah yes, the story-telling:

After each story-telling session Chris would populate a spreadsheet of all the stories and track their development across the school semester, he initially started populating a PowerPoint presentation, but as each student became accustomed to the story-telling process and more empowered to add their own perspective, story-telling shifted from an arbitrary linking of icons to a deep and contextually rich process, where worlds and characters were being created.

Chris sees the change manifesting in his students. ‘I displayed the stories on the walls of my classroom. Each week the stories grew exponentially like Hedera Ivy. As the stories were displayed physically, students would read them all even it it wasn’t theirs, because they had a genuine interest in what different classes were writing.’

‘Making the games tangible by simply placing them on a wall empowers young students’

Deviating from the normal prescription of teaching English, Chris would soon attract the attention of his peers. Teaching staff would come into his class and look at the work of his students with awe and amazement; they could see the empowerment, the skill and creativity previously untapped now flourishing like a lily in a desert, organically and un-tempered.

A change has happened in China and Chris has seen this manifest in his students and carry into other parts of their lives. He hopes to collate all the stories from his time in China and create a book of stories.

‘I want the students to have something to take home for all their hard creative work over the school year. This shows them what they can do – and for some students, no one has ever told them that they can do it.’

Chris also wants parents to see the work of their children and take pride in them, but also he wants them to see his class, as not an opportunity to blow off steam but as a chance to be creative in a different way. The Foreign or ‘Waiguoren’ teacher is not just there as a foreigner, but there to provide a new perspective; a new way; and a window to other cultures, helping them for their roles in the world of tomorrow and allowing a creative footprint for the future.

If you have used StoryCubes and have a story to share with us, or are an educator interested in learning more, then we would love to hear from you. Simply drop us an email to [email protected] .