For the first post in this series, I discussed the popular party game Apples to Apples and its applications as a tool in speech therapy. Today, I’m going to discuss a less well-known game, but still one that can be easily found at your local Barnes and Noble: Rory’s Story Cubes, published in the United States by Gamewright. I’m especially excited to discuss this game because I just got my hands on the first expansion, which opens up even more therapy applications.
Variants/Expansions: The game currently has two stand-alone expansions, Actions (which depicts a number of action verbs) and Voyages (I have no idea what the theme here is). Voyages is available in the UK, with the US release reportedly planned for late 2012. Also, there’s an iOS app that supports the initial set of nine cubes (I have no idea if this is going to be expanded).
General Overview: Rory’s Story Cubes is a dice game (really, more of a dice tool) designed for any number of players of ages 8+. The base game consists of nine six-sided dice. Each of the fifty-four faces contains a different picture or icon. Unlike the other games discussed in this series, Rory’s Story Cubes is designed not as a typical game with codified rules, but instead as an inspiration for gaming with some suggested uses. To quote the box, “There are infinite ways to play with Rory’s Story Cubes. You can play solitaire or with others. Here are a few suggested ways to unleash your creativity.” The box then goes on to describe three games: a storytelling game reminiscent of The Storybook Game, but without the memorization; a themed storytelling game, and a storytelling game with turn-taking modifications. While this isn’t terribly relevant to speech therapy, those who like to take work materials home to use with their own children might like that the box also serves as a small dice tray for use when playing in the car or on the go.
- Problem Solving – Interestingly, this skill is called out on the game’s packaging. Trying to fit nine seemingly unrelated objects or actions into the same theme or story is a problem-solving skill that’s appropriate for children and encourages creativity.
- Listening Skills – When used as a group game, the relatively small size of the pictures means that it’s hard for a student who wasn’t listening to just look at what his or her neighbor did and guess in order to continue the story or add ideas.
- Item Identification – Most of the icons in the game are easily identified, and if they’re not, that provides an excellent opportunity to make a series of educated guesses.
- Expressive Language – With dice that depict nouns and dice that depict verbs, you have the two most basic components of a sentence – an excellent scaffold for all forms of expressive language development.
- The game is easy to implement: You can take this game out of the box and roll the dice without reading anything. Dice with pictures lend themselves easily to a variety of speech activities.
- No reading required: Rory’s Story Cubes fit into the most magical group of therapy tools – ones that can be used at a complex language level with individuals who have zero literacy. This makes them useful not only with children, but with adults whose traumatic brain injury or stroke damaged their reading ability.
- Engages a variety of learning styles: As narrative-based manipulatives with pictures, Rory’s Story Cubes naturally tend to engage visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. From the perspective of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, this tool can easily be used to engage spatial, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal (students can really argue about what a particular icon stands for), and naturalistic intelligences.
- Easy to carry, hard to destroy: Each version of Rory’s Story Cubes, in the box, takes up a little more space than a deck of cards – easy to fit into a pocket or purse. Even better, if you have students who can’t seem to help fidgeting with, bending, or even compulsively tearing cards – like my entire third grade caseload – using dice offers prompts in a format that is significantly more difficult to destroy (and believe me, my third graders have tried).
- Ten bucks: I don’t usually talk about cost because as mass-market games, most of the products discussed in this series are going to be significantly cheaper than Kaufman cards or even many of the popular therapy apps. That said, Rory’s Story Cubes are on the cost-effective side even in the set of speech-applicable board games. At $10 in the US, this is one of the least expensive therapy materials in my bag (I think only the Pictureka Card Game and the Storybook Game are cheaper, and this is more durable and comes out more often).
- Limited explanation: This game relies on the creativity of the therapist and the students, both in developing a game and in interpreting the images. Hopefully, if you’re a speech therapist, creativity is something you excel at, but if you’re looking for a worksheet-style tool that can be implemented with minimal clinical input, you should look somewhere else.
- Idiosyncratic icons: For the most part, the icons are easily understood, although I would have preferred more diversity (does the base set of 54 images really need a lock, a key, and a keyhole?). That said, there were a couple icons that I had to look up. I’m about to save some of you who are new users to the game some time: the “L” in a square is used to indicate a learning driver in the UK (I just use it as an “L” or as a wild card for anything starting with “L”), and the arrows pointing in all directions is a reference to the wargame Warhammer 40K and is supposed to mean “scatter” (I use it as a compass or to mean “all over”). And does anybody use an abacus anymore?
- ADDITION: Actions hard to determine: I just played through Actions with some of my students. There’s much more in terms of the meaning of the icons being difficult to discern.
- Distraction: This might just be me, but it seems like my students have a *really* hard time keeping dice on the table. If you use this tool, using a dice tray or a shoebox to roll the dice in might be handy to prevent die-dropping as avoidance, humor, or accident.
Accommodations/Modifications: How do you modify or accommodate a game without rules? By using it as a modification for other activities. My last post discussed using Rory’s Story Cubes as a means of kinesthetic engagement in Apples to Apples. This same strategy can be used in any activity that uses nouns (or, with the Actions expansion, verbs) as prompts. As always, clinician-guided activity is a must for many groups, and some assistance may be needed to interpret icons (especially in the Actions expansion). EDIT: I don’t know why I didn’t think of this, but these work really well in combination with Writer’s Dice to build more complex sentences and stories.
- Like many other games with nouns or verbs as prompts, I’ve used Rory’s Story Cubes when working with the Expanding Expression Tool, as additional prompts are always useful.
- The Actions set can be very useful for divergent naming.
Overall, this is one of my favorite tools for speech therapy. It’s compact, durable, and has a wide range of applications. I haven’t done research into the designer, but it almost feels like this was a game designed by a speech therapist or special education teacher. It’s useful with clients of all ages, and with the expansions included, the number of combinations is limitless, providing usefulness in the long term with the same client or group. If you have space in your speech bag, Rory’s Story Cubes is an easy addition, and if you don’t have space in your speech bag, you need to rearrange your bag to create a hole the size of a deck of cards for this to fit in.
Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you used?