What if you could get an endless supply of writing prompts?

What if we all walked on the ceiling? What if it rained lemonade?

Did you ever ask these questions as a kid?

The What-If…? Game is a low-prep writing game turns everything into a writing prompt!

 

If you want help you student get ideas for story, a simple what-if question is all you need, and this writing game will help you get started.

I’ve used this with elementary and middle-school students to help them defeat writer’s block and start writing. It usually takes a few minutes to warm them up, and soon they can brainstorm an endless list of stories that interest them in writing!

In this post, you’ll learn…

  1. How to play the What-If…? writing game
  2. How to use this writing game as a brainstorming tool
  3. And how to get more out with several variations

Plus, to make this extra easy for you to start playing immediately, I’ve included a free download at the end of the post. You’ll get fill-in-the-blank what if questions with lots of examples. It makes for a great print-and-play writing game.

How to play

Ages

This game works best for middle schoolers if you are using movies, TV shows, and books. They will have read/watched a lot more by this age, so they have more to pull from. 

If you have younger students (4th–6th graders, for example), I’d recommend doing real-life What-If…? questions (such as “What if we walked on the ceiling?”).

Players

The standard game can be played with 1 player, but you can easily expand this to include a small group or even an entire classroom.

See “Variations” for ideas for playing this game as a class.

Skills Reinforced

  • Brainstorming (learn more about this in section 2 of this post)
  • Story Structure
  • Character and Setting
  • Other skills can easily be introduced as needed

You will need

  • Optional: The printed What-If…? Writing Game PDF (get it for free below)
  • Pencil
  • Several blank pieces of paper

Set up

This game requires no set up. In fact, you can play it anywhere—even without pen and paper. This writing game could actually easily be converted into roadtrip game, a conversational game, or a party game.

Object

The object of the game is to create interesting new stories by changing parts of movies, TV shows, video games, books, or even real life people, places or things.

Gameplay

Asking and answering a question

Pick a What-If…? question from the list (if using the free What-If…? Writing Game PDF) or think of your own What-If…? question. Write the question down or say it out loud.

Write or describe aloud your answer to the question.

For example, let’s say I pick this question: What if Cinderella’s Fair Godmother was really a space alien? I would then write my answer. Right now, for example, I’m thinking that the Fairy Godmother didn’t really want to help Cinderella get to the ball for good reasons. Maybe she was trying to get Cinderella out of the house because there was a buried treasure in the Cinderella’s basement. When Cinderella goes to the ball, the Fairy (alien?) Godmother uses her laser shovel to dig up the treasure and fly away.

Okay, now comes the good part. After this brief description, your student’s brain should be excited to write more. Right now in my head, for example, I’ve mapped out the a sequel to Cinderella: after the Prince marries Cinderella, they find an old letter from her father telling them about the buried treasure, but guess what? When they go to dig it up, it’s gone! They then must go on a quest to find the Alien Godmother and get the treasure back.

What to ask questions about

You can ask What-If…? questions about anything.

The basic What-If…? questions change something about your subject. For example, in the question “What if we walked on the ceiling?” we are changing something about the way we walk.

If I ask, “What if Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother was a space alien?” I am changing the nature of one of the characters in a story.

To get good What-If…? questions, think about what you could change.

Here are some ideas to get you started (I have a giant list with tons of examples in the free PDF below):

  • Character personalities (What if Cinderella was selfish?)
  • Character desires (What if Cinderella wanted riches instead of love?)
  • Character actions (What if Cinderella ran away to another country?)
  • Settings (What if Cinderella happened in space?)
  • Time periods (What if Cinderella happened in modern times?)

Using real life

You don’t have to use TV shows, movies, or books. You can ask What-If…? questions about anything.

Again, think about something you could change about real life—maybe scientific laws (such as gravity), the way something works (like cars having wheels), or the way our government is set up.

I have a list of more ideas for asking real-life What-If…? questions in the free PDF below.

How to use this writing game as a brainstorming tool

 

Sometimes it might help to ask a lot of What-If…? questions before writing. 

Brainstorming a list of What-If…? questions can get the brain warmed up for writing. If your student is not in the mood for writing, this is especially helpful.

I have often played this game with a student by taking turns asking What-If…? questions. When I participate, it helps take some of the pressure off of the student, but I always find that it does not take very long for the student to take over and start spinning off endless What-If…? questions on their own. When that happens, it’s time to start writing.

You can ask your student to make a list of What-If…? questions before writing. Use the free What-If…? writing game PDF to help. I’ve created fill-in-the blank templates for you to make this process easy.

Variations

  1. Partner Brainstorm: Partners take turns asking (but not answering) questions. After 5 minutes have the students write.
  2. Group Ask/Answer/Discuss: 1 player picks/asks a question for the group. Each player in the group gives their answer to the question. Players discuss which answer they think is more likely or which they like the best.
  3. Road Trip: Ask What-If…? questions about interesting vehicles, places, signs, etc. you see as you drive.
  4. Mid-story Question: If a student gets stuck during a story or as a fun twist to an assignment, have them ask What-If…? questions to send the story in an unexpected direction.
  5. Party Game: 1 Player asks a question. Everyone writes down a short answer. The asking player tries to guess who wrote which answer. The asking player gets a point for each right answer.