Title: Spaceship

Recommended by: Doug Lipman

Origin: Storytelling Games, by Doug Lipman. Based on a 19th century U.S. parlor game, often called “Stagecoach.”

Recommended age: Ages 4 through 9 (and above)


  • Physical activity while learning.
  • Practice connecting a written word with its pronunciation.
  • For the group, practice recognizing a particular word when it is used in an improvised sentence.
  • For the leader, practice improvising a story that uses a given set of words.
  • For the leader, pronouncing cue words clearly to the entire group (with immediate feedback).
  • Review curriculum that involves the parts of a spaceship, or of any other multi-part object or system (e.g., a tree; the circulatory system; the federal government, the water cycle; etc.)

Procedure (summary): 

As the leader, write (or have the group generate) a visible list of four parts of a spaceship. Assign each quarter of the group a different term from the list. Now tell a simple story about a spaceship. Whenever you mention one of the terms on the list, the quarter of the group who were assigned that term will stand up, turn around, and sit back down. Whenever you say “spaceship,” everyone stands up, turns around, and sits back down. End the story by saying, “The spaceship landed safely.” At that final cue, every group member will stand up, find another group member, clap hands twice, and then sit back down in a new place.

If desired, repeat with a volunteer leader. You can also vary the game by changing the list of terms or changing the spaceship to some other multi-part object or system.

Procedure (detailed example): 

Say, “What things or people might be part of a spaceship, or on a spaceship?” Call on group members for their responses, writing the first four or more response where all can see. A typical list might be: rocket engines, booster rockets, control panel, laser guns, fuel, astronauts, and computers.

Choose four items from the list that you want highlighted in the story, such as:

  • Engines
  • Control panel
  • Fuel
  • Astronauts

Circle the chosen items or erase the others. 

Point to part of the group (one or two rows of desks, or a quarter of the players seated on the floor), saying,

This group can be the Engines. When you hear me say, “Engines,” you stand up, turn around, and sit back down. Ready for a practice? Engines! 

Repeat for each of the other items, giving each group a chance to stand up, turn around, and sit back down.

Say the following, allowing players enough time to perform the required action after each cue: 

When I say, “Spaceship,” everyone stands up, turns around, and sits back down. Ready for a roll call? Spaceship! Engines! Control Panel! Fuel! Astronauts! Spaceship! Now, when you hear me say, “The space ship landed safely,” everyone stands up, finds someone else to clap two hands with, and sits back down in a different chair. Ready for a test? The spaceship landed safely!

When all are back in their seats, tell this story (you can vary it as you wish), pausing after each emphasized word for the appropriate group to stand up, etc.:

Once, there was a magnificent spaceship. It had powerful engines, the very finest control panel, and a year’s supply of fuel. Not only that, the astronauts flying it were the best pilots in the world. 

Finally, the big day came: the spaceship was ready to take off. The engines were ready, and there was plenty of fuel. The astronauts were strapped in their seats in front of the control panel. Three, two, one, liftoff! The spaceship took off, and quickly flew into space. 

Suddenly, the astronauts looked at the control panel, and saw there was a problem. A big asteroid was heading right toward them. They sent more fuel to the engines, but the asteroid kept up with them. The asteroid was getting closer, and the control panel lights were flashing red. The astronauts fired the engines faster and faster, but finally were almost out of fuel

What could they do? Since they couldn’t beat it, they had to join the asteroid. The astronauts just turned the knob on the control panel that stopped sending Fuel to the engines, and, right there on the asteroid, the spaceship landed safely!

If you wish, when all have recovered their breath and their chairs, ask for a volunteer to tell some other story about a spaceship. Guide the player through another “roll call,” then let him/her make up another impromptu story about a spaceship.


Very young players (or players not speaking their first language) may prefer to take turns telling almost the same story. Allow the stories to be imitative while the players get comfortable with the game. In later sessions, encourage originality by praising any players who vary the story. If none do, model originality by telling one or more completely different stories yourself. 


  • Don’t write down the parts of the spaceship. You can use stick figures or pictures to represent the parts of the spaceship, or else you can encourage the group to rely on the sounds alone. 
  • “Hash” the group: once parts are assigned, have players intermingle. Because a player’s neighbors will be responding to different cues, this variation makes the game more challenging.
  • Change the parts of the spaceship that you highlight. For example, another story might be built around Lunar Module, Computer, Hull, and Oxygen Supply.
  • Vary the number of parts of the spaceship. Older or more experienced players can remember more parts, especially when they are written out in plain sight.
  • Vary the responses that players will make to each part. Instead of having players respond to the mention of each part by standing up, turning around, and sitting down, give each part a different movement or sound response that’s appropriate to its function.
  • Vary the final line of the story. Let the volunteer choose it, or suggest a final line yourself, such as “The mission was successful,” or “The spaceship flew on into outer space,” or even “The spaceship fell apart.”
  • Vary the action performed at the final line. Traditionally, the final line signaled a scramble for chairs; the player who failed to find one became the next storyteller. Alternatively, have players perform another sitting or standing movement (alone, or in pairs or small groups), or even sing a song or chant a verse.
  • Change the Subject. Replace the idea of a spaceship with another object that has several component parts. Traditional subjects include a stagecoach, an automobile, and the objects a woman might use in the course of getting dressed. For curricular use, however, any object or system already studied will do. Examples might include Noah’s ark, a family, the central nervous system, a planetary system, the players’ hometown, the Round Table, the United Nations, the parts of speech in a sentence—or any other multi-part object or process from science, social studies, geography, history or even language studies.

    For each new subject, be sure to establish the parts of the subject and the line that will signal the story’s end. 

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