Continue the Story


It is becoming more recognized that if a company wants to have long term success, innovation is the key. But some will argue that the engineering design process still lacks important aspects of the creativity process, especially when it comes to inclusion, mention, and considerations. Therefore, it is argued through social science studies that the creativity element is an essential part of the designing process, hence it is often creativity which has the biggest impact on a product’s outcome. Without creativity, there is no potential for innovation that can be transformed into commercial value for a company and long-term failure is a certainty (Howard et al., 2017). 


What is this technique about

The students are given a beginning of a story that the teacher has developed. Every student is also assigned three random words, which s/he must use to make one sentence that can then be used to start the story. The words can come from previous exercises (e.g., catchword, ABC method) or be given by the teacher. It is important that the three words are used in the sentences and should also be related to the main topic of the workshop of problem. Continue the Story can be used in different phases of a workshop; hence it can be implemented as an opening combined with (e.g., catchword or photo story) but also as a combination session where students develop a solution or scenario.

Where does it come from 

Stories are a way for humans to make sense of the world and envision possibilities outside of the immediate reality (Zaidi, 2019). Creating and telling stories is thus a genuine human capability, and this method makes use of it.

For which purposes it is used (why in your engineering teaching)

When implementing the Continue the Story method in engineering teaching, the teacher can enhance the student’s creativity by making the first sentences composed of three different random terms the students are given. The outcome will then be different from the stories students would normally write because students need to formulate the sentences more creatively to make sure that they use their three words. 

Continue the Story also is a good starting point for scenario development, because the stories with their plots, places and main characters serve as a first step in building a complete future world that can then be used in the design phases for identifying personas or prototypical use cases (Zaid, 2019).

How to use it

Before the session can begin, the teacher must prepare a beginning of a story (three to seven sentences) that the students can work with. Additionally, every student should be given three words to develop a starting sentence, which could be found from a previous session (e.g., photo story) or words that the teacher has prepared. The writing can take place in a shared document sheet where each student has an assigned slide/page with their name on and the beginning of the story. Furthermore, each slide/page should contain the three words the student has to work with to develop the story within 15-20 minutes (the session can also be longer). When the time is almost up, let the students know that they have 5 minutes left. After finishing their stories, let them read it out in plenum or in their subgroups.  

How to implement this technique online

Preparation, what do before the session

  1. Invent the beginning of a story.
  2. Write the beginning of the story down in the shared document on in each slide/page so everybody has it in front of their eyes.
  3. In the case that the three words will not be an outcome of a previous exercise, prepare three words for each student and put them into a table. Make sure that the students will not get the same combination to broaden the outcome of the stories.
  4. Upload the shared document to the teaching platform.

During application, i.e. while giving the session

  1. Introduce the exercise and its purpose.
  2. Let the students open the shared document and download it to their own computer. From here they work offline.
  3. Tell them that they have 15 minutes to continue the story (or longer)
  4. Assign 3 words to each student (e.g., show a table, or assign from previous exercise). Explain that they each have three words in their first sentence, and that these words  cannot be changed and must be included.
  5. Explain that students will have to finish the story.
  6. Read out the story and start the timer. Ask the students to start writing now and inform them that you will tell them once there will be only 5 minutes left.
  7. Let the students know when they have 5 minutes left.

Follow-up, about what to do after the session

  1. Let the students upload their stories. 
  2. Ask students to read out their stories, and discuss them in plenum – what does that mean for the solution that will be developed? Use the stories to evaluate how a future scenario or use case could look like.

Examples and/or testimonials

The below is an example of how the method was prepared and facilitated in February 2021 by a student group during the course “Megatrends and Technological Innovation” held by Prof. Dr. Patricia Wolf at the University of Southern Denmark.

Example of Continue the Story – SOSU challenge, 2021

Continue the Story - Introduction
Continue the Story - Group A
Continue the Story - Group B

Tools needed

  1. Computer
  2. Internet access
  3. Shared document
  4. Access to teaching platform (Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams etc.)
  5. Timer (Phone, watch, computer)




Howard, T., Culley, S., & Dekoninck, E. (2007). CREATIVITY IN THE ENGINEERING DESIGN PROCESS. Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (IMRC), University of Bath.

Zaidi, L. (2019). Worldbuilding in science fiction, foresight and design. Journal of Futures Studies, 23(4), 15-26.