Writing Stories: Le Cadavre Exquis

Le Cadavre exquis is a surrealist game the group invented in the 1920s. To play, one person writes a word or sentence on a piece of paper and then folds the paper to hide his contribution and then passes it to the next player. He does the same, then passes the paper, and so on. The first time the surrealists played the game they created the sentence “Le cadavre – exquis – boira – le vin – nouveau,” giving the name to the game. The meaning of the phrases and stories that result can be bizarre or funny, and this activity has had success in both intermediate classes and more advanced writing ones.

In pairs, groups of 3 (this yields fewer errors since they check each other), or individually, this can be an entertaining game for everyone, but just make sure you have more than one story going at once, so that each student or group is always working on a sentence or part of a sentence. You can play this game with nothing more than a blank sheet of paper, so prep time is minimal (non-existant, really!), but do keep in mind what you want to get out of the activity: a review of verb tenses? the use of certain vocabulary?

Here are a couple of uses for the game:

Intermediate: When working on passé composé vs. imparfait, have the students tell a story using either descriptive or active sentences. This can be as structured or as unstructured as you wish. For example, you could choose the subject of the story (a character or well-known campus figure like the university president) but keep the rest open. You can also use this opportunity to work on the vocabulary for telling a story, such as d’abord, en premier lieu, ensuite, de plus, finalement, etc. To do this, just print out a sheet with 5 or 6 of these words and phrases each lined up at the left margin and spread out vertically to leave room for the folding.

Advanced: Many advanced classes could also use a review of the passé composé, passé simple and the imparfait, but you can also use more complicated sentence structures here. For example, you can use this game as a way to use expressions of opposition such as bien que + subjonctif, malgré + nom, etc. Again, this can be very structured with a sheet giving students the beginning of sentences/phrases, or just leave it open and tell them to use in each sentence at least one expression from those you’ve been studying. This is also an opportunity to review compound tenses like the plus-que-parfait or the conditionnel passé. For example, you can have the first student or group of students write the beginning of a “si” sentence using one tense (“S’il avait reçu son livre à temps”) and the second finish it using the corresponding tense (“il aurait acheté un nouveau manteau.”).

At the end of the activity, be sure to read every story out loud so that you may show off the students’ creativity and collectively enjoy the unusual and often hilarious stories that come out of the game. I’ve even saved many of the students’ stories to hang in my office.

Image from Exquisite Corpse

1 comment for “Writing Stories: Le Cadavre Exquis

  1. Scott
    September 30, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Merci beaucoup! I love this idea and I’m really excited about trying it in my level 3 high school class to review the passé composé and sequencing words. Thanks for all of the great ideas!

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