Sunday, October 24, 2010

What is a Story-Builder?

If I told you that Slim the Vegetarian Ogre Story-builder has been released, would you have the slightest idea what I was talking about? If I hadn't written it, I'm not sure I would, so I thought it might be an idea to clear the fog and tell you about it here. Who knows, you may even want to buy a version (school/home) for yourself...

Our story-builder is software you can download and install  virus/trojan duck/worm-free on your computer (Mac or PC). Once downloaded, the child works through the software to complete the story.

The software starts with a useful login where the child is identified. In the school version, each child gets a copy of the software on a computer and can login with his/her name and the name of the school. This sets the name of the child as the author of the story and it appears in the book. With the home version, the child's name appears on the cover too which is pretty cool!

Once the name/school page is complete, the child clicks a Next button to take him/her to the start of the story.
As you can see, they have to decide whether to set the story in the past, present or future. They are told what to do in the introduction at the top, and buttons at the bottom give extra help if needed. This page is pretty straightforward; they just have to press a button.

Once they've decided when they want their story set, they press the Next button which takes them to a page where they have to start writing.

I chose the 'Past' button on the previous page, so here is where I start setting the scene in the past. It starts, as with all good fairy tales 'Once upon a time'. The child is told what to do in the introduction at the top. If s/he needs further instruction, there are two 'What to do' buttons at the bottom of the page - one audio, one written. There is also a 'Help' button to give ideas and instruction on aspects of literacy.

The child is invited to use his/her imagination to get the story going. Once happy, s/he presses the Next button. It isn't possible to jump a page. Each page has to have something written on it (or a button chosen in the case of the first page). This is so the child is taken through the whole process from beginning to end and helps establish the story's continuity and progress.

On the next page, the child meets Slim the Ogre who is very unhappy because he doesn't like to eat human meat despite the fact that ogres are supposed to eat human meat and need its nutrients and vitamins. Slim would prefer to eat vegetables, but they make him ill and the first scene takes place with him in the outside loo of his parent's shack suffering from the effects of unsuitable food.

The story continues page by page relating how Slim has to go an see a doctor to help him 'get a grip' as his parents call it, how he agrees to help organise a food festival, 'Human Food or Humans for Food' to pit human chefs against the best ogre chefs in the land of Ogg, how he has to write an advert for the festival, or a set of rules for participants, with notes on the relevant literacy aspect (persuasive writing, imperatives, etc.), and on to describe the festival, chefs, gala and results of the competition.

The child is guided every step of the way, but there is enough freedom in what s/he can write to make it a creative process for every ability of child. The brightest children are motivated, once they've finished with the software, to write their own story without constraints about Slim or their very own ogre story. The less able are proud to get through and finish Slim's story, enthused by the ability to succeed at writing the whole thing from beginning to end.

There is a Save button so that the child can come back to the story and continue at his/her own pace. Once the story is finished, parents using the home version can send the file to be printed into a full colour book on quality paper. Teachers using the school version collect each child's file, checks it for accuracy, and then sends the whole lot for printing in a single book. In this version, each story is told on an A4 page so the book doesn't get too big and heavy. It can then be sold to families to be given to aunties, grannies and other family members. For schools, it's a fantastic potential source of funds because they can charge whatever they like for each book.

I've tried it with my youngest who, despite being anti-reading and writing, loved working on the computer and writing with the aim of finishing with a book. The concept of having his very own book with his name on it was a strong motivating force.

I wrote a complete story myself too using the software as a guide, but expanding the story to cover all the material instead of choosing just one option, and it's available on and

The story-builder is available from the Bongo LLP website store, where you'll also see the book; and a set of interactive flipcharts to accompany the aspects of literacy for schools is available on the Promethean website here.

I remember sitting at school in the days before computers, the English teacher giving us an instruction to write a story on 'your favourite holiday/pop group' and having no inspiration except a desire to just get out and run for the hills. New technology is an amazing tool to enthuse children to learn and create. I think our story-builder is a one of these amazing new tools, so new it's actually a first, and I hope it inspires some great stories from your children.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are bienvenue.