How Storyline immerses learners in a topic

CFE urges the creation of successful learners, who take ownership of their learning. This week, Emily Tall might just have the answer, in the form of the Storyline approach to teaching a topic.


Over the past few years I have taught numerous topics by using a storyline approach through various books and novels. My starting point for these topics is to choose a good book. The story has to include a few components to make the storyline approach to a topic successful. These are:

  • good characters; 
  • a variety of problems or scenarios and; 
  • relevance to the topic being taught.

I used a series of books by Linda Strachan - The Journeys of Hamish McHaggis - to teach a topic based on Scottish Journeys. The reason I chose these particular books is due to each book being set in a different Scottish place. Each book sets different challenges and this allowed me to teach this topic in a meaningful and exciting way. Storyline allows good opportunities for writing, problem solving and working collaboratively with other peers. 


When beginning a storyline topic a good starting point helps make the topic become embedded into the classroom and the learning. Usually I begin a topic by sending a letter from one of the characters in the book with a problem that the character needs solved. This then starts correspondence between the main character and the children. Throughout the topic the children will continue to help the characters solve problems that may occur within the story. These problems can cover many curricular areas allowing the learning to become cross-curricular and relevant to the children.


I have also created my own storyline without the use of a book. In order to do this you once again need the same components as using a book - a good character, variety of problems and relevance to the topic.


I enjoy teaching using the storyline approach as it allows the children to direct their learning. Their responses to some of the problems your characters may encounter can sometimes be unexpected and this takes the learning in the classroom further. When I teach using storyline I feel that the children live and breathe the topic. They think about it all the time and I have had children who have spent lots of their own free time making posters for our missing bear (We’re Going On a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen).


When I plan a topic using storyline I always planwith the children. We do this using the  problems set by the main character and normally create mind maps when we brainstorm solutions and ideas (click the picture on the right for a better look). When we think we have found a solution or idea we will try it out. These solutions and ideas are usually then communicated back to the character in the story. These plans are displayed within the class so that the children can access the plan throughout their learning and edit if needed. As a teacher I also have an overall plan for the topic which I plan using the Curriculum for Excellence outcomes. In this plan I highlight the learning the children will achieve from the current topic.


Overall my experience of storyline is a positive one. All the children in the class become motivated and the children usually become so excited that they discuss the problems with other children, staff and parents outwith class time.


Let us know your thoughts on Emily's blog by commenting below.

Check out Emily's case study of Storyline in our CPD Toolkits section for further ideas and inspiration!  

Watch a series of videos on Education Scotland's website which shows the Storyline approach in action.