My first experience with IlluStory was back in 1993. I was 7 years old, and my dad traveled often for work. He would always bring me back souvenirs and gifts, and one time it was an IlluStory Kit from a gift shop in the Atlanta International Airport. I was a creative 2nd grader, and I crafted a story about a town of bugs that lived in my window box. It was titled, “The Bugs from Buginsburg” and I was immensely proud of it.
The funny thing was, we didn’t have any window boxes, nor was I particularly fond of bugs, but nonetheless my story came to life on the pages of my beautiful hardcover book. Even though this experience was a long time ago, it always stayed with me as a fond childhood memory.
Fast Forward to this Past Summer
Now I’m a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher about to start her 12th year teaching. I was reflecting on the previous school year, as well as thinking ahead to what new and exciting things I could bring to my classroom.
I work at H.B. du Pont Middle School in Delaware. We are known as the premier comprehensive middle school in the state, and this title is well earned. We have rigorous, multi-level academic, championship sports teams, an award winning music department and academic teams, and clubs for all interests.
One way we are different from the other middle schools is that we have a period called Activity Block that allows the students to select activities in which they are interested in participating during the last part of the day. These range in variety from sports, games, academic pursuits, extra help, and more.
I was brainstorming what I would offer as my activities for this upcoming year and I thought about my experience with IlluStory. I wasn’t sure it even still existed, but a quick Google search confirmed that it was in fact still around. Immediately, I reached out to my principal to secure funding to purchase kits, and began my planning process.
Here is How I Used the Kits in My Activity Bock
My students were mostly 6th graders, but there are some 7th and 8th graders in the group as well.
My students worked through the pages in the guidebook included in the IlluStory kit and participated in a collaborative brainstorm using Padlet.com. This really motivated them to get creative! From here, they selected the idea they wished to write their book about.
Next, we reviewed the concepts of plot, point of view, and types of conflict that we covered in the regular 6th grade English curriculum. Here are the Common Core Standards we addressed.
Addressing Common Core
Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
After that, they completed a storyboard rough draft. I created this rough draft by taking an 11 by 17 inch paper and dividing it up into boxes for each page in the kit. The goal was to make sure they were able to lay out their plot without running out of pages.
I have noticed many of my students struggled with this in past assignments over the years, and I did not want them to waste pages in their kit messing up their story’s pacing. This was a quick way to avoid this potential issue. In addition, the students are used to having to create rough drafts for writing assignments, so this made sense to them.
A book in Progress
Students then used their rough draft to begin working on their books. I allowed them the freedom to create. Some chose to write out the pages and then go back and do the illustrations, while others preferred to fully complete one page at a time
As it stands now, one student has already completed and received her book. It was exciting to get it in the mail and see all the students gather around and marvel at the first finished product. It really motivated others to finish so they could send their books off too! Four more have sent their kits in since then, and are patiently awaiting the arrival of their finished books. The rest of my students are working carefully to create high quality stories. They are all excited for the outcome!
Our First Finished Book!
Going forward, I plan to have interested students take their stories to the next level by creating digital stories using Google Slides and Screencastify. These are tools we use frequently because we are a one-to-one technology school and use Chromebooks every day in our classrooms. My hope is that the students will put the pages of their book on a Google Slides presentation and then narrate their stories using Screencastify. I can then upload them to my educational YouTube channel so they can access them with friends and family. It is my hope that we can share them with some of the elementary schools, too!
Overall, I have really enjoyed using the IlluStory kits with my activity block students. It has been nostalgic for me because of my fond memories of creating my own book as a 7 year old, and it has been a great bonding experience to share that with my students. I am really enjoying watching them soar through their creative processes and observing them using the narrative writing skills that they have learned in their regular English classes. It has also been exciting to see the imagination flowing from their heads to the pages of their books each week. I am greatly looking forward to seeing the rest of the completed books arrive. I really hope to continue this journey with new students in the years to come!
If you are interested in following our journey, or seeing what other exciting things are happening in my classroom, be sure to follow me on Twitter @MrsTalmoHB!
Michelle Talmo is a 6th grade ELA teacher at H.B. du Pont Middle School. She has been teaching for 12 years, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from The University of Delaware and a Master’s in Instruction: Teaching and Learning from Wilmington University.