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Storyboard – Narrative writing for primary school

Discover how this simple planning technique can help children with inspiration, sequencing and more with this advice from Sue Drury…

Sue Drury
by Sue Drury
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If your idea of storyboards is based on scenes in films and TV shows in which smug, creative people use big, beautifully drawn cartoon drawings to outline their fabulous idea for an advertisement or movie, you’d only be partly right. For a start, they don’t necessarily need visual representation at all.

In essence, a storyboard is a way of breaking up narratives into neat chunks in order to crystallise the sequence in which events happen. Each section does tend to have a picture, because a good images (even if they’re bad drawings) can convey a lot of information. Sometimes, however, a word or two works just as well.

Writing using pictures is, of course, nothing new. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are an excellent early example of how images can advance a narrative clearly and concisely.

In fact, many cultures have understood their value both for telling stories and conveying useful information. And in the classroom, a good storyboard template reduces the temptation for pupils to write full sentences instead of notes on their plan.

It also gets them to think hard about the order in which the events will occur, and see at a glance whether the tale has coherence.

Storyboarding process as a timeline

Storyboards work across a range of genres. For example, one type of writing that is especially reliant on good sequencing is recounts, as they are typically written in chronological order.

Using a storyboard approach to planning will help pupils to be confident that they have included all the key events and arranged them appropriately.

Those that are accomplished time-tellers could even include a small image of a clock or note of the time in each frame, not necessarily to mention in their writing, but as a reminder of when things happened.

Similarly, anyone who has put together flatpack furniture will know that many instruction leaflets are effectively storyboards these days.

Of course, we expect pupils to be able to write numbered instructions using imperative verbs, but these commercial examples do offer a telling insight into the power of images for helping us to follow a method.

Getting your pupils to plan their instructions using a storyboard helps them see clearly that they have considered and covered every step of the process.

Simple storyboard structure

One of the possible pitfalls of a frame-by-frame approach to composition is that it can lead to writing that feels disjointed. This makes it the perfect opportunity to remind children about the importance of cohesive devices.

Storyboards are also great for teaching about paragraphs, which should change when there is a shift in time or place of topic, much as a film-maker might use a different camera angle to alter perspective.

Quite apart from all the benefits of using storyboards as a planning tool, they do also have their place in creating finished pieces using comic book-style frames.

In fact, they can be particularly good for telling a story or describing a process in subjects such as history or geography, where clear illustrations can complement crafted text very effectively.

Finally, a little reminder to reassure those who are not confident about their artistic ability: storyboards are not about being great at drawing.

For most applications, simple line drawings, probably involving stick people with emoji-style faces, will be enough. The true craft comes in creating a coherent and well-ordered composition. Get the picture?

Free template-writing pack

Literacy resources website Plazoom offers a selection of writing templates that can be used to support pupils with planning stories and other written work in KS1 and KS2, including mind maps, story maps and storyboards.

Download them for free with a trial subscription here.

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