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A single brick of LEGO can tell a story all by itself. I once found a bright red 1x6 brick at home, pressed into a tub of margarine. There was glitter in there too, as well as a LEGO man inside the milk. I quickly drew up a list of four suspects and interviewed them in the kitchen. As one started to explain what had happened, the others soon added their own layers of invention. By the end I was so impressed, I couldn’t help but admire their joint venture – even if it did mean another trip to the shops.
It’s funny how we sometimes say to children, ‘Don’t tell tales’, when actually that’s what we should be encouraging…
Give children a pile of LEGO and you’re guaranteed multiple stories – it’s perhaps what I love most about these simple bits of Danish plastic. They’re playful, addictive and, above all, world makers. You are the brick author, and the possibilities are limitless. There’s can be a LEGO factory of untamed ideas and stories inside every child – but sometimes they need a bit of help getting them out…
This is where the StoryStarter set comes in. It’s a clever tool for teaching literacy and writing sequences, like a pair of jump leads for the mind. This marvellous tub of fun from Jutland is something quite special, made up as it is of 1,144 carefully selected pieces, including assorted characters, animals, accessories, iconic elements (such as flags, boxes and wheel parts), basic bricks, and building plates for creating up to five story scenes. You also get some sorting trays and activity spinners.
It has everything you need to support a small group of pupils with building their own stories. Of course, the hardware is not the only star here – the innovative StoryVisualiser software that comes with it also shares centre stage. The story plates are used to build a story sequence with a beginning, middle and end.
Children choose their LEGO pieces to develop settings, characters and plots for the stories they have in mind, then explore their context through building and put their thoughts and creations into words. The spinners are there to help get their brains buzzing.
The kit works wonders, in my opinion, because children are attaching vocabulary to the pieces they select, inventing scenarios and making things happen, whilst working collaboratively and sharing ideas.
The obvious hands-on nature of LEGO means all of the children can get involved, while their literacy skills are being developed and polished every step of the way. Creating a small three-part story would in itself be enough, but the software also enables children to document and present their stories in a written format.
This basically means taking photos of their bases, importing the images of their models to the software, and then placing these into a number of brilliant templates such as a cartoon, a newspaper or a storybook; the software provides children with a publishing medium par excellence.
They can use the templates as they are, or customise them as they wish. This makes writing, printing and sharing stories exciting, and the product of a real team effort. Children will find it easy to import pictures and images, and will love using the storyboard layout to help organise their writing. The software is top-notch stuff, purring with quality and creativity.
If you’re running short of ideas, then the StoryStarter set also includes a bumper guide to help you create rich lessons. The 114-page curriculum pack meanwhile contains 24 project-based English activities, a learning grid, rubric samples, lesson plans, worksheets and tips and tricks. It’s certainly plentiful.
As any primary practitioner will tell you, overseeing story writing is hard graft, involving stacks of scaffolding, patience and creativity by the bucket-load. All help is gratefully accepted – so thank you LEGO, because StoryStarter is going to make a lot of teachers very happy.
The canny combination of classic LEGO and the latest technology has the power to make waves. The physical LEGO models children create are the perfect aid to developing writing.
I’ve been critical about the cost of LEGO, but with this kit I believe you’re getting good value. That said, there could be more pieces, and some of those included are a bit too small for some children to manipulate – but these are minor moans.
THE VERDICT: A creative storm
Interest level? On the ceiling. Writing motivation? Secured. Combined effect? Awesome!
Children get to be really creative, using low-tech and high-tech materials to improve their story arc and five Ws literacy skills in the process. Construction, discussion, expression, writing with a voice, technology and performance – it’s all here.
This is playful and collaborative problem solving at its best.
Reviewed by John Dabell
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