Storyline Approach

Storyline is a way of working and an approach to teaching that was originally developed in Scotland. In 1965, Scotland adopted a new curriculum which proposed that teachers in primary school should work crosscurricular. With the aid of teacher training in collaboration with active teachers, an integrated approach was developed.

Storyline is built on teachers and pupils creating a story in the classroom together. The pre-planned storyline comes to life when the pupils design the setting and populate it with characters.

The pupils experience the story through the characters. This helps them to find motivation for the work, and gives them a deeper understanding of the subject area. The pupils learn in a context, since their characters require knowledge within different subject areas. It becomes natural to integrate different subjects to make the story realistic and the characters come to life.

The pupils' picture of reality - their preconceptions - are always the starting point in storyline. How the pupils relate to things is highlighted through practical exercises. The pupils build models and designs based on what the storyline deals with, thereby forcing them to think about how things really are.

During the work, the pupils actually get to make hypotheses around different phenomena. These hypotheses and images of how they think they are related must then be tested against reality. This can happen through field trips, reading books, factual research, watching films and more.

In order to get pupils to think about different events, the teacher asks open key questions. Examples of such key questions can be:

  • How do you think an energy efficient house is built?
  • What do you think is needed to run a newspaper?
  • How do you think houses were built in the stone age?

The purpose of the open key-questions is to make pupils think about how they believe things relate to one another, formulate hypotheses and theories, and suggest possible solutions. These are presented to others in the class in the form of models, sketches, drawings and so on. The pupils present what is discussed in class and pupils have the opportunity to prove their arguments. Finally, the pupils explanations are compared to reality.

Everything the pupils do is put up on the walls and serves as the class's shared starting point, basis for discussions and presentations. This joint exhibition can consist of a mural, or a three-dimensional model, as well as characters, tools, personal descriptions, models of houses, adverts, machines, poems, word lists and so on. It is permitted in storyline to change and improve everything that is done, afterwards. The exebition of the work is very important for giving life to the story and can be altered for as long as the storyline is being worked with.

A strong belief within storyline is to vary the pupils' activities as much as possible so that every pupil will benefit, regardless of how they learn best. Therefore drama, music, dance, visual arts, oral presentation, evaluation exercises, written exercises, IT and multimedia should be integrated together with anything else that can be thought of.

It must also be stressed that every pupil should feel a sense of success. Therefore, the pupils should always be given a clear, supporting structure for each element before it begins. Pupils also receive support from the brainstorming that is done together in class. If the class has first listed characteristic words together, it becomes much easier for each pupil to describe their character with the help of these word lists. A storyline requires a high point at the end. The pupils will have been working through their characters for a while and these should now be left behind. The high point can involve having a party, an inauguration or an exhibition.

Often a storyline is concluded by inviting an expert in the field they have been working with in order to answer the pupils' questions. The experts should not prepare any speeches. Instead they should just come and look at what the pupils have done and answer their questions. There are several benefits: It is easier to get experts to turn up, the language is less advanced and the visit will actually be about what the pupils want to know.

Sometimes it is hard for pupils to see what they have learned within the different subjects, since they are working across subjects. It is important to do continous evaluations. Help the pupils to structure what they have done during the work by looking at the syllabus targets for different subjects. The pupils feel that their work is important and they realise that they have learned a great deal.