The Scottish Storyline®Method

Great Articles about the Storyline Method . . . . . ..

    How the Storyline Method came to be

    Integrating Curriculum

    The Topic Web and the Storyline Method

    Answers to Questions about the Storyline Method 

    Why the Storyline Method Makes Sense

    It’s the Principle of the Thing

    Dragons vs. Elephants



Why the Storyline Method Makes Sense                                        << Previous | Next >>


One of the most important resources available to classroom teachers is the knowledge already contained in the heads of their students. Childrens’ own ideas and prior experience provide the starting point for the topic.


The pupils are actively involved in producing their own visual texts. The context created provides many opportunities for the children to use all their senses both in the exploration of their environment and in expressing their ideas about what they discover.


The students feel personally involved in the creation of the Storyline which is usually about a place that they have created and inhabited by people they have produced.


Confidence grows when teacher and student regularly meet with successful outcomes. Students feel supported by the Storyline to which they constantly refer. Teachers can structure their activities based on a series of episodes arising from the same Storyline topic.


Working within the topic gives many opportunities for students to practice the same basic skills again and again without becoming bored. In addition, it demonstrates a relevance to childrens’ reality which provides proof of the general usefulness of these skills.


When children create an imaginary environment and inhabitants with whom they identify, questions often arise in the sensitive areas of values clarification, substance abuse, family relationships, politics, etc. These issues can be addressed in a nonthreatening manner through role play, as very often the children adopt the personalities of the characters they create.


The teacher has a plan in the form of a Storyline unit but that plan is only brought to life through the work and imagination of the students in the classroom. The teacher’s role is one of collaborator, working in partnership with the learners. The children depend on the teacher for leadership and the teacher depends on the student's work and participation to carry the story forward.


Teachers often feel threatened by their lack of knowledge and experience in the use of calculators, audiovisual equipment, computers and word processors. Within the context of a topic, these resources can be seen to be of real value. Frequently, this recognition is initiated by the students and their use produces more confidence and more skill through practice.


The childrens’ involvement in producing their own visual text and participation in the accompanying language development activities give the less able student tremendous support. Due to the open-ended nature of the problem solving episodes, the more able student benefits from the opportunities to work at higher levels of thinking and development.


In order to achieve success from a planned activity within a topic study the teacher relates the number of children involved with the desired outcome. Is it a job for individuals, pairs, small groups of three to five, or would a half or whole class organization be more appropriate? The variety of activities produces reasons for a range of work groupings.


An important variable in Retention Theory is practice. Planning appropriate amounts of meaningful practice is a challenge for any teacher. The topic study provides a vehicle which maintains a high level of interest while presenting the frequency of opportunities needed for effective skill practice.


The Scottish primary school curriculum is very similar to the elementary curriculums used in most United States school districts. It is based on the notion of a spiral which starts with a narrow diameter at the early grades with topics of immediate relevance to the early learner such as me, my home, my family. The spiral gradually widens to topics which encompass the learners’ community. In the upper grades topics include the study of other countries. It is easy to develop topics which fit into this pattern, i.e. The Oregon Trail or a Cruise to the Mediterranean.


The Storyline Method recognizes the limiting effect that direct observation can have on the children's ingenuity and imagination at an early stage of a study. When a group of pupils is asked to design a shop front, for example, the visual they create is their conceptual model of what they think that type of shop should be. Having completed their visual, they visit a shop of the same type in their locality. The quality of such a visit after all the thinking that has had to be done is qualitatively richer. The children have all the questions ready. They know what to look for and are often surprised by what they have forgotten to include in their own visual. They may also think that their own end product has many qualities not apparent in the real thing.


The alternative and perhaps more traditional strategy is to visit the shop first and reproduce what the children have observed after the visit. Supporters of the Storyline Method argue that visiting too early in the study provides easy answers for the questions children have not yet been challenged to ask. The variety of possible answers is limited and prevents children from using problem solving skills in a relevant manner.


The growing popularity of the Storyline Method is largely because it provides a process or structure that meaningfully integrates curriculum. Sound learning theory and effective teaching strategies have been synthesized into a user friendly teaching model. Teachers appreciate the flexible structure of the Storyline Method for both short and long term planning. Both teachers and student find the collaborative storymaking exciting and highly motivating. Together they create a visual text which is far more meaningful to them than any textbook. Children watch the story unfold as their ideas appear in visual form around the walls of their classroom. The level of involvement and sense of ownership felt by students encourages them to take a greater responsibility for their own learning. Best of all, the whole process is fun and stimulating for everyone involved.


Isn’t that what learning’s all about?


Barr, Ian (1988). The Storyline Approach to Topic Work in Primary Schools: A Structural Analysis. The Netherlands: National Institute for Curriculum Development. Report of the Seminar of Topic Based Approaches to Learning and Teaching in Primary Education.


Bell, Steve (1988). The Flexibility of the Topic Approach. The Netherlands: National Institute for Curriculum Development. Report of the Seminar on Topic Based Approaches to Learning and Teaching in Primary Education.


Jacobs, Heidi H. (1989). Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Rendell, Fred. Topic Study How and Why? Glasgow, Scotland: Inservice Education, Jordanhill College.


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