Creating Multimodal Stories

More than Words: Creating Multimodal Stories by Sharon Fell Former EMA Advisory Teacher London Borough of Newham

Sharon Fell, a former Minority Ethnic Achievement Advisory Teacher, led The Settings based project in the London Borough of Newham. This multimodal project, entitled, More than Words: Creating Multimodal Stories (QCA 2004), was carried out over a period of three years, and aimed to support children in their storytelling and writing. Sharon has written three articles about this project.
The first article (English 4-11, Autumn, 2011) was based in nursery setting where 66 three and four year olds made their own multimodal story sacks. The stories used were from a core selection of carefully selected range of books and rhymes that the children were very familiar with. So, using the outdoor environment, children used small world characters and settings to create or re-tell a story using digital cameras and a laptop. The children chose their setting and told their story through the photographs they took of their chosen small world characters. Their stories were scribed using text boxes, speech and thought bubbles and were made into books to share with peers, adults and parents.
The second article showed what happened when the parents had the chance to work alongside their children in two Early Years’ settings. The project aimed to build upon the existing good links with parents and to encourage the children to tell their favourite stories through role play, using props and puppets. Multimodal books were then made and sent home to share with parents, key workers and peers.
In this third article, the last in the series, Sharon Fell describes how a multimodal project, originally early years based, moved into key stage 1 classrooms to support children in their storytelling and writing.  It draws on examples from two Newham infant schools and makes suggestions how activities could be further developed.

Case study 1: Odessa Infant School

Traditional Stories From Around the World

In this project I worked in one Y1 and one Y2 class across five afternoons per class.  Both year groups were looking at traditional stories from around the world.  I explained to the children that the purpose of the project was to produce a group story and an individual piece of work, and that their audience would be the rest of the class.

As with the earlier projects in a nursery setting, the children worked in small groups to produce a multimodal book. They made up a story, took photographs and looked at the photographs on the computer to help them narrate their story. There was then a follow up activity where the children were able to create their own multimodal presentation, including photos and clipart images, on one aspect of their group story.  The story-making activity was therefore acting as a rehearsal for their own piece of writing.  ‘If you can’t say it you can’t write it.’ As highlighted by Bednall, Elborn and Fell, (2004).

Year 1

Two tables were set up in the classroom for children to look at. One had a display of fairy stories and traditional tales from around the world. The other table had objects and props on it that each member of the group could choose to include in their story, for example, a pirate ship, sea creatures, an African village, animals, cuddly toys.  The class had been listening to the story of The Three Little Pigs and so there were also props from this story on the table as a choice for less confident children.

Each afternoon five or six children were split into two groups to work with either myself or the class teacher and the teaching assistant.  When choosing their props there was much discussion about setting, characters and appropriate choices. The children then decided on where the most appropriate setting would be to photograph their story. This could be outside with grass or garden or inside the building with a certain colour carpet as the best backdrop for their story.

Two children reading their finished stories to the rest of the clas with the teacher looking on Three children reading their finished stories to the rest of the clas with the teacher looking on

Fig.1 & Fig.  2    Sharing and reading finished stories to the class

The story books were then added to the collection of traditional stories for the children to access.  Another table was set up with a selection of printed photographs from the children’s stories, with a variety of text boxes, speech and thought bubbles.  Working independently, the children were encouraged to choose a photograph and text box, speech or thought bubble to create a multimodal page from their story; this then communicated meaning and understanding through word and picture.  The finished pieces of work clearly reflected the influence and impact of having the opportunity to create a story collaboratively (both orally and visually) from beginning to end, to retell the story and then choose their favourite part to focus on.

A toy zoo placed in a garden a model boat sailing to an island

Furry animals 'falling asleep' on the garden path  A toy cheetah sneaking up on the little girl

Figs 3 – 6 Children’s writing examples

Year 2

For this part of the project, I worked each afternoon with a different group of mixed ability children.  I set out four stories: Tortoise’s Dream; Handa’s Surprise; Giant Hiccups and The Rainbow Fish. Each was accompanied with appropriate props and small world.

The group chose which story they wished to work on.  I read the story to the children and they then decided which direction their story would take. This could be retelling the story, using the story as a base but changing characters/setting or making up a new story with the main characters.  They decided whether they were going to be in the story or whether they would they use small world/props.  Settings and backdrops were discussed and then the same process of making the books was followed, as in Yr 1.  The stories were then shown on the interactive whiteboard to share with the class.

 A model of the magic fruit tree on a lawn A brightly coloured fish with a thought bubble 'I am the most beautiful fish in the whole wide sea world
Figs 7 & 8      Story Examples

The follow up activity with each group varied according to the story chosen.  For the Rainbow Fish and Tortoise’s Dream the activity focused on story openings and descriptive language, whereas Giant Hiccups and Handa’s Surprise were looking at the whole story with an emphasis on problem and resolution.  As in Yr 1, the children worked independently on their follow up activities and I provided the resources.

Example of children's writing about problem and resolution

An example of children's work showing problem resolution

Figs 9 & 10  Examples of Writing


In both year groups the children enjoyed producing the stories and were very proud of their books.  There was an increased level of confidence when working on their piece of writing and many of the examples showed how children used extracts from the group story in their own work.  Working collaboratively, sharing ideas, experimenting with language and using higher level thinking skills all helped to achieve this.  The class teachers noted how the activities could be incorporated into planning and extended into whole class writing over a longer period.

As in some of my previous projects, I had the opportunity to work with the Yr 1 class again, when they were in Yr 2.  Again, they worked in groups, making up stories to share with the class.  The children confidently created and produced their stories and it was interesting to see how their use of language and storytelling was rapidly developing.


Fig 11 Longest title – Nobody wanted to lose their idea and was too polite to scrap somebody else’s.





fell12.jpgFig 12 Wouldn’t you like to know what happened next?





Illustration showing a little girl called Asma planning how to visit her friend in Uganda

Fig 13 Problem solving with artistic license

Case study 2 Woodgrange Infant School

Superheroes, goodies versus baddies

The school was keen to build on parent partnerships to create stories with their children based on the cross curricular class topic, Superheroes.  The class teacher was also keen to explore other ways to engage children in storytelling and writing, for instance using photos, computers and the outside setting.  She also felt that parents would be able to observe and interact with their child themselves, rather than the teacher feedback to them.

Illustrations of superheroes drawn by the children Illustration of superhero 'Strong Man'


Figs 14 & 15 Examples of class work

We held a pre-project meeting with parents to introduce and talk through the project, its aims and outcomes.  Twelve parents came to the meeting, despite atrocious weather conditions.The project was to run over eight morning sessions and a timetable was set up to enable parents to come at a time that was convenient to them.  All children in the class were to be involved in the project, whether their parents could attend or not.

The project operated in a similar way to previous projects: a small room was available to set up small world and props for the stories; the children would work with buddies and could choose a number of objects to use in their story making.  The children had all made their own super hero models which could also be used in their stories. During the project, ten parents (including a dad and a grandma) came to interact with the story making process alongside their children.

Luke's mum and four children in the story making process

Fig 16 Luke’s mum

All the parents were positive about the project.

Making storybooks on the computer is something we can do together at home.


This has been really helpful.  It has given me the opportunity to see my son working with other children and to see how absorbed he is in the story.








Fig 17 Uthman’s story

When Ruquaiyah was creating her story she asked me if I knew about Paradise. I welcomed this as  Ruquaiyah wanted to share her knowledge and talk about stories she heard at home. She chatted happily and enjoyed being the expert with me as the learner. Paradise then became the main setting in her story.

Fell20.jpg Fig 18 Ruquaiyah’s story

What was also evident to the parents was how detailed the stories were, how determined the children were to clarify anything that wasn’t clear, their attention to detail and how imaginative and creative the stories were.  They could see that this was helped by using the props and by looking at and talking about the photos on the computer.

Illustration of a picnic party on the grass with the princess and the town frog

Fig 19 An example of the children's work

The parents also saw a lot of prior knowledge being used in the stories.  For example, many contained dinosaurs with long, complicated names.  The previous class topic had been dinosaurs and the stories gave the children the perfect opportunity to include something they were interested in.

The class teacher was able to work with several children and their parents and wrote an evaluation at the end of the project.  Below is a brief summary of her evaluation:

• All children were involved. 
• The finished stories gave children a sense of pride and ownership.  They enjoyed looking at and reading the stories on the interactive whiteboard, and sharing their stories on Book Day.
• The project encouraged good peer modelling of language and role play with opportunities to rehearse language, and embed ideas.
• Throughout the project developed higher level thinking skills with much discussion, making decisions and problem solving.
• The project offered opportunities for parents to interact and observe their children working with peers.
• There were opportunities for children to bring their culture and interests into their work.  They were listened to and became the experts.  The props they made were used in the telling of their stories.
• The children were given opportunity to evaluate what they thought of the whole experience.

We held an informal meeting with staff members to disseminate what we were doing and the children’s work.  The class teacher I worked with has since done further multimodal projects, using the outside environment as a setting.  She has successfully extended this to other classes and year groups through planning and further dissemination.

Conclusion of the Projects

In the follow up project at Odessa, the opportunity to hear stories that used powerful and rich language, motivated and encouraged the children to experiment with language themselves.  We cannot expect children to produce exciting writing if they have not experienced it firsthand and the children’s finished work reflected how they had been influenced by the language of the stories they had heard.  The first two projects had not used story books but relied on children making up their own stories.  All three projects used props as the use of props stimulated the children’s imaginations.  Both story books and props were powerful tools as stimuli and they also ensured the children were not starting with a blank page. In addition, the taking of photos made the children’s experience visual as they were able to see the whole picture in front of them, not just in their mind. There was a constant drafting and redrafting of ideas, orally, throughout the process in all the projects: unwanted photos were deleted; good ideas were included; great ideas stayed in the collaborative stories and went through into the individual’s writing.  Story openings and endings, indirect and direct speech, which were normally taught in formal lessons, were covered informally, through discussion, with the children often not even noticing that this was going on.

The stories and props stimulated and the collaborative talk  - in the story making and when looking at the photographs -  provided the children with an opportunity to explore and play with language, to share ideas and inspire each other.   If you can’t say it you can’t write it.



Bearne, E. and Wolstencroft, H (2007) Visual Approaches to Teaching Writing. Paul Chapman Publishing.
Bednall, J. Elborn, S. And Fell, S. Role play into Writing Project. (2004) London Boroughs of Newham and Barking and Dagenham

Children’s books

Browne, Eileen. (2006) Handa’s Surprise. Scholastic 9780744536348.
Farley, Jacqui (1994) Giant Hiccups.Tamarind 9781870516273.
Pfister, Marcus (1996) The Rainbow Fish. North South books 978155858.
Troughton, Joanna (1994) Tortoise’s Dream. Puffin 9780140506716.


Special thank you to Odessa and Woodgrange Infant Schools for allowing me to use the images.

Thank you to class teachers Jacqui Tatar, Zoe Thomas, Sinead Hession and Felicia Rose, classroom teaching assistants and parents and children as without their hard work this article could not have been written.

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