Picture Books Foster a Creative StoryMaking Culture

“The maker movement consists of a growing culture of hands-on making, creating, designing, and innovating. A hallmark of the maker movement is its do-it-yourself (or do-it-with-others) mindset that brings together individuals around a range of activities…in short, making nearly anything. Despite its diversity, the movement is unified by a shared commitment to open exploration, intrinsic interest, and creative ideas.” (Peppler and Bender, 2013, p. 23)


Research points to the learning possibilities within an environment set up as a makerspace or “community of practice” (Peppler, Halverson, and Kafai 2016, p. 5 volume 2). Developing an inclusive community of practice is a key factor in creating a culture of StoryMaking. In a StoryMaking culture, there are shared values, routines, and rituals within a community of learners. StoryMakers come to know that they each have unique stories that will be valued and honored. They also come to know that they can make their story using the tools of a maker, artist, writer or storyteller by themselves or with others depending on their imagined idea. They will learn common routines, like gathering for focus lessons, exploring and playing with fun materials, and sharing their stories with one another. And there are engaging rituals like imagining stories throughout the day and making them with the children.


Making stories throughout the day beyond the StoryMaking suggested time is important to establish a culture in the classroom, home or learning space where we are all see ourselves as storytellers and StoryMakers. Mraz and Hertz in their book A Mindset for Learning suggests several times of day to integrate storytelling within a teachers’ daily framework such as the morning meeting; reading, writing and math workshops; transitions, closing circle/end of the day; and anytime there is space in your daily schedule. (2015)

Michelle engages in a storytelling ritual using a picture book to model how to start a story and make the story with the class.

Therefore, one strategy to develop a culture of story is through the exploration and investigation of picture books. Children need opportunities to play with images they see in books. Many early learning teachers have a library or reading center in their room, but sometimes find it difficult to incorporate this space for a StoryMaking process.


When educators and caregivers use picture books throughout the day with the purpose of oral storytelling, students increase their vocabulary to help tell a story but also build an awareness of print concepts. Here are a few tips on how to use picture books with examples from the book Fossil by Bill Thomson. You can add as little or as much detail depending on the level of your students. Start off with a basic sentence for each page and as the year progresses, return to this section on ways to lifting the level of storytelling over time.


Tip #1 – Begin with the first page and develop a story starter together.

  • Go over a few ways to start a story
  • Model storytelling the first page
  • Focus on the senses to help describe what you observe in the illustration

Example story starter – “One sunny day, Ethan and his dog walked to the lake. He felt the breeze in his hair and could hear the geese honking in the distance. Honk, honk, honk.”


Tip #2 – Choose a way to describe the events on the page.

  • Observe the details in the picture
  • Describe what the character is doing
  • Describe what the character might be thinking or feeling.

Example sentence to describe events observed – “Ethan spotted an unusual rock, picked it up and looked at it very closely. He wondered what type of rock it was. As he was walking he foot got trapped under a stick.”


Tip #3 – When turning the page, add transition words to help move the story forward.

  • Suddenly,
  • After that,
  • And then,

Example transition usage – “Suddenly, Ethan tripped and the rock went flying into the air. It fell on the ground and cracked opened. He saw a strange pattern inside the rock.”


Tip #4 – After setting the scene and modeling a few strategies to get the story started invite the students to describe the next event.

  • Retell up to this point
  • Ask, “What happened next?”
  • Allow students time to study the picture and think
  • Have students turn and talk to process their ideas to a shoulder partner. The teacher should listen in and pull an event that matches the illustration.
  • Prompt students to think about the character’s actions, feeling or thoughts

Modeled storytelling before asking children, “What happened next?” –  “What is inside this rock,” Ethan wondered as he stretched his hand to pick up the gray cold rock.


Tip #5 – Continue taking turns to add the next sequential steps to the story.

Example of how to move storytelling forward using tips we’ve modeled on previous pages – “All of a sudden, the ground started to sparkle and a plant sprouted right out of the ground. Ethan looked at the pattern inside is rock and then at the leaf design and noticed that they were the same. What was this rock he held in his hand?”


It is important for educators and caregivers to spend short amounts of time in their day making a story with picture books. The goal is not to finish the story in one setting, but spend quality time telling key details in sequential order that match the illustrations they see in the book. With practice, children will begin to become more independent and confident storytellers in these sessions. They will also learn the routines and processes associated with using books to help them make stories. When educators have established this routine as apart of their culture then they will begin to see children transfer this learning and use their reading materials in the learning space during StoryMaking to make new and creative stories of their own.

Happy Storytelling!