­­Using Documentation and Each Other to Inspire Stories

Photos, videos, artifacts of children’s work, hand scribbled notes of what children are thinking and doing. All are examples of documentation that can be used to help children imagine stories that they can go off and make with their choice of materials. Documentation is an effective way to make children’s thinking and learning visible. There are various definitions of documentation, but we lean towards Susan Stacey’s definition that documentation is, “the practice of making children’s and teachers’ thinking and learning visible through graphic displays of photography, work samples and text” (2015, ix).

We found it extremely beneficial to share the StoryMaking documentation with the children to help them remember what they made, provide advice to other peers and celebrate their accomplishment of making and sharing stories as a StoryMaking community. In all the classrooms that we have observed and taught alongside the teachers, documentation became a powerful teaching tool and the focus of displays and bulletin boards in the rooms. Over time the colors on the walls and accessories have become more neutral so that the children’s work samples, photos and stories become the focus and color in the rooms.

Sample documentation of a child’s story on display to share and inspire other StoryMakers who might be playing with the same materials.


Teacher tip – Take and post photographs of what children have made in each of the makerspaces. Children will be able to see possibilities for using these materials and provide inspiration for making future stories.


Some of the most powerful examples of using documentation to support children in StoryMaking was in a nonverbal and autistic prek classroom. Here are a few stories and successes of how the children were able to participate fully in the StoryMaking practices to imagine, play, make and share their own stories. Documentation was a key element in supporting and developing their communications skills so they could remember, continue making and share their stories with others.


In a previous focus lesson, the children had been introduced to play-doh to serve as inspiration and an invitation to play and make stories. They had been exploring colors and the feelings those colors represented in their stories. Charlie had selected purple and incorporated his love of playing with cars with the material. When I observed him playing with his materials I asked Charlie, “What are you making?” He told me, “donuts” as he modeled the truck spinning around and around in his play-doh mud. As he continued this motion he added truck sounds and then I asked, “What is happening?” He explained by saying, “Crashing”. Each time he added a new motion while playing, I coached him to communicate by asking questions such as, “What does that sound like?” or “What just happened?” Then, I gently said, “One day” and paused to provoke him into sharing his story that he was making. During this time, I video-taped him playing and making his story. Then Charlie was ready and began making his story by saying, “One sunny day…” and said a few more details of what he was doing. He continued several different versions of his truck making donuts story, which I could now show him later so he could remake and choose the details that he wanted to keep.

Charlie plays with play-doh to make his story. “One sunny day, my truck was doing donuts and made tire tracks. Vroom, vroom, vroom!”


The next day during our focus lesson, we used Charlie’s documentation to inspire the other children in making stories. We had showed them photos of their work before, but this was the first time they had seen themselves in video form and they were all excited. After we watched the video of Charlie playing and then making his story several times we discussed what we observed. “How did Charlie start his story?” “What details did he make for his story?” They all took away a tip that they could use for their own StoryMaking from adding sounds to their story to starting their story by describing the weather. Charlie was beaming and wanted to watch the video again and again. We all ended the lesson with a huge applause and they all left to play with a little more confidence than they did before.

The children learning from and celebrating with Charlie and he plays and makes his story to share.


Teacher tip – Use photos or videos of children making their story to help reinforce a teaching point during a focus lesson.


Using video documentation became a very effective tool to use with Charlie. It helped him imagine new stories as well as remaking his story with materials. This time Charlie watched himself and wanted to try remaking his story with a different color of play-doh.

“Again, again!” Charlie shouted with pride as he viewed himself making a story.


A few weeks later, I was observing the children play. I noticed how Charlie and Edmundo were using their puppets to narrate their play. They continued to move into two other spaces in the room, select new puppets and materials to add to their play as well as invite their teacher, Ms. Andrea to add details. I quietly observed and wrote down what the children said. The following day, I used the video as well as my written documentation to play a movie of their story. They all giggled and enjoyed watching the story they had made together. This focus lesson helped them recall what they had done the previous day and helped them imagine making their story with a new material.

“The cowboy saw an alligator and ran away. “Run away. I have to get out of here!” And then the alligator was chasing the cowboy. So the cowboy and park ranger told an idea of how to catch the alligator to the squirrel. And then the cowboy tried to catch the alligator with a rope. They all thought about what to do with the alligator. So the cowboy returned him to his home the lake. But along came the police and took him to jail. And the alligators ate strawberries and yucky food in jail.”


When the children were satisfied with their story we invited them to take their story to paper for the first time to share their story in a new way. Photos of the parts of their story were powerful to help the children recall and decide on the final details they wanted to share.

Edmundo views photographs of his story to help him share his story on paper.


After the children wrote their story, we celebrated by creating displays to publish and showcase their work. This was the first time the children had made and remade their stories over a few days. Documentation was the tool we used to help them tinker with other ideas and repurpose their details to write the final versions of their story.

Edmundo’s work proudly displayed. The detail of the alligator eating strawberries made it into the final version of his story.


We hope that this documentation story inspires you to continue or begin taking notes, photos and video of your children playing and making and then share them with the children. Sometimes children do not even realize they are tinkering with story ideas until we show them. Using any form of documentation will surely support your children in making stories and building confidence in their abilities as StoryMakers.


Happy StoryMaking!