John Dabell, KS1 + 2

A single brick of LEGO can tell a story all by itself. I found a bright red 1×6 brick the other day at home, pressed into a tub of margarine. There was glitter in there too, not to mention a LEGO man inside the milk. I quickly drew up a list of four suspects and interviewed them in the kitchen. As one started to explain what had happened, the others soon added their own layers of invention and by the end I was so impressed I couldn’t help but admire their joint venture – even if it did mean another trip to the shops. It’s funny how we sometimes say to children, “Don’t tell tales” when actually that’s what we should be encouraging.

Now, give children a pile of LEGO and you’re guaranteed multiple stories and that’s what I love most about these simple bits of Danish plastic. They are playful, addictive and, above all, world makers. You are the brick author and the possibilities are limitless. But while a LEGO factory of untamed ideas and stories are inside every child, sometimes they just need a bit of help getting them out.

This is where the StoryStarter set comes in – a clever tool for teaching literacy and writing sequences. It’s like a pair of jump leads for the mind. This marvellous new tub of fun from that small town in Jutland is something quite special. It is made up of 1,144 carefully selected pieces including assorted characters, animals, accessories, iconic elements (such as flags, boxes and wheel parts), basic bricks, and building plates for creating up to five story scenes. You also get sorting trays and activity spinners. It has everything to support a small group of pupils with building their own stories. Of course, the hardware is not the only star here; the innovative StoryVisualiser software that comes with it also shares centre stage.

The story plates are used to build a story sequence with a beginning, middle and end. Children choose their LEGO pieces to develop settings, characters and plots for the stories they have in mind and then explore their context through building and put their thoughts and creations into words. The spinners are there to help get their brains buzzing.

The kit works wonders in my opinion because children are attaching vocabulary to the pieces they select, inventing scenarios and making things happen whilst working collaboratively and sharing ideas. The obvious hands-on nature of LEGO means all children are involved and their literacy skills are being developed and polished every step of the way. Creating a small three-part story would in itself be enough, but the software is there to add extra impact as it enables children to document and present their stories in a written format. This basically means taking photos of their bases, importing the images of their models to the software and then placing these into a number of brilliant templates such as a cartoon, a newspaper or a storybook. The software provides children with a publishing medium par excellence. They can use the templates as they are or customise them as they wish. This makes writing, printing and sharing stories exciting and a real team-effort. Children will find it easy to import pictures and images and will love using the storyboard layout to help organise their writing. The software is top-notch stuff and it purrs with quality and creativity.

If you are short of ideas then the StoryStarter also includes a bumper guide to help you create rich lessons and the 114-page curriculum pack contains 24 project-based English activities, a learning grid, rubric samples, lesson plans, worksheets and tips and tricks. It’s certainly plentiful.

As any primary practitioner will tell you, story writing is blinking hard graft with stacks of scaffolding, patience and creativity required by the bucket-load. All help is gratefully accepted, so thank you LEGO because StoryStarter is going to make a lot of teachers very happy. The canny combination of classic LEGO and the latest technology has the power to make waves. The physical LEGO models children create are the perfect aid to developing writing.

Previously I have been critical about the cost of LEGO, but with this kit I think you are getting good value. I still think there could be more pieces and some of those included are a bit too small for some children to manipulate, but these are minor moans.

“The software provides children with a publishing medium par excellence. They can use the templates as they are or customise them as they wish.”