Storylines for Schools is a entertaining and educational cross between Pictionary and Chinese Whispers (or, as our American friends call it, Telephone). It’s one of the more truly interactive apps out there because it involves passing the iPad to other students in groups of 3, 5, 7 or 9. The app focuses students on sentence construction and you can use it to focus on a specific language feature or vocabulary topic.

To begin with, students are given a sentence each: the app will give them a sentence, but I usually find the words and phrases in the app too hard or too abstract, so I give them a sentence instead on a strip of paper, a sentence that might be based around a language structure or vocabulary topic, such as the present continuous, interrupted past or prepositions of place. The students type their sentence into the iPad, type their name, and pass their iPad to another student. Then the fun begins! The next student must draw a picture that illustrates the sentence. For example, if the sentence is ‘the cat is sitting on the mat’ then the picture might look like this:


Once the student has drawn the picture, they type their name and pass it on to the next student…who can see the picture but not the original sentence. The new student must write a sentence using only the picture…and their own language resources.

These steps – writing a sentence, drawing a picture, writing a sentence – are continued until all students in the group have had a turn. At the end, students can see the previous sentences and pictures, to see if, and how, the storyline has changed.

If you have decided to focus on a specific language feature, the task of the teacher is essentially to monitor and remind students of the form. If, as in the example above, students were asked to use the present continuous, the teacher’s role is to go round and check they are forming the tense correctly, something students will often forget in their struggle to make meaning.

It’s ideal for all levels because the teacher or students can decide how difficult the sentences might be in terms of meaning and form.

Note: ideally you will need one iPad per student.

One downside of the app is its desire to connect to what seems to be an online server while the game is being played; we’ve had problems at Ladprao with the app basically locking up (with an egg timer icon constantly rotating) as it tries to go online. This was more to do with network problems at our centre rather than problems with the app itself (the router was only letting about four iPads access the Internet at one time). We initially solved the problem – or, rather, a student did – by pressing the power button at the top of the iPad, then the home button, which interrupted the app’s futile attempts to access the Internet. Eventually we got a better network router!

The app is free, but you can make an in-app purchase which allows you to use colours and different brush sizes. Unfortunately, when students click on the brush or colour icons while drawing, it will ask them if they want to make the in-app purchase, which is an annoying feature of the app.

One piece of advice: give students a time limit for drawing pictures because some students will spend ages trying to draw works of art and you’ll find a 9 turn game will take the whole lesson!

Activity Plan

Step 1
Put students into groups of at least 7, ideally in a circle or around 1 or 2 tables.

Step 2
Give students sentences that use the present continuous and prepositions of place. Tell students to keep their sentences secret.

eg the dog is jumping over the fence, the cat is sitting in the tree, the giraffe is standing next to house, the teacher is sleeping under the table.

Step 3
Give students 2 minutes to type their sentence. When they have finished they tap OK and write their name.

Step 4
Students pass their iPads to the student on their left. Now all the students must illustrate the sentence. Give students 3 minutes to draw their picture. When they have finished, they tap OK and write their name.

Step 5
Give students 3 minutes to look at the picture and type their sentence. Teacher monitors to check they are using the correct form and give support with vocabulary. When they have finished, they tap OK and type their name.

Repeat steps 4 and 5 if you are doing a 5 turn game. (If doing a 7 turn game, repeat steps 4 and 5 twice, and if doing a 9 turn game, repeat steps 4 and 5 three times).

Step 6
Once the storyline is finished, students can look at the storyline. Then they can return the iPad to the student who wrote the first sentence so they can see how their storyline progressed.


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