Making Student Stories Matter

Stories help us understand the world we live in, and they help us understand a bit more about ourselves. When we interact with stories that affirm our beliefs, we feel validation; when we hear differing stories, we develop empathy. But what happens when the stories we read don’t lineup with our students’ worldview? And what if the problem is as basic as the characters in the story don’t look like our students? Is that important?

Teachers who want to instill pride in their students, so they internalize their daily work, would say yes.

I know what you’re thinking,

“I’ve got (fill in the blank) kids in my class! Between decoding a new district policy, finishing up running records, and finally getting all the kids to make it to circle time, I’m TIRED.”

Rightfully so, and you’re in luck. The magic of validation and affirmation is embedded in your classroom already. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re aware of it or not, it happens everyday. For example, take a look at your classroom library. Do the characters in the stories reflect your classroom diversity? Do the characters look like your students? Do they have the same problems? You don’t have to share your answer with the class, but you can see how these questions illustrate (hehe, book pun) both the problems and the solutions.

If you don’t know where to start, here’s three strategies to keep in mind to help students feel validated, affirm their self-worth, and strengthen their classroom story*.

*Classroom story is a student’s sum of experiences in an educational setting, including their attitudes towards learning.

1. Listen to stories: Choose books with diverse cultures, races, and locations.

When students interact with characters that come from similar viewpoints they’re better able to transfer that knowledge into a different context. Having a classroom library featuring a diverse range of characters ensures all students have anchors for understanding themselves and others, anchors that will later help develop empathy. Furthermore, make sure you have quality titles with real humans as the characters; A recent study found that students who read stories featuring human characters (as opposed to animal characters), were more likely to internalize the story and remember the content.

2. Write stories: Interact authentically with every student, everyday.

It’s overwhelmingly easy for students to become a checklist of objectives (below basic/advanced, meets objectives…sounds pretty clinical). If you ask authentic questions (How’s your dog, Peanut?) you allow students to share an important part of their identity and show students that you’re invested in their lives. It’s also a casual test to see if there’s any underlying needs not being met. Your student-teacher check-in can be as small as you like; ask them about their favorite show or let them pick the music for a clean-up party right before dismissal…maybe it’s even a personalized handshake. These small interactions create a framework for their classroom story. How does school make them feel? What do they think about learning? How to they respond to a simple “Good Morning?”. These questions are data points that can help educators understand a bigger story and look at trends.

3. Share stories: Allow students to share their unique perspectives.

If you have been blessed with a diverse classroom, celebrate, because your classroom is brimming with stories, each of which is a component for creating a culturally-inclusive classroom. As a first grade teacher, I once had a student, we’ll call Dante, whose job the first week of school was to greet any visitors in our classroom (i.e., the principal and parents). Dante very sincerely asked if he could greet them in English and his mother tongue of Akan, a language of Ghana. Of course I obliged, excited that he wanted to share something special, and perhaps more excited that he was internalizing his classroom responsibilities! Dante got to bring his unique perspective to our classroom and in turn we all got to celebrate something new.

Try helping students incorporate cultural sharing in writing exercises, art projects, or family night events.

from Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain

One of my goals at StoryBots is to connect students to stories that are silly, smart, and scary. The most unique feature of the StoryBots Classroom website is the Starring You Books; a series of rhyming readers that feature faces from your classroom. Teachers upload student selfies into a library of animated stories. Students can instantly transform into engineers, wizards, or mad scientists. To us, it’s a fun way to manage a whole group read-aloud; to kids this is a visualization exercise. It encourages students to visualize themselves in new and exciting scenarios. It supports a growth mindset, the idea that your brain can always grow, which leads to increased motivation and achievement. Additionally for teachers, this type of visual feedback is a way to meaningfully connect with students.

The ultimate goal for teachers is to help all students identify and craft their own classroom story (one that includes letter sounds, sharing, snack time, collaboration, and eventually some basic trigonometry). Creating a culture of mutual respect starts by listening to diverse stories, writing personal stories, and sharing stories within our classroom communities.


Sources and Further Reading:

New to StoryBots Classroom?


StoryBots Classroom gives teachers access to our entire library of educational books, videos, and games, with the ability to share the same activities used in class with parents for free.

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A StoryBots Starring You Book!

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StoryBots Classroom offers two types of books. Learning Books are nonfiction stories with page-by-page narration, making them perfect for introducing a lesson, reviewing materials, and independent practice. Starring You Books are animated stories that feature a student’s face and name, creating a highly personalized experience.

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There are also two types of videos. Learning Videos are short, animated musical videos that explore a wide range of topics, while Starring You Videos put students in the action, too!

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Our standards-aligned Math Games let you review core math concepts with the whole class. Students are called one at a time to answer a short math question.

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An Addition-themed Math Game

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For offline practice, check out our Printables for ABCs, numbers, holidays and more! Packets include activities like coloring pages, crafts, and writing practice.

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StoryBots Classroom gives teachers exclusive access to full episodes of our Emmy Award-winning Netflix shows, Ask the StoryBots and StoryBots Super Songs!

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The Backpack has two main functions. 1) It’s a great way to keep your favorites or planned activities easily accessible. 2) It gives teachers the ability to curate and share content with parents for free!

The Backpack can hold up to six activities. You can change them as often as you like, but we recommend updating the Backpack at least once a week to help keep students engaged.

Click Invite Parents or to go Settings and click Manage Class to share your unique classroom link with parents. Once a parent uses that link to sign up, they’ll have 100% FREE access to whatever is in your Backpack. It’s great for introducing or reinforcing lessons at home.

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StoryBots Classroom is perfect for storytime, a wiggle break, longer lessons, or even when you have a few extra minutes before the bell rings!


Literacy Tips for Storytime

It’s no secret that daily reading with kids can have pretty significant improvement in overall literacy, concentration, imagination, and empathy (just to list a few benefits). Daily reading helps, but these gentle nudges will help guide your reading time!

preview the book

SPOILER ALERT: Before you jump into the story, check out the ending! Tap through a few pages on your tablet or thumb through the first pages in your book. Quickly looking through the story will prime your little one and let them know what to expect. It’s kinda like watching the trailer before committing to something on Netflix…always a good idea!

Sale Here Pumpkin There

Here’s your chance to be sneaky. During the book preview, or maybe just before you read a specific page, point out 1-2 words to your kid. Pick a hard one! This takes the mystery out of certain words and encourages your child to be a confident reader.

you read i read

Share the mic! Kids want to read, but sometimes they can get burned out before the end of the story. When you and your little one take turns reading, you’re helping build stamina and showing them that they can finish the story (even if it takes a little help).

retell the story

After the story (whether that’s right after reading time or at your next reading session), have your kiddo retell it from memory. If they need extra help, have them hold the book (or flip back through the tablet ) to spark their memory. This is vital for comprehension and will help them learn to find the key points of the story.

connect the story

Kids learn empathy from learning about other stories that they may not have personally experienced. Connect your story to something your little reader has experienced. Read a story about school? Ask them about their class. Read a story with emotional connections? Ask them about a time in their life when they felt the same way!

The key for improvement is taking a few minutes everyday to read with your little one. It may be slow, but everyday your student will learn something, big or little, that will help them become successful readers.

Happy Reading!

Looking for a super special bedtime story? Check out the Starring-You Books on! Each Starring-You Book features the ability to change out the face and name for a fully-customized bedtime story. Try it out with the “The Biggest Pizza Ever”!