Storytelling, Immersion and SEN

The power of Immersive Storytelling in Schools.

I am a great fan of the power of storytelling in learning, it is enjoyable, fun, can be used to deliver messages or reinforce concepts or expected behaviours. My Mum owns a children’s bookshop in Herne Bay (Click Here for Site) and leads storytelling sessions in local schools. So I am just following in her footsteps.

I am also a great fan of putting on a show. Students in my school, and many many other schools, have severe communication difficulties and sensory needs. receptive language is impaired, reading and comprehension skills as we understand them limited. So why would someone sitting up front reading a book be in any way engaging or enjoyable?

Well it can be! You choose from your toolbox of teaching strategies, audio, visual, smells, taste, temperature, props, costumes, musical instruments, the list goes on. The image below is a display we made to do some poetry and sea shanties linked to Pirates. A cardboard cannon, flags and sails.

Pirate Scene Immersive storytelling
Pirate Scene

Storytelling: Immersive Environments

What this creates is the beginnings of an immersive environment. Children with communication difficulties will not take in everything you say. Whether you say it fast, slow, support with signing etc so this all encompassing approach ensures a higher level of engagement and enjoyment. No child will take in anything you say if you do not deliver it in a way that grips them.

This is not to say you have to perform like you on stage at the west end, but you have to deliver a performance. If you are a teacher you probably do this without realising it during lessons but telling a story seems to me like you are sharing the experience, you are bringing the words to life and igniting the spark of imagination. A great lesson is not just delivered by a teacher, and a great story is not just read. Everyone is involved, reacting, generating ideas and emotions.

A great lesson is not just delivered by a teacher, and a great story is not just read. Everyone is involved, reacting, generating ideas and emotions. Click To Tweet
Dustbin Dad by Peter Bently and Russel AYTO Immersive Storytelling
Dustbin Dad by Peter Bently and Russel Ayto

I find assemblies to be a great opportunity for immersive storytelling, there is a big space, stage lights to highlight areas of interest, a giant projector screen, microphones. This is great for creating atmosphere and encouraging students to come and join in, use the space, sit up front with you, hold props, do voices, or just watch.

For Dustbin Dad by Peter Bently &Russel Ayto my class made a life size dustbin Dad head and the foods mentioned in the book, volunteers came up and fed him the food as I read and signed (makaton) the foods. We also spelt out the title standing in line. Great interaction!

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Interactive and Sensory Storytelling

Taking storytelling to another level sensory stories are brilliant and providing a fully inclusive storytelling environment. We use storytelling umbrellas to enhance the environments. So far there are over 20 free sensory stories available in our collection. These can be enhanced further by extending the story into the environment by decorating the room to match the theme. These stories can be made interactive for pre-schoolers, SEN or EYFS learners through the addition of props.

Using Technology To Create Immersive Spaces

Immersive reality wrote a guest post for us on this topic. They design and build high-tech immersive spaces for schools. These can be very effective in creating an engaging learning environment. If you don’t have the budget for that there are other ways such as emerging VR (Virtual Reality) technologies. I created a sensory story in the metaverse as a proof of concept. There are still technological barriers to adopting VR in schools. You can also us AR (Augmented Reality) to enhance your storytelling which I write about in our AR Storytelling post.

Low Tech Immersive Spaces

Schools and teachers are very often rich in creativity but poor in terms of budget and time. Low Tech spaces using a “library” of sensory props and resources can be very effective. These wall hanging from amazon and temu allow walls to be transformed quickly. Like in the pirate example above you can build the space around the whiteboard which can play dynamic immersive content like a video or looping gif of the sea or a snowstorm. I used this technique very effectively when I delivered our human body sensory story. This means a classroom can be transformed for a session. Simple props like a storytelling umbrella can be used if time and space are limited. I experimented with a gazebo but wasn’t happy with the results and the cost was too high due to the size.

Creating Dedicated Immersive Storytelling Spaces

If you are lucky enough to have the room to create dedicated storytelling spaces it can be more efficient in terms of set up time. Immersion in reading can be done effectively in a library and enhanced if an immersive storytelling zone is created in it, I have seen book nooks designed as caves, forests, spaceships etc. See the images of school learning and reading environments below.

Light Themed immersive storytelling space - High Tech
High Tech Immersive Lighting
Winter themed immersive storytelling space
Winter themed immersive storytelling space
Space themed immersive storytelling space
Space themed immersive storytelling space
Idea for School Library decoration Imaginative design
Imagination Storytelling Book-Nook
Storytelling Tree for School Library
Storytelling Tree
Under the sea - immersive storytelling space in a pre-school
Under the sea themed immersive storytelling space

3 thoughts on “Storytelling, Immersion and SEN”

  1. Hi Joe,

    I’m a teacher and I’m working on creating a digital storytelling platform for kids. It really sounds like we are on the same page and would love to get your thoughts on what I’m working on. Could you flick me an email so I can get in touch?

    Cheers 🙂
    Leah Hinton

  2. Pingback: Creating an Immersive Pirate Storytelling Display for School

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