For schools


  • The story

  • The content

  • The experience

  • Examples of content

  • Hours of class time and schedule

  • Training sessions for teachers

  • National curriculum Key Stage 2 & 3 English integration

  • Success for All integration

  • Cross-curriculum learning and term topic tie-ins

  • Collaborators involved in the project

  • Acknowledgements

The story:

Deep into Earth’s next ice age, stories have become the fuel for life. Now this precious resource is disappearing. Someone is stealing the town´s stories. Deprived of their fuel the town’s fablehearths will go out, the ice will creep back in and families will perish in their beds. In a last desperate roll of the dice the town’s story shamans develop a perilous means of time travel to allow their most intrepid explorers to journey back into the past to save the town´s tales before they can disappear.

The context:

Covid-19 lockdowns continue to have a serious affect on both children’s literacy development and mental well-being. Children need socially liberating theatre and storytelling experiences to explore their emotions, experiment with their social identities and boost their literacy development more than ever in these difficult times; however, schools’ normal connection with arts practitioners through face-to-face workshops in the classroom will still be difficult to arrange throughout 2021.

The experience:

Storyhaven is an immersive storytelling experience for use in virtual online classrooms (Zoom, Teams, Eton X, Seesaw, Google Classroom) during lockdown with children aged 8-12 years old. It blends group roleplaying, lone reading experiences and live-stream connections with an actor to boost children’s creative writing, love of books, and mental wellbeing.

Storyhaven’s main engagement is driven by an illustrated reading game that can be played in virtual classroom breakout rooms. It allows children to design their own characters and then navigate their way through the story in teams, talking decisions over together in a way that builds social skills of negotiation and compromise, peer-group integration and mental wellbeing.

Opportunities for children’s creative writing are built into the storyline, so that these writing tasks make sense and have real purpose for children within the experience. The literacy-building tasks take the form of a richly visual series of worksheets or journal pages that can easily be screen shared by the teacher, posted on a class blog or emailed to parents. As the children progress through the story they compile these worksheets into an adventure journal to increase their ownership of the experience and to produce a tangible literacy achievement by its end, which they might share with family and friends.

The storyline incorporates two live-stream connections to the virtual classroom by an actor playing the character of the story shaman from the narrative to bring the children’s roleplaying thrillingly to life and motivate them to produce the creative writing they will deliver to him through his time portal.

For the children, seeing their creativity reflected back at them by a theatre professional will create an inspiring sense of artistic collaboration and of having their creativity taken seriously.

The live-stream connections also make Storyhaven flexible enough to adapt to any stage of Covid social-distancing regulations, so that the experience can easily transition back to a socially distanced classroom, if the present lockdown ends early. It also works well as a project that can unite children studying from home in lockdown with key worker or vulnerable children still studying in on-site classrooms.

These social group interactions in the virtual classroom will then be extended into children’s domestic spheres through opportunities for further private reading experiences within the storyworld at home. This harnesses peer group power to encourage real changes in reading and literacy habits at home, which could be transformative for reluctant readers and children from underprivileged backgrounds.

All the reading and writing activities work towards learning objectives from the National Curriculum English Programme of Study: Key Stages 2 & 3. The development of pupil’s reading habits and love of books contributes to higher attainment in national tests in English grammar, punctuation and spelling; and the adventure journal that each child compiles throughout the experience will provide a rich source of evidence for ‘pupil can statements’ in statutory teacher assessments.

Examples of content:

The rulebook: this PDF will be read by the teams of students before and during gameplay in breakout rooms.

The map of the town: this richly illustrated map will be used to stimulate students’ immersive imagining and group roleplaying.

The reading game: students will screen share this in breakout rooms and take it in turns to read passages out loud. There are separate episodes that can be set for lone-reading homework via email.

The live-stream scripts: these will be performed via a live-stream Zoom connection to the virtual classroom by an actor, who will play the part of the town’s story shaman.

Worksheets that children will compile into a adventure journal: they can be printed off at home to be filled in by hand or completed electronically.

These materials will be accompanied by extensive teacher’s notes to guide teachers’ running of the experience in their virtual classrooms, along with as many Zoom training sessions with the project team as necessary.

Hours of class time and schedule:

Storyhaven requires a minimum of 16 hours of class time and 2 hours of homework spread over 3-6 weeks.

Its rich, storydriven engagement can easily be extended beyond this into further activities, ideas for which will be included in the teacher’s notes.

CPD sessions for teachers:

Teachers use of Storyhaven in the classroom will be supported by as many online training sessions as the teachers need before starting the project, delivered via Zoom sessions with the lead researchers.

National curriculum English integration:

Storyhaven addresses the following Key Stage 2 English reading skill requirements for year 5 & 6:

Pupils should be reading widely and frequently, outside as well as in school, for pleasure and information.

Storyhaven harnesses the power of a shared reading experience within pupils’ peer groups to drive their private reading habits at home and make them feel part of the club of reading and books, which many can feel excluded from.

Storyhaven is especially powerful for reluctant readers as it breaks up the narrative into shorter, richly illustrated chunks of text, consumed over a mobile or tablet through the popular game mechanics that many children will be familiar with from video games.

Pupils should understand what they read by: checking that the story makes sense to them; discussing their understanding and exploring the meaning of words in context; asking questions to improve their understanding and drawing inferences such as inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence; predicting what might happen from details stated and implied and summarising the main ideas drawn from more than one paragraph.

By making the pupils the protagonists of the story, so that they have to work together as a team to complete the reading game, Storyhaven elicits these comprehension tactics naturally and in a purposeful way that maintains the children’s motivation and enthusiasm for the tasks.

Pupils should be able to explain their understanding of what they have read, maintaining a focus on the topic using notes where necessary to provide reasoned justifications for their views.

Storyhaven’s device of the adventure journal, in which children must keep a track of the development of their reading adventure – their money, stamina, clues and belongings – builds the note-taking skills, so important to academic success.

Pupils’ confidence, enjoyment and mastery of language should be extended through public speaking, performance and debate.

Storyhaven stimulates group discussion and roleplaying in an immersed and playful environment, leading up to delivering the stories they have written to a professional actor, who will thrillingly reflect their creativity back at them through improvisation and immersive theatre, boosting the children’s confidence in their own creative voices.

Pupils should be taught to maintain positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by continuing to read and discuss an increasingly wide range of fiction, plays, and reference books that are structured in different ways and reading for a range of purposes

Storyhaven is a new narrative form, designed to be consumed over tablets and mobiles, in which the story is deliberately structured to take into account a modern child audience across both private and social spheres. As such it raises fascinating questions of form and audience that the children can engage with as active co-researchers.

Pupils should increase their familiarity with a wide range of books, including myths, legends and traditional stories, modern fiction, fiction from our literary heritage, and books from other cultures and traditions.

Storyhaven deliberately weaves diversity into its storyline in its idea of families of different cultures and origins having travelled across a futuristic ice-age Earth to arrive at the town gates, bringing with them the varied richness of their family’s stories. It alludes to different traditions of world storytelling, as well as opening up gaps in its story for participation by a diverse pupil classroom, in which everybody is invited to make the narrative their own.

Storyhaven addresses the following Key Stage 2 English writing skill requirements for year 5 & 6:

Pupils should be taught to plan their writing by identifying the audience for and purpose of the writing, selecting the appropriate form and using other similar writing as models for their own.

Storyhaven weaves writing tasks and models into its developing storyline, so the purpose of the tasks and their audience is clear and the children are motivated towards completing them.

In writing narratives, pupils should consider how authors have developed characters and settings in what they have read, listened to or seen performed.

Storyhaven invites children into participating and co-creating its own storyline as they adventure through it, so they gain a more active understanding of story mechanics from inside the narrative.

Pupils should be taught to assess the effectiveness of their own and others’ writing.

As the children’s writing and decision-making has real implications for the development of the storyline, Storyhaven encourages such assessment in a purposeful way that children can understand and feel motivated by.

In narratives, pupils should be taught to describe settings, characters and atmosphere and integrate dialogue to convey character and advance the action

As pupils will be undertaking writing tasks within a rich new story world, surrounded by characters they are actively interacting with, the description of setting, character, atmosphere and dialogue will come more naturally to them.

Statutory requirement: to perform their own compositions, using appropriate intonation, volume, and movement so that meaning is clear.

The performance of the children’s compositions will take place within the narrative, through immersive livestream connections with an actor who is skilled at encouraging children to achieve intonation, volume and movement that is richly appropriate to the story moments.

Success for All integration:

If your school uses the Success for All literacy programme, Storyhaven would fit in well with the programme’s aims to:

  • develop aspects of learning behaviour through the use of Co-operative learning strategies, whereby children learn to work with others as a team and with partners.
  • have children work in groups according to their reading ability with an emphasis on shared, paired and guided reading
  • emphasise active listening and participation, everybody helping each other’s reading development, and explaining ideas and telling why
  • expose children to high-quality children’s literature
  • use the power of teamwork and points systems to power a love for reading and books

Cross-curriculum learning and term topic tie-ins:

Storyhaven encourages the deep learning and transferable skills that come from from cross-curricular projects.

There are opportunities for the pupils to make theatrical props to support their reading and writing adventure, linking with subjects like Art and Design, Design and technology, or Drama groups. It’s incorporation of mobile phones and tablets into a new media narrative form brings ICT into play.

The narrative also touches on themes of immigration, climate change, geography, astronomy, diversity, world history, and technological and scientific innovation that allows it to be easily integrated with any cross-curricular projects and term topics that are already up and running.

Collaborators involved in the project:

Gareth Osborne is the lead researcher and writer of Storyhaven. He is an award-winning children’s author, who has worked as a content developer for Pearson Education on their digital reading schemes. He has over twenty years of experience as a teacher using drama and storytelling to engage children in the classroom and is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Bristol investigating new forms of immersive storytelling and learning for children.

Fran Moulds is a theatre director, writer and performer, who creates theatrical experiences to inspire and empower young people. She has worked extensively with immersive theatre companies such as Punchdrunk and Coney. Fran directs the live-stream immersive theatre interactions between the pupils and the actor playing the Storyhaven shaman.

Tom Bowtell is a writer, director and performer, and artistic director of Kit Theatre Company, whose mission is to use Adventures in Learning to improve children’s educational engagement and achievement and unlock their creative talent. He has received various awards for his work, including a BAFTA. He plays the role of the Storyhaven shaman.

One to One Development Trust are an award-winning arts organisations who work with marginalised communities to co-produce digital storytelling projects. Through their multi-award-winning in-house digital storytelling and games development studio, Dreaming Methods, One to One’s Digital Director, Andy Campbell, is helping to develop the story app and website for Storyhaven.

Nele Diel is a well-renowned game illustrator based in Germany, who has illustrated board games such as Battle for Rokugan by Astorian Press and Valhal by Tetrahedron Games. She produced all the illustrations for Storyhaven.

The research project’s home is the Department of Theatre at the University of Bristol, the School of English at Cardiff University and the School of Creative Industries at the University of Bath Spa, where it is supervised by the adaptation and theatre for young audiences specialist, Dr Katja Krebs, children’s literature scholar and young-adult author, Dr Catherine Butler, and new digital media writer and scholar Professor Kate Pullinger. Playwright and academic Judith Bryan at the National Centre for Research into Children’s literature also provided crucial input into the project’s conception.


Storyhaven’s development has been supported by the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, the Temple Quarter Engagement Fund at the University of Bristol, and the Bristol Doctoral College.