Inspiring creativity and collaboration in the classroom

Li'l Robin Li'l Stories


Public schools today are dominated by standardized test culture, leaving no time for the creativity and exploration that is so essential to authentic learning and healthy child development. As a result, students are disengaged and lack the critical 21st-century skills demanded by today’s evolving job market: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and digital literacy.

Li’l Stories offers a solution.

Li’l Stories is a student-centered language arts framework for the elementary classroom that leverages the power of storytelling to foster learning. With a set of easy-to-navigate tools, Li’l Stories guides students through the process of creating and sharing visual, oral, and written narratives about academic content. Along the way, students learn to think critically and creatively, communicate their ideas, collaborate with peers, solve problems, and navigate digital resources.


Piloting with 2nd graders, February 2015

The Li’l Stories model is flexible and easy to integrate into any unit of study, working equally well as an entry point into new material, as a formative activity, or as a culminating project. Activities can have a variety of outcomes, from oral presentations, written narratives, and puppet shows, to story videos and stop-motion animations. Li’l Stories helps teachers reinforce classroom topics and reach multiple intelligences. Rooted in play-based learning theory, Li’l Stories makes learning fun, collaborative, and student-centered. Allowing children to learn through storytelling not only taps into their intuitive approach to learning, but allows them to construct the personal and meaningful narratives that make learning relevant and lasting.


5th graders work on their story in a Li’l Stories Lab at P.S. 359, December 2018


Program Model


There are three key steps in the story creation process:

  1. Planning: Students conduct research, mining their academic content in search of details to include in their stories. 
  2. Storyboarding: Using academic content and a Li’l Stories storyboard, students collaboratively create their story through drawing and writing. 
  3. Storytelling: Finally, students tell their stories to the rest of the class, providing feedback and suggestions for improving the story.

Teachers can guide students through all three steps or use individual steps as an entry point into new content. Li’l Stories provides optional extension activities for sharing stories and building skills in the arts, writing, and/or digital literacy.

  • Digital Extension: Students can use the Li’l Stories App, or a program like iMovie, to record and share their stories as images, eBooks, audio and/or video files.
  • Writing Extension: Students can use Li’l Stories writing boards to develop written narratives or scripts for their visual stories.
  • Arts Extension: Students can illustrate and publish their stories as accordion books or bring stories to life through plays and/or Reader’s Theater.


A human-centered design process

Anke Stohlmann developed the system in the classroom. Working with several teachers and classes at P.S. 3 in New York and the Children’s Museum of the Arts, she tested various prototypes to determine how best to structure collaboration, teach story structure and sequencing, create a child-centered capturing flow and make it an engaging activity. Once the format was refined, the teachers found Li’l Stories to be extremely useful, and the students loved it, too.


Prototyping at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, February 2015


Piloting at P.S. 3, February to March 2015


User Journey: Using Li’l Stories in the Classroom

Magnus Sweger, 2nd and 3rd grade teacher at P.S. 3, used Li’l Stories for his 6 week unit of Pourquoi tales: students retold a Pourquoi tale read in class or created their own stories. Throughout the creation process, students shared the stories with the class. They turned them into readers’ theater, a written dialogue as well as captured them.

Team 405, P.S. 3, March 2015


Design System 

The Li’l Stories identity is playful with a mixture of hand-drawn elements and a clean technical look.


Li’l Stories Identity System


The Li’l Stories process involves customized and easy to navigate tools that can be used in any combination, highlighting here the Li’l Stories storyboard and app.

Storyboard: Designers and filmmakers often use storyboarding as a framework that provides a structure for linear storytelling. Similarly, the act of storyboarding helps students organize their thinking and structure their narratives. Unlike other graphic organizers and storyboards, children first define the story elements (character, setting, plot) and then they develop their story. The Li’l Stories storyboard is circular similar to a game board, which allows students to focus on individual story boxes. It signals game and fun versus worksheet and is geared towards collaborative storytelling.


Storyboard and App (launching Spring 2021)

App: The Li’l Stories app is designed with young children in mind. The app is an easy to use tool for iPhones and iPads that allows students to capture, record, and share a digital version of their story. Because of the app’s simplicity, young students can use it without supervision.



Curriculum Map


Digital Flow and Data Model


Li’l Stories Milestones

Thanks to 140 Kickstarter backers, Li’l Stories launched in January 2016 and printed story pads were being used in 25 elementary school classrooms in the US as well as the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York City.


From 2015 to 2019 Li’l Stories ran storytelling programs at public elementary schools throughout New York City. Li’l Stories Labs were integrated into classroom curricula and focused on a range of topics from specific story structures like Pourquoi Tales to story development as part of science and social study units.

Since 2017, Li’l Stories is offering the Li’l Stories tools and project plans for download on The team is also leading professional development workshops to introduce classroom teachers and school staff to the Li’l Stories framework and approach to learning.