Tinker with Storytelling

by erin_littleBits

Published on October 10, 2013

This lesson is inspired by a littleBits workshop held at the Future of Storytelling (FosT) conference in 2013. Learn more about the workshop in the following link:


littleBits modules aren’t just a resource for the STEM classroom; they can enhance lessons across the subject areas. In this lesson, students combine littleBits open hardware with arts and crafts materials to tell a story that brings some essential trait of each character to life. This is also a wonderful STEAM enhancement to a language arts lesson based on archetypes from myth, fable, folk and fairy tales, history, or popular culture.


Students will be able to:

  • Understand that iconic characters or archetypes have essential qualities that can be identified, expressed, and animated

  • Identify essential traits of a character

  • Make a character come to life by combining littleBits with assorted arts and crafts materials

  • Play with stories to form symbolic meaning through hands-on learning


Use student presentations of their character masks to assess student understanding. Ask students to complete a self-assessment checklist on the attached Character Essential Qualities Worksheet. Consider adapting the checklist to your own specific needs.  


Common Core ELA Reading Standards

  • CCRA.R1-3: Key Ideas and Details

  • CCRA.R7-9: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Common Core ELA Speaking Standards

  • CCRA.SL1-3: Comprehension and Collaboration

  • CCRA.SL4-6: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

In preparation for this lesson, spend some time gathering materials from the included list. Be creative and don’t limit yourself to items only on the list. In some cases, seemingly random materials can help bring a character to life. You might also consider asking students to bring in materials from home to use with their project. In addition to materials for construction, bring in some materials for inspiration including word tiles (wood and plastic with letters and text printed on them) and stickers.

Duration: 2 hours

Lesson Guide



(10-20 minutes)

Discuss essential qualities with students. What is an essential quality? In the Tinker with Storytelling workshop, we held up a Liz Taylor postcard. You could hold up the Big Bad wolf, a prince, or a damsel in distress. Brainstorm a list of essential qualities that represent this character with students.

You might also introduce the concept of essential qualities by asking students about their own essential qualities. What makes each student unique? What symbols could they use to represent their essential qualities? For example, a student who is compassionate might suggest a heart, while a student who identifies herself as attentive to detail might pick a microscope or clock.

Explain that in this lesson, students will use littleBits to design and animate a mask outlining the essential characteristics of a character. You could use characters from recent book studies. Alternatively, you could ask students to choose a person of historical importance or a person influential in popular culture.  

If not enough littleBits are available for every student, divide students into small groups. Consider waiting until students select their character to allow students to form groups based on similar interests.  

Explain the task to students:

Your DESIGN CHALLENGE is to create and express an essence of your character. Electrify your intention: What will your circuit express? Is your character: mischievous? wise? witty?

Give a few examples to kickstart the brainstorming process. For example, if a character has a hot temper, students can make a mouth that lights up with littleBits.




(30-60 minutes)

Frame this step for students with the following question:

What will you discover when you combine story elements with littleBits modules and other materials?

littleBits is a new technology—one more material that lets students bring sound, motion, and light into their projects. If this is your students’ first experience with littleBits, demo some of the modules to give them a beginning understanding of some of the functionality. Also, consider placing module cards on work surfaces so students can explore littleBits on their own.

At this point, students will also likely need instruction on constructing the basic mask. In the workshop, we used a wooden mask. However, masks can also be quickly and easily constructed with cardboard and craft sticks.

Now give students time to brainstorm, sketch, and build on their own.
Fost bit exploration


(20-30 minutes)

After students have constructed their masks, have students write about their creation in the attached Character Essential Qualities Worksheet. Encourage students to respond to some of the following questions:

1. Who is your character?

2. What is your circuit telling us about your character?

3. What are your character’s essential qualities?

4. Which littleBits helped you animate your idea?

5. What design problems did you encounter during the experience?

6. How were you able to overcome these issues?

Next, have students share their creations with their peers.  Watch the embedded video to see an example from the littleBits workshop of what this sharing might look like. Consider recording your students while they explain their characters. These can be posted on classroom webpages to highlight how you are using littleBits to enhance your curriculum.  



Use student presentations to assess students’ understanding of the key concepts that informed the lesson. Evaluate some of the following questions to monitor individual student progress and also determine next instructional steps for your class:

- How are your students understanding and representing archetype/character?

- Are students’ symbolic representations of characters accurate?  

- Can students problem solve by combining littleBits modules and materials to express an abstract idea?

In addition, ask students to self-assess their performance with the self-assessment checklist.




After students have completed their essential quality masks, consider ways to extend the learning activity including the following possibilities:

- Have students create an encounter or story line involving several characters.

- Ask students to compare and contrast their characters. Which characters have similar/different essential qualities?

- Create a series of scenarios and then ask students to analyze how their characters would respond.