Using the iPad as a Storytelling Tool

Use the huge potential of your pupils’ imagination! This story shows how children can produce different type of digital stories utilizing tablet devices.

TeacherCormac Cahill



School levelPrimary school


I have been working in an Autism Unit for the past 3 years. Over that time I have helped the children create digital stories and comics on an iPad and assisted them in publishing these stories to the Apple iTunes Store. To date they have had over 1800 downloads in 22 countries around the world. One of the children has become especially adept at comic book creation using the iPad and one of his comics has been featured on the Top Picks section of the iTunes Store. This comic has now had over 700 downloads in countries around the world. The children have also been creating a Digital Cookbook over the past year. When completed this book will have recipes we have tried in class as well as video tutorials on how to create these. We hope to publish this to the iTunes Store later this year and we have even managed to get a Celebrity Chef to write a foreword for us. The pedagogical idea came from the difficulties the children were having in writing stories and sharing their extraordinary imaginations. The traditional methods were difficult for them and rather than continue with this I felt it was time for them to try something new. I had already had success with a previous class with the iPad and felt that the same success would be possible for these children. However some of the ideas we have used in class have not come from me but from the children themselves. I will often introduce an app to the children but let them decide how and where they will use it. I think this is another aspect that is essential. It is the children who should be leading this learning. I believe that the iPad is at it’s most beneficial when it is utilised to create. Over the past 3 years the children skills in creating content using the iPad has improved consistently. I would also like the children to create a documentary of themselves showcasing what they have achieved over the past few years. My hope is that in doing so they will see the extraordinary results they have achieved over the past few years further aiding their self confidence.


I began the process of introducing the iPad slowly as the children had been primarily using iPads at home for entertainment purposes. I always had using film as a goal but I did not want to introduce this immediately. I felt that by acquiring other skills first they would be better able to deal with the skills required for film making. In the beginning I limited the number of apps the children had access to and concentrated on apps designed for content creation. After the first year the children were introduced to further apps. These included Puppet Pals and Comic Life. The children were very visual learners and the addition of these apps allowed the children to share stories in a more visual format. The children success with Puppet Pals in particular led me to introduce iMovie later that second year. The children took to it quickly and we began to use it to record social visits to local shops, cafes, supermarkets, etc. The children took turns in filming and editing these using the trailer feature of iMovie. This gave them the confidence to move away from trailers and begin creating longer movies. Minecraft was also introduced to help the children collaborate together on projects and they soon began finding uses for it in almost all subject areas. I am a huge fan of Minecraft and believe that the creation aspect of this simple app gives the children the freedom to create anything they can imagine. They have, over the past 2 years built models of the 7 Ancient and New Wonders of the World and used these to learn about the wonders. They have also used this in learning about Pompeii, Troy and a host of other areas. One of the children also began combining Minecraft with Comic Life and Book Creator using it to create comics. One of these comics inspired the children’s move into animation. He did this by acting out his stories in Minecraft and taking screenshots as he played. These images formed the visual element of his comic. This was a very simple idea but it has proved to be very beneficial in getting all of the children to create stories. We recently collaborated on a book as a class about Superheroes. I even got in on the act creating a story of my own. It was only in creating this comic that I realised how much work the children have been putting into bringing their stories to life. In the beginning we were restricted by having just two devices to be shared amongst 6 children. The children at the time were also going through a period where they had been having little success in school and this had been leading to a lot of behaviour issues. The children were used to being given the iPad as a means to help them calm down when they were having a difficult day. I decided to do the opposite and only gave the iPad when the children were ready to use them for work. Initially this meant that we sometimes had tough days when the iPad was not provided but I believe that in the long term it has meant that the children now see the device for its creation potential. Now when one of the children is feeling like they may be having a difficult day they will return the device to me until they are ready to work again. In terms of working with children with ASD this for me has been something I have been especially proud of. They no longer see the device as a toy but as a powerful tool for learning. I was worried initially that the children may not be able to use this device in a creative manner but many of the things we now use them for in class have been suggested to me by the children. The idea of taking screenshots in Minecraft and then using these in conjunction with Comic life and Book Creator was in fact an idea that came from one of the children. This was an idea that I believe I would not have thought of but the success the children have had with just this one simple idea has shown me the true potential of using this technology with children. For me the most beneficial aspect of using iPads has been the freedom it has given the children to share their imaginations. The traditional methods meant that stories took too long to complete and the result was often something that could not be shared with others. The iPad has allowed them access to a global audience and the success they have had with publishing to iTunes has given them even more confidence in writing. They will now begin work independently on stories at home and then AirDrop these to the school devices to continue working on them in class. They do not publish all of their stories but when they are happy to do so we use my Apple Mac to do so. That they write simply for pleasure has been wonderful to see. The children all have varying abilities but their work on film making has allowed each one of them to work to their best ability. For some the technical aspects of recording and editing has seen them excel. For others the process of writing scripts and storyboarding ideas has put them to the fore. Each child finds the area they like best and the iPad has meant a lot more collaboration amongst children who before its introduction had done much of their work on their own. This working together has meant that it has helped them to develop their social skills. Some of them attend mainstream classes and when projects are involved here the children have been able to showcase their talents for other children who may not have otherwise seen the extraordinary work they have been doing. Everything from the camera through to the Speech to Text function of the iPad has been used by the children at some point. We had an inspector in the class recently and he asked me to help him translate what the children were talking about. He had never heard some of the terms the children used when discussing their work. He told me he was incredibly impressed in how they had been using technology in the classroom and seemed amazed that children with Special Educational Needs were so adept. Seeing these children excel has meant that they also mentor other children in the school on the uses of the iPad. This year we were assigned two new Special Needs Assistants who had never used technology in the classroom. I assigned the children to each of them to explain how we use the iPads and the terminology we used. The SNA’s still find it difficult to keep up with the children but the children love explaining all the things they use them for. Books on iTunes: Superheroes Power Out The Three Little Pigs  


The iPads were used because they have been the easily the most accessible of all technology tools I have used in the classroom. They are portable so we can take them with us wherever we go. Creating Social Stories on the iPad means that the children now have access to all possible social stories at the touch of a screen. We have also been able to share these with parents who can put these social stories on their phones. Being able to access these when they are out and about has also meant that they stand out less when they are in public. No one takes any notice of a child with a device in their hands. When the children are distressed or simply need some help to understand a social occasion they simply take out their device rather than a binder. The long battery life also meant that the children were able to work in areas of the classroom that they feel most comfortable in. For some this is a quiet corner and for others it is on the floor. The iPad allows them to choose. Some of the accessibility features have also allowed us to keep the children on task. This was especially important in the beginning but has time has gone on the children do not seem to require many of these. But above all it has been the way the iPad has allowed them to share their work that they have been most beneficial. This and the ability to add features to their work that would not have been possible otherwise. Being able to add narrations or animations to stories has added elements to their stories that give them the wow factor. This has led to increased confidence in writing. One child in particular had really struggled to write independently. Her first story on the iPad was done using the Speech to Text function and was littered with mistakes. Her second effort required very little assistance form me or the SNA’s. She is now writing independently and has discovered a talent that may have not been seen using traditional pen and paper methods. The iPad has also allowed the children to work to their strengths with each excelling in different aspects of storytelling. It has also led to a classroom environment where the children are less distressed and we have had fewer behavioural issues. We are often referred to as the quietest class in the school. In the mornings before I begin work with the children many of them take an iPad and begin working together before school actually starts. The children have learned that the iPad is a tool for creation and is not a toy. As I mentioned earlier the children had been using the iPad primarily to consume. They used the iPad to watch YouTube and play games. While we can still use the iPad for this the children now concentrate all there efforts on creating resources to use in the classroom. What they have gained is an ability to work together or independently as the task requires. Each of the children has an individual workstation where before the introduction of the iPad the children had spent much of the day. They were cut off from each other. They now spend most of their day working together around a central station. For children who are already feeling cut off from mainstream society this has been extremely beneficial in helping them to make friends outside of the Autism Unit. They have also benefitted from seeing their work appreciated around the world and the reviews left on the iTunes Store about their stories has meant a lot to them. Thankfully most of the reviews left have been very positive but even the ones that have small critiques of their work have been taken well. One child was criticised for not including paragraphs in her stories. Instead of getting upset she took the criticism on board and now includes these. The secret to our success has been Patience. I could have simply filled the iPads with apps designed to keep the children busy. Instead I chose the route of teaching the children to use the devices in a different way. It took a while but the effort has been worth it. Now it is the children leading. They will often come to me with an idea and no matter what it is they will be left try. The class motto is that Mistakes are OK. Our favourite question is What if? The children are fearless and even when mistakes are made they will go back and try something else. This ability to see opportunity even in mistakes is something that every child needs to learn but most especially for children for whom life has already placed extra hurdles in front of. We have only recently gone 1-to-1 which in itself has been amazing. But it has also allowed me to show other teachers how great things can be accomplished with limited access to devices. We recently began flipping the classroom as all of the children now have access to an iPad at home. They now joke that they do school work at home and homework at school. The ability to start work on something at home and then continue this in class has been an amazing thing to see. They have become very fond of project work and will often spend weeks on a topic. We recently had a Science Fair at school and all of the children in the class participated in the fair. This meant standing in a hall with a hundred other children and showcasing their experiments to both children and parents. Naturally all of their experiments included the use of the iPad with all of the children creating videos to better explain what they had been trying to accomplish. I have spent the past few years delivering workshops and presenting at conferences on the work we have been doing in class. The work these children have been doing is something which could easily be replicated in any Special class but also in any Mainstream class. It has been great to hear success stories from others who have attended these workshops.


I have stated above that the children now primarily work as a group. Prior to the introduction of the iPad the children had spent much of the day working in their workstations cut off from the rest of the class. They found it difficult to engage in mainstream classes as a result. Now 5 of the 7 children attend Mainstream classes for part or most of the day. They have been able to engage in group work outside of the Autism Unit and been able to excel in this environment. The children in mainstream often look to include the children more as they know they will bring skills with the iPad that they do not have. If they are having difficulty they are still able to use some of the accessibility features of the iPad to help them. They have learnt how to access these themselves meaning that they do not have to ask for help as often. I have to admit that it has meant less of them spending the day with me. From a selfish point of view this has been difficult. I would love to be able to spend the entire day with this amazing group of children but it has been incredible to watch them fit in with their mainstream peers more and more. Two of them will be leaving me this year for Secondary Schools. They will be attending schools where they will be going 1-to-1 with iPads and I hope that the knowledge they have acquired over the past few years will make their transition easier. This was not the goal set out at the beginning but it should help them to fit in more easily and be able to participate in more secondary school activities.  

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