The maker movement is all about making learning meaningful through creating new solutions. Some of you may say to yourself, “My school doesn’t have a makerspace,” or “I don’t have time!”

I am here to share that you can design maker experiences while meeting California CCSS standards in English language arts. During CUE BOLD I shared a lesson idea that bridges the maker movement and students deepening their learning about story structure and plot development. The lesson can be utilized in any grade level and was inspired by:

Novel Engineering

Kriscia Cabral’s blog post

Lesson Summary

In this maker movement-inspired lesson, students will dive deeply into character analysis to use the design thinking process to create/design a solution to a problem in the story. Students will learn to use the design-thinking process to develop empathy for the characters, to find problems in the story that need solutions, and to work collaboratively to ideate and design solutions. Students use easily accessible materials to design a prototype for their solution to help the character solve a problem. In the end, students have the opportunity to rewrite the story integrating their creation into the story. This hands-on approach to understanding character development, conflict, and plot will deepen literacy skills and promote a maker mindset. In addition, this project will result in many different products. Your students’ creativity will flourish as they collaborate together.

Narrative Texts

The lesson begins with a narrative text. Pick your favorite book! It will work with this lesson. Trust me. If there is a character, a problem, and a plot, you have an opportunity for design thinking.

Empathy Phase

In this phase of the lesson, students will work in small collaborative groups to dive deep into understanding a particular character by considering what the character says, does, and thinks in the story and why they say and do the things they do.

Resources for this phase include Design Thinking Mat or digital Google Slides

Define Stage

The define stage is about taking the knowledge they just uncovered about the character and creating an actionable statement. Students will collaborative together in their small groups and focus on problems the character faces. Guiding questions for this phase are:

  • What problems does the character face?
  • What is significant about these problems?
  • How do these problems impact the story?
  • What does this character need most?

Actionable statement sentence frame:

(who) ___ needs to (verb) ___ because ___.

Ideate Stage

Students will collaborate in groups to ideate as many possible solutions to their needs statements as they can generate. Students will document ideas on sticky notes. Brainstorming rules:

  • Write one idea per sticky note.
  • Honor all ideas.
  • Do not evaluate ideas; just write them down.
  • Sort ideas that are similar.
  • Prioritize ideas by how critical or important they are vs. not important.
  • At the end of the session, have groups select their top three ideas. Then they should pick their best idea to move into the prototype stage.

Prototype Stage

This is the phase where students begin creating and when the maker experience gets messy. Some materials to have handy are cardboard, glue, tape, scissors, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, string, etc.


Discuss with students what it means to create a prototype. The goal of the prototype is to design a product quickly, so students can test the functionality.

Before students get into making their creation, I highly recommend they work to sketch out a design plan and generate a list of materials.

Provide time for students to CREATE! Step back and watch kids collaborate.

Test, Reflect, Refine Stage

Typically, in this phase, you would return to your “user” and watch them interact with what the group designed. However, since our “user” is fictional, students will write a story that utilizes the design solution. Groups work together to plan and write a narrative that integrates their design into the story. Groups should consider how their design solution changes the events in the story and what new problems the character may face.

The full lesson plan, detailed notes, and resources can be found here.


Headshot Joann Fox

Jo-Ann Fox is currently an instructional coach at a new innovative public school which she helped to design in Escondido (Quantum Academy at the Nicolaysen Center). Her school’s founding belief is that all students can make a positive impact in the community through empathy, creativity, and innovation. Jo-Ann has taught elementary and middle school students for the past 17 years and has a master’s degree in literacy education. She was named 2012 San Diego Teacher of the Year and was a semifinalist for California Teacher of the Year. She is one of the co-founders of #caedchat, an organizer of Edcamp San Diego, and a Google Certified Innovator. She served on Tom Torlakson’s Education Technology Task Force to help design the current blueprint for education technology in California. Jo-Ann blogs on her website

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