3 Ways to Connect STEAM With Literacy in Your Library

Did you ever program a robot in your English class? Probably not, because although both technology and literacy are considered important components of a 21st-century education, they are still rarely taught together. However, adding a technology component to a literacy assignment can encourage students to think more deeply about what they are reading and writing. The intricacy of thought that is required when coding a robot is made more complex when that robot’s mission is to bring a story to life. Plus, it’s also a lot more fun!

The activities below can be done as makerspace workshops or stations in your library or in collaboration with English classes.

1. Using Robots as Characters

What You’ll Need: Ozobots or any programmable robot, paper, markers, cardboard, craft materials and glue

We use Ozobots in our library for these activities because they are cost effective and offer a graduation of coding skills. Ozobots make great characters for a variety of age groups because they can be coded using markers on paper, drag-and-draw coding with the Ozobot Bit app, and drag-and-drop coding with the Ozoblocky app. However, any programmable bot will work for this activity.

If you are working with an entire class, having a class set of Ozobots is ideal. We purchased ours with a grant; however, you could make this activity work without a class set, as the Ozobots can quickly change costumes and coding before show time.

Try these activities with your bots:

  • IMG_8018
    Hansel and Gretel scene creation in progress.

    Recreate a favorite scene from a favorite book or story.
    This activity is perfect for a Literacy Week Celebration, World Read Aloud Day, Read Across America Day or even an Hour of Code event and could also be done with a book club centered around a featured book. We used it as a makerspace station for our annual Hour of Code event in the library. If you are running this activity as a makerspace station, I suggest making an example scene to get students’ attention and to generate ideas. It is impossible to resist robots in costume!

  • Compose and tell an original story.
    This activity works nicely in collaboration with an English class. Students in ninth and 10th grade worked in groups to write an original gothic story and then converted their story to a script format with the Ozobots as the stars. The English classes visited the library after their story was written but before they made the final script. This allowed them to explore the Ozobots and their movements before converting their narrative to script.

Tips for Creating a Successful Retelling Using Robots

Students will first want to choose what story and what scene they would like to recreate and then reread, research and brainstorm to decide what details to include. For example, if a student chooses the Quidditch match from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he or she will want to look up some passages in the book describing the scene or use images from the movie before gathering materials. If the student is using a short story or well-known fairy tale, a reread of the story would work best. If using an original work, students will be forced to think about their setting details from the story and whether or not their description was detailed enough for the reader.

Next, students will want to create their characters by giving the bots physical features. Ozobot does sell plastic skins that students can draw on directly, but you do not need these to make costumes for the characters. Using simple materials like paper or fabric sized to fit works just as well. For example, cotton balls make a great beard for Dumbledore, and red and yellow yarn make a great scarf for a Gryffindor quidditch player. We put out a wish list of crafting supplies on social media and were overwhelmed with donations from people cleaning out their closets. Also, checking with a local seamstress is a great way to get free fabric scraps.

Ozobot graveyard scene in progress.

Ozobots dressed for their wedding in a student’s original story.

Coding the Ozobot
Lastly, students will begin thinking about the actions their “characters” will display in the scene. It is important that they experiment with the codes first to see all of the actions the Ozobot is capable of before deciding how their character will behave in the scene. Is the character pacing with nervousness or spinning around in a tizzy because he or she is flying around on a broomstick trying to find the snitch?

If a student is drawing the codes with markers, they will want to practice their codes on spare paper first before attaching any setting items to make sure their bot is reading the code correctly. If the students are using either of the Ozobot apps to control their bot, they will be able to get started as soon as the setting details for their scene are complete.

Capturing the Scene
While not necessary, creating a video of the scene is a great idea, especially since the Ozobots will have to come out of costume at some point. If the students are telling an entire story, they will want to record each scene and compile them into a single video. Hue Animation Studio is a great tool for making videos, and it comes with its own editing software, and iMovie on an iPad is also a great option for recording and editing.

Some group members built a set while others worked on coding the Ozobots with markers.

Students filming their Ozobot story.

Additional Ozobot Resources
More lesson ideas and training on Ozobots and Ozoblockly can be found at the links below.

Motivate Students to Code and Create

Explore tools that encourage kids to code, create, design and experiment!

2. Upgrading the Diorama

What You’ll Need: Medium shoeboxes, craft materials, glue, Hummingbird Robotics Kit, littleBits, or any kit including LEDs, servos and motors

Another great activity to incorporate technology into making is to upgrade the classic diorama project. A diorama project by itself is already a creative one, as students transform a plain box into a detailed scene from a story or time in history. Dioramas also lend themselves to critical analysis of a passage, as students must search for meaningful details and symbols to include.

If you are running this activity as a makerspace or workshop, you can pull high-interest passages from young-adult novels, use popular fairy tale stories, read a children’s book together or allow students to choose their own text and passage.

The activity can also be done in partnership with English classes when studying a complex text such as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I did this activity with a 10th-grade English class over the course of two weeks. The teacher assigned groups of students a notable scene in the play to analyze and tasked them with creating a robotic diorama as a group.

Students worked together to build and program the scene and then refine and record the dialogue using the Hummingbird Robotics kit and software. LEDs worked as lightning flashes to create mood in an eerie scene, and vibration motors worked to make Lady Macbeth’s hands tremble in a moment of fear. Shakespeare’s plays do not include many details about how characters are acting in a scene. Incorporating the special effects of the scene with the dialogue of the play helped students  imagine more deeply what was happening with the characters.

Student working on a diorama scene from Macbeth.

Diorama for William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

If students are new to the technology and the software, plan on spending extra time helping them understand all of the functions and features that are available before they begin construction. Hummingbird Robotics offers online tutorials as well as project ideas and lesson plans.

If you are working with upper-elementary students students or if you want a quicker makerspace activity, littleBits are a user-friendly option for adding an extra element to a diorama. littleBits kits contain LEDs, servos, motors and sensors that simply snap together and can be used without any programming.

Additional littleBits and Hummingbird Resources

3. Inventing to Learn

What You’ll Need: littleBits or Cubelets, craft materials, cardboard, glue and tape

littleBits and Cubelets naturally prompt students to tinker and explore new combinations, so why not use them to teach persuasive devices and logical fallacies? Have students make an invention of their own design, such as a car that drives itself or a clap-on/clap-off fan, and then market that invention in a promotional commercial or print advertisement to their classmates. The assignment could include using a persuasive device or a logical fallacy they are learning about in class. This activity could be done with or without the technology component and still get students creating not only with materials but also with their words.

Students tinkering with the LED littleBits.

A student designed a hypoallergenic robotic cat using Cubelets.

Additional littleBits Resources

Tips for Integrating Technology Into Literacy Instruction

Adding technology into literacy instruction can feel like stepping into unknown territory at times, but remember the following things:

  • Do not feel like you have to be the expert. It is okay to say to students, “We have new technology in our library, and you guys get to be the first to experiment with it.” Students are often excited by this idea. Sometimes the newness of the technology required me to look online for tutorials or even call the company itself, but it was a part of the learning process, and modeling that process for students is important.
  • There is value in the struggle. Learning new technology always takes more initial preparation time for both you and for students, but that is okay. Not only do they learn something new, but they also develop critical thinking and perseverance skills.
  • You can do a trial run. If you are a master planner, do a trial run with library assistants or students who frequent your library, and allow them to teach you what they learned. Students love to teach the teacher and show off what they discovered. I have students ask me all the time if I have anything new I need them to test out, and it gets them engaged in the process.
  • You only need one. If merging robotics with an English class makes you a little apprehensive at first, the idea will likely have the same effect on an English teacher as well. Remember, you only need one teacher and one class willing to take the jump with you in order to inspire other teachers to get in on the fun of combining making, literacy and technology in a way that students will never forget. When teachers see their most unmotivated students excited about a project, word will spread about the awesome learning opportunities you have available in your library.


Alisha Wilson

Alisha Wilson

Alisha now runs the Media Center turned Innovation Center at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, FL, after teaching high school English for five years. In 2015, she received the Governor’s Shine Award in the state of Florida for her contributions to education through her school library. Alisha was selected as a PBS Digital Innovator in 2016, and in 2017 her library was selected as the winning high school program for the Follett Challenge, accompanied by a $30,000 prize. Also in 2017, her Innovation Center won the District Administration (DA) Schools of TechXcellence Award, sponsored by HP and Intel. In addition, School Library Journal chose Alisha as the Maker Hero for the 2017 School Librarian of the Year Awards.