Lessons That Connect Making and Children’s Literature

Two girls working on an art project in the library.As a classroom teacher, I filled my classroom with books for my students to explore. As an elementary principal, I ensured that our classrooms and libraries were full of exciting adventure stories, graphic novels, interesting nonfiction texts, and everything in between. Even now, as a district administrator, my office is full of books — professional books and children’s literature. Reading is the foundation for our knowledge in every other subject, which is why it makes sense as a springboard into maker education experiences.

There are some incredible books out there that lend themselves to opportunities for hands-on learning in classrooms, libraries, and makerspaces. These stories inspire maker experiences and spark students’ imaginations for creating and building using a variety of tools and materials. Children’s literature can serve as a pathway into maker learning through the educational content and themes that are present throughout these texts.

Maker materials can be simple everyday items like cardboard, paper, or clay, but there are also products that can give learners unique opportunities. Demco’s Maker Collection offers some great tools that can connect to children’s literature. Not sure where to get started in selecting texts? Here are a few suggestions for pairing books with making.

Starter Ideas for Pairing Tinkering with Children’s Literature

  • In Giraffe Problems, by Jory John and Lane Smith, Edward the giraffe is not pleased with the size of his neck until he meets a turtle who envies his long neck. Not only does this book provide some great opportunities to enhance student vocabulary with robust words like “saddled,” “unseasonably,” and “shortcomings,” it also offers the chance to incorporate making.

    The book’s artwork includes interesting patterns and rubbings that students will love to re-create. Makers might also enjoy building animals and environments from the story. Try Strawbees®, a simple tool with straws and connectors that can be bent, cut, and connected to create anything imaginable.

  • Young Frank, Architect by Frank Viva tells the story of a young boy who likes to make things using unconventional materials like macaroni, toilet paper rolls, and spoons. Frank and his grandfather spend the afternoon exploring the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. They wonder at the displays of Frank Lloyd Wright and other famous architects. They find a particular interest in the chairs designed by artists like Eames and Gehry. Inspired by these works of art, the two go home and build some chairs of their own. Students will be inspired to do the same.

    Present a design challenge to students to create a chair using recycled cardboard. Makedo™ is a tool kit that can be used to enhance their cardboard creations with safe cutting tools and fasteners that connect pieces together.

  • A great chapter book that creates a multitude of maker learning opportunities is EngiNerds by Jarrett Lerner. This humorous story focuses on robots who begin to develop a mind of their own.

    Throughout the text, readers can jump into hands-on learning as they build robots out of recycled materials and design catapults out of chopsticks. Learners can also incorporate littleBits™ or Neuron Kits to create robots with movement, lights, and sounds.

  • Another great chapter book is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which tells the true story of a silverback gorilla taken into captivity and forced to live in a shopping mall for years. The story is told from Ivan’s point of view, allowing students to build empathy about the feelings animals might have, and it provides opportunities for students to consider the needs of animals and how humans’ actions impact them.

    Students can sketch a blueprint of a domain that might work for Ivan’s needs. Using Strictly Briks®, have them build an enclosure for Ivan that would make Ivan and his other animal friends feel at home.

Looking for More STEM Activities?

Visit Demco MakerHub, your source for 100s of lessons, searchable by product, subject, and grade level.

Maker Tools for Any Book or Story

  • Ozobot®

    Ozobots can be used as a comprehension tool for any story, but they work especially well for circular stories or those with a very clear beginning, middle, and end. These tabletop robots can be used to retell stories and reinforce the details of what happened in the story. Since Ozobots can travel in any path that the user wishes, students can program the robots to follow the events of the story using drawings or scenes.

  • K’NEX

    K’NEX are building tools that can add a hands-on component to any piece of children’s literature. They can help students to take the ideas presented in the story and turn them into concrete representations. Before reading the story, have students build the story setting; during the story, have them construct key characters or features of the story; after the story, have them build a solution to the problem that was presented in the story.

  • Play Dough

    While you may think about play dough as a preschool manipulative, it can be used with all ages and subject areas. It’s a simple material that can be used to create story characters or build key ideas from any book. Students can use play dough to make predictions about what may occur next in the story or create a model that demonstrates a lesson learned in the book.

Connecting to Text

By pairing hands-on maker tools with our English language arts instruction, we are increasing student engagement. We are also giving students the chance to make their learning visible to others. Although students could certainly answer comprehension questions orally or in writing, making allows them to demonstrate their understanding by building a model or creating something that is connected to the books they are reading. Whether it’s during whole-class read alouds or small-group literature circles, making can be added to provide a layer of hands-on learning for students who need multiple strategies for making the abstract more concrete.

Any text can lead to a maker learning experience. Look for opportunities within children’s literature as a pathway to designing, building, and creating in the classroom, library, or makerspace. Use the following resources to learn more ways to enhance your literacy instruction with making:


Dr. Jacie Maslyk

Dr. Jacie Maslyk

As a connected educator and established school and district leader, Dr. Jacie Maslyk has served as a teacher, coach, principal, curriculum director, and assistant superintendent. She has presented at the state, national, and international levels, including FETC, ILA, and NAESP. An invited keynote speaker, Dr. Maslyk also consults with school districts looking to implement innovative practices in their schools.

A published author, Dr. Maslyk has written articles on the maker movement, STEAM education, instructional technology, leadership, and literacy. In 2015, she received the Frank S. Manchester Award for excellence in journalism. She is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom, as well as a chapter in the upcoming EduMatch Publishing book on makerspaces. Dr. Maslyk is currently writing a book on unlocking creativity in the classroom.