Shoebox Stories

I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for ways to get kids excited about writing. I believe this idea came from a Highlights magazine I read as a child in the early 80’s. The craft must have made a lasting impression, because the idea recently resurfaced in my brain after all of those years.

Making a shoebox story is kind of like turning a story into a television show. It is basically old-fashioned animation. The story is written and illustrated on a looooooong strip of paper. The paper is then rolled up and attached to cardboard tubes that have been inserted through a shoebox. Twisting the tubes will play or rewind the story just like a cassette tape.

This retro project literally had my students begging for writing time. Oh yeah! If you want to breathe some life back into your writer’s workshop, read on and then go ahead and start collecting shoeboxes and paper towel tubes. You will need one box and two tubes per student.

The following pictures will help you to see how I made shoebox stories with my students. The entire process (from start to finish) kept us very busy for about a month. It was time very well spent.

In addition to shoe boxes and paper towel tubes, you will need some rolls of paper. Bulletin board paper would work, but I thought it would be easier to manage smaller rolls of easel paper. I bought my paper at Christmas Tree Shops for $3.99 per roll. It took 5 rolls for 22 students. Of course, I remember taping pieces of paper together when I was a child, but that sounded like a bit of a nightmare with a full class of students.

I highly recommend that you recruit some parent helpers to cut the boxes ahead of time. This job is definitely for an adult because it requires a razor blade. The tubes come in many different sizes, so be sure to trace as you go, using the end of each tube as a tracer. Line up your holes in the bottom corner of each box. Also, cut a large rectangular opening in each box lid.

Here is what some of our boxes looked like when stored in the classroom. You can see the wide variety of sizes and patterns that helped to make each shoebox story unique. We stored writing materials inside the boxes. Students could easily find their box when it was time to begin writing again.

After making a plan on paper, my students did all of the drafting, revising, and editing on Chromebooks for this project. Upon approval, the stories were printed and then it was time for publishing!

As the drafts came out of the printer, I sized up each individual box and story, and then estimated the width and length of the paper for each story. In some cases, students did come back for an extension. It was easy to add more paper by simply taping two strips together.

We discovered that it was easier to work with the long paper when it was rolled up, paper clipped, and then gradually unrolled as the story was written. This enabled the students to work at their desks.

It worked out well to have them complete all of the writing first, and then go back to illustrate. I asked them to try and keep the writing about an inch from the bottom of the paper. That way, they would have plenty of room for the running illustrations.

My students were so deeply invested in this project, that they put in terrific effort with very little redirection or prompting. They took tremendous pride in their work.

Once the story was completely written and illustrated, it was time to tape it to the rolls inside the box. I started by taping the beginning of the story to the paper roll on the left side of the box.

Once I had the first side taped to the roll, I just twisted that roll so the story wrapped around it. When I reached the other end, I taped that side of the paper to the roll on the other side. By turning the rolls, you can view the story through the opening you have cut in the box lid.

The children really had a lot of fun with these shoebox stories. They were especially eager to share the stories with each other and put them on display. The finished products were well worth the effort. I hope that you will give shoebox stories a try in your own classroom! Enjoy!

1 Comment

  1. Kelly
    January 26, 2017 / 3:06 pm

    What a great idea! Sometimes those old school retro lessons are the best!

Leave a Reply