Literature and technology

Jackie Child, teacher librarian/Junior School technologies coordinator at St Aidan's Anglican Girls' School, shares how she uses literature and technology to engage students in gaining a deeper understanding of texts.


Sharing stories through storytelling and reading is ‘what teacher librarians do’ to engage students in further developing their comprehension of themes, characters, issues, plots, styles and concepts in literature. Having fun with stories and following up with discussions, questions and hands-on activities gives students opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of the text, clarify the author’s intent and meaning, and make inferences and predictions. Creative use of technology can support and enrich these learning experiences.

Texts and technology

This article examines some of the engaging texts and technology I have used at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane. These activities also support descriptors in the Digital Technologies curriculum and outcomes and objectives in the NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus and NSW English K-10 Syllabus. For example:

  • Students identify and explore a range of digital systems with peripheral devices for different purposes, and transmit different types of data (ACTDIK007).
  • A student uses materials, tools and equipment to develop solutions for a need or opportunity (ST1-2DP-T).
  • A student selects and uses materials, tools and equipment to develop solutions for a need or opportunity (ST2-2DP-T).
  • A student plans and uses materials, tools and equipment to develop solutions for a need or opportunity (ST3-2DP-T).
  • A student describes how contact and non-contact forces affect an object’s motion (ST2-9PW-ST).
  • A student identifies digital systems and explores how instructions are used to  control digital devices (STe-7DI-T).
  • A student identifies the components of digital systems and explores how data is represented (ST1-11DI-T).
  • Students communicate through speaking, listening, reading, writing, viewing and representing (objective A).
  • Students think in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive and critical (objective C).

A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks

After reading excerpts from the book and whetting the girls’ appetite to read more, we brainstormed mythological creatures. The girls then designed their ‘Bogles’ (term taken from the story), including a light-emitting diode (LED) on part of the creature. This activity required students to understand circuitry and enabled them to use copper tape, electric paint and/or Chibitronics to illuminate their LED with a 1.5v coin battery.


Mechanica by Lance Balchin

This amazing book is about robotic animals that start to evolve on their own in the wild. The story is set 200 years from now, in a future where humans have destroyed the environment. Liberty Crisp, a 15 year old girl who has studied science all her life, is caught in the middle of a brewing war between humans and machines. The girls and I spent a long time analysing the incredible illustrations, prompting plenty of discussion. Students went on to design and create incredible creatures made from recycled items found in the home. As part of a competition, they were invited to make a ‘Mechanica’ move. Many students used elastic bands, others used small motors. One design, pictured below in the video, Moving with magnet by Jackie Child (9 secs), even used magnets to animate the object!

Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews

Our girls loved this story of Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel - a poor, orphaned, skinny child who was 'different' but believed in herself to create and become a fashion icon. Again, there was plenty of discussion and sharing of ideas. As a follow-up activity, students were invited to make a marble run using ideas and questions from the text to guide the marble's progress through the run. When the marble came to a question or discussion point, the issue had to be considered before the marble was released to move on. Many girls decided to do the same with other books they had enjoyed. This activity resulted in the creation of a large marble run wall, featuring spinning wheels, LEDs and pulleys, which we filmed and timed.

Marble run

The Duck and the Darkling by Glenda Millard

This enchanting story of friendship, hope and joy inspired our Year 1 girls to use squishy dough to make something light from dark. In the story, Peterboy wants to bring light into his grandpa's life. He does this through Idaduck. It's a beautiful story and the girls demonstrated going from darkness to light in their creations. For example, a blob becoming a snail, and a cocoon becoming a butterfly.

Creating with squishy dough

One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly

This is a very touching story of Luk and his elephant, Mali, who steps on a landmine. Luk cares for Mali, who is fitted with a prosthetic leg. This accident brings the boy and his elephant even closer. The Year 6 girls used Tinkercad to design a new leg for Mali and 3D printed their leg designs.

Designing and 3D printing an elephant leg

Fluke by Lesley Gibbes

Before reading this lovely story of being lost and found, I immersed students in an underwater world using virtual reality. We used the VR diving app to provide a sense of Fluke's environment.

Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester

This popular story, loved by adults and children alike, lent itself beautifully to students recreating Grace's journey around Australia using a Pro Bot. After reading parts of the story, the girls took turns to program the Pro Bot, navigating it to the location mentioned.

In a variation on this concept, another activity involved students navigating a robot to a desired location on a map, then using the Oliver library catalogue to locate a book which is set in that area.

Programming robots to navigate maps

Ride Ricardo Ride! by Phil Cummings

This is a powerful story of WWII and the effects the war had on a village, especially the lives of Ricardo and his father. The significance of the bike in the story prompted the girls to use materials from the makerspace to build a bike. One student recreated a scene from the story and used LittleBits to make the bike travel across the scene.

Josephine Wants to Dance by Jackie French

This delightful story is about a kangaroo who loves to dance. Our girls love dancing, so they filmed their dances against a black backdrop and then inserted their video into a black PowerPoint slide. Using sealed laminating sheets, the girls drew a square pyramid to make a hologram.


Lester and Clyde by James Reece

An oldie but a goodie! After sharing this story about two frogs and discussing the pollution of waterways, the girls used Makey Makey with SoundPlant to make the school garbage bins thank people for disposing of their rubbish.

Seven skills students need for their future

Providing opportunities for our students to enjoy literature and technology is lively, fun and supports plenty of learning. As a teacher librarian who is passionate about literature and the maker movement, I've been able to introduce a makerspace into the Junior School library. The maker movement is still spreading and becoming increasingly relevant in today's society. Our makerspace creates an environment which fosters most of the essential skills for the future as identified by Dr. Tony Wagner (2014, pp 14-42), co-director of Harvard's Change Leadership Group:

  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • agility and adaptability
  • initiative and entrepreneurialism
  • effective oral and written communication
  • accessing and analyzing information
  • curiosity and imagination.

References and further reading

ACARA (n.d.). Australian Curriculum. Digital Technologies.

Balchin, L. (2016). Mechanica: a beginner’s guide. Richmond, VIC: Bonnier Publishing Australia.

Cummings, P. (2015). Rice, Ricardo, ride! Australia: Scholastic Australia.

English K-10 Syllabus © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2012.

French, J. (2007). Josephine wants to dance. US: Abrams.

Gibbs, L. (2017). Fluke. Australia: Working Title Press.

Jinks, C. (2013). A very unusual pursuit. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin Children’s.

Jolly, J. (2015). One step at a time. Australia: MidnightSun Publishing.

Lester, A. (2015). Are we there yet? Australia: Penguin Books.

Matthews, E. (2007). Different like Coco. US: Candlewick Press.

Millard, G. (2014). The duck and the darklings. Sydney, NSW: Murdoch Books.

Reece, J. (1997). Lester and Clyde. Ashton: Scholastic.

Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017.

Wagner, T. (2014). The global achievement gap: why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need and what we can do about it. New York: Basic Books.

How to cite this article – Child, J (2018). Literature and technology. Scan, 37(6).

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