Digital Storytelling and the Common Core: Using Toontastic to Teach ELA

Give students power to create their own cartoons and tell a story.

March 19, 2014
Monica Burns
Education Consultant, EdTech Blogger, Apple Distinguished Educator

CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, In the Classroom, Technology Integration

There are lots of ways to energize your Common Core lessons. One of my favorite tools for doing this in the English language arts classroom is Toontastic. This fantastic storytelling app gives students the power to create their very own cartoons. With Toontastic, students can use their knowledge of literary elements to tell a story.

As a fifth-grade teacher, I use Toontastic to make short test-prep passages more engaging and accessible to my students. Though the app was designed as a way for kids to tell their own stories, I like to have my students use it to break down a test-prep passage or to retell a story they've just read. In order for students to retell a story effectively, they have to dive into the narrative, look for specific details, and make inferences. 

Toontastic provides a platform for students to tell a story by storyboarding a narrative arc, creating characters, recording dialogue, designing a setting, and identifying the tone of each scene. This means that students must think through these story elements and plan for them before they can record their stories.

Test-prep passages, like the ones found at, serve as resources for teachers looking for grade- and standard-specific reading comprehension activities. I use a passage similar to Jenna and the Black Cat for this activity. For the assignment, I ask students to first break down the short passage into five scenes. For each scene, they fill in a graphic organizer that asks them to describe the setting, which characters are present, what the characters are saying and doing, and one word that describes the tone of that moment in the story.

Having students plan this out with a partner is an important step to include to help them clarify their thinking; it requires them to think deeply about what they read. They mark up the test-prep passage to highlight evidence for their creative decisions. Including this planning time results in cartoons that demonstrate students' understanding of what they read, and it gets them in the habit of visualizing test-prep passages as short stories that can come to life off the page.

Toontastic helps me turn the sometimes daunting task of test prep into an engaging opportunity for students to be creative and think critically.

For more examples from teachers creating Common Core-aligned lesson plans with Toontastic, visit the LaunchPad Toys Common Core resources page!