Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Play-Based Experience Stories

Editor's Note:  Please refer to the background article:  Writing CAN Be Child's Play:  A Collaborative Writing Program.

Play-based experience stories collage


Students in the Writing Together Program have produced many kinds of interesting stories.  I will be describing these in my blog posts and first I would like to talk about experience stories, about high-interest, play-based activities ranging from isolated sensory-motor play to pretend play.  Experience stories are a widely-used practice for introducing writing to children who are blind or visually impaired, including those who are deafblind or who have multiple disabilities.  

Use this menu to jump to the different sections below:



Characteristics of Play-Based Experience Stories

  • Based on student’s own activities
  • Highlight part that was memorable to STUDENT. (Look for part in which student was engaged or interactive)
  • Model language related to student’s symbolic or interactive play level (e.g. “together”,  sound effects)
  • Initially, introduce writing as natural ending to activity
  • Share story with someone who wasn’t there for the experience.
  • Little or no sequencing to begin with--later build in beginning, middle and end...


The Experience

Whose experience is it?  Personalizing the Experience Story 

In the video which follows, you will see an activity which I facilitated as a speech-language pathologist in Zane’s classroom. Zane, Lucy and Aiden were all students receiving speech therapy services.  I wanted to help include Zane and Lucy in the Monday morning “share time” activity, in which the other students in the special education class talked about their weekend activities.  Zane and Lucy, as nonverbal students, had not been involved since they had no way to talk about their weekends, and parents were not sending any tangible products to help represent activities.  We created a context, which involved play with balloons, as a topic which could be discussed with the larger group.  I worked with the more verbal students, Aiden and Kelsey, as well as the others in the class who listened to the stories to help them understand Zane’s need to learn tactually, experientially and auditorilly.  I especially targeted use of hand-under-hand guidance and prompting/ guiding with objects as important concepts for the students to use and understand in their interactions with Zane. Objects and iPad overlays using the Sounding Board app were used as forms for reporting on the activity to peers. (See Tech Tip below.)


Download the transcript of the video.


The Traditional Experience Story

Aidan, Zane, And Lucy Make Water Balloons

The iPad story entitled “Aiden, Zane and Lucy Make Water Balloons” is a traditional experience story, with a focus on the roles that each of the students had in the activity.  It is developed from an adult/ teacher perspective to highlight those social aspects of the activity which I wanted Zane and the other students to notice.

water balloons in Tupperware container
We made water balloons.
student holding white water balloon
Lucy chose a white balloon.
student carrying water balloons in Tupperware container
Aiden carried balloons outside.
student's feet in wheel chair and another foot stepping on white balloon
Lucy rolled over the balloon with her chair.
two students holding water balloon Aidan threw yellow balloon. He showed Zane the broken balloon.
students looking at water balloon on ground The class examines a water ballon at the edge of the  pavement on the grass.

The Personalized Experience Story

Balloon Sounds Story

In the following session, I thought about personalizing the story for Zane.  I considered his apprehension about the balloons popping and decided to highlight the breaking of balloons, and the sounds which he may learn to notice and associate with the activity,  in the following experience story, so that the story would have more meaning for him.  

  • This is a modification of the balloon story told to highlight aspects of the experience which may be more meaningful to the totally blind student—the sounds of each part of the activity.  
  • Experience stories can be made more meaningful to a student if the event is described from their perspective, not just used to re-sequence the event in adult terms.  
  • Compare the two “adult-centric” experience stories above to the Balloon sounds story below, modified to make the story more memorable to Zane.  He was much more attentive and engaged when reviewing the story below.


Boy with green balloon

Zane squashed the balloon.  It sounded like this...

Lucy and Linda

Lucy and Linda popped the balloon.  And it sounded like this...

Zane filled balloons

Zane filled the balloons with water.


Lucy rolled over the blue balloon

Lucy rolled over the balloon and it went SPLAT!



Tech tip:

Sounding Board appThe Sounding Board app on the iPad is a free app which includes auditory scanning, which can be quite helpful with students who are totally blind.  The items on a page are scanned using a whisper prompt, and the student presses a switch when he hears the item he wants to select for a verbalization. 



student-centric writing

Posted by Megan Mogan

Play ideas

Posted by emily.russell

Thanks for the ideas!

Posted by emily.russell

Posted on September 22, 2014
Updated on: January 14, 2020

Previous comments for Play-Based Experience Stories

emily.russell commented on October 31, 2014

Thanks for your ideas!  It sounds like we are on the same page about fun sensory games.  I just got finished making slime with students for halloween!  And we also use The Little Old Lady who Wasn't Afraid of Anything too!  Such a great story!  

Thanks, Linda

Linda Hagood commented on October 31, 2014
Yes, the student's interests is a good concept, though sometimes that's a "slippery slope" since they are sometimes "interested" in a way that excludes other people.  I love to find activities that can bridge the gap between sensory-based play and pretend play--for example a foot bath with big bubbles that can be "destroyed" with a poof of baby powder--this scenario is interesting to the sensorimotor level child, and also to the child who has symbolic play skills. I have a few "standards" I repeat year after year, because I find that they interest many kids and have the qualities of annual rituals--
1. reading and enacting "the Little Old Lady who was Not Afraid of Anything", a nice autumn story with repeated lines--I use props such as shoes that go "clomp clomp," "pantrs that go "wiggle wiggle," a shirt that goes "shake shake", gloves that "clap clap" a hat that goes "nod nod" and scary pumpkin head that goes "boo".  I have used this story with middle school life skills classes, who practice it and perform it for younger kids.  It gives them a chance to enact a scripted and play-based story, and for many, it has been their only chance to "perform" for others.
2. making "cascarones" for cinco de Mayo--confetti and birdseed-filled colored eggs that are used to "bonk" friends in the head.  I do this in May--it's a Tex-Mex thing, but I've taken it all over the country.
3. Water balloons/ ice balloons--in June.
4. Childrens' yoga activities--in which they learn in a very structured way to use their bodies to represent varied emotional states, animals, and geographic formations.  
So, I like to think about what the kids' interests are, but also explore things that  they haven't YET experiences, which might be meaningful in a hands-on sensory and pretend-play symbolic way. The above are some of my "go to" activities, which have served me well over the years in varied places with varied groups of students.  I find that it's always best to start with programming for the sensorimotor level kids--you can always turn a sensory activity into something more language-based or academic, but can't always do it the other way around. Does this make sense to you?
emily.russell commented on October 30, 2014

Where do you get your play ideas?  I have been using play-based interactive stories successfully for a few months now.  I first try to base therapy activities on the student's interesets but I am always looking for new fun ways to expand experiences!  Thanks for your post!

Linda Hagood commented on September 23, 2014

Thanks--the repetition may have been technical groping at its finest--I have to look at the post again, but yes, I know we're on the same page Megan. Thanks for the feedback...

Megan Mogan commented on September 23, 2014

"Whose experience is it?"  I know you had to repeat this several times throughout the post, but I don't think you can ever say this too many times.  It makes such a difference when a student reads THEIR story with engagement.  And then re-reads it.  And then re-re-reads it.  Literacy at its finest!  Thanks, Linda.