How to Incorporate Digital Stories in the Classroom

How we tell and experience stories have evolved over the years. Before the written word, stories were committed to memory and passed down from generation to generation. Bound books engaged our imaginations as we pictured a story’s characters and environment in our heads. Movie magic allowed us to watch a story unfold. Today, technology has made storytelling more interactive. We can now become a part of the story.

Education by its nature is an evolutionary experience. Because of this, it is important for teachers to embrace technological advances and learn alongside their students.

Today’s students are visual learners and work best when they are able to have an interactive experience. Digital storytelling does this, but it can be a complex process. Because of this, it is up to teachers to break it down so that students take notice of the different skills required to create a multimedia experience. The following components are writing, photography, video, reading aloud and various Web-based skills. In some instances, students may participate in all these activities or teachers may give them a place to start. For example, they may show students a photograph and lead a brainstorming or concept-mapping session that will help get them started.

Concept Mapping

In the concept-mapping stage, students decide on what type of story they want to tell. They can either bring in photos of their own, or they can find photos on stock photo websites that will lead them to a concept. If students find photos online, they should learn about fair use and copyright so that they are not using an unauthorized image. Here everything is thrown against the wall and students find a concept they can work on. They may want to tell their own story, or make one up. Taking notes and having a general outline will help them get started.

Pre-writing and Writing

Even when dealing with visual media, good writing skills are still important. The structure of writing is different in a digital story because no one frame can be overloaded, and the frames overall should maintain a sense of balance. The writing should be done with the visuals in mind. Students may be assigned different sections to write, and they can help edit one another’s work in order to help ensure the story will sound smooth and entertaining. Teachers can check a student’s work and offer suggestions on how to get the final draft to be the best it can be.

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Creating Slideshows or Video

For younger students, slide shows are easier to use in a digital story. These can be laid out and placed in an order that connects with the written story. Short video clips can be incorporated too. Students may want to record a video introduction and then use slides for the remainder of their digital story presentation. Some of this will be done in the concept-mapping stage, but once there are drafts of the story written it may be necessary to either add additional photographs or take them out where they no longer fit. If students cannot find an appropriate photograph, they can also draw pictures that represent their story.

Recording the Story

To give digital stories that “oral tradition” feel, students can record themselves narrating the story. Sometimes the story may be straight reading and other times different students can actually play characters in a story. Although it is not quite a movie, a digital story displays many of the elements of a movie or play and can help students develop acting skills as well as connect with an audience and their peers. Digital stories segments are manageable so only short clips will need to be recorded. For most projects, Windows Sound Recorder will be sufficient. Students may also do some recording on their smartphones.

Adding Music and Effects

It is likely that students will notice the similarity between making a digital story and making a movie, and many may want to add sound effects aside from their own voices to the story. If it is a windy day in the story, wind noises can be added to the background. Intense music can be added to the serious parts of the story. Background sound can enhance the final product, but it shouldn’t be used to the point where it overshadows the story.

Putting it Together

With various social media, there are many ways to take digital stories in the classroom and put them in the wider world. Of course, privacy issues are always a concern. Parental permission should be obtained before posting to social networks and private channels should be used.

There are several ways to put the final touches on a digital story. Using digital story software, the different components can be layered together in order to smooth out the entire project. Teachers can decide if they want each student to take on a single component, or if they want each person doing a little of everything. Regardless of which approach is taken, students will learn the importance of collaboration in making something they can be proud of.

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