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Learning Library Blog 8 easy steps to better student writing with digital storytelling
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8 easy steps to better student writing with digital storytelling

By Kristy Andre
September 19, 2019
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For two years, I taught in Cape Town, South Africa. My students, who were from townships right outside Cape Flats, had the opportunity to attend a boarding academy, which was a safer environment than other nearby schools. Most of them had not been exposed to much technology, and because their first language was Xhosa, English was often a struggle. But I wanted to get them excited about writing and the way I went about it was through digital storytelling.

Using digital media, such as audio, images and video, to tell a story was an exciting learning process for both my students and me. We had only eight computers for 36 kids, and it was messy. It took about a month to really do it right. But along the way, my students became completely engaged in the process as they used skills high on Bloom's Taxonomy, learned some valuable tech tips and discovered a lot about themselves.

The theme for our first project was "finding treasure." I brought in a treasure box with fake gold coins and necklaces and asked them to write a story about looking for it, which they would then turn into a movie.

Here's one of my student's final projects.

Digital storytelling has changed the way I teach. We discovered a lot as we went through the process the first time, and I have learned even more since then about how to lead students through a smooth and meaningful learning experience. Here are the basic steps that get the most out of digital storytelling:

1. Engage 

To start your writing unit, show an example of a story that has been turned into a movie. The students will get excited about the project if they can see the end result.

2. Encourage purposeful writing 

Digital storytelling is a tool that will help motivate students to write, so don't skip out on the writing instruction. Have your students start by writing a narrative. Use a prompt that is open ended or an image to get their creative juices flowing. I find that students are usually very motivated to make their stories as good as possible because they know they will eventually turn them into movies that they will share with an audience.

3. Edit 

It is important to go through the editing process with your students. If their narratives are clear and focused, it will be much easier to make their movies. We edited and peer reviewed their stories in Google Docs.

4. Plan 

Once they have finished writing their stories, the students will need to plan their movies. It is helpful to create storyboards where students can plan what images they want to show while they are narrating their stories. Using one image for every few sentences helps to keep the movie interesting. Students can pick images based on adjectives or verbs they use in their writing.

5. Find media 

It is important to spend some time discussing copyright issues before sending your students to Google Image Search. Advise them that the images they choose need be free to use and share. Google Images has advanced search settings that help with this. You might even have students take their own pictures, depending on the technology that's available. They can shoot their own scenes from their stories in photos or even video. If students are in the footage, however, make sure their parents have signed photo/video release forms.

6. Choose a tool 

Students can use any of the following programs to add images for each scene in their story. It's less about the tool and more about the process and the learning that takes place while they are creating.

Animoto: It offers a free education account that gives teachers 50 free student accounts as well as access to longer videos, more themes and more song collections.

Book Creator: Students can use this app to create a book they can publish in iTunes or save as a movie.

iMovie: This video editing software for Macs is robust and easy to use.

MoveNote: Students can first create slides, then videotape themselves talking about them.

7. Narrate 

Students should narrate their stories while matching them up with the images they picked. This is the best part, because they will hear how they sound when they read. Students will want to record over and over again. Let them! They are learning about intonation and creating mood. They will want to make their stories sound interesting, and this takes practice. And while they are doing all this, they are connecting to the levels of creation on Bloom's Taxonomy by planning and designing their movie.

8. Share

Finally, when their digital stories are complete, the students can share them with an authentic audience online by adding it to a learning management system, such as Haiku or Edmodo. You could also use an online tool like Kidblog, which a great free resource that allows teachers to create a class blog or personal blogs for students in just a few easy steps. Kidblog offers great privacy settings that let the teacher control what students post. The blog can be public, private with a password or even just between classmates. This is another way to motivate students to work hard to create a movie that they are proud to show to others.

Got learning science? Design lessons that work! Explore ISTE's book Design Ed.

Kristy Andre is a connect coach in the Tustin Unified School District. An educator for 13 years, she has taught in elementary and middle school settings, including teaching in South Africa for two years. She is an ISTE 2014 Emerging Leader and a Google Educator who is passionate about integrating technology into the classroom and coaching teachers to do this effectively. Follow her on Twitter @kristyandre2.

This is an updated version of a post that originally published on March 17, 2015.