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Tech Tools for Teachers: Digital Narrative

Type: Article, General lesson plan Print material

In the second instalment of his series, Nik Peachey looks at digital narrative and how it can be used to help students develop their communication skills both inside and outside the classroom. Nik provides a comprehensive overview article on digital narrative, a downloadable lesson plan and a printable how-to guide.

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In this how-to video, Nik Peachey shows you how to create a digital storybook using a web-based tool called Storybird.

Exploiting multimedia for storytelling

In this article, we look at how one of the oldest forms of teaching – storytelling – can be combined with new technologies to create digital narrative. We look at how different websites and digital tools can be used to help you and your students tell fictional and factual stories whilst developing communication skills. All downloadables relating to this article can be found in the ‘Related files’ section on the top right-hand side of this page.

What is digital narrative?

Digital narrative is quite a broad term that covers a range of different things. In its most general form, it is any kind of story or narrative that is shared through some form of digital media or combination of media. This can include text, images, audio and video. The stories told through digital media can be fictional or real stories. Digital narrative can be interactive – the audience can respond to it or even control it – and collaborative – it can be created by a number of people working together. The ability to create and share digital narrative is becoming a key digital literacy in the 21st century, as it enables students to participate in the digital world and share their stories and their culture in what is often described as ‘citizen journalism’.

To create digital narrative you need:

  • a computer or mobile device capable of accessing the internet (if it has a microphone or webcam, you can expand what you produce with your students)

Why is digital narrative useful for language teaching?

  • There is a huge range of digital narratives already accessible on the internet and these can make very engaging viewing for students, especially as they are often interactive and combine both receptive skills.
  • Creating digital narrative is a great way to get students practising their speaking and writing skills.
  • Building digital narrative can help students to develop the essential digital literacy skills to create and communicate in the digital world.
  • The process of creating and publishing their own narratives for a real-world audience can be very motivating for students.
  • Building the skills to produce digital narrative can enable students to tell and share their own stories about their own culture, their own lives and the things they are really interested in.
  • Digital narrative appeals to a wider range of learning styles because it can combine many different forms of media.

Tips for creating digital narrative

  • Building short digital narratives can be quite quick, especially if you’re not dealing with many different forms of media. However, creating real stories about students’ lives or real environments can be much more time-consuming and these narratives can be better done as projects over a period of time. Longer projects can be much more rewarding but they will take more planning and organization.
  • Multimedia digital narrative can involve collecting images, audio, video and text, so be careful how you store all this data while your students are working on projects. It can be very demotivating to lose files.
  • Especially with younger learners, privacy and safety has to be a serious consideration when producing any kind of web-based content with students. Always make sure that students don’t publish any personal contact information. You should get permission from your school and from parents if any student work is to be published in the public domain. Also make sure that students are aware of how to deal with any kind of negative feedback or harassment. Issues of cyberbullying can sometimes be over-exaggerated in the media but it is wise to educate students on how to deal with this in case it happens at some point in their lives.
  • Remember that not every digital narrative you create has to be shared on the internet. Sometimes it’s better and safer just to share them within your class or school.

Teaching suggestions and activities

Create a story from images

Students can sometimes find it hard to think of or tell their own stories, so you could collect together images from the internet and get students to create stories based around these. They can then publish their stories along with the images. See the Creating a digital storybook lesson plan which accompanies this article at the link at the top right-hand side of this page.

Create a multimedia personal journal

Often students forget all about their English classes at weekends and while they are on holiday but if they have a digital camera or camera phone, set them the task of collecting images and videos of things they do during their holiday. You can then get them to collect everything together to create a digital narrative to share. You could do this yourself first, as an example for them to follow. Afterwards, get students to watch each other’s narrative and then ask questions to find more information.

Create a story of your town or city

Get students to collect images or video clips of all the things they like about their town or city. They can then put them together to make a story about the place they live and the things they like doing there.

Be a citizen journalist

Ask your students to go to a public event in the place they live and collect images and video clips and then put them together into a narrative of the event.

Create a video story

The ability to tell a story really well is a valuable skill to have. Just getting students to sit down in front of a video camera or webcam is a great way to make them more aware of their speaking and will help them to reflect on their performance and what they would like to improve about they way they speak and communicate.

Your journey to school

Digital narratives don’t always have to be about grand or complicated things. Especially for lower levels who have limited language skills, you can get students to make a digital narrative about something as simple as their journey to school. Just ask them to collect five to ten images that they see on their way to school and then sequence them into a simple narrative.

Famous people

Ask students to research famous people and collect images, clips and information about them from the internet and then collect everything together into a digital biography. This will probably work best if you let your students choose the person they want to create the biography about.

Your favourite relative

Ask students to research one of their aunts, uncles, or grandparents and create a digital narrative about their life and why they like or admire them.

Autobiography

Ask students to collect together images and video clips from their own life and form them into a digital narrative. You could allow them to make some of the things fictional and then get students to watch the autobiographies and try to spot the fictional elements.

Tools for creating digital narrative

Storybird – www.storybird.com

This is a free site which enables you and your students to create illustrated digital books and stories. You start by selecting the collections of images you want to base your story on and then you drag the images onto the digital pages and add your text. There are lots of beautiful images to choose from and, if you register as a teacher, you can start the story and then get your students to finish it. You can even get your students working collaboratively on stories. 

You can download a onestopenglish Creating a digital storybook: printable how-to guide at the top right-hand side of this page.

Photo Story 3 – www.microsoft.com/download

This is a free software program which can be downloaded from the Microsoft website. It enables you to collect together and organise a sequence of digital images. You can then add music, narration, text and special effects to the images. Once you’re happy with your sequence, you can export it as a video clip.

Blurb Mobile – www.blurb.com/mobile

This is a great tool to use if you have a smartphone or tablet device. It makes it really easy to take photos or make videos, arrange them in sequence and add text captions and record narration. You can do this all on your phone and then quickly publish the sequences to the web. This is great for students who are interested in using digital tools for journalistic types of narrative or to tell their own stories about the kinds of things they do outside of school. The free version enables them to create a narrative based around up to eight images and include one video clip. 

SonicPics – www.sonicpics.com

This is another mobile-based tool available for IPhones and iPads which enables users to snap images on their phone, add an audio narration to each image and then export the sequences of images as video files. There is a free ‘lite’ version which enables you to create narrative based around three images.

Further reading

Aesop’s fables – www.aesopfables.com

This is a great place to find stories to use in class. Many of the stories also include audio versions.

Andrew Articles and Stories – www.andrewarticlesandstories.wordpress.com/articles

This is the blog of ELT author Andrew Wright. It has a huge collection of articles about storytelling in the EFL classroom. There is also a big collection of Andrew’s own stories.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I simply loved this article, it is useful and students certainly will love text but now with a purpose...

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