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The Power of Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: Telling Stories With Technology

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The first time I saw Ken Burns's documentary series The Civil War, I was captivated. He used old photos and personal letters to bring this part of our history to life and touch our hearts while we learned. Storytelling has been a form of communicating throughout the history of humanity and was a way to educate the younger generations.

We tell stories to children to introduce them to literature. As teachers, we are inspired, impressed, touched, and altogether enlightened with the digital stories we see. Whether on the Web, in a class, or just among friends, I enjoy them so much that when I have a little spare time, I search for new stories and replay several of my favorites. Like little jewels, they brighten my day.

There is an art to storytelling and a sequence to unfolding the story to the end. In the process of storytelling, we become more creative, gain speaking skills, and improve our verbal organizing skills and our ability to empathize. Now, with digital stories, pictures enhance storytelling's visual communication and appeal. The process includes planning, writing, editing, illustrating, and producing the components so that we communicate the heartfelt essence, not just the events.

Children are often bursting to tell their stories, and many teachers want to help them to become good storytellers. In working with hundreds of teachers, I have found that they would like resources and strategies to aid them in this task.

I would like to use the Spiral Notebook as a place to share good ideas and resources for developing storytelling in all levels of our culture and to make it even easier to tell our stories with technology. There are hundreds of guides, forms, software solutions, and examples to choose from. Each week, I will present a scenario and ask for your suggestions. Here is the one for this week:

In this week's case, a second-grade teacher wants to use storytelling in her curriculum but is too busy to help all twenty-five children individually. She decides her storytellers need listeners and help with their scripts. She collaborates with a fifth-grade teacher, and the older students are trained as listeners and scribes to listen to the stories and help the younger ones write or sequence their stories. On this Web site, she sees the Edutopia magazine article, "How To: Use Digital Storytelling in Your Classroom."

What would you suggest for next steps? We now have many helpful guides, software programs, and other resources to help us create and share digital stories. What are your recommendations to help primary teachers who want to use digital stories in their curriculum? Do you have a favorite Web site or training guide, or software recommendations, to get teachers and younger children started?

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Comments (26) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Lowell Bailey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Photostory 3 is good, I've taken a class on it and it's easy to use. There is also - if you have Windows XP - a program already on your computer which has the same functions and lots of support: Windows Movie Maker. To find it, open the Start menu, then "Programs", then "Accessories" then "Windows Movie Maker" (At least that's where it is found on my computer). It functions in basically the same manner as Storyteller 3. You can also search for it using the search function on your start menu. For my part, I've used both and either program is good.

Happy Storytelling!

Chris Rinker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jump Right In!!!! That is what I have told the teachers that I work with. Don't fear this resource. I just got finished collaborating with a first grade teacher and her 25 first graders on a short vowel digital story. Obviously we did some of the "leg" work for them, but we had them order the photos, create their own narration and music choices, and then walked them through "creating their movies". The kids loved it.

Dave Larson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have also used Photostory 3 and like it. This year, in our 5th grade class, we made a diary of our week at an outdoor education camp. We took digital pictures and then added some audio commentary by the students. We also added some pictures of the watercolors they did at camp with a campsong they sang as the background music for that. We used Sony Sound Forge ( and a good microphone borrowed from our music teacher) to record the audio. In past years I have used Audacity (which is a free download) to record the audio.

Matthew Fisher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Your readers may be interested in a call for entries the Delaware Art Museum and Night Kitchen Interactive launched last week: The Art of Storytelling. It calls for storytellers to create 250-500 word stories about selected works of art from the Delaware Art Museum. Selected stories will be read as podcasts by the storytellers for an educational gallery activity and the authors will receive $250 per story selected.

Matthew Fisher, President, Night Kitchen Interactive

Susan Love's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought your readers might be interested in my website HeritageCookbook where classes can make group cookbooks with family recipes, pictures and stories. I used to teach grade school and when I set the site up one of my hopes was that it would provide a useful tool for teachers. The students can work collectively as a group within their school or with another school. There is no limit to the number of participants.
There is a month's free trial and the book can be printed off on the school's printer from the preview file so the whole project can be done at no cost with a little forward planning.

We are at present adding new editing features which will be up at the end of July. If you visit the site and have any suggestions about something that you think would be useful I would love to hear from you.
Susan Love

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At my school we have used this concept at its simplest level. We deal with many students who are unable to read or communicate verbally. In fact most of my students are autistic for are students with autistic tendencies. As a result they have a problem adapting to change. We will use photographs of them and their environment to help them deal with change. For example a student who has trouble getting on the bus. We will make a short story involving him getting on the bus. It will show all the steps that he or she will participate in. These social stories (as we call them) have been very helpful with a wide variety of situations in our school.

Ben's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a teacher in an after-school program in Philadelphia's Chinatown. Last year I started what I called a "Movie Club", where I and about twenty 3rd + 4th graders made a short movie. I'm getting ready to repeat the process this coming Summer, and would love to hear from people with similar experiences.

Here's the movie that we made last Summer:

- Ben

Kathi Chastain's picture

I love this idea! I teach Kindergarten and love incorporating technology into my classroom. We have gotten several grants in the last couple years to update our technolgy such as FlipCams, ITouch's , Promethian Boards, etc. We are in pre-planning this week and I am going to talk with the 5th grade teachers to see about arranging something! Thank you for the great idea!

Maureen Gallagher's picture

I was glad to read M. White's post about "DigiTales". It sounds like a great site and the fact that there are scoring guides there makes it even better!

Aaron O Shannessy's picture

Thanks for the great posts and ideas! I just finished reading Jason Ohler's "Digital Storytelling in the Classroom" and found it to be very informative. It gave me a very sound theoretical framework from which to base my DST unit on. He expalins why DST is so powerful. The main reason is that student's writing becomes purposeful and writing is for "an audience of more than one (the teacher.)" Students care and learn about the art of writing because they know their peers, their parents, and others will be reading their work. It also cautions against using DST in the classroom. DST can be like "giving an amplifier to a bad guitarist" if we don't teach the art of writing. The "digital" part of DST is an exciting way to publish and broadcast our work, but not the "work" itself.

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