What is Digital Storytelling and How Can I Use It to Help My Students?

Are you looking for a positive way to harness your students love of technology and help it increase their learning in the classroom? Do you want to see your students engaged as they tap into their creative side to share a story with their peers?

Using Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Luckily, you can accomplish both of these goals (and more) through the use of digital storytelling. Digital storytelling is where students create and share a narrative using different forms of technology.

I’ve seen the positive impact of using digital storytelling in the classroom, and I’d love to share more about it with you! I’ve also complied a few of my top tips for using digital storytelling in the classroom to help you get started with your students.

Keep reading; I’d love to help you see just how easy it is to integrate digital storytelling into your lessons and help you see how using digital storytelling can benefit your students.

What Is Digital Storytelling?

Digital storytelling allows students to put together their love and understanding of technology with the act of sharing a story. Students can use a combination of videos, pictures, text, narrative, music, and other sounds to share a narrative with the teacher and their classmates.

The stories students share could be fiction, but digital storytelling also lends itself nicely for sharing a personal narrative and a memorable event in a student’s life.

Digital Storytelling Components

One of the best things about using digital storytelling in the classroom is that the exact method and procedures you utilize with your students can be flexible. You could have students work on creating a story to share independently, with a partner, or as a larger group.

Group work could give students the opportunity to rotate through and gain experience with different roles such as being the director, narrator, writer, or editor.

Digital Storytelling Mindmap

Digital storytelling can be used in all classroom types, including standards-based classrooms. In a standards-based classroom, you could tailor the directions for the final project to match the grade-level standards for your students.

For example, language arts standards may include having students write a narrative with a clear beginning, events, and conclusion. These components, and other related standards, could all be integrated into the assignment that is presented to students. If you would like to learn more about a standards-based classroom, you can do so here.

The Main Components of Digital Storytelling

In addition to its flexibility for different classroom types and learning objectives, digital storytelling also offers numerous benefits for students. We’ll take a look at some of those benefits in the next section.

Benefits of Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Using digital storytelling in the classroom can deliver a lot of benefits for your students. These can include:

  1. Fostering creativity: One of the biggest benefits associated with digital storytelling is that students have the opportunity to tap into their creativity. They have more freedom and flexibility with how they choose to share their story than they do with just a paper and pencil.
  2. Improving technological skills: The process of creating a digital story will give students the chance to use a variety of different technological tools and programs. This experience is invaluable in preparing them for the technological future that awaits.
  3. Giving students the opportunity to help their peers: Many students may be more technologically-proficient than others. They can use their skills to help others in the class learn how to use the various tools and programs. These students may not be the same students that excel in other academic areas, so it can give the opportunity to take more of a leadership role than they normally might.
  4. Building better writers: Since the steps for creating a digital story follow the same progression as composing a written piece, students will also be able to improve their writing and pre-writing skills.
  5. Helping English language learners communicate: Since English language learner can have the chance to rehearse and re-record a narrative for a digital storytelling, it may improve their English language skills and take some of the pressure off of needing to share an answer right away during class.
  6. Encourages collaboration: Digital storytelling lends itself well to teamwork. The more chances students have to work on a team, the more they’ll be able to improve their ability to collaborate and work effectively with others.

How to Use Digital Storytelling in Your Classroom — A Complete Guide

Before you’ll be ready to dive right in and start using digital storytelling with your students, it is important to gain an understanding of how to use it in a classroom.

I’ve put together a step-by-step guide to give you some ideas on how to best start using digital storytelling in your classroom.

Step 1: Be a Film Critic

Before you begin a digital storytelling project with your students, begin by thinking about some of your favorite movies and what makes them so appealing to you. Focus on the way the movie was filmed, the way the director and writer developed each character, and other aspects.

Try Not to Be Too Critical

Likewise, think about some movies you’ve seen that you didn’t enjoy. What about these movies was unappealing to you? Use this information to start to develop your own sense of which elements make an enjoyable film.

After analyzing films on your own and developing your own understanding of storytelling through film, repeat this exercise with your students. Consider watching a few short clips from well-known films and discuss them as a class. Have students share their thoughts on which techniques were (or were not) effective at making the movie enjoyable.

Step 2: Plan

After you have given students the chance to be a film critic, present them with their digital storytelling assignment.

Before they’ll be able to start using any technology, they’ll need to plan out the approach they’d like to take to convey their story. This could be done independently or as a group, depending on how you are structuring your assignment.

A Plan Will Help the Students to Complete the Assignment

The planning process may involve writing out the story, choosing images to accompany narration, planning out the props that will be needed for filming, deciding on filming locations, and more.

Step 3: Focus on Technology for Storytelling Purposes

While you may feel the need to dedicate a lot of class time to learning how to use the different technology tools students will use for filming, recording audio, and everything else they’ll be doing, keep in mind that the focus of digital storytelling should remain on sharing a narrative.

The Most Important Aspect of Digital Storytelling is Using Technology Tools

While students may need some assistance, most of the technology tools they’ll be using are intuitive, and you may be surprised by how quickly students will learn the ropes.

Step 4: Let Students Take the Lead

Remember, the point of digital storytelling is for students to share a narrative and demonstrate their creativity. While it may be tempting to place more constraints on them, try to keep the assignment as open-ended as possible to allow students’ creativity to shine through.

They Are Eager to Do Something Themselves

When you use these steps to guide you, hopefully you’ll find it easier to tackle that first digital storytelling project. While it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, digital storytelling really is an excellent way to get your students engaged with learning and help them improve their creativity, confidence, and many other skills.

Digital Storytelling Tips & Tricks

Also, be prepared for your students to pick up on using the programs more quickly than you may be able to. Their generation seems to have an almost innate knack for technology, and they may even be able to teach you a few tricks.

1. Be Prepared for Bumps in the Road

Whether it is your first time trying digital storytelling in the classroom or your twelfth, there are inevitably going to be technological difficulties and other problems that pop up. Accept that this is going to happen and prepare your students for this likelihood as well. Don’t let them get too discouraged if, for example, the segment of video they just recorded magically disappears.

Difficulties Only Help You Gain Experience

2. Allow Students to Be Creative

As we shared above, one of the main benefits of digital storytelling is that it allows students to be creative. Be sure to give your students enough freedom to experiment and explore so they can share a story in the way they want to tell it.

Digital Storytelling Helps Students to Show Their Creativity

3. Hold Students Accountable

While creativity is important, so is accountability. Many of your students may do well when given the space to be creative and take risks. However, some students may not be able to handle greater amounts of freedom as well as others. Knowing the personality of your students can help you identify which students may need a bit more support to stay focused on the task at hand.

Provide Your Students With Support While Completing the Task

4. Share Presentations

After students have had completed their digital stories, be sure to make time to allow each student to share their work with the class. This is an important way to culminate the process and provide some closure for their hard work.

In Addition, Presentations Teach Students to Be in Public

5. Celebrate Each Student’s Accomplishments

Finally, celebrate the accomplishments of each student. Compiling all the steps and using different technological tools to share a story is a big task. Help students see that you are proud of the time and effort they put into their work.

Your Support and Evaluation Are Important for Students

If you’re looking for other ways to get your students engaged and interested in language arts, consider planning a reading fair and having students create a reading fair board to demonstrate their understanding of a text. If you’d like to learn more about reading fairs and how to set up a reading fair board, you can read this article.

Examples of Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

How can you use digital storytelling in the classroom? While you may think that it is only useful for having students share either a personal narrative or a fiction story, the truth is that it can actually be used across subject areas!

There are Many Ideas for Applying the Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Below are just a few ideas to get you started. Hopefully these will help you start to see just how flexible this tool is and help you think of other ways to integrate digital storytelling into your curriculum.

  1. To share a narrative/creative writing story: This is probably the most obvious use for digital storytelling. Students will use multimedia tools to help them share a personal narrative or a fictional story.
  2. To create a real-life story problem for a math concept: Student can work to create and act out a story problem related to a math concept they are learning. You could also have students add the explanation for how to solve the problem to the end of their video.
  3. To demonstrate understanding of science concepts:You can also have students use digital storytelling to show what they have learned in a science unit. For example, they could create a story about the lifecycle of an animal they study, how water moves through the stages in the water cycle, or photosynthesis.
  4. To create a visual poem: For this task, students can develop motions or a story to accompany a poem and help others really visual what the poet was trying to get across through the poem.
  5. To persuade others by presenting a clear argument: This idea can work well during a persuasive writing unit. Students should create a digital story to persuade others to agree with them on a given topic (such as having a shorter school day, extra treats at lunch, or some other topic).
  6. To recount/reenact an important historical event: After students have learned about a historical time period, they can use their knowledge to create a digital story told from the perspective of a person living during that time.
  7. To personify an inanimate object: This is one that students could have fun with. They should choose an inanimate object, such as a book, chair, or plate, and tell a story from the perspective of that object.

Useful Resources

Final Thoughts

Digital storytelling in the classroom offers so many benefits; if you haven’t given it a try yet, I bet you’re excited to get started! Not only will your students be engaged as they are working on creating their story, but they’ll also be learning as they work!

And, is that what we all want as teachers?

Simona Johnes
  1. I teach second grade. I’d like to try to incorporate digital storytelling into my classroom, but I feel like my students are too young to really get a lot out of it. What are your thoughts?

    • I think you should definitely give it a try. You may be surprised with just how much your second graders are able to accomplish. I’d recommend starting slow and integrating just a few aspects at a time and modeling the different steps you’d like your students to take.

  2. Just finished reading your article and I have to comment, it was an absolute hoot. Your writing style is so engaging, I felt like I was on a wild goose chase with you. The picture you included were also a hoot, and I’m persuadedconvinced that you must have a photographic memory because they were so vivid. Keep it up, it’s a real trip!


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