Digital storytelling in the language classroom

Picture created on Wordl from this blog post

Picture created on Wordle from this blog post

My initial thought when Digital Storytelling appeared on my course schedule was that this was something I had tried myself a few times before, but had a generally skeptical attitude towards. I have therefore only tried it once in the classroom (this fall with my vg1 class), and I did not find it to be a great success at the time. Although, after learning more about Digital Storytelling  in my masters module, I realized that if I were many things I could have done differently and that there is a wide range of possibilities waiting for me to explore!

What is it?

Digital Storytelling is a way of creating multimodal stories. The learner often tells his or her story by writing a short script (150-300 words), record their reading of their scripts, arrange a series of still pictures, and finally adds music or other sounds. These stories are suppose to be fairly short (2-3 min), and it has become a modern way of telling stories by mixing the classical way of writing stories with the digital world. In the same way as the traditional stories, there are some aspects that are expected to be included. In this context, the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) in Berkley, California has developed the 7 elements of Digital Storytelling. I think these show the main aspects in an excellent way, so here they are, along side of some of my own thoughts:

7 elements of Digital Storytelling

1)   You need to determine your point of view. What is the main perspective and what is the purpose of your story?

2)   Focus on a dramatic question – a key question and focus that keeps the viewer´s attention till the end.

3)   Add an emotional content. I don´t interpret this to mean you should aim to make your viewers cry, but choose something that is important to you or an issue that allows the audience to connect with the story.

4)   Add the gift of our voice. This is an excellent way of personalizing the story and a great way of practicing pronunciation for ESL learners.

5)   One should not underestimate the Power of the Soundtrack. A great way of setting the tone or mood of the story is to add appropriate music or sounds to support and embellish your spoken words and pictures.

6)   Economy. Not in a money-sense, but the trick of using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer. “Quality over quantity”.

7)   A step that also needs work is getting the rhythm of the story right. Remember not to rush and keep pacing in mind.

You might also be interested in seeing an interview with one of the founders of the Center for Digital Storytelling, Joe Lambert. Here you can listen to what has to say about the history behind and the affects of Digital Storytelling.

Reflections on previous practice

At this point in writing my blog post I realized that what I did with my class this fall was not at all Digital Storytelling. It was simply a digital presentation and a photo story of a text already written! The real reward and educational benefits lye in making personal stories! In this way DST walks hand in hand the learners´ 21st century skills (ref. to my previous re-blog post about the desired skills of todays learner). (LINK) I believe DST done in the proper way can play a significant role in promoting the learner´s effective oral and written communication, his or her curiosity and imagination, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving. In addition it can promote the learner´s both digital, visual and technological literacy.

Therefore, what I have learned and will do differently next time is:

1)   Each student should work individually (not in groups of 4 which is too many people and someone easily becomes a passive participant).

2)   I must give a more thorough introduction at the beginning of the project to make sure everyone is clear about the desired outcome

3)   Everyone should write his or her own script (short, 150-300 words) and work on pronunciation (however, they should probably record the audio at home where there is more peace and quiet than in the classroom). I even felt like I learned quite a bit myself from hearing my own English pronunciations when recording the audio for my Digital Story (even though I hate hearing my own voice and still find it puzzling that it sounds so different in my head…). It also puzzles me at this stage why I made voice narration optional for my class! This struck me in particular when reading about Normann´s research on DST in the English subject where the students themselves highlighted the benefits of working with a tool where they can work on improving intonation and pronunciation.

4)   Make clear assessment criteria together with the students. We did this last time too, but because DST was fairly new to me as well I think it can be done more proficiently, clearer and more precise the next time around.

My conclusion is to give Digital Storytelling another go after the mock exams are finished this spring. I have no doubt that DST can support the development of the students´ reading, writing and speaking skills, as well as of course digital skills. Perhaps all the basic skills in one way or another? As Balterzen says: “By keeping this in mind, perhaps it will be easier for teachers to take the time and try using DST in their own teaching ?» (my translation). Personally, I particulary take with me the belief that everyone has a story to tell, and the fact that we all see, hear and perceive the world in different ways, makes creating digital stories in school even more exiting!

Finally, here is a picture from the process of making my own digital story about Michael Morpurgo´s “This Morning I Met a Whale” – from the whale´s perspective. I used Flicr to find the pictures, iMovie for editing, and the same program for recording the audio.

PS: I also updated my list of “Undervisningstips” with some links to useful DST resources that I hope will come in handy (at least for me) sometime in the near future.


Balterzen, R. (2012). Wikibøker: Digitale fortellinger i skolen. Retrieved February 2014 fromøker:Bøker/Digitale_fortellinger_i_skolen_(versjon_2012)

Normann, A. (2012) Digital storytelling i engelskfaget. Del 2. “Blir det læring av slikt da?”. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from

Robin, B. (2014). The 7 elements of Digital Storytelling. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from

Utdanningsdirektoratet. Kunnskapsløftet LK06. Grunnleggande ferdigheiter i engelsk. Retrieved 27 February, 2014 from

Wikipedia: Digitale historier. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from


4 thoughts on “Digital storytelling in the language classroom

  1. When I came to this part in your blog post: «It was simply a digital presentation and a photo story of a text already written! The real reward and educational benefits lye in making personal stories!», I thought: «YES, you’ve understood it, Lena!». This precise point has also been my personal agenda for all the eyars I’ve talking about and preaching the benefits of DST. Creating digital stoires is so much more than combination of pictures, text and voice-over.

  2. Hmmm.., isn’t there a way to go back and edit a comment? Rereading my comment above, I now discover several spelling mistakes. Doesn’t look good! Anyone who knows how to edit a comment?

  3. Tilbakeping: Lena's (soon to be) digital classroom | Multer og multimodalitet

  4. Tilbakeping: Lena's (soon to be) digital classroom | Tankar på tampen

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