Digital Storytelling

My students are constructing digital portfolios as a culminating celebration of their work that will be published and shared with a wider audience than the traditional paper portfolios constructed in the past.

One element of their digital portfolios is a digital story. I was inspired while listening to interviews on Story Corps. I was gripped by the power of the stories shared in these interviews. They were raw, honest and captivating. I remember thinking, “I wish my students knew how to tell stories like this.”

I played several interviews for students and asked them what they liked about the stories. I wanted them to identify the elements of storytelling that were powerful or made the stories more interesting. They identified things like: dialogue, details, emotions, and story structure.

Once they had heard several interviews, I told them they would be interviewing a family member and creating a digital story based on their conversations.

Begin with an Interview

Similar to Story Corps, I wanted my students to begin by interviewing a person in their family and recording the conversation. I directed them to the incredible collection of questions available on the Story Corps website. The questions cover topics ranging from raising children to love and relationships to war. Click here to view questions.

The act of interviewing another person required that students practice speaking and listening skills as they “prepared for” and “participated in” these conversations. For many students, guiding an interview, being an active listener, asking follow up questions or building on ideas share are challenging tasks.

Capturing the Conversation

I had students capture an audio or video recording of the interview, so they could listen to the conversation again as they wrote their narratives. Details can be hard to remember when reflecting on an interview. A recording made it possible for them to pull direct quotes and weave dialogue into their stories. Students had access to the speaker’s intonations and emotions, which I knew would add to the quality of the narratives.

For those conducting online interviews with family members living far away, I suggested using Skype or Google + Hangout interview and screen capture the interview using Quicktime (on a Mac) or ScreenCast-O-Matic on a PC.

For those conducing in person interviews, I encouraged them to use Voice Memo on an iPhone or Easy Voice Recorder (a free app for android).

Writing the Narrative

I explained that I did not want students to tell this person’s life story since digital narratives tend to be short (3-5 minutes). Instead, focus on a moment, event, influential person, favorite memory, special relationship, family home, etc. to keep the scope of the story small and manageable.

Students wrote their narratives on a Google doc to make collaboration easy. During the process of writing they used “technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.”

As they worked I was able to facilitate peer feedback using a Google form (and FormEmailer script). It provided formative feedback so students could “develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Once I had all of the feedback in a Google spreadsheet, I installed the Form Emailer script (check out a tutorial here) and sent them each an individual email with their specific peer feedback.

Now that they have received feedback and revised their stories, students are embarking on their visual component. I wanted them to have autonomy over their technology choices, but I provided exposure to some of my favorite tools.

Favorite Tech Tools for Creating Digital Stories

  • GoAnimate is a “do-it-yourself animated video website” that is super user-friendly. Students can use backgrounds and create colorful characters to tell their stories.
  • Animoto is perfect for pairing pictures and/or video with music or audio to tell a story. Go mobile: It’s also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.
  • WeVideo combines great themes with robust video editing features. Upload images and video then edit the movie.
  • Vimeo allows students to upload videos, add music, edit the look of their videos and share them. Go mobile: It’s also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.
  • iMovie  for Macs or Movie Maker for PCs are both movie editing software that can be used to edit videos. Students can add music, effects and text. Go mobile: iMovie also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. $4.99
  • iMotion HD is a time lapse and stop motion app that drastically cuts the time needed to create stop motion films.
  • Lego Movie Maker is a fun, easy-to-use mobile app that is perfect for making stop motion videos to tell a story. Note: If students want to add an audio component, they need to upload their stop motion into a movie editor, like iMovie, then add an audio file. Go mobile: It’s also available in the app store for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads.

As my students work to create the visual components of their story, I am offering technology trainings during lunch to support them in creating stop motion, editing film and adding audio. It has been an incredible learning experience for me as I attempt to support 170+ students in designing different stories, using a myriad tools, and working with a variety of devices.

As a teacher shifting to the Common Core Standards, I am excited that this project allows me to simultaneously teach narrative writing, speaking and listening skills, editing and revision, strategic use of digital media, and dynamic use of online tools for communication, collaboration and creation!

I welcome comments and suggestions from other educators who have done digital storytelling projects with students. Please share favorite tech tools, resources and/or strategies. I’d love to continue improving my own practice.

Preorder your copy of Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with TechnologyJust in time for summer reading!

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16 Responses to Digital Storytelling

  1. Gail Desler says:


    If your students’ digital portfolios are posted online for public viewing, I would love to showcase a few on the Digital ID ePortfolio page.

  2. Gail Desler says:

    Let me try that again, with both the correct address for the wiki and the specific ePortfolio page –


    • Hi Gail,

      In the next week, I will be writing a blog about my experience in general with digital portfolios. I want to share the bumps and the successes to help other educators. I will definitely be sharing some of my favorite portfolios on my site. I want to contact the students I want to highlight on my site to ask their permission to exhibit their work. Once they are up, you are welcome to link to them as well.

      Take care!


  3. Gail Desler says:

    Excellent, Catlin. I’ll check back on your blog.

  4. Kimberlie McDonald says:

    Hi Catlin,
    I have been following your webinars on Simple K12 and love your ideas and would love to implement them in my 6th grade classroom.
    My problem is this:
    I want my students to use Google docs to collaborate. In order to do this they must have gmail accounts, but Google’s minimum age is 13. Since my students are 6th graders they are not yet 13. How do I get them gmail accounts?

    Thank you,
    Kimberlie McDonald

    • Hello Kimberlie,

      The only way I know of to get around the need for an email address is to become a Google Apps for Education school. If you are a GAfE school, then the administrator of your GAfE account can control settings allowing students to use Google apps without the email function.

      My suggestion would be to talk to your IT person and/or administrator and see if there is interest in becoming a GAfE school.

      Good luck!


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  8. Thank you for another fantastic post. Where else may
    anyone get that type of info in such a perfect means of writing?
    I have a presentation subsequent week, andd I am on the search ffor such information.

    • Hi Sherlene,

      Jennifer Roberts (@jenroberts1) and Kevin Brookhouser (@brookhouser) are incredible English teachers, who are probably doing exciting stuff with writing.


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  10. Sinee says:

    It seems as though many of these tools are not free now. Do you still use any of these tools for students’ stories?

    • Sinee,

      It’s very common for edtech tools to start out free then transition to paid versions. I still regularly use Animoto (there is free version that makes short videos) and iMovie.


  11. Mollie K Brendel says:

    I love the idea with storycorps. The question link isn’t working. Is there some other way to find their questions?

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