Digital Storytelling


Storytelling is a timeless communication skill that helps pass on lessons and ideas. When a visual component is added, the story becomes alive.  Would Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat be as powerful without the illustrations? 

In this Thing, you will explore Digital Storytelling; an exciting way to engage students in meaningful and creative multimedia projects that can also personalize the learning.

Digital Storytelling is another method for students to meet a variety of content area standards and demonstrate competency.  According to a presentation by Bernard Robin, Ph.D. from the University of Houston, College of Education, “Digital storytelling at its most basic core is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories” and in “general, they all revolve around the idea of combining the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia, including graphics, audio, video, and Web publishing.”  When Digital Storytelling is done correctly, students will experience 21st Century Learning Skills of collaboration, critical thinking, information exchange, digital citizenship and literacy.

The StoryCenter (formerly Center for Digital Storytelling) is known for developing the Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling.  To get a general understanding of the components, watch this video by Paul Iwancio.

In order to adapt these for practical classroom application, three more have been added.  Here are the 10 elements as they apply to the educational setting (Adapted from  and Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling by B. Robin).

1. Point of View 

What is the purpose of the story?  What is the standard or learning objective? This element connects to the content knowledge in a lesson.

2. Narrator’s Point of View

From the perspective of the author (student), what is the learning objective?  How does the student relate personally to the content in the learning objective?  This element embraces personalized learning.

3. Dramatic Question

This is the main focus of the story.  What does the student want the viewer to figure out by reading/watching the story? It should be interesting and is usually answered at the end of the story.  This element builds literacy skills.

4. Emotional Content

Students add their own emotions toward the topic so that they come alive in a powerful way.  By injecting emotions, the audience can personally connect to the story.  This element builds on empathy.

5. Educationally Appropriate

Students should ensure that the content is appropriate to the topic, as well as, use appropriate grammar and language rules.  This element also builds literacy skills.

6. Voice

Students should use their own “voice”.  The textual content should be original using the student’s writing style.  It is also recommended that the audio track is created in a conversation manner using the student’s literal voice.  This element also embraces personalized learning.

7. Soundtrack

Music and sound add another dimension to the story by connecting to other parts of the brain.  Oftentimes a memory is triggered by music or sound which helps the viewer remember the content of the story.  The music should be original but if not, make sure to follow copyright guidelines from Thing 9.  It is recommended that no vocals are contained in the soundtrack because they distract from the focus.  This element helps students practice with digital citizenship.

8. Images

Images are powerful and can help tell the story without text. The quality and type of media (video, GIFs, photos, etc.) needs to be considered as well as the copyright implications.  For more information regarding images, see Thing 13. Students should be encouraged to take their own photos or create original videos.  This element also helps students practice with digital citizenship.

9. Economy

Less is more; a digital story should be 2 to 4 minutes.  This is not a movie, just a short story.   Students should be given guidelines for the number of images and content length because too much can be distracting.  Instead, adding effects like fade-in can increase meaning without including more content.  This element promotes critical thinking skills.

10. Pacing

Students need to consider rhythm and story progression.  The timing of transitions can be critical to the audience enjoyment and understanding of the material.  This is usually the last element because it can be easily altered in the editing process.  This element also involves critical thinking skills

Once students understand the 10 elements of Digital Storytelling, they need to learn the procedure for creating their story.  This process can be broken down into five steps.

Digital Storytelling Process

Step One: Preparation; preparing to tell the story; brainstorming an idea to identify the purpose, audience, and empathy components.  (Elements 1, 2 & 3)

Step Two: Content; conducting research & gathering evidence; determining the connections that the story will make between the content standard and themselves or others. (Elements 4 & 5)

Step Three: Storyboarding; writing an original script and planning the sequence for adding multimedia components. (Elements 6, 9)

Step Four: Creation; create a final product; using digital tools to add multimedia components such as audio, sounds, images, etc.  (Elements 6, 7, 8 & 10)

Step Five:  Sharing; feedback, revising, and  “publishing”.

Stop and Think

Now it’s your turn:  Identify one of your content standards that students could explore by creating their own digital story.  It should be one that involves a bit of the unknown or something that would make an interesting story.


Since creativity is at the heart of Digital Storytelling, the process can be used at all grade levels and content areas.  Besides actually telling a fictional story, the Digital Storytelling process can be used by students to create visual poetry, book trailers, news reports, video biography interviews, public service announcements and so much more. The key here is that the student decides how to “tell the story” as it relates to the content standard.  Personalized learning!   Read Creative Educator’s Six Ways to Implement Digital Storytelling to learn how to connect creativity with content.

Here are some video examples of how teachers are using Digital Storytelling.

Digital Storytelling in the Elementary Classroom 

Oregon Writing Project at University of Oregon:  This digital story emulates the process a 2nd/3rd grade class went through learning how to create digital stories using GarageBand's Enhanced Podcasting feature.  Click on image to view the 5 minute video.

Student News Teams: Letting Students Tell The Stories

Who tells the stories about all the great things happening in your school? See how Michigan teachers Brad Wilson, Greg Vieau (Michigan Center High School, REMC 15), and Mary Phillips (Dudley STEM School, REMC 12E) organize student teams in their schools to let students connect with their classmates and communities through news stories. Open the Student News Teams here for Telling the Story


Digital Storytelling: Explain It In Your Own Words

Having students explain something in their own words has moved beyond just paper and pencil. See how Karen Bosch, an art teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator, at Southfield Christian Schools allows her students to demonstrate what they understand using a wide variety of digital media sources. Click on image to view video (15 minutes)

 Digital Storytelling by Karen Bosch

Tools for Step One: Preparation

  1. Ideas/Topics:  Find a topic that relates to a standard or objective.  Topics can range from personal, fictional, documentaries, and everything in-between.

  1. Research the topic.  Refer to Thing 10 for more ideas.

  2. Organize information. Label and save your multimedia elements into a folder for easy integration in your story. Refer to Thing 7 for more ideas.

  3. Create a document with the source URLs and titles so you can give proper credit for each media element.  Focus on using Fair Use images, sounds, etc. Refer to Thing 9 for more ideas.

  4. Create images or videos to incorporate into the story with apps like ChatterPix Kids (iPad/iOS) and Animoto Video Maker (Android/iOS) and Shadow Puppet Edu (iPad/iOS). Refer to Thing 13 for more ideas.

  5. Create animated characters with app Tellagami (iPad/iOS) and Puppet Pals (iPad/iOS) and ThingLink (Android/iPad/iOS)

  6. Create comics with Comic Strip! - Cartoon & Comic Maker app (Android) Refer to Thing 13 for more ideas.

  7. Create audio recordings with Audacity (cloud based) and SoundCloud (cloud based).  Refer to Thing 3 for more ideas.

Tools for Step Two: Determining Connections - Content

  1. Students develop their Dramatic Question based on their Point of View.  To help, try using a digital mind mapping tool like MindMeister.

  2. Students determine the audience for the story.

  3. Students receive feedback using collaborative tools like those found in Thing 5.

Tools for Steps Three and Four: Storyboarding and Creation

In an effort to save time in the classroom, steps three and four are often combined. Here are some popular tools that can do both:

Tools for Step Five: Sharing

Most of the storyboarding tools also have a method of saving and sharing the end result.  Here are some other tools that can be used: 

Personalize the Learning with Digital Storytelling Choice Boards

Having students create their own Digital Story by choosing the content as well as the multimedia creation tools is the perfect example of personalized learning.  One method of accomplishing this in the classroom is to create (or find) choice boards.  Here is an example:

Lisa Highfill:  Show What You Know Bingo - Digital Storytelling

Stop And Think

Now it’s your turn:  Using your social bookmarking site, create a Digital Storytelling “folder” and save one of these tools per step or modify one of the choice boards.  You’ll be all set the next time you want to have your students create a digital story.


Move onto Connect of Digital Storytelling