From Storytelling to Digital Storytelling
Throughout human history, stories have been used to share ideas, opinions and experiences. Stories are used for a variety of purposes – to entertain, to educate, to illustrate concepts, to provide moral guidance to inspire change – in all social activities in every industry. Indeed, this innate ability and desire to tell and share stories are tendencies which make us human.
Consider how you interact with others on a daily basis. You tell anecdotes, share events and experiences, and use stories to illustrate your ideas and opinions. We even tell stories when we give advice.
Storytelling is used for specific purposes too. Film directors use stories to make us feel and think. The media uses stories to explain and analyse events. Companies use stories to promote their products. Academics use stories to explore concepts and abstract ideas, which is one reason why storytelling is such a vital pedagogical tool in the ELT classroom.
We can use stories to present, study, practise and produce English in context, ensuring our learners practise all four skills and increase their awareness of grammatical, lexical and phonological features of the language.
Until recently, most stories used in the classroom were taken from published educational materials (course books and ELT materials). Published materials, however, do not always engage and interests our learners as the content is often too general.
In the 21st century, things are very different as there is content available online which meets the needs and interests of every learner. What is more, people can now create and publish their own content.
What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling can be defined as the use of digital tools to record audio, graphic images and videos in order to create stories.
Most of these digital tools are readily available to teachers and learners: digital recorders, digital cameras, mobile devices, tablets, laptops and desktops. If you do not have a classroom connected to the internet, these devices can still be used offline to record audio and video, although you might decide to put them online later.
What types of digital stories can be created in class?
There are several ways to create digital stories:
The simplest form of digital story is an audio recording. Add music and sound effects to create mood and enhance the emotional intensity of the story. If you are a podcast fan, then you probably know about Serial.
A slightly more complex form of digital storytelling is to combine audio with text and/or images. Slideshow presentation software (Powerpoint, Google Slides, Prezi) allow for special effects (visual and sound).
Digital cameras and mobile devices make it easy to record talking head videos, so learners can tell a story while looking into a camera.
Finally, there are a number of video editing tools which can be used to combine moving images, text, music and audio narration to create short movies.
Do you need to be good with technology to create digital stories?
Now, you may be thinking that this sounds like a considerable amount of work or that you do not have the technical skills to create digital stories. However, creating digital content is easier than ever before. Digital recorders and cameras are easy to use and there are many simple apps for audio and video recording.
And, why do educational professionals need to master these digital tools? After all, our younger learners are ‘digital natives’, who have grown up with the internet, mobile devices. computers and tablets. Technology has always been a significant part of their life and younger people are often far more comfortable using digital technology than those of us who are termed ‘digital immigrants’. They are the experts, not us.
This does not mean that our role as teachers is less important than before. On the contrary, digital tools allow us to focus on helping our learners develop their linguistic and storytelling skills. Our learners can now tell their own stories in English and our role is to guide them through this process.
Some simple ideas for digital storytelling in the ELT class
Raising awareness activities: Use audio and video stories to present new language and analyse grammatical, lexical and phonological features of English.
Skills Practice: Learners listen to audio or video recordings of stories with transcripts to improve their pronunciation. When they are ready, they can record their own narration, focusing on stress, rhythm and intonation.
Audio or Video anecdotes: Learners write, rehearse and tell personal anecdotes which they can share. You can create a feedback template so students can assess each other on key aspects, such as delivery, speed, volume etc.
Slide presentations: Learners write stories and find images to illustrate the plot. Then, they create slides to accompany the stories Finally, ask them to record their screens as they tell the story while flicking through the slides.
Short film projects: Learners can write the script for a short film and then act it out themselves. All they really need is a smartphone. Video editing software can be used to increase production values.
Chain stories: Each section of the story is created by a different member, pair, or small group in the class. For example, in Lesson 1, each group writes the beginning. In Lesson 2, each group passes their beginning to another group who write the middle section. Do the same with the final part and then return the stories to the group who wrote the first parts. Then, each group can create use digital tools to present their completed story.
In my experience, all English language learners, young learners and adults, find digital storytelling activities stimulating and beneficial to their language learning. The sense of accomplishment they feel on completion of a storytelling project does wonders for their confidence too.