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Digital Storytelling for the Language Learning Classroom

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Storytelling Assignments are Powerful, Fun Learning Opportunities

Digital storytelling projects are a helpful tool in any classroom setting, but because of their communicative nature, they are the perfect tool for language learners. With the staggering number of 25.7 million foreign-born people in the U.S. labor force, English classes are in high demand. Whether you're teaching in a school, university, or community program; teaching ELL, EFL, ESL, or any other language, most of these courses require some form of oral presentation to prove the language goals are being reached. Implementing a creative multimedia project will not only give the students in depth practice of the target language, but will also help grow their technological skills.

Get Creative!

Anyone who has ever been a language learner – young or old – knows that it's a particularly vulnerable position to be in, especially when speaking in front of people. A digital storytelling project allows language learners to express themselves creatively and convey meaning with more than just the spoken word. Through pictures, video, and audio, students can share something that's important to them, all while making a greater connection with their audience. And because there is so much that goes into a digital story, students are required to think critically and reflect, which are great skills to practice in language learning, rather than just drilling grammar and pronunciation.

Self-Expression

Although digital storytelling is not the same as writing, it still allows for self-expression and, in a way, mimics the writing process (brainstorming, planning, outlining, drafting, editing and sharing). Practicing this process through digital storytelling may help students become more comfortable with the ever-daunting area of writing. Digital storytelling projects can be used alongside writing projects to help students see the similarities and differences of the two forms of communication, and possibly make the latter seem like a more achievable goal.

How-to Structure a Long-Term Project

While digital storytelling can very well be used in quick mini projects, it is an excellent option for long-term projects that students work on throughout the semester. Teachers can present the project at the beginning of term and set deadlines throughout the semester so that students are constantly working on it, as opposed to doing it all at once at the end. Here is a process that can be laid out over the semester:

  1. Select an idea for the project.
  2. Research and learn about the topic.
  3. Prepare and write a script.
  4. Create a storyboard.
  5. Compile and create digital media (photos, videos, audio, etc.).
  6. Put it all together in a medium of the student's choosing.
  7. Present the project to the class.
  8. Share feedback and reflect.

Team Work

Digital storytelling also provides many opportunities for collaboration, fostering even more engagement and communication. Students can do the project in pairs or the teacher can require peer editing throughout the entire process. Once the project has been presented, the class can have a question and answer session and provide each student with feedback. The student can then write a reflection on their own project, sharing any changes they might have made in retrospect.

Digital Tools

Digital stories come in many different forms and there are hundreds of free user-friendly tools on the internet for students. For picture slideshows, Slidestory and Smilebox are great websites that allow users to make photo collages, albums, scrapbooks, and slideshows with music and even voice narration attached to each photo. Comic Master and Bubblr let users create their own comic strips and graphic novels – users can choose their characters, add backgrounds, and write the dialogue in bubbles and captions as it would appear in a comic book. For another take on a storybook idea, students can use Zooburst to create pop-up books and get some practice with 3D technology. And with Mapskip, students can use Google Maps to select places on a map and weave together stories about the places they have been. Young learners can create digital puppet shows with Sock Puppet, and draw and animate their own cartoons with Toontastic.

The tools are out there, and with a little exploration and creativity, teachers can show students how to make beautiful stories to the best of their ability; all the while, students are practicing language in a way that's meaningful, fun, and creative for them.

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