It’s our pleasure to introduce a guest blog post by James Taylor, who has been adapting gaming elements (such as leveling up) and applying them to digital storytelling. Thanks, James for a very interesting blog post and loads of great web links and resources which you’ll find near the end – Some of them we’re familiar with here at Digital play but we can’t wait to dip into all the others. Over to you James . . .
When we think of introducing web-based tools into our classrooms, as teachers we often obsess over the technical side of things. We worry about setting everything up, about dealing with passwords, about computers crashing and our students not doing what they are supposed to do.
We are not wrong to consider these things, whether we teach kids or adults. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the reason for doing the activity in the first place, which is for language practice not IT skills. By using the right tools in the correct order, it’s possible to build learners linguistic confidence and increase their technical capabilities, just as you would structure the activities in a traditional, ‘off-line’ lesson.
In this article, I will demonstrate how you can increase the levels of complexity both technically and linguistically in web-based storytelling by using tools that ask more of your students at each stage. This is always prefaced by an offline warm up, which will enable you to connect the digital version to the analogue. If necessary because you don’t have access to a computer room or enough computers for it to be feasible, you could spend most or all of the lesson time with the offline activities and set the online activities as homework.
I should point out that I haven’t included any language activities in this article, instead concentrating on the type of storytelling practiced at each level. In my view, these activities create numerous opportunities for language work and should be used as a resource for generating interesting student created content which can then be mined for learning.
Level One – Mad Libs
Mad Libs is a very basic parlour game popular in North America. It’s based around the simple premise of ‘fill in the gaps’. Players have to choose random words with only a lexical category to help them, and these words are then placed into a short story. The results are often silly and nonsensical, but are very effective in raising grammar awareness, and for our purposes, can serve as a basic introduction to narrative structures. (Read here for a more detailed explanation of the rules.)
You can start off line by using the books or, if they are not available to you, with some Mad Libs you have found online and printed. Give them out to students and let them play around with them, becoming accustomed to the format. You can then take them online where there are numerous websites where they can complete more Mad Libs. If you think they are able, you can even give them the chance to make their own and share them with each other on wordlibs.com.
Below is a list of links that you may find useful at level one of storytelling:
Level One web-links
Level Two – Photo Stories
With photo stories, students will have to start using their imagination. There is no vocabulary for them to rely on and it has a much freer structure. The lack of right or wrong answers means that they can come up with their own versions, although they don’t have to be long, one sentence per picture or less is fine if that is all they can come up with at this stage.
You can begin offline by giving the students five pictures which seem to have no connection at all. In groups they can put the pictures in any order they like and come up with a short story to match.
When you go online, you can start by using the site 5 Card Flickr, in which the students choose five random images and have a space to write an accompanying story, which then can be easily shared. This can then be developed through a host of photograph and storytelling websites, ideally encouraging the students to use their own photos whenever possible.
Below is a list of links that you may find useful at level two of storytelling:
Level Two web-links
Level Three – Comic Strips
This the first activity where the students are really restrained by the conventions of a particular narrative format. In the comic strip, there is obviously limited space for dialogue and a finite number of panels. For this reason, I think it’s a good idea to begin by making them aware of some of the conventions of the format. You can do this by handing out comic strips divided up into individual panels and then the students have to rebuild the comic in the right order. Obviously they all need to have the same strand of comic, whether it’s Garfield, Dilbert or Andy Capp.
There are numerous ways of doing this, one of which is to give each learner a panel each and get them to find each other by doing a mingle. Once they have successfully found the people who have panels from the same strip as them, you can collect class feedback on how they knew they belonged together. This should bring up some areas including subject, style, background art, panel size, other characters present and so on. This should then lead to them having a basic understanding of how a comic strip is put together.
Online, there are many comic strip building websites, where students can create their own mini-narratives, share them with each other and print them for posterity. One example is makebeliefscomix.com, where students can create simple, good-looking comic strips. Aware of its educational potential, they are many resources for teachers on the website, including 21 Ways To Use MakeBeliefsComix in the Classroom, writer prompts and printable handouts.
Below is a list of links that you may find useful at level three of storytelling:
Level Three web-links
Level Four – Storybooks
We have been building the level of narrative complexity as the levels have progressed, and now we take a bigger leap by creating story books. The leap is bigger as this time the students are required to make longer narratives, but they still has the support of images to rely on.
As with comic strips, you could begin by introducing the students to the format of the books. Obviously most learners are familiar with story books, but rarely will they have considered how they are put together. This knowledge becomes important when you have to create one of your own.
To introduce my students to this format, I divide a storybook into two parts, then take the individual pages, shuffle them and give them to two groups. The students then have to follow the narrative and put their half of the story in the right order. Once this is complete, they can look at the completed other half in order to get the finished narrative.
This kind of activity helps warm the students up before they go online and create their own storybook. They become more aware of what is required of them and how they can create their own. Of course, it’s too much to ask them to draw as well as write, at least in the limited time frame in which most of us operate, so a website like storybird.com is priceless. It has a beautiful collection of illustrations available for your to choose from as well as an intelligent, well put together, and most importantly, easy to use interface.
Below is a list of links that you may find useful at level four of storytelling:
Level Four Web-links
Level Five – Animated films
The final level gives students the opportunities to make their own animated movies. By now, having been through the previous four levels, they are familiar with many of the narrative conventions that are used in films as well as comic strips, story books etc, and they’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice their storytelling skills too. Hopefully they picked up some language along the way as well. Now they can put all of these newly acquired skills together in a short film.
Again, you probably don’t have time for the students to create their own artwork, so zimmertwins.com is perfect for allowing your learners to make their own stylish short films while concentrating on the key objective of language. Furthermore, the website contains activities and a version for schools where you can sign up for a teachers account.
By now your students should be comfortable with storytelling, both online and off. Of course, if you wish, you could extend this further by getting them to write their own stories or make their own movies or radio plays. That is when you know that they have reached the highest level of digital storytelling.
Below is a list of links that you may find useful at level five of storytelling:
http://www.kerpoof.com/ – choose the ‘Make a Movie’ option.
Note: This article is based on a course I taught and created with Dan Conyers, a British Council teacher based in Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Thanks to him for his contribution.