Digital storytelling has become an important strategy for educators to use to help students improve writing and thinking skills. Here are tips that will take the process one step farther so that teachers can help students make their stories the best that they can be.

Great stories
Remember that while the finished product is a multi-sensory experience, story is the driving force.  Focus on single events that impacted your life.  Make sure stories possess a “Point” and a “Dramatic Question.” From Joe Lambert, Center for Digital Storytelling,

Two red flag stories: “Sports” and “vacations”
Be wary of these two topics for stories.  If students want to tell a sport or vacation story, they need to focus on a single event that had an impact.  Watch out for the “here’s my baseball season,” and “here’s my trip to Disneyworld.” These often resemble “slide shows” instead of Digital Stories.

Image Selection
Personal, actual photographs always increase the emotional content of the story.  At times, however supplemental images harvested elsewhere become necessary.  Either way, the motto should be “less is more.” One superior image left on screen is always a better choice than a series of similar images.  Remember, the audience needs tome to process the connected meaning between the narration and the visuals.

Movement (panning and zooming): 
Slow zoom out gives an object a sense of place or setting.  Slow zoom in gently focuses the viewer and draws attention to a particular object or person. Occasionally, a quick zoom in can add a dramatic effect that abruptly jerks the audience to pay attention to something on the screen. A pan creates an illusion of a storyboard, revealing information as it coincides with the narration.  One note: most times, a left-to-right pan is preferred.  Use right to left only to create an “uncomfortable” effect for the viewer. 

In most cases, only three different transitions are desirable.  I tell students to think of transitions as punctuation marks.  A cut (or no transition) is like no punctuation, or at most, a comma.  A dissolve (or a cross fade) is like a period.  A fade to black is closest to an “enter” or a new paragraph, suggesting a change in thought or time passing--the longer the black, the longer the ellipsis.

Text as Art
Aside from titles and credits, text on the screen (used judiciously) can greatly enhance a production. Text can be used as the narrative line itself giving a “storybook quality.” Occasionally, text can be used as a caption to coincide with either narration or song lyrics. A more creative approach might use printed words as a “silent” conversation with the voice over, or even a poignant quotation on a blank screen to set the tone or “seal the deal” at the end can be quite dramatic.

Creative Editing
Although story should always be the driving force, judicious use of creative editing strategies can enhance meaning. A “jump cut” can intensify the drama of a situation.  Cropping an existing image and placing it directly after the original creates a jump cut. Cross cutting consists of cutting back and forth between the same two (or three) images to suggest relationships or conflict between (or among) subjects. More complex images may be “recycled” throughout the story, but only showing certain segments of the image.  This give the illusion of utilizing more pictures than actually exist.

“Performing” the story
One of the gifts of DST is the ability to make words jump of the page and dance, sing, moan or cry through the use of voice.  When “rehearsing,” the story should be “performed” and not “read.” Awareness of pacing, inflection, volume, tone, and mood must coincide with, or consciously juxtapose from the image on screen.  A narrator may even need to take on two or more different “voices” within the story.

Music can add great depth to narration.  Choosing appropriate music can be difficult.  Instrumental music is almost always preferred to music with lyrics.  Once again, the primary communication is that of the spoken narrative.  Sung lyrics often compete with the narration, causing confusion for the audience. Clearly, the tempo, style, and genre of music should also be considered carefully.

A story isn’t a story until it’s shared.  In addition to presenting to classmates and teachers, students should be encouraged to post their stories for the world.  YouTube, and  TeacherTube are the most obvious choices.  Another,  “Story Circles” created by the Center for Digital Storytelling offers groups and communication with other “Storytellers.”

Read Jon's lists of additional tools, strategies, and information at

By Jon Orech
Jon Orech is the Instructional Technology Coordinator at Downers Grove South High School in Downers Grove, IL.

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