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TILE-SIG Feature: Digital Storytelling

 | Jan 27, 2012

by Janice Friesen

Digital storytelling is a great way to help students become fluent readers and to be proud of their writing. It allows students to develop their writer’s voice while listening to their physical voices. These are the goals of my Digital Storytelling after-school class for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, and it is great fun. Here is a sequence of six to eight sessions that we often follow at our school to create digital stories.

Day 1: We begin with their writing. In the first session, students choose a piece of writing and practice reading and recording their stories. These are only first audio drafts. The goal is to give them a chance to hear their own voices and to learn how to make and save an audio file. At the end of the session, we listen to each other’s recordings and notice what worked and what did not. 

Day 2: During the second session, we start collecting pictures to use in their stories. I encourage children to find, take, or draw approximately 10 pictures. At our school, we have laptops, and students learn to find pictures in a safe way on the Internet. One search engine that’s great for locating appropriate pictures uses the Safe Search filter from Google. I also introduce their teachers to important copyright guidelines. If students choose to draw their own pictures, we love the creative drawing tools at KerPoof Studio

Days 3 and 4: The next sessions are working sessions. Everyone will be at a different stage in their writing, finding pictures, or recording their voices. We have mini lessons on topics when there are lots of questions. At this stage, it is important to keep in mind that there are multiple ways to record a digital story. 

  • If your computer has a built in microphone, students can record their voices directly into the computer.  Often, these built-in devices are not of the highest quality, but they will definitely work.
  • A second option is to use an external microphone that you plug into the computer. This works much better and there are many possibilities. A microphone with a headset is a great idea, as it allows listening and keeps other sounds out.  
  • A third way students can record their voices is with a digital recording device or a Smartphone with a free or inexpensive recording apps such as Audacity or QuickVoice. These devices often work well. However, the audio files students create then need to be imported into the computer, so this third option requires a few additional steps. You can learn more about how to create high quality audio recordings at

Days 5 to 8: Somewhere around the fifth session, I introduce the idea of putting all of the pieces together into one movie. Using Windows Live Movie Maker, I show them how to open the program, import their pictures, video and voices, and then put in transitions, titles, and scrolling credits. A few students understand many of these steps the first time, but most benefit from at least two or three different explanations before they can accomplish these tasks independently. Occasionally, we run into some challenges when our Internet connection does not work, but when that happens, I have found the following ideas work well to use the time effectively - even when the server is down:

  • Have the students practice their fluency skills by reading their stories to each other.
  • Use the time for them to do a digital drawing using a program like Paint that they can use in their stories. Save their drawings onto a thumb drive so that they can be put into their folders on the server when it is back up again.
  • Pass out a storyboard and give them time to plan which pictures they want for their stories. You can find great examples of storyboard templates to share with students at
  • Use the time to teach them the basics of Movie Maker. Challenge them to make a simple movie using the sample files found on the computer. You can find a short overview of Movie Maker at or a more comprehensive tutorial at Then, young children may later incorporate these additional movie-making skills into their digital writing toolbox. 

Following this type of sequence means that in six to eight sessions, the students will have created digital stories that give them a powerful writing voice while also being able to demonstrate the skills they have learned. A collection of finished stories from our own sessions can be viewed online at our school’s video gallery. Overall, I have found that even though the process can be unpredictable, the skills that students learn and their growth as writers make it all worthwhile.

For more information about Digital Storytelling, you might enjoy the tips and examples outlined in Digital Storytelling: Expanding the Potential for Struggling Writers, by Ruth Sylvester and Wendy Lou Greenidge, reprinted from The Reading Teacher and found online at Reading Rockets.  

Janice Friesen is a self-employed teacher in Austin, Texas. Her business I’m not a helps people to be successful using technology. Her searchable blog offers tips for successful use of technology. 

This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association's Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).



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