Digital Storytelling in the Language Classroom

Digital Storytelling is a creative way of making multimodal stories. The fact that it is digital allows learners to find new ways of narrating stories. A digital story combines images, text, and sound. The learner often tells a story using a digital voice recorder, arranges a series of still pictures, and adds sounds or music. However, there is no key or correct way of doing it, although some guidelines may be of help. Bull and Kajder (2005) propose seven elements that a digital story should include:

  1. A point of view
  2. A dramatic question
  3. Emotional content
  4. Economy
  5. Pacing
  6. The gift of your voice
  7. An accompanying soundtrack

(p. 47)

In terms of point of view, the digital story very often takes the personal ‘I’ instead of, for instance, the third person singular, and Bull and Kajder (2005: 48) urge not to diminish the “power of personal expression”. A dramatic question could function as a “hook” to capture the viewer as it tries to evoke emotion from the viewer. In terms of economy, a digital story should be short and not exhaustive. It is important to keep up the pace in order not to lose the viewer’s attention. Students record their own voice in their work which gives a sense of personal ownership to their product. Music and sounds are helpful in making the product multimodal. An important aspect is not to overuse the modalities. Sometimes less is more.

Digital storytelling is a great way of working with a second or foreign language. Students are autonomous and creative in the process of producing text. Digital storytelling could also work well when engaging students in collaborative writing processes where students produce different parts of a story. The learning process is flexible as students could choose which semiotic resource to lay emphasis on. For instance, different sounds might function as a dramatic element in one digital story, whereas the voice of a narrator per se might be sufficient in another. Gregori-Signes (2008) argues that Digital storytelling could be seen as a new view on more traditional ways of learning: “In terms of both oral and written narrative, EDS may demand from the student the use of a wide range of stylistic devices such as bringing into play different registers (formal, informal, jargon, slang […])” (p. 44) (EDS= Personal-Educational Digital Storytelling). Digital storytelling is therefore an alternative and efficient way for students to test different genres, and to play with language. Digital storytelling could also enhance students’ oral language skills, considering the fact that they record their own voice, and listen to their own recording.

In one of my earlier blogs I discussed a new study, indicating that some 32 percent of student view their own ICT habits as an impediment for their learning processes (Simenstad 2014, cited in Vattøy 2014). I argued that disabling the WIFI as a measure is not a good idea, and that it, in fact, is like swimming against a waterfall – it will not take you anywhere. Instead, I argued that classroom management is the single most important factor. Teachers should not remain indifferent, or obtain a Laissez-faire attitude, but instead use digital technologies when learning processes may boost from it. Robin (2008) argues in the same line with regard to Digital storytelling, writing that: “[…] young people [will] continue to use emerging technologies in their personal lives, even if a large number of educators have not yet found ways to meaningfully integrate them in the classroom” (p. 221).

Normann (2011) found that students respond positively to DST as a way of varying the working methods. All of her research participants “reflect[ed] on the oral aspect as an important learning outcome […]” (p. 59). One of the perks by DST is the recording of students’ voices as opposed to the transient quality of an oral presentation. Normann (2012) uses the story of Julie, who struggles with anxiety in terms of giving oral presentations in front of a full class. Through Digital Storytelling, Julie becomes more confident and secure, since she can make recordings over and over again until she is satisfied. However, DST is also a way of working with written competence (Normann, 2011), and producing digital texts.

I was amazed by how many different ways there are of telling a story when we presented our digital stories in class. We were assigned to produce, assemble or choose a relatively short manuscript (approx. 150-300 words) to a story. We were not told what story to tell. Some students used excerpts from novels, whereas others wrote their own. One student made own drawings to illustrate. Pictures and sounds should have a Creative-Commons License, ensuring the author’s rights. I chose to write a fairy-tale type of story. I got the idea from Burnett’s (2001) The Secret Garden where a robin redbreast plays a part in embodying nature. I decided I wanted to write about one of his adventures. Here is an excerpt from the script I wrote:

“Little Robin was a cheeky little fellow. He lived deep in the woods of Old Pine High with his family and friends. The competition among his friends was sometimes very fierce. Still, the worst nuisance was a group of crows. They would eat all the food, leaving nothing to Little Robin and his friends. Big Sam was a malicious crow. He would sometimes shriek noisily when catching insects and worms during the day. This would scare other birds off. He was a lot bigger than Little Robin. And with such a great and nasty wingspan it was hard to come anywhere near the good spots for hunting. Little Robin returned empty-handed several days.” (Vattøy, 2014, Manuscript to DST).

Here are some screenshots of the working process. As you can see below, I used Audacity to record the narrator’s voice. Audacity is a free software for recording sounds and music:


Windows Movie Maker 2.6 was used when editing the digital story. In the screenshot below, you can see the project file:



Bull, G., & Kajder, S. (2005). Digital Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(4), 46-49.

Burnett, F. H. (2001). The Secret Garden: 1911. Infomotions, Incorporated.

Gregori-Signes, C. (2008). Integrating the old and the new: Digital storytelling in the EFL language classroom. Revista para Profesores de Inglés, 16-11.

Normann, A. (2011). Digital storytelling in second language learning: A qualitative study on students’ reflections on potentials for learning. (Master’s Degree), NTNU, Trondheim.

Normann, A. (2012). Det var en gang ei jente som ikke ville snakke engelsk. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier: refleksjon for læring- (pp. 185-198). Oslo: Cappelen Damm AS.

Robin, B. R. (2008). Digital storytelling: A powerful technology tool for the 21st century classroom. Theory into practice, 47(3), 220-228.

Simenstad, L. M. (2014, January 23). Elevene mister konsentrasjonen. Klassekampen.Available at: [Accessed: 26.02.2014].

Vattøy, K. D. (2014, Jan. 25) Disable the WIFI? Like swimming against a waterfall [Online]. Available at:  [Accessed: 26.02.2014].


5 thoughts on “Digital Storytelling in the Language Classroom

    • I think the different modes of working really enabled me to be creative in various ways. I thought writing the story was a lot of fun, particularly since I worked with a different genre than I normally write. Finding the best photos was also very creative, and I felt how the story changed its shape, so to speak, as I tried out with different photos. Recording my own voice was a very reflexive process. It is strange to listen to your own voice, but you become more aware of your own storytelling skills as well as pronunciation.

      • I am glad tour story has a happy ending! What do you think had happened to the story if you replaced the birds in the photos with – say – people?

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