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Written by: Rachelle Poth

January 29, 2016

How to Use Visual Storytelling in the Classroom

visual storytelling in the classroom

Everybody loves a good story. Whether it is a story you are reading in print, hearing firsthand or retold by another, each unfolds in creative and engaging ways. What all of these have in common is that they are created and presented in a way that is unique and meant to engage the audience.

By infusing one’s personality, individuality and creativity into the story being told, the story takes on a new life. Everyone can have similar experiences; our interpretations of them, however, are unique. Through digital tools, we have numerous possibilities for bringing these interpretations to life.

In the classroom, storytelling occurs on a daily basis. The content delivered to and interpreted by the students is a story. How teachers choose to deliver the content, their presentation style and tools used, can make all the difference in the learning that occurs in the classroom.  

The way that students interpret the instruction and show their understanding can be accomplished in so many unique ways. It can come in the form of assessments, the sharing of experiences that spontaneously arise during the lesson or through interpretation of a class discussion or sharing of projects.

These are the same possibilities that can occur in any area of life, stemming from our interactions with one another and our efforts to express a thought, feeling or experience.

 

Designing your story

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In years past, these stories, essays, reflections and authentic creations were shared using paper and other supplies to create a visual representation.

Today, these options still exist and lead to enhanced student engagement and encourage their creativity. But we now have an abundance of digital tools that can provide these same benefits and also help develop vital technology skills required in today’s world.

Having been on both sides, a teacher and a student, I find that I like working with new presentation creation tools. They give me a greater variety of options and, more importantly, the choice of how to best express my thoughts. I appreciate the variety of choices these tools afford to individuals like me, who are not very artistic, and how they enable us to breathe life into our stories.

 

Project possibilities

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I have always liked having possibilities and the freedom to search for tools that meet my needs and interests. I value this freedom of choice greatly for my students as well. Deciding to move toward more personalized instructional opportunities was one of the greatest changes in my classroom that has led to truly amazing benefits for my students as well as for my own professional growth.

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One of the reasons I look forward to students’ projects is that by giving them a choice in the type of tool to use, I learn a lot about their interests. They have the freedom to find something that engages them and lets them be creative in their own way. They can express their individuality and in the process of learning and showing what they know and can do, they have fun.

 

Great examples for storytelling

There are so many choices available for students to create a digital story. For example, as a foreign language teacher, we cover a lot of themes in our courses. I enjoy having my students complete projects to show what they have learned, but I prefer they select their own method of presentation.  

A few great ways to incorporate visuals through web tools are to have students design a brochure advertising a store or another similar concept covered in class. With so many add-ons available in the template choices, students can create almost anything. I have had students describe their daily routine using visuals, ranging from infographics with a timeline to comics, animated cartoons and much more.


How can students tell their story?

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In my classroom, students often complete a variety of themed projects. Some examples include creating a restaurant scene, a menu, a self-description, a narrative about one’s daily routine and preparing for a special event.  

There are so many possibilities for students to create a visual representation of these topics. In addition to working individually, students can work collaboratively on things like the creation of a travel agency or on a food and recipe project; or they can create websites, videos, animated presentations and more.

While the instructions and the rubric for each of these projects are always the same and have the same requirements, it does not make a difference to me how the students choose to convey their information. There are times when I may give them a choice between four or five specific tools for creating an infographic because that is the format that I prefer and a skill I would like them to be able to have.  

However, there are also many times when I will give them 20 or more choices–ranging from infographics to cartoons, comics, videos and more–because I want them to feel free to express themselves in a way that meets their needs and interests.

 

Examples from my classroom

To give a few examples, in Spanish I, students created infographics to talk about their school schedule and were able to use the various icons, font styles and templates to bring their schedule presentation to life. They also created their own menu for a restaurant and had the same capabilities, regardless of which tool they chose to use.

In Spanish II, where the presentations take on more of a narrative and a lengthier description, some of their work includes describing a daily routine or shopping excursion, and with the newer digital tools available, they can add audio, video and choose from a range of icons and other art that is included; they do not have to worry as much about citing their images because it is an all-inclusive tool. 

visme interface screenshot

Students have also described their city or a city they would like to live in using a cartoon character or an animated comic strip. They have also created videos using their camera and a tool that helps them edit and combine it into a finished product.

In the upper level Spanish courses, where we focus more on communication and collaboration, students have worked together on telling a story using Wikispaces and Kidblog and shared accounts with something like GoAnimate to create videos. It really does help to engage them, and it definitely makes the learning experience more meaningful because they can recall how they chose to portray the information in their own personalized way.

 

How can this benefit your classroom?

So, if you have a project in mind, think about what the requirements are and how have you assigned the project in the past. What really matters is, “what do you want the students to show you that they know and can do with material that has been covered.” Then think about what has been your traditional way of having the students create something. Do you feel, when you look at their final product, that they are mostly all the same? If so, then using one of the digital tools available is your answer.

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Try this: Keep the same requirements but give the students some choices by offering a variety a presentation tools and let them teach you some new things about technology. Also, let them drive their learning, become more engaged and as a result inspire others to do the same.

One thing I have noticed when projects are shared is that in each of the classes, students enjoy seeing each other’s work and having a choice. Another benefit is the relationships that form. Of course, they can go to their teacher, but they can also go to their peers and receive guidance when trying some new presentation tool.

Sometimes students fear new things and are afraid of taking a risk, but experiences that are diverse like this truly help to support students. Digital storytelling encourages creativity; having that choice inspires curiosity and will help to diminish the fear of trying something new.

And finally, it brings a lot of extra diversity and excitement into the classroom. As teachers, we benefit from the extra learning opportunities provided by these tools as well.

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About the Author

Rachelle Poth is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and recently received the Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne.

She enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to advance student learning. Connect with her on Twitter @rdene915.

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