How Elementary School Students and their Teachers Tell Stories in the Digital Age

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“Once upon a time” by Steve Czajka is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Parents, children, grandmothers and grandfathers are sitting around a campfire, a table or a hammock, telling stories. I paint this picture in my elementary school classroom each year as we discuss that people have been sharing stories, passed down from generation to generation, since the beginning of recorded time. Whether narratives were humorous, frightening, heart-wrenching or informative, listeners were engrossed.

We’ve come a long way since the days when the stories were told exclusively orally, then later in writing. Today, we can choose from an ever-increasing number of technology-based mediums to tell our tales. And they add to the magic. The glitter. The passion. There is something about the ability of students to use technology to tell their stories that changes the game.

After introducing Skype to my students eight years ago, they posed a question. We had concluded a terrific conversation with Robert Kimmel Smith, the author of The War with Grandpa, and they asked me if they could publish their own books. “For real!” they exclaimed. I gave it some thought. Why should these nine year olds have to wait until they’re grown up? So, I did a little research and found a terrific website that would allow them to do just that. Publish today!

Book Publishing

Storyjumper allows students to write and design their own stories. It’s easy to use and my students took to it right away. Kids are given the flexibility to decide on all of the elements, from the graphics or photos they’d like to use to the color schemes to the text fonts. One of the favorite extras is that as the pages turn, audio of page turning emerges. It makes it feel like a real book.

After completing our books, we invited parents in for a writing celebration, and I informed them that they had the option to purchase actual hardcover copies of their child’s project. My students were beaming as their parents issued a collective gasp (true story).


We were hooked. This writing project was a huge success. Students put in a great deal of effort, knowing that the end result of the project was going to be a tangible product that they could send digitally or hand to family members to read.

The site continues to offer new and exciting options. Paperback versions are now available, and students can even download copies directly. The Storyjumper version of digital storytelling allows for collaboration as several students can work simultaneously on one text. Click on the image below to see a sample, written by a former third grade student

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Over the years, since our first digital publishing experience, students in my classes have told their stories using several other websites and apps, each offering its own advantages.

Voiceover Project

While StoryJumper allows for publishing that appears like a book, Voicethread allows students to tell stories with their own voices, drawings and even videos. My students have used Voicethread to create digital stories — drawing pictures by hand and inserting them into a new project. After finishing  the writing process, they practice their speaking skills and then complete their voiceovers. Voilà! One digital story is then completed.

A bonus with Voicethread is that viewers may comment on each other’s work via text, video or audio. I’ve seen time and time again that when students know that their classmates and parents will comment on their work, and are cognizant of the fact that there is a wider audience than solely their teacher, they tend to take more ownership of their projects.

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Mini Movie

One year, for our Persuade unit of study, students created trailers with iMovie, using powerful music to accompany video and text and argue one side of a case. Our class had a Skype session with Nixiwaka, an Amazon Indian from the Yawanawá tribe of Brazil.

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After an intense discussion, in which he shared his experiences encountering wildlife and of seeing the Amazon vanishing around him, my students were inspired to take action. They made trailers to convince the audience to save the rainforest. 

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This experience fits into the discussion of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Global Goal 13: Climate Action and Global Goal 15: Life on Land. More on that in a future post.

Simple Video

The most recent addition to my classroom repertoire is Flipgrid. The best part about this website and app is that it’s incredibly simple and straightforward. I showed my eight-year-old students how to use it, just once, and they immediately took over. After writing a paper book about birds, each student recorded what he/she learned about the bird. From Black-Capped Chickadees to Hummingbirds, students spoke about their life cycles, habitats and more. Flipgrid gives teachers a clear picture of what each student has learned from a research project.

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Teacher Storytelling

The examples I’ve given so far have focused on student-created projects. But keep in mind that digital storytelling is a terrific way for teachers to tell stories to their students, or to their professional communities. Microsoft’s Sway is an easy-to-use presentation program that offers templates and inspirational examples. Text, photos and videos are presented in a smooth and engaging format. For a quick tutorial, click here.

I’ve used Sway to share information about my professional experience in advance of speaking engagements. Students can use them for their own digital stories as well.

I could go on and on about the value of using digital publishing in the elementary school classroom. And I promise to add more in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I suggest giving just one of these projects a try. I’m confident you’ll be happy you did.