Digital and traditional storytelling

Workshop information and public resource

Announcement: Jason's new book about digital storytelling and new media narrative in education - Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning and Creativity- is now available for advance purchase.

Go to the book site to read reviews, peruse the table of contents, or purchase the book. Would you like your copy "signed at a distance?" Then contact us to receive a bookplate you can add to the inside cover.

Part I - Storytelling, literacy and learning

Hello and welcome to the part of the digital storytelling website that is devoted to the educational aspects of digital storytelling!

If you are reading this page, you are probably in one of my digital storytelling workshops, or are simply looking for resources about storytelling in education. Whether or not you are in a workshop, feel free to use any materials you find here.

Storytelling in four parts. I have divided my storytelling resources into four parts, each with its own web page.

This is Part I- Storytelling, literacy and learning. This site looks at the nature of storytelling, and how it can be used to advance learning and literacy within educational environments.

If you are attending a workshop, or if you simply want to know more about the many facets of digital storytelling, please read through this web page, as well as Parts II, III and IV:

Taken together, all three parts provide a fairly comprehensive overview of digital storytelling within an educational environment, from the big picture down to the details.

This site is geared toward the classroom teacher. I assume you have limited time and resources to spend on incorporating digital storytelling into your curriculum. That is why I tend to think in terms of low budget projects that can yield high academic returns in a short amount of time.

Feel free to contact me with any questions:

Future Fact

I know only one thing about the technologies that await us in the future: We will find ways to tell stories with them.

The DAOW of literacy in a storytelling environment

Digital, Art, Oral and Written literacies- the DAOW of literacy - are crucial for personal, academic and workplace success in the Digital Age and blend very well in a digital storytelling environment. In my digital storytelling workshops we address how oral and written storytelling, as well as storytelling using digital and art skills, are involved in the creation of digital stories, and how all these literacies and forms of storytelling can reinforce each other. This improves literacy and expression in all areas.

Why is oral storytelling important in digital storytelling?

  1. Because it is how storytelling began and has endured for millennia. It has a history rich in timeless skills, perspective and sense of audience. Good teaching is often a matter of good storytelling. No matter how high tech we become, telling stories to each other orally will endure as one of our primary and most powerful forms of communication. It will always be an important skill to have in the workplace, in our communities and in our schools.
  2. Because it provides a skill set that can be used alone, as well as transferred to the digital storytelling format. Whether you're no tech, low tech or high tech, it informs your digital storytelling practices.
  3. Because video material of people telling oral stories will become increasingly important in digital storytelling. Video material has largely been excluded due to expense and complexity, but this is changing rapidly as digital video gets less expensive and easier to use. Video will present opportunities as well as challenges. The current de facto format for digital storytelling consists of still images with voice-over narration. This format is a relatively flexible, powerful, reflective approach to story creation. As video enters the digital storytelling arena we need to make sure we don't lose these qualities.
  4. Because more and more students will tell stories with media accompaniment. Delivering a PowerPoint presentation is a good case in point. The average audience now expects a blend of media and oral presentation. Therefore, let's spend some of our educational energy focusing on oral presentation to help them be successful.

Why is writing important in digital storytelling?

  1. Because while writing may not be the final product of a digital story, it is the pathway students must take to create it.

    Writing is the primary tool used to plan and create a digital story. The saying "if it ain't on the page then it ain't on the stage" is just as true for digital storytelling as it is for theater and movies. In fact, media production is a great way to engage kids in writing in an authentic way. Anecdotally, I have heard from teachers that students who don't want to write school reports are happy to write video plans and scripts because it is not perceived as "school work." Bottom line: No matter how sophisticated our technology becomes, the future of digital storytelling will involve writing and conventional forms of literacy.
  2. Because the writing skills that students employ in the process of creating their digital stories embrace many aspects of writing that are valued in school and the workplace.

    Digital stories compel students to synthesize creative writing and personal reflection with clarity and organization. In the case of academic digital stories, writing is used to plan, script and create a story that demonstrates content area understanding.

Why is art important in digital storytelling?

  1. Because in a world in which students are required to create websites, digital stories and other forms of new media as part of their school work, art is becoming the next literacy, or 4th R. Thanks to our struggle to use multimedia effectively, the language of art is taking center stage.
  2. Because digital stories are essentially multimedia art projects, shaped by story.
  3. Because no matter what technologies await us in the future, we will try to tell stories with them, and to do so we will need to understand design - the grammar of art.

Why is digital literacy important?

Digital literacy = using technology effectively, creatively and wisely

Our goal in digital literacy is to use technology "effectively, creatively and wisely." That is, we want our students to master technological skills, to use technology as an imagination amplifier, and to see and evaluate technology and its impacts within the larger context of community.

The wisdom we want our students to cultivate is both theoretical and practical. We want them to see and understand the persuasive power of technology and media, especially the power that flies beneath most people's radars. And there is no better way to "pull back the curtain and expose the wizard of technology OZ" than to have students create their own media. This is typically the domain of "media literacy."

Media literacy = Recognizing, evaluating and applying the methods of media persuasion.

Media literacy. Media literacy can be defined simply as "the ability to recognize, evaluate and apply the means of media persuasion." Digital storytelling provides rich "teachable moments" in regards to helping students become media literate. I recommend you make media literacy an explicit goal of your digital storytelling and new media projects. In my opinion, students cannot understand how media persuades until they become media persuaders themselves.

Different kinds of stories and storytelling

This workshop is about storytelling, as well as about digital storytelling.

Committing a bad story to digital media is like giving a bad guitar player a bigger amplifier.

I had a revelation many years ago in a digital storytelling class. As the technology became more powerful, some of my students' stories became weaker. What I discovered was that some of my students were focusing on the power of the technology rather than the power of their stories - "gratuitous technologizing," I called it. That compelled me to hire an oral storyteller to work with my digital storytelling students before we added the technology to the storytelling process. The results in my classroom from using oral storytelling as a form of pre-production was transformational. Everyone's work improved.

So, in this workshop we learn the fundamentals of storytelling first, then focus on how to use technology to support the stories you want to tell in personal, engaging ways. Having a grasp of traditional storytelling will not only enrich your digital storytelling, but it will also allow you to use storytelling in your classroom whether your classroom is high tech, low tech or no tech.

Story mapping vs. storyboarding

Story mapping shows the emotional flow, while story boarding shows the flow of motion.

To encourage students to focus on the story part of storytelling, I use story mapping to map the essential elements of a story, like conflict-resolution, character transformation, realization, and so on.

Story mapping is quite different from the more familiar "storyboarding," which is an excellent planning tool to use to chart the events of a story. But while storyboarding charts a story's events, story mapping charts a story's essence. Both are important, but they do very different things. The story development process goes like this: idea -> story map -> storyboard -> script. A story map typically fits on one page and takes the form of an annotated graphic that shows and explains the essential parts of a story. Teachers like the story map because they can tell at the beginning of student projects whether a story has what it takes to be successful, and challenge students when their stories are weak.

Would you like to know more about story mapping as a story planning tool? It is covered in detail in Part III.

Personal and academic stories

There are many kinds of stories and ways to classify stories. In my workshops, we usually address two kinds of stories: personal and academic. If there is time (which there usually isn't!), participants create one of each of these. If time does not permit, at least you will be able to plan, imagine and/or reflect on how you might create both kinds of stories. These two kinds of stories are loosely described in the following way:

  1. A personal story that involves a personal change or realization. This could be a family story about the value of a childhood experience, a high school reunion in which you reconnect with a long lost friend and finally understand something that happened in senior year that has always plagued you, a story about your life told from the point of view of an name it. It can be anything.
  2. An academic or "unit of instruction" story. This can be a story about any concept, unit or idea from any area of the curriculum, from math to social studies. Of particular interest to us here is combining the immediacy and power of story with reflective practice in the pursuit of content area understanding.

I usually begin with exploring "the personal story" - a story about something that happened to you and changed who you are. From this, you will develop the skills, sense of story flow and emotions connected with creating an original story. Then if time allows we explore the use of storytelling in academic areas.

Can a personal story be an academic story? Sure. That is also addressed in the workshop.

Stories vs. reports - engagement vs. critical thinking

The use of the story form in education is exciting. But it is also problematic. One of the hallmarks of a good story is that you don't really reflect on it, at least not while you are listening to it. A good story is considered "good" precisely because you become engrossed in it and give yourself over to it. This begs the question, "What is the role of critical thinking in the pedagogy of storytelling?"

Alan Kay describes the tension between storing and critical analysis succinctly by comparing theater and political rallies. While they appear very similar in terms of activity and production values, they make two very different demands upon the viewer as learner: theater demands we suspend our disbelief, while political rallies demand we critically analyze everything we see.

Inspirational stories + critical thinking = pedagogy of digital storytelling

Our challenge as educators who want to use digital storytelling across the curriculum is to harness the tremendously persuasive power of the story form through a process that imbues it with reflection, problem solving and reasoned thinking. That is, we must use the story form as a vehicle for learning and critical thinking, while not relinquishing its ability to engage and inspire. As students blend storytelling and analysis, they will have the best of both worlds. And the more that students become producers of stories, rather than just consumers, the more powerful a learning tool storytelling will become. Digital storytelling offers great potential in this area.

Don't think about "story vs. report" in "either-or" terms -- most media projects are some combination of story form and analytical report. Every story is going to be a particular blend of story form and documentary or report, so it's more effective to think about media in terms of where it falls on a continuum:

Story Report

When analyzing media, it's effective to have students identify where particular media pieces lie on the continuum. When planning student media projects, it can be helpful for teachers to identify a point on the continuum that they want students to aim for.

Teachers are more important than ever. As education, entertainment, art, technology and storytelling continue to merge, society will need the help of the educational community to make sure this merger happens in ways that work for everyone. Combining the story form and critical thinking is one of the most exciting and challenging frontiers in this merger, particularly in education and educational research. That frontier will be largely dominated by digital storytelling.

Questions about storytelling in the classroom for teachers:

  • How can you as a teacher use storytelling and digital media in content areas in your classroom?
  • What are the elements of story that a story should (or could) include to be effective?
  • What different kinds of stories are there, and how do they apply to education?
  • When do you use oral storytelling vs. digital storytelling? How do you use them together?
  • How do you combine the essential DAOW storytelling literacies: digital, art, oral literacy, written literacy?
  • What is the role of media literacy - that is, understanding the theory and mechanics of persuasion with media - in teaching storytelling?

What to bring to a workshop

I have moved this information to Part II - Digital Storytelling Technology, Techniques and Resources. Click on the links below to access this information:

  1. Technology to bring to the workshop
  2. Materials to bring to the workshop

Examples of digital stories

Personal stories

Here are some examples of personal stories:

The Gift of the Piano. It's about a teacher who explores the role of the piano in her life, ultimately reconciling forced piano lessons as a child with the value the piano has brought her later in life. Follow the link below to watch the story:

Academic stories

Here are some good examples of digital stories with an academic perspective:

How to make a ball roll. Students put this animation/movie together to show the math involved in getting a ball to roll. Note that the process they captured, which involved documenting a problem they encountered and resolved, gives their project a story flavor. Without the problem-resolution element, it would have been "just a report."

Questions to consider for our workshop:

  1. Is this a story? If so, how?
  2. As a teacher, how would you assess this?

Viewing "How to Make a Ball Roll":

School train. Fourth graders created a video to explain their understanding of the literary concept "metaphor" by comparing going to school with riding on a train.

Questions to consider for our workshop:

  1. In what sense is this a story? A report? Where on the
    story <--> report continuum does this project fall?
  2. Who is the protagonist? Who "transforms"?
  3. As a teacher, how would you assess this?

Viewing "School Train":

Special thanks to Glen Bledsoe (, a computer teacher from Mollala Elementary ( who helped the kids create these.


Combining personal/academic stories, using green screen technology

An example of this kind of story is The Fox Who Became a Better Person, told by Hannah Davis, a fourth grader. It combines the study of local cultural values, while telling a story in "the third person magical," in which the teller speaks through animal characters in the first person while also narrating the story in the third person.

Using the green screen. Hannah's story is also a good example of a particular kind of digital storytelling I call green screen storytelling, or "digitally enhanced oral storytelling," or DEOST. In this approach, tellers tell their stories in traditional oral fashion in front of a chroma background, in this case a green wall, and then add original artwork in post-production using chroma key editing.

Hannah's work is part of a larger project - the Tlingit Native Literacy program in Juneau, Alaska - involving 20 elementary students. Hannah received coaching from Native elders and educators in the process of creating and telling her story. She created all the pictures that appear behind her with simple materials (crayon and 8 1/2 X 11 paper), except for the opening picture of the fox, which Hannah found on the Internet; it is used with permission from CSIRO.

Are you interested in the process I use to help students create green screen storytelling projects? Go to for a step by step pictorial guide to doing a green screen storytelling project in your school. The materials at that website are based on a project completed at Nome Elementary School in December, 2006.

If you are looking for more technical details, then I suggest going to Part III of the digital storytelling site for details.

Right now you have one way to access Hannah's story:

More Stories

The best way to understand digital stories is to experience them. In much the same way that artists will spend days at an art gallery to immerse themselves in artwork -- and writers will read voraciously in order to immerse themselves in the work of other writers -- I recommend you immerse yourself in other people's digital stories. It is a great way to understand the depth and breadth of digital storytelling, and to pick up ideas -- both conceptual and practical -- about how you can tell your story.

Here is a list of a few digital storytelling places to visit:

  1. Center for Digital Storytelling. This is the Mecca of Digital Storytelling. They started the digital storytelling movement and consistently have the best materials and best stories. Spending an evening at their site would bring you fully up to speed on the potential of personal digital storytelling.
  2. Digital Storytelling in Scott County Schools - Teachers' stories. After receiving training from the Center for Digital Storytelling, teachers from Scott County, Kentucky created their own stories. This is a wonderful collection of teacher-told stories.
  3. Digital Storytelling in Scott County Schools - Students' stories. Scott County teachers then taught their students how to create their digital stories. This is great collection of stories told largely by elementary students.

Digital storytelling resources


Check out the following books to broaden your horizons on digital storytelling:

  • Digital Storytelling Cookbook , by Joe Lambert. Arguably the bible of digital storytelling. It is the first book on the topic, as well as the best. A free download.
  • Digit ales- The Art of Telling Digital Stories, by Bernajean Porter. Great overview of skills, philosophy and resources.
  • Telling Your Story, by Jason Ohler. This book has been temporarily withdrawn (7/06) in anticipation of his new book, Digital Stories in the Classroom- A Telling Experience, which will incorporate much of the material found in the book. Target publication date: Spring, 2007.

Stories of Culture and Place


This is a description of the University of Alaska Geography Program's Stories of Culture and Place. Students create and tell stories in traditional oral fashion but in front of a green screen, allowing them to add their original artwork "behind them" in post-production using chroma key editing. Examples are available from the Native Immersion Program in Juneau, Alaska and St. Vincent's Elementary School Program in Cork, Ireland. Available on DVD by contacting Jason.


World of Digital Storytelling

The World of Digital Storytelling , Education Leadership Journal. Through creating electronic personal narratives, students become active creators, rather than passive consumers, of multimedia. They combine oral, written, digital and art literacies as they become heroes of their own learning stories. This article has also been Translated into Spanish. For more information about storytelling in education, visit Jason's storytelling website. Contact Jason if you want to how to obtain a copy of the article. Also, visit Jason's storytelling site for free materials about using digital storytelling in the classroom.


Visual Portrait of a Story

1-page quick reference of the "virtual portrait of a story" (VPS) story map used to map the emotional flow of a story.


Storytelling rubric

A rubric to help teachers assess student work in the area of writing and telling stories.


Digital storytelling
storyboard template

Storyboard templates created specifically for use in digital storytelling projects. They are available in both Word format and in PDF format.


Art the 4th R

Education Leadership article and website that provide the rationale for making art the next literacy. Many educators have used this article to support requests for increased art funding in their schools and districts. It always makes me happy when they do.


"Then What?" keynote

This is the Powerpoint presentation that I use for Then What? keynotes and plenary sessions. Feel free to download it and use it in your work with students and fellow educators.


Clueless to Captivating

Clueless to Captivating: Reflections on the Art of Musical Performance, by Professor Gary W. Hill, Arizona State University. Dr. Hill provides an excellent perspective on what "makes good musical performance." It has tremendous utility in also assessing stories and storytelling performance.