Using Digital Storytelling in Language Classrooms


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Digital stories for ESL classrooms. Image by Vancouverfilmschool

ESL: Language Learning or Computer Skills Training?

Teachers are often reluctant to incorporate new technology into their classrooms because they feel that less language learning time is available. If teachers began using digital stories, would language learning take place or would more time be spent honing computer and creative skills? I posed this question as well.

What aspects of a digital storytelling process are emphasized depends how a given project is structured.  The ESL teacher can set up a process that emphasizes the story circle, script writing, and voice-over recording, or one that emphasizes the video production process and visual treatment of the stories.  Ideally, the computer-based activities should promote self-efficacy in terms of enabling ESL students to practice and improve specific skills. 

Part of the project planning should focus on setting parameters that make the project manageable (i.e. limits on script length, limits on number of images, identifying simple software that runs easily on the computers that are available).  The ESL teacher should have support if the group is very large or if she/he does not feel prepared to support the video editing aspect of digital storytelling.  Digital storytelling is only successful when the technology does not get in the way of storytelling.

Digital Storytelling –  A Worthwhile Language Class Activity?

Overall, for ESL teachers do the benefits of digital storytelling out weigh the cons? Is it a worthwhile activity to persuade teachers to use in their language classes? These are questions every teacher will have to ask in regards to their class, but Andrea Spagat explains the general perspective:

Digital storytelling can be a worthwhile activity to use in the ESL classroom under the right conditions.  Language teachers need to possess the varied competencies required to carry out effective digital storytelling workshop processes, including the ability to support a group process, the ability to work with students one-on-one and as a collective, on honing scripts and visual treatments for stories, and the ability to manage the technical aspects of video production. If teachers are prepared, digital storytelling can be a deeply rewarding exploration of experience and language for students, enabling them to stretch their spoken and written English language skills in immediately relevant and profound ways.  ESL students have a rich trove of experiences to reflect upon and to share; often, they have first hand experience with the raw edges of a very quickly changing world, and their stories are instructive to all of us.”

ESL Classroom Tool for Teachers

Digital stories can be used to  help enhance communication skills, because students ask questions, express opinions, and construct narratives in a foreign language, but more importantly – students work in areas in which they have chosen specifically to focus. In addition, since digital stories appeal to students with diverse learning styles, ESL teachers should be looking into how to incorporate them effectively into their language classrooms.

Many thanks to Andrea Spagat for taking the time to answer questions on this interesting topic!


Robin R. Bernard. The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling. (2012). University of Houston. Accessed December 20, 2012.

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