Digital Storytelling for Younger & Older Learners


Digital Storytelling & Young Learners 

Picture this:

…a teacher holding up her laptop or tablet and a circle of children listening to her and following the digital images of her imagination, completely absorbed in the world she has been weaving for them through her narration.

Now Picture this:

…a teacher holding up a book and reading a story to her pupils.  The image is the same, it’s just the technology that changes, and books were new technology in the history of mankind, too, not so many centuries ago!

reading ten little zombies aloud - to two little boys - MG 1064.JPG
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight

Storytelling & Language Acquisition

Much has been written about the importance of storytelling; bedtime stories form a part of our first contact with books, with language, as well as forge bonds between parent and child, storyteller and story listener, both engaging in a type of communication that goes beyond the narrative itself.

Very wisely, teachers of young learners, have been replicating this model of learning in young learner classrooms around the world.

Stories help children acquire…

… language
… values
… knowledge
… cultural identity
… cultural awareness

Stories help children develop…

… cognitive abilities
… oracy and literacy
… numeracy
… ability to concentrate
… auditory ability
… multiple intelligences
… critical thinking
… creative thinking

Moreover, all this is done naturally, in a way that appeals to the child echoing the process of L1 acquisition when stories and images play such a strong part in developing language skills.


Storytelling & Educational objectives

Storytelling and story creation cover a wide spectrum of educational objectives. In the revised Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive domains, creating appears at the very top of Higher Order Thinking Skills and remembering – according to this taxonomy, appears as a Lower Order Thinking Skill. Even in Bloom’s own ordering. In the original  model creating did not feature but instead “Synthesis” was mentioned a higher order thinking skill which is very much an alternative way of describing creative thinking.

With the exception of ‘analyzing’, which is perhaps not suited to young learner classes, I would suggest that by using story telling activities which lead to storymaking by the learners,  you satisfy most of the educational objectives shown in Bloom’s taxonomy* – both lower and higher order cognitive domains.

Even if ‘remembering’  and ‘understanding’ are seen be at the lower order end of the cognitive abilities scale, they are equally important and vital in the process of learning anything; recalling language and concepts is a necessary building block for language acquisition.

By engaging your learners in digital storytelling activities you take care of more than just language forms; you also integrate the language skills in a most natural way.

  • Listening to stories can very naturally lead to story telling
  • Reading stories can equally naturally lead to story writing


Storytelling and making appeal to our affective domain as well – we connect with other fellow humans and to the collective human experience through storytelling

And, finally, by engaging your pupils in digital story telling activities, you are not only helping their language acquisition processes but also preparing them to be digitally literate and more successful 21st century learners .


Digital Storytelling & Adult Learners

Picture this:

You are talking to a colleague at work – first thing in the morning while having your coffee. There was this young man standing in the queue in front of you on the way to work and he was wearing the strangest outfit; his hair was dyed blue and he had five rings on every single finger. He was breathing hard, as if he had been running, and then he turned around, looked at you straight in the eye and said….

Instead of writing it, the pupils can record it using Voki as in the example below. They can use their own voice to record the story, or, they can choose to type the story in and let it be read by one of the avatar voices included in the site! This can be a good first step with them recording later, once they get the hang of it.

A ‘cliffhanger’ story – the students can record part of it using their own voice or the digital voice and the class can try to guess the rest of the story; the ending can be recorded by the pupils by making their  own voki (example follows) or, alternatively, this whole activity can be done using Voicethread (again an example follows in the second part of this post)

We feel compelled to tell stories.

We tell each other stories every day of our lives, stories meant to help us connect, stories that echo our friends’ stories which makes us feel closer to them, stories that amuse or stories we invent – literary would exist without this strong human need.

Stories are a major part of how we communicate and how we teach – often, they are more powerful than direct instruction. They seem to reach parts that lecturing or direct instruction often are unable to!

Narrating & Adult Communication

Whether learning English on a general purpose course or on a specialist language focus programme, narration is an important part of developing fluency.

Personal narratives or anecdotes can motivate adults to produce long turns, to sustain talk for longer than the disjointed fragments of question and answer conversations common to a language lesson.

  • They can be rehearsed and satisfy the adult learner’s need for meaningful and motivating controlled practice
  • They provide more concrete evidence of progress to the teacher (and the learner herself/himself)
  • They are great for homework which can be recorded digitally in some way – adults are more likely to be motivated by this time of homework assignment.
  • They can build the basis for great presentation skills, which seems to be a skill more and more in demand in a world of online conferences, google hangouts, product presentations and online tutorials uploaded on you tube.
  • They can form the basis of good report writing
  • They can help the adult user establish and maintain better personal and business relationships with other L2 users.

Stories help adults with …

… language
… cultural awareness
… social awareness
… motivation
… oral & written fluency

Stories help adults develop…

… confidence
… social relationships
… ability to sustain talk or writing
… ability to concentrate
… auditory ability
… multiple intelligences
… critical thinking
… creative thinking

Some tools for digital narration

There are too many tools to include in just one post. Digital narration/storytelling is truly worth exploring and to that end I have included some great links for further exploration at the end of this post.

Example 1 – with Voicethread

In this Voicethread, the image  serves as a prompt for prediction. The learners record their version of the story before they hear the teacher narrate what actually happened

The image/prompt is a Word Cloud, another great tool which can lead to  written or oral narration. The students study the phrases, attempt connections, create episodes and sequences before they embark on their own story.



Comment:  The students could equally well be asked to write their own version before they hear or read the original story; thus the prompts can lead to speaking, writing or both

Example 2 – with Creaza 

A story animation created with this tool to show how you can use familiar themes with a twist to get adults to narrate. The story of Little Red Riding Hood has been used as an example as it was rewritten by American humourist James Thurber in 1932

N.B. The original version can be used with younger learners (though that one is pretty scary too 🙂


Creaza is great in that it contains wonderful collections useful for a variety of stories set in the modern world or historical eras (ancient Rome, Egypt etc) as it is designed for schools, so teachers can find lots of material there,

You can find more ideas on how to use this type of animation – or similar ones that you can create with, GoAnimate or other similar tools, by reading a previous blog post of mine on Animating  Stories 

In my original post, I used Jing a free screencast tool – to capture  the story animation and to record my voice narrating it, something which the students can be shown how to do

One old favourite tool which was pulled out of the market, Xtranormal, is now being redesigned and it is planned to come out in December this year – this time it will be called nawmal and there will be a less pricy educator edition.


An earlier version of this post was published in the TESOL EVO Digital Storytelling for Kids Blog in which  I was one of the moderators along with Shelly Terrell, Michelle Wogan, Davig Dogson, Ozge Karaoglu and many other great colleagues. I have revised this somewhat for the purposes of its appeal to teachers of older learners as well as young pupils.

The ‘digital’ aspect of storytelling is not a must to make a storytelling lesson a great success, although some of the tools – if available – will create an enhanced experience for younger and older learners alike, and may motivate further.


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6 replies

  1. Hello Marisa! This is probably my favorite of your articles. Very insightful. I love that storytelling transcends cultures, though methods of storytelling vary. I’ve been working on a project to help stimulate storytelling for teenage and adult English language learners and native English speakers. It focuses on interaction between the storyteller and the listeners. I’ve also been experimenting with incorporating slang words as well. Have you written about English language learners learning slang? Thank you for the article! Sorry I’m a bit late to the game as it was written in March 🙂

    • Hi Alyse and thanks for commenting. I am even worse than you – caught up in work and have neglected my blog a little 🙁

      Have you written anything about putting slang in the stories? Would love to read it.

      All the best


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