National storytelling week: four practical ways digital tools can inspire stories in the classroom

Stories are at the heart of so much that we do and children have an innate drive to create, tell and retell stories. While storytelling is as old as human culture itself and requires nothing more than an imagination, digital tools can help us to tell the stories in new forms, from creating Minecraft worlds to devising animations.

Through working with children in schools on digital aids to storytelling, we’ve discovered some keys ways that digital technology can support, inspire and enhance story work in the classroom. Here are a few suggestions to try.

1. Prompts for writing

We’ve found that film can be a very effective kicking off point for writing and a great way to explore story. The Literacy Shed contains a wealth of short films selected by a teacher and sorted into thematic ‘sheds’ with teaching ideas and activities. Think about how a silent film could encourage empathy, deduction and inference and allow children to use their imaginations to fill the gaps, create backstory and decide what happens next. Try Robert Showalter’s poignant short film The Lonely Robot

origins from Robert Showalter on Vimeo.

Don’t forget about audio, either. There are some great story podcasts that can spark creativity – have a delve through Storynory, for example.

2. Storytelling in different media

Of course, just as different media can offer prompts for writing stories, so they can offer opportunities to tell those stories in different ways. A story doesn’t have to be written in a book.
Film is one of the most appealing options, and Into Film’s ‘six session from story to film’ is a good way in.  We really like Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling, especially number four. It offers the great starting point:
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

How about stories in games design? Games require a special kind of narrative, one which emphasises the importance of cause and effect. It also involves looking at different points of view and the consequences of choice – like a choose your own adventure story. An app like Popplet can help to create a game plot diagram.

Simple animation – try using Adobe Spark – can be very affecting. Just look at these examples from on of the schools we worked with, Hill Mead Primary:

3. Writing in role

Giving children to tell a story from someone else’s viewpoint, offering them the chance to be someone else, almost invariably results in more adventurous – and better quality – writing. They might be an explorer, a sports journalist, a scientist, even Winston Churchill!

Whatever character they choose, they may feel that they can be braver in their choice of vocabulary when writing as somebody else.

4. World creation

Creating and exploring the world of a story can help children to develop more complex narratives and worlds. Think about how they may be able to build, explore and inhabit a world – could augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) be suitable tools to use? We’ve used CoSpaces Edu to help children build their own 3D worlds.

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