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Planning Your Digital Story

Digital storytelling has been in popular existence since the 1960s. Video became popular for telling stories that could be shaped very easily with the video equipment of the time. It was easier, perhaps, to have short films since in those early times, film required a bit of handy-work taping the sections together to make the story complete.

I recall using this type of film in those days and many of the instructors talked about putting together a short film/short story to get started. As a result, short film stories became a specific genre that took about 5-6 minutes of watching time. Awards were given for these short films. In later times, we even had film contests for schools and these films were of this short 5-6 minute length. With my own students, I put together a short film and submitted it to a national competition. We won that in 1981. Many people, not into film, were very impressed that someone would be working in this genre and teaching elementary students to do this. In those days, film was more distant from public creation than it is today.

I kept making short films with students and as the decades passed, film turned into digital form. I had learned a great deal, however, by using slide-by-slide film. It helped to understand how the eye sees/reads moving images. After that a shift from film to digital took place.

I began making digital stories back in the 1980s. It later became a specific genre called digital storytelling. Since that time, short stories have become more and more ubiquitous. The popularity of digital stories has grown.

Digital storytelling is a great space for learning storytelling and the shortness provides a great length for critiquing, sharing, and developing one's skills in this genre.

How to Overcome the Fear of Being a Storyteller

This morning I was investigating the word seanchaidh, which is the Scottish Galic term for storyteller. Finding this ancestral word and learning how to pronounce it led me to exploring alternative words for storytellers. Also, I found seanachi, the Irish name for storyteller. Related to this you can investigate some of my new links on the What Makes You Click? list on the right side of this page. In particular I found Story Lovers World provided a wonderful collection of answers to my inquiry about alternative words for storyteller.

My inquiry would not have been complete without looking for synonyms. I was pleased to see the definition of storyteller on as the "recounter of stories".  However, the synonyms below the definition changed everything. I was shocked! It read:
"Synonyms: allegorist author, bard, fibber, liar, minstrel, narrator, reconteur, writer."
Furthermore the main entry was "liar".  And, the next entry was listed as a "person who tells falsehood". The synonyms were listed as "cheat, con artist, deceiver, deluder, dissimulator, equivocator, fabler, fabricator, fabulist, false witness, falseifier, fibber, maligner, misleader, perjurer, phony, prevaracator, promoter, . . . trickster"  . . . well, I now can understand why not everyone wants to be known as a storyteller. There certainly are a lot of negative connotations to being a storyteller.

Yes, you may have been afraid for your reputation as you become a storyteller. You may have worried about the name calling, "Storyteller!" or if you have had a bit of experience already, whether anyone will ever believe you again once they know you are a confirmed storyteller.

Here's my solution. If you want to be a storyteller, own up to it. Tell everyone you are a storyteller and frame your stories right from the beginning with the words "once upon a time", "many years ago", or "this morning". That way, people will know that you belong to the storytellers-for-good group. Storytelling, my friends, has be maligned and I do not want you to be afraid of being a storyteller-for-good. You, too, can overcome your fear of storytelling by clearing the air of the maligning imagery right from the start of your story. Have fun! Tell stories!

Give Creativity a Chance

Watch this video and think about your own work. You might have decided to not publish a story or not show a video because it did not seem good enough to be successful.  Please keep telling stories and allowing your work to be born, take it's first breath, and live. Don't kill your work just because you think it is ordinary. Storytelling is a journey, not a destination.

Looks like Wordle but there is more

Looks a lot like Wordle in this view but Tagxedo does more. It combines photos with your urls, twitter, and other online materials. As well, the Tagxedo images are interactive, on their site, when you scroll over the image. You can save the image without interactivity as I have done above. The image above was a combination of this url and twitter.
Note: If you post your Tagxedo interactive to Twitter or Facebook directly from their site, you will need to give information directly to Tagxedo. Be sure you want to do that before posting and notice the Tagxedo copyright posted to each of your pictures. Follow the link to Tagxedo to experiment

A Perfect Day in Winnipeg for Creating a Movie

The remake of the Little Drummer Boy by a Winnipeg high school student demonstrates good transitions of multiple layers. Notice the drum layers and transitions with visuals. Although some may have been accidental, they layer with the visuals to create subtle points of beauty. Look at the movie with the sound turned off and then again look away from the screen with only the sound on to discover more transitions.

The weather cooperated that day, too. We all woke up to a wonderland of snow on every tree. I went out to take photos as well. Some are posted to Twitter.

Writing Fairytales with Adolescents your writing exercises can take adolescents back to their childhood. A closer look at literature from their youth can  inspire adolescents to begin writing. They often feel confident reading their own short fairytale to younger students. It can be very motivating.  Examples of sites that can support your research toward this work are:

Children's Literature Web Site
This is a database for children's literature including extensive information on illustrators and authors.

National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature
This  organization’s website highlights the work of prominent children’s literature illustrators, includes biographical information, and showcases student work.

Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota
This site is a collection of research on children's literature.

Mazza Collection, University of Findlay, Findlay, OH
This site promotes interest in children’s literature. A visual tour of famous picturebook illustrations is fascinating.

Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books
This site includes over eighty thousand notable children's books. Books are classified in three ways: (1) the Osborne Collection of books published to the end of 1910; (2) the Lillian H. Smith Collection of modern notable titles; and (3) the Canadiana Collection of materials.

Perry NodelmanThis website of Perry Nodelman includes information about his children's books as well as theory related to children's literature - including feminist and critical literacy perspectives.

The Children's Literature Web Guide
This website features resources for parents, teachers, storytellers, writers, and illustrators. In addition, it has a variety of different on-line book discussion groups.

The Sur la Lune Fairy Tale Pages by Heidi Anne Heiner
Presents the history of specific fairy tales and classic illustrations.

So How Do You Script Animal Talk?

 Take a look at this video. It is very interesting to see how closely the dog's mouth appears to be saying the words of the narrator.

So, how do you do that? Find a talking dog? Train your dog to talk? Better yet, train your dog to move it's mouth on cue? The technique is a lot simpler than these suggestions. First begin by noticing an animal that moves it's lips or body in such as way that it appears to be engaged with the camera, yourself, or someone/thing you are filming. I use my goldfish since his mouth moves, and "he" looks toward me when I move close to his tank.

Record a short scene. It is not usually necessary to work hard on the action or direct the animal. From that short movie, imagine what the animal could say and script it according to the lip movements. Say the words into the mirror and observe your own lip movements, if that helps. Then fill in the response dialogue that could be made from yourself. Look for a good story ending that involves the animal reacting to the story or situation. Finally, record your human script and sync it to the actions of the animal. Voila! Talking animal. See more examples on YouTube.
PS- The dog in this movie does not really talk. ;-)

Some examples from BBC are available here. (Warning: Some content may be questionable for certain student school-based audiences. Always preview before showing.)

The Power of Words

This short YouTube clip explains, in simple terms, how words can influence the impact of a message.

The Main Character of Your Digital Story

Many digital storytellers begin by telling their own story. This is an excellent way to start. Write about what you know. That way, you can focus on technique, voice, and view rather than the subject matter. Next, you might go beyond your personal story and look to the land you live on. For example, if you lived in Winnipeg you could make your story about the many events that have happened on that site. Many resources are available. A historical site such as this one by George Siamandas - The Winnipeg Time Machine - provide ideas that can be constructed into a storyboard on iMovie or Movie Maker. Take your camera out to the current site to record scenes. I prefer to use a 10 hour battery and make a continuous shot over an entire day. That way, everything that you see will be on your disk. Look for copyright free materials that can be integrated into your story and ask permission to use materials for your final cut.

In my experience teaching digital storytelling, I have found that having students start with their own story is both rewarding and provides the best on-ramp to initial success.

Wordle: Your Textual Utterances Become a Form of Art

Wordle is one of those helpful intermedial tools that brings words and images together to clearly signify the transmediality of literacy and literatures. Many teachers are using this tool in a variety of ways. For some, it is helpful for demonstrating the idea that text itself is image. For others, it is helpful for teaching the connection of text to the visual arts. For decades, the two items of literacy, text and image, have been separated as distinctly different rather than being intermedial. Sometimes text is so highly privileged over it's accompanying images that we forget that text itself is made up of images.

Further, Wordle can help one to recognize one's emphasis on particular ideas, demonstrated through the repetition of words. We all use repetition in one form or another to make our message. Through recognizing that we repeat words and seeing which words are repeated, students can be encouraged to think metacognitively, to think about their thinking. Try Wordle (click) yourself and see what happens. The following image is a Wordle of this blog. Click to make the following image larger. Alternatively, you may click on the blog title to see my gallery of images.

3D Storytelling

The most interesting part of digital storytelling is its embodiment as a 3D act. We feel our stories. We experience our stories. We are our stories. According to Thomas King, that's all we are -- stories.
Many of the oral storytellers in our circle have moved to digital storytelling, to engage their listeners in the images of that oral tradition. We have shared our stories using movie making while we narrate the story. We have told the stories using animated characters, too. Sometimes, we have used Alice (see link on the right side for download) and sometimes we have experimented with Muvizu (See link for download). These new ways of sharing our stories have provided some added context to our stories, especially when we are communicating across cultures and over the Internet. Try them out.

Surprising Narrative "Device"

Introducing students to narrative devices is an important lesson in digital storytelling. In an ironic turn, I have also found that "device" goes beyond the linguistic to include the electronic. Your own Twitter posts, for example, might become a type of narrative, especially when you are on a trip and incidentally (or purposefully) using your Twitter account to narrate your journey.

I have decided to call these narratives "twittarratives" since they are unique. Twitarratives don't always make sense as a stream of consciousness without some Twitter experience. To make sense to the story reader, they sometimes require some contextual knowledge shared by writer and the reader; and, in some cases, require even some connectivity context to be understood/read as a narrative. I see a number of digital storytellers trying out these twitarratives, trying to gain access to a storyline that generates interest. Share your own twitarrative with me at It will be interesting to see if this device is working for your digital storytelling.

Avatar Wins Golden Globes

What a wonderful visual impact this movie provides. I'm pleased to have seen the movie and to know that the images were as rich as I had hoped. Every second is an eyeful of interesting visual images. The mirror images that can be drawn from this in our own digital storytelling will be phenomenal. We should appreciate that this film was void of sexual inuendo - instead, a true love story. Sorry, to say good-bye to Sigourney in the movie.
Truly, I wore my 3D glasses on and off during the movie because, at times, my self position was into the movie rather than in the movie theatre. Don't miss this winner.

Video Poetry Digital Poetry

In the next few months, I will be engaging Canadian poets in a collective exploration of video poetry in Canada. Our group of video poets in Manitoba hope to share v-poetry with other Canadians. It will be an online gathering of v-poets and celebrated appropriately, online. I'm letting you know now that the event will take place in soon (date TBA) so you can get ready to share online by preparing your poetry now. The cost to you to participate online? Nothing. All you need to do it prepare a 3-6 minute video poem that you can share. More details to come.

Digital Storytelling Poll 2007 - 2008

Well, the results are in. The poll from this blog during 2008 generated a gain in digital storytellers from 2007 to 2008. There was a 120% gain in the number of digital storytellers from last year to this year. As well, there was a significant gain in awareness of digital storytelling - more than 200% gain in digital storytelling awareness. Most of the digital story "viewers" expressed interest in creating their own digital stories.

What does all this mean? Certainly, this means that there is an increased following and participation in digital storytelling. It also suggests that it is becoming easier to deal with the technology, so authors can focus on the story itself. It has been interesting to hear from readers of this blog and find out that the audience for digital storytelling is wider than one might think. Here is a list of 10 reasons for creating digital stories synthesized from my blog readers' responses:
(1) family memories
(2) extraordinary events
(3) deep sorrow (e.g., death of a loved one)
(4) deep love (e.g., first kiss)
(5) business improvement (e.g., organizational conference focus)
(6) personal improvement through digital portfolio (e.g., the story of my career)
(7) love of pets
(8) personal expression (e.g., poetry)
(9) professional writing in multi-media for business
(10) news release (e.g., family news and events)

May you all have a wonderful holiday. I wish you a Happy New Year in 2010!
Thank you for your comments and suggestions. - Karen Smith


Although our students have been writing their own original video poetry and telling their own digital stories, it has been interesting to come across an entirely different project called Poetry Everywhere and see that traditional poetry reading is kept alive through this Internet site.
I would not have noticed this site except for a surprising connection. On my way to the Winnipeg Jazz Festival to hear Wynton Marsalis, I decided to look up Wynton's most recent recording. I was surprised to find that Wynton doing an oral reading of Yeats on this site. It was a great find and one that I wanted to include on this blog. Enjoy. Also look for Robert Frost, Emily Dickenson and others.
Where do you find stories?

Sometimes starting a story is the hardest part. Taking a story walk is a way that I've found helps as a story starter. First you take one student on a walk around your classroom or playground and stop every few feet, then begin a possible story about something that happened to you both regarding the first object you see. Take turns with different students until the process is fluid and imaginations are activated. Next assign a story walk for homework. It's an interesting way to engage students in their home environments beyond using electronics and television.

What is digital storytelling?

The entry into digital storytelling is not isolated to one genre. Even the examples included on this represent the entry as originating from a variety of digital story telling types such as: video poetry, e-portfolios, oral story telling and film stories.

Your Story - Your Identity Framed?

All we really have are stories. We tell them to describe or frame what happened, to position ourselves, to identify our character amongst the narratives of life. When we tell our stories, however, they swirl off into the other oceans of stories that surround them. It is difficult to frame your identity through a story because the temporal nature of stories leaves no one without a listened that affects the identity of the teller.

Consider for a minute, the Terry Fox story. This story has been around since the early 80s. Terry Fox's story was told by him in the media and the media told, retold his story. As he became a folk hero for disability, Terry's story and therefore his identity shifted through the telling and retelling. Can we ever frame our own identity through story? I think not.

Storytelling explodes with digital genre

There is not doubt that storytelling has taken on many new facets since it entered the age of social networking. Online centers for social networking have emerged into the public eye. Check out this interesting example at