Digital Stories for Conceptual Understanding

I teach an integrated class of English Language Acquisition-Humanities in Grade 6. In our first unit, we use digital storytelling as a medium to assess the students’ conceptual understanding in Humanities. In this unit, the students expand their understanding of how time, place and space (key concept) shape and give meaning to their identity (related concepts). Hence, the statement of inquiry for this unit is:


The time, place and space we live in shape and give meaning to who we are.


Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Throughout the unit, the students inquire into what identity is and how it is formed. After exploring this concept, the students use their understanding to look at the lives of various influential figures (e.g. Malala, Steve Jobs) and how these people came to be who they are or were.The students then take a look at themselves and delve into their own identities. Through looking at their own memories and interviewing relatives, the students identify what has influenced them to become the people they are today. It seems only fitting to finalize the unit with the students telling their own stories about their identity.

This is a unit that I have taught many times in its various forms, and the digital story that the students create is definitely one of the highlights that come up in the end-of-the-year reflections. The reasons for it being memorable vary. They go from enjoying the opportunity to look back at fond memories, to the challenges that producing and publishing a video entail, and the sense of achievement that comes with that. Purposefully, one of the ATL skills chosen for this unit is selecting and using technology effectively and productively (Self-management – Organization skills).

One of the key aspects we communicate to the students right from the start of the project is the importance of focusing on the content first. Without good, meaningful content, the most dashing, effects-studded video would not meet the purpose we are working on. To assist with this, we break up the process into the investigation itself (content – How has time, place and space shaped my identity?) and the digital story making stage. To scaffold the students’ efforts on both stages, we as teachers provide:

  • Structure: We have various graphic organizers that we give the students that will guide them and help them with different tasks. Some of these organizers are optional (others are part of the assessed work). All the organizers and the student work are in a location shared with the teacher, either via shared notebook on Evernote or OneNote. This structure allows us to follow individual students’ progress and to give them timely feedback (audio recorded, written, conversation).
  • “Sandboxing” time: Our students have a wide range of abilities in terms of video making skills, so we set aside time that is dedicated to explore and play with whatever app the student has chosen for making the video. There are some basics that all the students should be able to do in order to create a video, so the first sandboxing sessions are focused on those (adding images and video, adding text, adding a voiceover, adding background music, adjusting the volume of the background music). Once those skills are learned, the students can work on other aspects they would like to learn related to video making. During these sessions, many student “experts” volunteer time and help other students.
  • Action plan and checkpoints: Given the number of tasks that need to be completed in order to successfully achieve the goal of this project, we start the process with a basic action plan that highlights the major required tasks and their due dates. Then, the students are asked to add any other tasks/due dates that will help them better organize themselves. This action plan also includes checkpoint times where the students will have opportunities to self-evaluate their progress so far and to have a “feedback chat” with peers and teacher.

In my experience, most of the students enjoy crafting their digital stories and gain experience in time and project management, collaboration and self-management, all in addition to being able to communicate their conceptual understanding.  So, without further ado, here is an example of a digital story created by one of my students last year.

Joanna’s Digital Story


Featured image by Reuben Juarez on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Digital Stories for Conceptual Understanding

  1. I really love the idea of sandboxing time. Many of the teachers I work with grow frustrated with tech projects as they slow things down and it seems like students are on task. So often it’s because of the assumption that students are comfortable with the tech skills we are asking them to employ. Thanks for the fabulous account of your experience with digital storytelling. This seems like a project that you will continue to use with your students. How has it changed for you over the years? Has technology changed to make things easier? Have you seen an increase in student skills from class to class?


  2. Our digital story unit has seen lots of changes throughout the years. It started with it being a digital story about a mini-bio of the students, then it was about the bio of a person who has had a significant impact in their lives and how they did that, and finally, it became what I shared in my post. The changes mainly came from changing the concepts chosen for the unit. In all honesty, the previous versions of this unit were a bit lame, mainly because we had not chosen the best concepts that really led for deep thinking and connections. I love the unit as it is now because I can see how the students really delve into the concepts. In terms of tech skills, it varies. The students who come from G5 in our school, generally speaking, are more skilled than most of the brand new students in the class. I think our next step is to evaluate the options of apps that we make available to the students for this project. I think we are really lacking in that area.


  3. This sounds like the perfect unit to combine with digital storytelling and I really love the fact that you start with the importance of content. I have seen so many good ideas swallowed up in the act of creating a visually stimulating presentation that ultimately falls flat because there was no content to begin with. I also like the idea of an action plan as it gives clear checkpoints and scaffolding to students who might otherwise become lost in a big task.


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