Teacher Consultant

Pen Campbell

St. Joseph High School
St. Joseph, Michigan

Third Coast Writing Project

Best Practices

  1. Index cards are our friends: Scripts for digital stories are short – usually anywhere from one-half to two double-spaced pages. And while sometimes writing that started life as a longer essay can be effectively shaped into a digital story script, it's good to recognize that writing for digital stories is a genre in itself, and contrary to some students' first thought – shorter is seldom easier.

    Focusing the lens in tight from the beginning, giving students an effective prompt and a 3 x 5 index card on which to respond to it, can help. I tell them – grudgingly – they can use both sides if they have to. Of course few really accomplish the whole of their script in such narrow confines, but it gets the idea across.

    Effective prompts for personal narratives often focus on moments of epiphany or important people in students' lives. Short, persuasive pieces such as Public Service Announcements are good because the task naturally focuses itself on an easy-to-define purpose and audience. And truly – if being a reader supports becoming a writer, as we know it does, more students have spent many more hours "reading" commercials than reading text. They know the genre, and it provides an excellent stepping stone for written persuasion.

  2. Read it back: A successful digital story is more about writing than about visual images. The images serve the writing, but the writing is for the ear, not for the page. So when drafting, it's especially important to read aloud and to hear the script as it develops. When I work myself on a script, I work more as I do on poetry: write a little; read it aloud; write a little more; read it from the beginning, adding the new lines.

    I suggest this method to students, and when I conference with them, I begin by reading their script to them, often pausing to read alternate possibilities for lines. In these possibilities I might tighten the language or unsnarl syntax a bit.
  3. Figurative language isn't just for the page... and it's not just for language: Digital stories are a great genre for exploring the idea of visual metaphor, for going beyond the simply illustrative visual image of hearing the word "daffodil" in the voiceover and seeing a daffodil on the screen.

    Including a requirement in assignments that digital stories contain at least one visual metaphor encourages students to think more deeply about not only scripting and imaging, but about audience as well. Images must be chosen that the audience will "get" instantly. In an excellent example from a high school senior's digital story about her sometimes competitive relationship with her older sister, the voiceover declared, "If we were completely different, I reasoned..." as the screen showed an apple next to an orange. Later in the digital story she admitted, "I wanted to be irreplaceable," and the screen showed a gorgeous sapphire and diamond necklace.

    Viewing and discussing examples of such visual metaphors and creating original ones in their own work encourages critical thinking in students and connects readily with other learning tasks: developing effective figurative language in written works, examining propaganda techniques, and studying media literacy, just to mention a few.