Last year, I tried digital storytelling in my ESL classroom for the first time, and it was a great hit. Students put their hearts and souls into producing a good recording and choosing appropriate imagery for their personal stories. This year, I wanted to emphasize story arc more, as it seemed to me where the greatest weakness was. We went through the same process of scripting and creating storyboards, but this time I used examples and showed graphics to describing how to build tension in a story. Some students wanted to talk about a trip they took with friends or family, and planned originally to just show pictures and say what they were. It took some coaxing, but we pulled a story out of their journey, and most were successful.
One striking thing I learned in my teaching this year is that “pretend” is not a common concept that children explore in China. The most children generally pretend here is playing “family” or “house” or “soldier”. No one straps on a helmet and pretends to be a fireman or an astronaut. Across the board, when I asked my students what they liked to pretend as children, they gave me blank looks. Ok, blank looks are fairly common in a Chinese classroom, but still, these were students I had developed rapport with, students who were used to participating in discussions after months of coaching. I prodded, I poked, I inquired in different ways, to see if it was just a language issue. But, nope, no one copped to playing space cowboy.
I made a new friend over this winter holiday. She teaches at an acting school in Beijing, and she told me that one of her greatest challenges is to help the students, who are professional actors, understand the notion of being “in character,” where the actor identifies so well with the character that for a short time, he or she embodies that character. They have had to work hard to even begin to understand “pretending” to be someone, rather than “imitating” someone.
My students weren’t being asked to pretend in these stories. They are real episodes from their lives. The exercise helped them learn project planning, story-boarding, and using the internet in English. It also forced them to work hard in to improve their pronunciation because their narration would be on the internet for all the world to see. Maybe next year, I’ll ask them to pretend when they create their digital stories, and see what comes up.
But here’s the best of the best. I’ve chosen these based primarily on story quality and creativity. I was very impressed with how quickly my students incorporated the notion of a story arc into their creations. I also discussed the importance of detail with them, and it came out. I wish I could share more. Enjoy! And please comment if you have any thoughts you’d like to share with my students. They are really eager to share China with the world, and their stories will give you some insight into the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom.
Ashley illustrated her own harrowing tale of being hit by a bus.
Fish uses dialogue in this cute story about learning to ride a bike.
Maria tells a sweet love story, with cute illustrations that have no attribution. (Sorry, I haven’t conquered the copyright challenge with my students yet!)