Welcome! This site will provide an informative, in-depth look at the application StoryboardThat, including practical applications and suggestions for use in the language learning classroom. So let’s get started!
What is StoryboardThat?
StoryboardThat is an online application that allows users to create their own digital storyboard by choosing from a variety of background images, characters, and text types. The following review will discuss both the free version, which gives account holders access to the basic Storyboard layout with 3 or 6 cells, the ability to create 2 storyboards per week, and limited printing and downloading capabilities, as well as the teacher version, which ranges in price from $9 to $14 per month depending on the number of students one has. The teacher version of StoryboardThat gives users access to multiple storyboard layouts, the ability to create assignments and manage student accounts, as well as access to a variety of pre-created activities, lesson plans and resources that are ready for classroom use. Both versions of StoryboardThat are currently only available through the website (https://www.storyboardthat.com/) on Mac or Windows devices (laptops, desktop computers, or tablets). See link below for more pricing and purchasing options: https://www.storyboardthat.com/purchase
StoryboardThat is essentially a digital storytelling application that teachers can employ to help language learners develop vocabulary and grammatical accuracy, gain a better understanding of how to organize their ideas in their L2, and showcase their background knowledge and unique experiences. Christiansen and Koelzer (2016) describe digital storytelling (DST) as “the process of creating a short, emotional, and compelling story through the combination of different technological modes, such as images, music and sounds, video clips, text, and/or narration” (p. 2, emphasis mine). Such an approach can have a drastic positive impact upon students’ literacy skills in their second language (L2), as DST pushes students to develop text organization and critical thinking skills, much like traditional writing, but with a significantly larger variety of modal options in which to present their stories.
Thus, DST can be viewed as an enhanced process approach to writing. As Castañeda (2013) points out, the DST process is “creative and cyclical, as stories are revised, edited, and revisited several times, with established steps that move the author from concept to completion” (p. 46). The StoryboardThat application is particularly well suited to the process approach, as the creation of a storyboard takes students through several steps of the writing process, including idea generation, planning, and drafting (Walker & White, 2013, Loc 1814). Teachers then have the option of allowing students to continue through the writing process using StoryboardThat to create their final digital story product, or to combine the use of this application with another type of application (for example, a video making tool) with which students can produce their final text, such as Biteable, PowToon, Moovly, etc. Regardless of whether StoryboardThat is used as a planning and drafting tool or the medium through which a student engages in the entire writing process, it is imperative that students are encouraged to “discover their own voice,” allowed to “choose their own topics,” that ample teacher and peer feedback is provided, and that in the end, the student’s writing becomes “the primary text of the course” (Matsuda, 2003, p. 1).
Learner Motivation and Engagement
Research also shows that when technology is incorporated meaningfully into classroom activities, students’ motivation and overall language performance often increases (Jonassen, 2000). DST is no exception to this trend; in fact, because DST “usually provides students with authentic scenarios suited to their personal experiences, [it makes] the content seem important and valuable” (Yang & Wu, 2012, p. 342). Multiple studies have found that using DST as a mediating tool to help students learn English enhanced students’ extrinsic motivation to learn the language, as they felt that creating a digital story allowed them to use their L2 in a more meaningful and authentic way (Yang & Wu, 2012; Liu, Tai, & Liu, 2018). In fact, in a study of 64 sixth-grade students in Taiwan, Liu, Tai, and Liu (2018) employed a DST approach with the students, and found that motivation was linked to the amount of creative freedom students were given when constructing their stories, and that more creative license led to increased levels of language production, thereby increasing overall achievement scores.
Frame by Frame: Creating with StoryboardThat
StoryboardThat is fairly intuitive and easy to use. You can create an account with your email and a password, or you can link your StoryboardThat account to a variety of other applications, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Office365, ClassLink, and Clever. Once you have created an account, you can immediately begin creating storyboards by choosing from a wide variety of background scenes, characters, and text options that are all customizable, and if you have access to the Teacher version, you can even import images and audio into the application. The video below, available through storyboardthat.com, provides step-by-step instructions for how to create a storyboard using the application StoryboardThat.
StoryboardThat is well-suited to use in the language learning classroom, as it does not require any repurposing to serve as a useful mediating tool for the creation of multimodal stories and organizational graphics in the L2. In fact, with the purchase of the Teacher version of the application, users gain access to a large number of teacher-created lesson plans, graphic organizers, activity ideas, and examples of student work in a variety of subjects, including English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, and Foreign Languages, any of which could be easily adapted for use with English Language Learners.
The Create-to-Learn Paradigm: Transforming Traditional Education
Integrating a digital storytelling application such as StoryboardThat into the language classroom can help students develop critical thinking skills, improve student motivation, and even increase reading and writing proficiency as learners participate in the cyclical writing process through a digital medium (Liu et al., 2018). Of particular interest to educators is the potential for growth in overall L2 proficiency, and several studies of DST applications in the L2 classroom have found that DST is particularly suited to the create-to-learn paradigm, which includes pedagogical tasks that allow students to use existing material in the L2 to scaffold the creation of new language by the students themselves (Vasudevan, Kafai, & Yang, 2015, as cited in Liu et al., 2018). This means that novice learners of English could choose from the many pre-created StoryboardThat templates and modify the storyboard to make it their own, rather than beginning completely from scratch. The create-to-learn paradigm is well-suited to pairing with the process approach to writing, as it stresses student creativity and participation in the production process, completely altering the learning-as-acquisition experience and exchanging it for a learning-as participation one (Sfard, 1998, as cited in Liu et al., 2018). See the Augmentation and Redefinition examples in the SAMR Model applications section below for initial ideas on how to integrate activities within the create-to-learn paradigm into the language classroom.
SAMR Model Applications
As can be seen in the SAMR model examples above, StoryboardThat can be utilized for the creation of independent digital stories as well as collaborative works. Students can either work together to create a storyboard on the same device or collaborate digitally by using different devices to work on the same storyboard simultaneously (although the latter option is not available when using the free version of the application).
Activities for Language Learners
I will now present a series of connected DST activities using the writing process approach within the create-to-learn paradigm. These activities could be used in the language learning classroom to help students develop multimodal literacy strategies, as well as simultaneously enhance their speaking proficiency. These activities are intended for high school ESL students at an intermediate level of English proficiency, but they could easily be modified to accommodate different age groups and/or proficiency levels. The following group of activities, which combine to form a DST project, address the modification level of the SAMR model.
After a unit on sports, the students will create their own story about a sporting event. As outlined by Yang and Wu (2012), students will follow the four phases of storytelling: 1) pre-production, 2) production, 3) post-production, and 4) distribution (p. 340). These phases are very similar to those outlined in the writing process approach by Walker and White (2013), which include idea generation, planning, drafting, composing, editing, and revision (Loc 1814-1823). During the pre-production phase (also known as idea generation or planning in the writing process approach), students will create a story map using StoryboardThat (modelled after the map by Yang & Wu, 2012, p. 341) to organize their ideas and prepare to write their digital story. See the sample graphic organizer below for an idea of how this story organizer could look.
After completing their DST outline, students will move into the production phase of storytelling, also known as drafting and composing within the writing process approach. The use of a story outline or map will “[scaffold] students in the process of creating a logical structure for a digital story” and in next stage of the process, students will collaborate to write and create a storyboard, “further [enhancing their ability] to interpret the meaning of specific visual, audio, and textual features within the context of a cohesive and plot-driven structure” (Yang & Wu, 2012, p. 348). In other words, the process of planning and creating a digital story in their L2 will help students develop digital literacy and language skills simultaneously.
During the creation of their storyboards, students will be encouraged to focus on enhancing and enriching the meaning behind their stories through creative use of images, sound, positionality, etc. Throughout this process, the hope is that students will “become entranced by the power of their own voices and their own images,” promoting a sense of ownership and dignity regarding their digital story creation (Rance-Roney, 2008, p. 29). This sense of the importance of students’ work is further enhanced by the fact that they can publish their finished digital stories to the web, reaching a much wider audience than merely their teacher or their classmates. However, before the final digital storyboards can be published (distributed), students must complete the last production-related step of post-production, or revision and editing, as it is known within the writing process approach.
To complete this step, I have decided to employ a unique peer-editing approach in which students create an alternate version of their storyboard with absolutely no dialogue, and then trade with another group to see if they can attempt to reconstruct that group’s story without dialogue. The idea is that each group’s story plotline should be fairly clear through only the images and contextual cues they have used. The students will be allowed to ask each other yes or no questions (much like 20 questions) in order to figure out what they should write in each dialogue box, but they will only be allowed to ask 5 questions per storyboard cell. Please see the storyboard below for a mini-sample of what a student’s story might look like with all of the dialogue removed.
Finally, students will revise their original stories based on feedback from their peers, adding visual, textual, or audio elements as needed to ensure that the organization of their story is clear and easy to follow.
Teaching with StoryboardThat
As illustrated in the above section on activities for language learning, StoryboardThat has multiple classroom applications as a mediating tool for DST, helping students develop organizational and critical thinking skills, and increasing students’ motivation to use their L2 in more complex ways in authentic contexts. In addition to all of these advantages, StoryboardThat can also be used as a tool for curriculum delivery. According to Yuan (2011), it is time for teachers to critically examine their traditional methods of teaching writing and to consider “new possibilities for classroom writing curriculum, using the communicative/design options made possible through digital technologies” (p. 297). For example, instead of presenting a complex L2 text to students in its original form, teachers could create a digital storyboard or comic strip representation of the text, and then ask students to expand upon the ideas presented to them.
This would be beneficial to students in several ways: first, students who are not yet ready to grapple with a complicated English text such as a Shakespeare play can still have access to that grade-level content. Second, this would promote learners’ active engagement in the writing process. As Yuan (2011) found in his study of mainstream second-grade students in an elementary school in the United States, the creation of digital comic strips highly motivated students and prompted them to participate in extensive peer-to-peer conversations about their writing (p. 298). In Yuan’s (2011) study, the students created the following comic strip about the cartoon character Garfield using “Comics Lab” and “Comics Lab Extreme” tools found on a free website called “Professor Garfield” http://www.professorgarfield.org/pgf_home.html :
Although the above study was completed with elementary school students, it could easily be adapted and replicated with older learners. Multiple studies have shown that literacy effects are enhanced through the inclusion of multiple modes of representation, such as text, images, sound, etc., and this multimodality can be particularly helpful to young children and ELL students (Sipe, 2008, as cited in Yuan, 2011). Please see below for a sample comic strip for use with high school students (available for download through the Teacher version of StoryboardThat) that would help explain the five-act structure of a play, help students learn summarizing techniques, and demonstrate plot structure that students could replicate in future writing assignments.
However, digital storytelling is not limited to use only in the L2 or English Language Arts classroom. It has also been used effectively in content-based instruction (CBI) to teach students algorithms and problem-solving skills in math and to enhance overall motivation and learning achievement in science classes (Schiro, 2004; Hung, Hwang, & Huang, 2012, as cited in Grigsby, Theard-Griggs, & Lilly, 2015, p. 62).
Alternatives to StoryboardThat
As the StoryboardThat application is only available through the website, and there is no mobile application for the site, users that are interested in Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) may wish to explore some of the following applications, which are similar to StoryboardThat in form and/or function:
- My Storybook https://www.mystorybook.com/
- This application allows users to create their own digital storybooks for children, publish these books to share with family members, and explore an online library of children’s books.
- This application would be best suited for use with elementary-aged children to help them learn about plot organization, as well as build reading comprehension and digital literacy skills.
- The application is free to use, and it is available for Mac, Windows, Linux, Chrome OS, Android tablet, iPad, and on the web.
- Strip Designer https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/strip-designer/id314780738?mt=8
- This application gives users the ability to create comic strips on their mobile devices. Users can use their own photos, draw their backgrounds, or choose from a wide variety of templates. There are pre-written text stickers as well as text bubbles for users who choose to script out their own comic strips. Finished comics can be saved and uploaded to Facebook or Dropbox.
- This application could be adapted for use with students of almost any age, and could serve a similar purpose to StoryboardThat in terms of its potential as a digital storytelling tool.
- The application costs $2.99, and it is only available through the App Store for iOS (Apple) devices.
- Creatubbles https://www.creatubbles.com/
- This application encourages users to share projects they have created, such as crafts, paintings, photos, food, music, etc. Then other users can give feedback on the projects.
- This site is essentially an image-based social media site for children that allows them to showcase projects in a safe space and receive peer feedback on their various works.
- Creatubbles is free to use, and it is available for Android, iPhone, iPad, and on the web.
About the Author
Krystal Kurtz is an MA TESOL student in the department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas-San Antonio. She is also a high school Spanish teacher at BASIS San Antonio Shavano campus in San Antonio, TX. She enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures, but after teaching English as a Foreign Language for a year in Spain, Madrid will always hold a special place in her heart. Krystal also loves learning about new strategies to help her students develop their Spanish skills in the classroom, and she is excited to implement some of the digital storytelling strategies and activities that she has discovered in the process of creating this website.
Questions? Comments? Compliments?
If you would like to learn more about StoryboardThat and how you can use this application in your classroom (or daily life), please do not hesitate to contact me by filling out the form below.
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