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Multimedia Storytelling
(Language Arts, Art, Film)

by Tacy Trowbridge


Give your students an opportunity to strengthen their communication skills by exploring multimedia storytelling. Children grow up surrounded by stories told with pictures, words and music particularly on television and in movies. Take advantage of this familiarity and place the power to create stories in your students' hands for a change! Families and memories provide your students with rich material.

Grade level: 6-12

Estimated time
The amount of time needed for this project will depend on the age of your students and the scope of your project. Expect to spend between four and eight 50-minute class periods on this project. If this is the first time your students have created multimedia stories, encourage them to stay focused, to keep their stories brief (2 to 3 minutes long) and to consider using still images rather than video footage.


  • tell a story through a combination of words, sounds, and images

  • use a storyboard to outline and plan

  • examine and analyze storytelling in American Family

  • perform before an audience


  • Art supplies

  • American Family videotape, TV and VCR

  • Copies of storyboard handout

  • Computer with Internet access (optional)

  • Computer with software for photo editing, PowerPoint or iMovie (optional)

  • Slide projector (optional)

Related National Standards

This lesson addresses national content standards found at

  • Art Connections Standards

    • Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines

  • Visual Arts Standards

    • Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts

  • Language Arts Standards: Writing

    • Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

  • Language Arts Standards: Media

    • Understands the characteristics and components of the media

  • Language Arts Standards: Viewing

    • Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media


  1. Read this entire lesson and decide how best to have your students tell multimedia stories. Consider your experience teaching with multimedia, your students' sophistication with technology and creating multimedia projects, your access to technology and equipment, the kinds of support within your school and school district, and how to integrate this project into your curriculum. Remember you and your students will probably be happier with a small scale but successful project.

  2. Introduce the project by defining the term multimedia (using, involving, or encompassing several media). Lead a brief discussion by asking students how different media work to tell stories. Consider how books, movies, radio dramas, comic books and even billboards tell stories. "How can combining media make storytelling even more effective or persuasive? What are some of the risks of multimedia storytelling?" If time allows, illustrate the way media works together to tell a story by watching a silent movie, reading the words of a picture book without sharing the pictures, or simply turning off the sound while watching just the images.

  3. Explain that your students will tell a story about their families using images, narration and music. Help students brainstorm possible story topics. "Think of a sad or funny memory, a particular person or even just an ordinary family gathering. List five happy memories of your family and five sad memories."

  4. Have students choose one idea and begin to clarify the setting, characters, and the shape of the story. Students should write down their story or script in rough draft form to outline the sequence of events.

  5. Once students have settled on a story and have an idea of its structure, help them begin to gather appropriate media. For example, gather materials for iMovie in digital format so they will be easy to integrate such as CD's rather than tapes. Use digital images from the Internet, digital photographs or scanned pictures rather than slides. Remind students that all the materials they gather should support their stories. "What music will help build the right mood for your story? How can you use images to build suspense or develop characters?"

  6. Give students multiple copies of the handout before introducing and explaining how storyboarding pulls together the multimedia components of a project. Working from their scripts, students should sketch rough images in each box and include written descriptions of sound for each major scene. Their final storyboards should align closely with their scripts. To help students understand, demonstrate with a familiar story on the board.

  7. Watch a segment of American Family with your class. Look at the various storytelling techniques used including point of view, editing, and use of sound and music. Lead a discussion in which you help students analyze what they have seen and apply it to their own projects. "What visual cues help the viewer understand the setting? How does the use of music or sound effects add to the story? Who is telling the story? What makes visual transitions work well?"

  8. Your class should continue to gather visual and auditory materials, polish scripts and get ready. Help your students create a check list so they can keep track of their progress. Multimedia projects often work most smoothly if students have completed writing and research and gathered all of the necessary materials before beginning to explore what may well be a new form of expression.

  9. Once students have all of their materials, there are many ways to proceed.

    • iMovie
      If your school has access to iMovie or a similar simple video-editing tool, arrange to spend at least four class periods working on computers for students to become familiar with iMovie and to make their movies. Depending on the age of your students and your experience with video, consider using still images rather than having students create video footage. This will speed up the process and allow students to focus on storytelling rather than acting, learning to use a camera or designing sets.

      Use these helpful iMovie resources to make movies:

      • Apple's Tips for Making Your Movie
        Consider directing students to this site as it provides a clear guide for the content of their movie including good tips about using close ups and framing.

      • Atomic Learning Library's video tutorial
        Watch Quicktime video clips on different topics related to using iMovie.

      • Use the iMovie Storyboard to help students keep plan their movies!

    • Slideshow
      Show visual images on a screen while students read or tell their stories. If they want to include music or sounds, have students record a tape, prepare for live music or bring in props. Use a slide projector and convert student pictures to slides, or if you have access to a computer with PowerPoint and a scanner, it may be easier to help students create presentations of their images and artwork to tell their stories. PowerPoint allows students to include music, transitions and specific timing. Remember to plan time for students to rehearse and prepare their performances.

    • Picture books
      Students can tell stories by combining images and words. You may wish to have students work in pairs to design these books. Encourage students to explore different kinds of illustrations including photography, drawing, watercolors, and collage. Produce these books on paper or use a computer program such as Powerpoint or HyperStudio that will allow students to incorporate sound or animation.

  10. Encourage students to view each other's work and to make constructive comments. This will help them learn more about multimedia storytelling by viewing other projects in process, provide new inspiration and offer an opportunity for feedback from their peers.

  11. Perform, share, celebrate and assess the finished products. Consider inviting families, other students and community members to view and hear these stories. This is an exciting opportunity for students to present their work to an audience, to invite parents to a meaningful school event, and for students to learn from each other.

Extension Ideas

  • Collect these stories and get permission to publish them on the web.

  • Involve families in this project. Have students interview a family member, collect family stories or bring in an object to help tell their story.

  • As a class, look for common themes and issues that surface in reading these stories. What do these stories reveal about childhood, about regional differences, or about culture?

  • Host a storytelling day and invite other classes to attend and even participate.

Assessment Recommendations

  • Design a rubric with your students to evaluate multimedia storytelling. Consider including these topics: storytelling, use of media, and performance. Depending on the grade level, you will want to be sure each category is clear and understandable to your students. For example, you could address these questions related to good storytelling. How well are the characters developed? Does the author create a sense of setting? Is the plot compelling? Does the author build suspense?

  • Use storyboards during this lesson as formative assessment.

  • How well did students analyze storytelling in American Family?

  • Assess and evaluate student performances. Again, it will be helpful to clearly outline your expectations prior to the performances so students are aware of your goals.

  • Have students evaluate and critique their own work. Ask students to provide constructive feedback to each other.

After teaching in San Francisco area schools for ten years, Tacy Trowbridge currently helps teachers integrate technology into curriculum. She holds a B.A. in history from Wesleyan University and a master's degree in Learning, Design and Technology from Stanford's School of Education.

Off-Air Taping Rights: Pre K-12 teachers in the United States may videotape “American Family” and use it in the classroom for one year after the original broadcast date. This program premieres on January 23, 2002 with weekly episodes through May 2002 and rebroadcasts after May (check local listings). For more information on teacher resources to accompany PBS programs and on PBS extended taping rights for educators, please visit PBS TeacherSource.

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