Digital Storytelling in the Spanish Language Classroom

I recently blogged from the 2011 US Innovative Education Forum (IEF) sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning. Here’s a guest post from one of the IEF finalists I met at the competition. For more on the competition and other guest posts click the IEF tag. ~ Peter

Independence HS Grad
Independence HS Grad

Teacher: Matthew Kelly, Independence High School (Charlotte, NC) Matt’s project site 
Project Title: “Espero [I hope]: presentational communication in Spanish through digital storytelling” 
Overview: Advanced and intermediate students of Spanish explore digital storytelling as a medium for self- expression using the Spanish version of Microsoft Photo Story 3 and Microsoft Movie Maker. The assignment required  students to speak, listen, read and write in the target language and introduced concepts of media literacy based on autobiographical narrative.


 Matt writes: 

“My mates and I witnessed an immense growth in vocabulary since we began speaking in Spanish dialect. I consider myself bilingual today.” ~ Zillah (Gambia/UK), grade 12

Grammar in a meaningful context Deep down this project was born as a grammar exercise. The project arose out of a curriculum meeting I had with my students to plan the direction we’d take over the next few weeks. They said, “We need to work on the conditional tense, the future tense, and the subjunctive mood, but we don’t want any worksheets and we’re not going to fill out verb charts.” The idea was to give students meaningful work that would naturally lead them to use the target grammar. All writing, discussion, and presentation was done in Spanish.

The Personal Essay: Our Hopes for the Future

We started with the students writing an autobiographical essay describing themselves and where they are in their lives right now, then going on to talk about their hopes and aspirations for the future. Students then recorded these essays as a digital audio presentation.

Fears for the Future: Exploring Technique Through a Science Fiction Film

Photo Story 3 makes movies by stringing together still photographs with music or narration. I wanted the students to make careful, deliberate choices about what images to use and how to sequence them along with the audio in order to create a coherent narrative. To see an example of successful filmmaking using still photographs, students viewed Chris Marker’s 1962 film La Jetée in French with Spanish subtitles. Native speakers of Spanish were surprised at how much of the French they could actually understand. Students identified the images and sequences that were the most memorable for them and discussed what made them effective.

You be the Director: Bringing Hopes and Dreams to Life

Having practiced with Photo Story 3 and having explored the technique of telling a story through still photos, students used Photo Story 3 to turn their digital audio presentations into digital video. Using their own photos and appropriately licensed images, students brought their essays about their hopes for the future to life in digital video.

The Oral History Project: Sharing Hopes and Aspirations for the Future

To give students a basis for cross cultural comparison and to encourage growth in the domain of interpersonal communication, students interviewed pairs of native and heritage speakers of Spanish their own age about their hopes and aspirations and recorded these interviews as digital audio recordings.

Tips for Implementation

Most students suddenly become perfectionists when recording digital presentations. Allow native speakers in the group to serve as coaches, listening to and critiquing their classmates’ recordings. This will provide opportunity for growth through non-threatening feedback.

We used Audacity® for our digital audio recording. Allow students who have used it before to circulate and serve as coaches. With a little practice, most students quickly become adept. Microsoft Photo Story 3 is quite easy to use and appropriate for classroom. Make sure students are aware there is no spell check feature in any language!

Many students have been encouraged by teachers to appropriate images from the Web without regard to license or attribution for use in school projects. This project offers an opportunity to educate students about plagiarism, respect for intellectual property, media literacy, and proper attribution of sources. You may wish to:

  • instruct students to use only their own photos;
  • show students how to search for images licensed for reuse;
  • show students how to use to simplify the process of proper attribution; or
  • direct students to an online archive of images preapproved for educational reuse with citations provided.



“My mates and I witnessed an immense growth in vocabulary since we
began speaking in Spanish dialect…I consider myself bilingual today.”
–Zillah (Gambia/UK), grade 12

That’s what one of my students had to say about her experience with this project. For language teachers taking a communication based approach to language learning, this is a project that will really get students talking. The project addresses all the domains and functions of language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, and both interpersonal and presentational communication.

Project links:

Students Learn to Create a Business – Tech Skills How To

cupcake business
cupcake business -detail from student powerpoint

I recently blogged from the 2011 US Innovative Education Forum (IEF) sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning. Here’s a guest post from, Kelly Huddleston, one of the teachers I met at the competition. For more on the competition and guest posts click the IEF tag. ~ Peter

Teacher: Kelly Huddleston, Franklin Road Academy (Nashville, TN)
Project: “Create a Business”
Abstract: Working with a partner, students create a business, beginning with creating a business plan, writing a mission statement and tag line, and then creating business cards and letterhead. Students also complete a series of spreadsheets to track their income and expenses, as well as produce a commercial and design a web site. Finally, students showcase everything to the rest of the class in a Power Point presentation.

Note: This was first posted on Kelly’s blog “To Kick A Pigeon and Other Musings”  For more samples of her students’ work and the rubrics she used click here

Kelly writes:

I saw an ad on Facebook for the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum, a conference hosted by Microsoft at their headquarters in Redmond, Washington, in July. They were seeking educators who could demonstrate how they used Microsoft products in their classes in unique, innovative, and real-world ways.

Microsoft experienced the highest number of applicants ever for this conference, and I was selected for one of the 100 slots. I am also the only educator in the entire state of Tennessee attending this all-expenses paid, two day, whirl-wind conference. I am quite excited and deeply honored.

Several have asked about my submission so I thought I’d detail it here.

For lack of a better name, I simply call this project “Create a Business.” Students in my Tech class, mainly freshman, do this project each semester, and I’ve been doing it for about eight years. It continually evolves and changes, but this is where I’m at now with it.

Basically, students create a business—as much as is feasible in four months and for high school freshmen. They can work with a partner or go solo. There are many things we leave out due to time constraints such as talking about incorporating, licensing fees, legal/liability issues, creating a shopping cart for their website, etc.

My only guidelines for the types of businesses they may pursue are:

  • All products/services must be legal.
  • There cannot be any minimum age requirements. For example, students are allowed to sell alcohol, tobacco products, firearms, permanent tattoos, etc.
  • They may not sell anything that is morally or ethically questionable even it satisfies requirements one and two.


Here’s the steps given to the students:

  1. Create a business plan detailing such things as the business name, products/services sold and their costs, contact information, operational hours, competition, etc. (Microsoft Word)
  2. Write a mission statement and tag line/slogan/motto. (Microsoft Word)
  3. Design a logo (Adobe Photoshop)
  4. Create business cards, letterhead, and other promotional print materials. (Microsoft Publisher)
  5. Create a series of six spreadsheets to track income, consumable inventory, capital expenses, fixed monthly expenses, payroll, and finally a net/profit loss statement for the first year with projections for the second year. (Microsoft Excel)
  6. Produce a :30 second commercial. (Microsoft Moviemaker)
  7. Create a website with a minimum of six pages: home page, about us page, contact us page, and pages to highlight all products/services sold—pictures, prices, descriptions, warranties/guarantees, return/shipping policies, customer testimonials, etc. (Adobe Dreamweaver)
  8. Create a presentation to showcase everything that was done to create this business. (Microsoft PowerPoint)
  9. Present everything to the rest of the class in a 10-15 minute presentation complete with professional business attire and bringing in “samples” of their products.


Implementation Tips

  1. Have a thorough grading rubric to present to students at the start of the project. I find students calculate their own grades as they go. Those who make As usually realize around the halfway point that need do some sort of extra credit to make an A. Those who don’t make the grades they desire cannot tell me they didn’t know something was required.
  2. Checkpoint progress throughout the process. For example, I will give my students one week to create their business cards and other Publisher documents. At the end of the week, I will check them off for a grade to make sure they are done and all basic requirements have been met. I do not grade their spelling, grammar, creativity or things of that nature at this time, although if I notice an error or design flaw, I will make suggestions.
  3. Show students finished examples of each new phase before they begin in. Example, before we start working on the commercial I will show my students dozens of examples of commercials the past group of students have produced. I will point out elements that were well done, creative and/or effective, and I will point out those items that could have been done better or should have done differently. I will show them A examples as well as C examples so they know what to expect going into it.



  • Due to the nature of our school, many of my students will become owners or managers of businesses someday. I’ve actually had students so inspired by this project to start or manage their own businesses while still in high school. I’ve also had students who enjoyed and excelled at the web design part so much, they later went on to make business web sites for friends and family—for pay.
  • Students are highly engaged in this project, often spending additional time outside the classroom working on it—by their choice, not because they have to. They are allowed a tremendous amount of freedom in design and creativity.
  • This project prepares them for their future careers in a very authentic, real-world manner.
  • I have had numerous parents each year comment to me how they wished they had a project like this when they were in school.
  • I’ve had many students and parents thank me for teaching them or their children things they will actually use in the “real world.” There is no greater complement to me.

If you are interested in the details of this project for your own use in your classroom, or if you are interested in Kelly’s perspective on the Innovative Education Forum, please contact Kelly via her blog. For more about Kelly click here.

Innovative Teachers Share Their Best Ideas for Technology in the Classroom

Horack and Saban

Last week, I blogged from the 2011 US Innovative Education Forum (IEF) sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning. See my post “Following the Backchannel at Microsoft IEF.” I was inspired by the 100 great projects presented by teachers from across the country. What impressed me most was the great diversity of work. Some projects were very complex in scale, others were elegant in their simplicity – presenting one great idea for the classroom. They also varied in subject matter, grade level and technology. And no, you didn’t have to use a Microsoft product to get in.

I had the chance to interview many of the teachers at IEF. They’ll be sharing project “how-to’s” in future guest posts here at Copy / Paste.

Educator Colin Horack and student Anthony Sablan (left) won first place in the Collaboration category for their creation of Project Unite, developed to combat bullying on campus. Franklin Pierce High School; Tacoma, Washington.

Eleven winning educators from the IEF will represent the U.S. and advance to compete against educators from around the world at the Partners in Learning Global Forum, Nov. 6–11, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

To get a sense of the energy at IEF take a look at this short video. My wife made the video cut (20 seconds in – great red earrings)
…alas, I did not.

Following the Backchannel at Microsoft Innovative Education Forum

I’m a guest blogger attending the 2011 Partners in Learning U.S. Innovative Education Forum (IEF) on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA. Here’s some of the Twitter stream following our #MSFTPIL hashtag. I’ve met some great teachers with very clever projects. Expect to see some of their guest posts in the future. Click here for info on IEF winners

Personal note: thanks to Microsoft for bringing recognition to these great projects. I was inspired by the dedicated teachers and their creative approaches to enhance teaching and learning. Thanks to all the folks who posted social media content for me to draw from. While the #MSFTPIL search will eventually fade away from the Twitter feed, this post will remain as an artifact of one awesome assembly of educators.

Here’s a Photosynth of our reception at Bell Harbor. After (most) all of you went downstairs, I decided to document the location – how can you describe a view like that in words?