Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at email@example.com or visit her website: Acts of Composition.
This multimodal assignment is not original. In fact, I have seen many versions and applications of the idea but it is a great starting place for digital and visual storytellers. It is also popular in a textual form called Six Word Stories, often attributed to Hemingway’s legendary six-word story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Authors expand this genre to include other short-short versions such as sudden fiction or flash fiction that constrain conventions based on length and careful selection to achieve a narrative line. Although this idea has been around for a while, it is gaining new life through social media outlets such as Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and Facebook that now feature this challenge for their users. Students can search for examples and submit their own stories on designated sites such as sixwordstories.net. This exercise asks students to carefully consider the ways that very few words can take the shape of a story and advance a storyline. I like to have students analyze them and try their hand at composing these stories. This helps them begin to understand narrative theory, literary analysis, and the power of carefully selected language. It also is a good exercise for understanding and working with rhetorical constraints (only six words) and genre expectations.
When teaching digital storytelling, I use a similar assignment in which I have students compose a Five Image Story. Flickr has an existing group for visual storytellers to engage in this challenge: The Five Image Story. Here students can join the group and analyze examples of Five Image Stories for sequence and narrative line, visual effectiveness, and impact of the story. They can also join the conversation, respond to others’ stories, and contribute their own. They must submit five images, in sequence without any text, except a title. I have students compose and submit their Five Image Stories to the Flickr conversation and post them on their blogs to share with their classmates.
Background Readings and Resources
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: 3e, “Organizing Verbal and Visual Information” and Ch. 3f, “Storyboarding”.
- The Everyday Writer (also available with Exercises): Ch. 5d-e: Organizing Information
- EasyWriter (also available with Exercises): 2d: Planning and Drafting, Storyboarding
Steps to the Assignment
- Open up the conversation about the nature of stories. Have students identify what makes an effective story: engagement, meaning, progression, change, perspective, impact, etc. I usually have them participate in an online conversation about the meaning and shape of stories and then work in small groups in the classroom. We then try to generate a list from these conversations. Here are a few example responses:
- Most importantly, stories describe a journey.
- Stories pass down knowledge and wisdom; offer advice; act as warnings; and serve as a reflection of the culture in which they were created.
- Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. It is as innate as the need for companionship and belonging. Stories surround us all the time. I hear stories in music and podcasts; I read stories online, in books, in the news; I live my own story every day.
- Stories at their most basic are comprised of a beginning, middle, and end.
- Stories are everywhere, just waiting to be told.
- Next, I introduce the idea of the Six Word Stories and the Five Image Stories and we analyze a couple of examples.
- Then, I send students to the Flickr site and have them join the group and look through the posted stories. As a group, they choose ones they like, discuss them, and connect to the features and ideas generated in their Meaning and Shape of stories conversation from earlier.
- Once they have an idea of the genre, they move to composing their own Five Image Stories. I have them post to Flickr to participate in this public archive and post to their own blogs for our class. In addition to their title, I require them to include a context statement on their blog (as I do for all Multimodal Mondays blog posts).
- Students then review the Five Image Stories of their classmates. Students present their stories and teammates discuss what makes them effective and engaging. Each team chooses a couple they consider strong and presents them to the full class.
Reflection on the Activity
This is a great activity to get students thinking about narrative and digital storytelling – an important component of multimodal composition. It challenges them to think conceptually and to begin to understand genre and structure. It teaches students the importance of image composition, curation, selection, arrangement, and constructing narrative lines. I am always interested in the different types of stories they create. Some are stories of progression, such as Sean’s advancing narrative of a kitten to a cat or Lydia’s story of experiences with her friend over a span of years. Some confine their narrative time span to a shorter time, such as Elijah’s story of a single day in his life. Some students reflect back on defining experiences, like Donna who includes images of tickets she has collected over the years. Others, like McKenna, project forward and engage in a predictive story about where she wants to travel in the future. Many students focus on significant objects to reveal something about their individual stories and some students, like Andrew, create conceptual stories that speak to universal ideas. He captured unstacking nesting dolls to represent the idea of “Together We are Strong.”