Using Digital Activities in the Classroom – Part 4 of 5: Storify

I am absolutely loving my first year of full-time lead teaching; however, it has been consuming enough to take me until now to get to the next installment in my series on using digital activities in the classroom, introduced in this post.

As I slowly work through this series, I’m going to use this post to explore a tool that I have only recently added to my digital toolbox: Storify.


This post in my digital classroom activities series just HAPPENS to coincide with a little side venture that my teacher-friends Anne Mooney, Megan Grandmont, and myself  undertook this past summer in which we argued in a group text thread over the difference between transmodal and transmedia composition and then converted the whole conversation into a Storify story. The whole thing was loads of fun and you can read about it in this blog post. Coming off of completing this side-project, however, I am extra enthusiastic about the affordances of Storify and how it can be used in a high school classroom!

What is Storify?
Before we get too far, let me explain what Storify is. Storify is a free, online tool that allows you as the user to draw from multiple social media and online resources including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Soundcloud, Tumblr, and a variety of other sites, curating information to meet your needs. You can also enter urls to find google images or particular sites. The links, images, or videos that you pull from these different resources can then be assembled into a timeline or “story.” The story is entirely linear; each element has to come before or after the others. As you are assembling your story, you can enter text to give the story shape, flow, and cohesion. The end result is a multimedia summary or record of a topic or event with information aggregated from a host of different sources.

Perhaps the best way to understand Storify is simply to read through some examples.

  • HERE is an example of an ongoing story started in 2011 by journalist Josh Stearns who used Storify to track the arrests of journalists covering the Occupy protests. The chronological nature of Stearns’ project works well with Storify’s linear structure. Storify’s ability to draw from various social media outlets helps Stearns consolidate a wide array of disparate pieces of information into his story.
  • HERE is a story capturing the unfolding story of an elderly bus monitor who was harassed by some students, triggering a national response of donations so that she could retire early.
  • HERE is an excellent how-to story that guides students through the paper-writing process, offering links to tools and articles as they go.
  • HERE is the story I created with my colleagues to capture our process of working through the difference between the terms “transmodal” and “transmedia.”

The possibilities are pretty immense with Storify, both in terms of using some of the incredible stories that are out there as well as creating some of your own.

Classroom Applications:
Because the possibilities with Storify are so diverse, the potential classroom applications also cover a fairly wide, interdisciplinary gambit. I’ve compiled the following list, which is by no means comprehensive:

  • Research: Storify lends itself to compiling and organizing research because it inherently connects students to a wide variety of sources. It encourages students to consider multimedia options and to arrange those sources in meaningful ways. Because Storify connects users to several social media platforms, it also lends itself to considering the current and real-world impact their subject of research has on the world around them. The ability to include text with any element in the story allows students to create a kind of multimedia annotated bibliography that can be edited and shared at any time. Here is a student example of a more formal annotated bibliography completed in Storify.
  • Drafting and Outlining: Storify can serve as an excellent pre-writing or drafting tool. Although it is designed to curate information from a variety of sources, original writing can play a major role in a story. Students can outline and draft essays, papers, or personal responses in their story, sectioning their work into different blocks of text. Those blocks of texts can be moved around by simply dragging and dropping, encouraging students to consider the flow and chronology of their compositions. Students can then begin to build on those individual text blocks, expanding their outline into a full, written composition.
  • Digital Writing: While the prior two ideas consider Storify to be more of a process tool for students to employ on their way to creating their final product, this suggestion proposes that a Story may make for an excellent final product in and of itself. Combining Storify’s ability to draw on diverse, multimedia documents and to integrate original writing creates the opportunity for students to explore digital writing in new and meaningful ways. Students can create robust, multimodal, and intertextual research papers, reports, or essays using Storify’s platform. These Storify essays, reports, and papers can be brief (like this student essay on the effects of social class on education) or they can be more complex and lengthy (like this student research paper on the responses to a presidential debate). Using a Storify story as a final document can encourage students to think creatively about their writing and research, push themselves to incorporate more multimodality into their composition, and expand their idea of what it means to write in scholarly contexts.

Again, I will stress that this list is by no means comprehensive! There are infinite possibilities when using a program like Storify, each possibility with its own set of potential assignments.

Pros and Cons:
As with any pedagogical tool, there are affordances and constraints to using Storify in the classroom. Some of the cautions and concerns I have personally and that I have found considered in posts like this one from professor and rhetorician Rebecca Harris include asking students to use their recreational social media knowledge for academic and scholarly purposes. Using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to hold academic conversations or pursue academic ends does require students to use familiar tools in an unfamiliar way. While this may end up being an actual strength of the project, I would anticipate it requiring some intentional discussion and exploration at the beginning of any project.

That being said, the potential affordances that accompany work created using Storify are immense. One of the most important aspects of this project in my opinion deals with some of the borderline debilitating anxiety that I see many of my students experience around writing. Despite my students’ incredible skill at composing texts, messages, and captions in social media contexts, sitting down with a pen and paper or at a word processor to craft a composition out of nothing paralyzes them. Storify scaffolds this process for them by resembling more familiar, lower stakes composition contexts and by allowing students to pull in information from a variety of sources to supplement and guide their writing processes. I think my students would feel a little bit more like “the expert” in assignments like these, allowing them the confidence to experiment and play with their composition.

Another major benefit of using Storify to guide classroom writing and research is the way Storify seamlessly integrates multimodality into the research and writing process. Storify anticipates students using videos, images, social media, and links in their work. This can help students push genre norms and experiment with the ways they integrate media into their work.

Needless to say, Storify is currently at the top of my list for digital tools to work into my classroom. As soon as I am able to work one of these assignments into my curriculum, I will report back with findings. In the meantime, if anyone out there has experience or ideas for using Storify stories in student writing, I’d love to hear from you!




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