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How to Use Scratch for Digital Storytelling

Help students practice ELA skills and computational thinking through digital storytelling.

Donna Markey | May 12, 2014

Digital storytelling involves combining digital media (images, voice narration, music, text, or motion) to tell a story. Over the past few years, digital storytelling has become an increasingly popular and effective way for students to meet a range of learning goals in the classroom. Scratch, a programming project from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, might be an unexpected tool for digital storytelling. But using Scratch to tell a story is a “twofer”: Students practice important ELA skills and, at the same time, use computational thinking.

As students build their stories in Scratch, their work aligns with ISTE's definition of computational thinking. With Scratch, students

  • Formulate a problem as they determine how to use the elements in Scratch to construct their story -- creating plot, setting, sequencing, and perspective.
  • Logically organize and analyze data by creating blocks of code to create characters and design settings.
  • Represent the data (story content) through the movement of sprites -- the characters in Scratch. The source of sprites can be from Scratch’s extensive library, an online image, a cropped photo, or an original drawing in Paint (an online drawing program within Scratch).
  • Use algorithmic thinking as they create code to make sprites move and communicate.
  • Identify, analyze, and implement solutions in the ordered steps they created to make the program work as they envision.
  • Transfer this problem-solving process to other situations as they tackle more complex animation challenges within Scratch and elsewhere in their lives.

sample storyboard on scratch websiteTo plan their stories, students can use storyboards, which are available online. The Scratch website offers detailed instructions about how to start a Scratch project. Numerous video tutorials on YouTube demonstrate how to program sprites, change backgrounds, and add sound effects and voice-overs. Teachers and parents can share resources, ask questions, and get support through the online community, ScratchEd. Although Scratch can also be used to create games and animations, using Scratch to create a digital story provides a way for students to creatively demonstrate learning.

Using Scratch as a digital storytelling tool, students can

  • Create poetry.
  • Create short stories related to a piece of literature.
  • Create and/or illustrate a math problem.
  • Research and report about a career.
  • Research and report about a historical figure, scientist, etc.
  • Illustrate a current event.

Here are two sample projects, both created by eighth-graders studying the periodic table. I remixed them to remove any student identification.

Sodium Man and Chlorine Boy (some sound effects but no voice-over; very short –- just over 1 minute)

Carbon (includes voice-overs; almost 3 minutes long)

Here are a few ideas for story assignments:

sprite library page on scratch website

3-2-1 About You
Create a Scratch project about yourself. Use a photo of your own face (you can paste it on any sprite body). Begin by outlining your project on a storyboard, with a title, introduction, middle, and end. Include the following:

  • Three traits that make you a good team member when working in a collaborative group.
  • Two science topics that we will be studying this year that you find particularly interesting.
  • One short-term goal (for this school year).
  • One long-term goal (5 or 10 years from now).
  • Import your face on a sprite.
  • At least two background changes.
  • Speech or thought bubbles to communicate content.
  • Music at beginning and end.

Scratch an Element
Research your assigned element from the periodic table. Create a Scratch project focusing on one or more unique properties of that element or a common compound. Begin by outlining your project on a storyboard. Include the following:

  • An animated Bohr diagram of your element.
  • The atomic number, mass, and number of protons, neutrons, electrons.
  • History of your element.
  • Interesting facts about your element.
  • Cite references used.
  • At least two sprites –- at least one of which moves.
  • At least two background changes.
  • At least two different sound effects or voice-overs.
  • Everything must start when the green flag is clicked.

Newton Has an Itch (So Scratch It!)
Create a Scratch project explaining or demonstrating one of Newton’s laws. Begin by outlining your project on a storyboard. Include the following:

  • A description of one of Newton’s laws.
  • At least two animated demonstrations of the law.
  • At least two sprites.
  • At least two background changes.
  • Speech or thought bubbles OR voice-overs to communicate content.
  • Use one or more command keys to move an object.
  • At least one sound effect.