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DigLit Methodology

The Importance of Stories

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For most of us, stories have been sources of memorable content and language throughout our lives. And yet, according to classroom-based research, in many EFL classrooms stories tend to appear on the “educational margin or frills” (Egan, 1989, p. 29), only dealt with when we have finished with the “more serious” things. So how do students benefit from the regular use of narratives in the English class?

1. Stories Support Cognitive Development

The idea that humans organize, process, and store new information in narrative patterns is not new. Studies in anthropology suggest that the story form is a cultural universal, and it is one of the earliest and most basic and powerful forms in which we organize knowledge and make sense of the world.

An influential psychological theory which supports the idea that stories help us organize new perceptions and thus create knowledge is Schema Theory Cognitive psychologists Schank and Abelson (1995) claim that stories function as mental frameworks, so-called schemas based on which we organize and remember experience. They say that “all human knowledge is based on stories constructed around past experiences” and that “new experiences are interpreted in terms of old stories” (1).

This idea is a powerful underlying reason for using stories in our classrooms. Regular engagement with narrative patterns enables us to gradually develop abstract thinking. It appears that the more stories we hear, read, and make up, the smarter we become.

Therefore, when it comes to the role of stories in cognitive development, we must remember that experiences with stories will not only increase learners’ knowledge in different areas, but they will also stimulate their imagination and cognitive development.

2. Stories create engaging contexts for language learning

Research as well as our experiences as teachers and learners tell us that we learn best through engaging and imaginative contexts, through tasks where we can involve our cognition, emotions, and creativity. Good stories will meet these requirements: they engage learners’ minds and emotions through relatable situations and characters, and they challenge learners to think about what they read.

Beside boosting learners’ motivation, stories also support language development: new words and language structures are more easily understood, remembered when they are embedded in a narrative context. Regular exposure to stories and extensive reading in and outside the classroom can be significant sources of incidental vocabulary learning, while they also promote the acquisition of language structures, and the language style used in stories (Krashen, 1993). Research also highlights that the acquisition of new words is most successful when students find the readings culturally relevant: in Elley’s study (1989) word recall was more significant when the students found the story emotionally engaging.

3. Stories provide opportunities for interaction

If stories deal with themes and topics that students find relatable, they can become good starting points for a discussion. Classroom-based studies reveal that in literature-based foreign language classes teachers ask significantly more genuine questions, and student output is more extensive and includes more negotiation than in classes where discussions revolve around coursebook texts (Ghosn, 2013; Lugossy, 2012). This is the reason why, when using young adult fiction in the foreign language class, the story-based discussion and follow-up tasks can be just as important in terms of language benefits as the reading itself. Using stories creates room for a dialogue in which learners construct their knowledge of language, literacy and other subjects in interaction with one another and with the teacher.

Main Ideas why stories are important

The main ideas what stories are important in the language classroom are that stories:

  • organize and transmit human knowledge
  • are crucial in developing personal and social identities and in building communities
  • boost motivation in the classroom
  • provide the basis for social interaction and language learning in the language class
  • form the basis for speaking, reading, listening and writing tasks.

Egan, K. (1998). Teaching as storytelling: An alternative approach to teaching and the curriculum. London, UK: Routledge
Elley, W. (1989). Vocabulary acquisition from listening to stories. In Reading Research Quarterly, 24(2), 174-189. doi:10.2307/747863
Ghosn, I-K. (2013). Storybridge to second language literacy: The theory, research and practice of teaching English with children’s literature. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Inc.
Krashen, S. (1993). The power of reading. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Lugossy, R. (2012). Constructing meaning in interaction through picture books. CEPS Journal, 2(3), 97-117.
Schank, R. C., & Abelson, R. P. (1995). Knowledge and memory: The real story. In R. S. Wyer Jr.(Ed.), Advances in social cognition. Volume VIII (pp. 1-85). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Digital Social Reading

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Digital Social Reading (DSR) is a relatively new concept that refers to “a wide variety of practices related to the activity of reading and using digital technologies and platforms (websites, social media, mobile apps) to share with other people thoughts and impressions about texts” (Pianzola 2021, 4). In education, DSR has been used to engage students in online literature discussions that extend the classroom space and support both teenagers’ extensive reading in a foreign language and digital literacy development. Indeed, when reinforcing in class book discussions with online conversations, teachers can transform reading in a mediated social activity that “creates a foundation for reading communities and enthusiasm” (Barrett 2014, 143).

Tips for Digital Social Reading Project

Tip 1: Choose a digital platform that fits your needs

There are several platforms that can be used for digital social reading. Here are just a few: Glose for Education, SocialBook, Edji,, ActivelyLearn.

When selecting a digital social reading platform, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it a platform that works on different devices (i.e. mobile phone, tablet, and computer)?
  • Does it allow for the kind of interaction that takes place on social media while also fostering some degree of formality?
  • Does it allow students to annotate and comment directly on the text?

Remember that different platforms offer different opportunities for learning, and that you also need to address privacy and safety concerns.

In our project, we used Glose for Education. Glose for Education is a collaborative digital reading platform similar to social media that allows students and teachers to read and engage with each other through the e-books they share in their digital classroom. It is available on any computer, tablet or smartphone and it employs different gamification and learning features to make reading easy, fun, and collaborative.

Here are some good reasons why teachers and students should use it:

Teachers can:

  • create a private classroom and securely invite students to join
  • add books to the classroom by buying or renting the titles available in the in-app bookstore or import (copyright free) content
  • share reading assignments on the classroom homepage or directly in the text margin by adding notes with multimodal prompts (text, voice messages, pictures, web links, etc.)
  • allow students to read and contribute to the book discussion by annotating, highlighting and reacting in the text margin of the same digital text, thus making reading exciting and collaborative
  • follow and track students’ progress thanks to reading statistics
  • identify struggling students and highlight top performers

Students can:

  • read digital texts from any place and any device
  • read offline after first access
  • customise their reading experience by changing the background theme, font, and size to whatever works best for them (there’s also a dyslexia font available)
  • react to their reading and share with their friends in the text margins through annotating, highlighting, posing questions, and posting emojis
  • use the integrated dictionary to look up for the definition or translation of a word (multiple languages are available); bookmark definitions/words on their personal collection
  • activate text to speech for automatic audio reading of any e-book
  • read digital texts from any place and any device
  • read offline after first access
  • customise their reading experience by changing the background theme, font, and size to whatever works best for them (there’s also a dyslexia font available)
  • react to their reading and share with their friends in the text margins through annotating, highlighting, posing questions, and posting emojis
  • use the integrated dictionary to look up for the definition or translation of a word (multiple languages are available); bookmark definitions/words on their personal collection
  • activate text to speech for automatic audio reading of any e-book
  • track their reading statistics by adding daily reading goals and gaining badges

Tip 2: Divide students in small groups (5-6 students per group) and set up a schedule and ending date.

Tip 3: Design pre-reading discussion activities with the aim to get students interested in the book/topic(s) and activate their prior knowledge Design post-reading discussion activities to help students critically and creatively respond to the text in line with the new mediation scales of the CEFR (2018; “expressing a personal response to creative texts; analysis and criticism of creative texts) and in preparation to the digital storytelling process at the end of the project.

Tip 4: Facilitate during-reading discussion by using both general (i.e. Share a moment in the chapter that stood out to you) and specific prompts (i.e. why is character X doing this at this moment?)

These prompts should promote students’ text-to-text, text-to-self and text-to-world connections, and should be “open-ended, spark interest, and often begin with why, tell me about, or explain” (Larson 2009, 640). Also, prompts should promote students’ “understandings of, and connections to, themes/“big ideas” and personal interpretations of the text” through exploiting the affordances of multimodality (Elliot-Johns 2011, 170).

For example, students could be asked to choose a music that captures the mood of the chapter/text, or an image to represent the setting, or record their voice while commenting on a picture of an annotated quote. This would help students in critically exploring the characteristics of literary devices, such as theme and mood, while also building the multimodal competence necessary for curating a digital story. You could also ask students to examine plot, perspective, and voice through comparing the same story across different formats and media (Thompson & McIlnay, 2019, 71). Pose follow-up questions only if the discussion stalls (Collwell et al. 2018). That is, be present but not too much!

Tip 5: If it is the first time your students participate in an digital book club, you could give them sentence starters to scaffold their asynchronous discussion about books (i.e. I wonder..; I want to piggyback on…; Can you explain…; I agree with…because…; Based on the text, I think…, etc.) as well as support them in using textual evidence to construct arguments and track changing perceptions (see Jocius & Shealy 2017).

Tip 6: Organise face-to-face book discussions to build on the results of the online discussions and develop a stronger sense of community.

Obtaining the books

Public Domain Books

Public Domain Books are an ideal source to be used in a Digital Social Reading Project. They are books whose intellectual property rights have expired and are available for public use. This means that they not only can be read online for free but can also be reused and remixed. Even though there are some texts that are already born open source, public domain books are usually classics (e.g. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen) while more recent books do usually have copyrights. There are several public domain books databases, some of which are listed below:

Renting E-Books

Renting e-books might be another great option. Check with your school library or the public library in your area if they have e-books of the titles your students have chosen. Most public libraries rely on specific e-reading apps (e.g. MLOL, Overdrive, Libby). They have quite a wide collection of e-books in English. If not, ask the library if they can buy the e-book(s) you’re looking for.

Buying E-Books

Another option could be to ask your school to allocate some money to buy the e-books for the project. E-books are usually licensed for a single user. This means that you cannot buy one copy and share it with multiple users. However, there are some online book companies and platforms which allow you to buy e-books in bulk.

Glose for Education

Glose for Education has an in-app bookstore with 1 million eBooks and AudioBooks available including +4000 free titles. Books can also be purchased in bulk. For more information, click here.


Chamot, A.U., Barnhardt, S., El-Dinary, P. B., & Robbins, J. (1999). The Learning Strategies Handbook. New York: Longman.
Colwell, J., Woodward, L., & Hutchinson, A. (2018). “Out-of-school reading and literature discussion: An exploration of adolescents’ participation in digital book clubs”. Online learning, 22(2), 221-248.
Day, R., & Bamford, J. (2002). “Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language”, 14(2), 136-141.
Elliott-Johns, S. E. (2011). “Multi-modal responses to literature: A teacher educator’s classroom inquiry”. LEARNing Landscapes, 4(2), 169-186.
Jocius, R., & Shealy, S. (2018). “Critical book clubs: Reimagining literature reading and response”. The Reading Teacher, 71(6), 691-702.
Kitsis, S. (2010). “The virtual circle”. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 50-56.
Larson, L. C. (2009). “Reader response meets new literacies: Empowering readers in online learning communities”. The reading teacher, 62(8), 638-648.
Lipp, E. (2017). “Building Self-Efficacy, Strategy Use, and Motivation to Support Extensive Reading in Multilingual University Students”. CATESOL Journal, 29(2), 21-39.
Lyutaya, T. (2011). “Reading logs: Integrating extensive reading with writing tasks”. English Teaching Forum, 49 (1), 26-34.
Pianzola, F. (2021). Digital Social Reading: Sharing Fiction in the 21st Century. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Thompson, R., & McIlnay, M. (2019). “Nobody wants to read anymore! Using a multimodal approach to make literature engaging”. Journal of English Language and Literature, 7, 21-40.

Digital Storytelling

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Digital Storytelling is a method where 2-5 minutes long short clips are created that consist of photographs and voiceovers. The method was developed by the StoryCenter Berkley (USA) and is a popular life-narrative technique that combines the ancient art of storytelling with digital media. To create these clips, accessible and affordable technology is used, for example Power Point or free apps such as ShadowPuppet.

7 Components of Digital Storytelling

1) Self Revelatory – The stories feature a sense of discovery dna immediacy.

(2) First Person Voice – The stories are personal reflections on a subject and feature the authors’ voice.

(3) Lived Experience – The stories are about lived experiences and are told as a moment in time.

(4) Photos more than moving Images – The stories are predominantly created by using still images and less moving images to create a relaxed pace combined with the narration.

(5) Soundtrack – Music can be used in the stories to support the plot.

(6) Length and Design – The stories should be around 2-3 minutes long, max. 5 minutes.

(7) Intention – The process of the creation of the story is more important than the product. The storyteller owns the story and this informs all choices of participation, production, distribution as well as ethics.

(Lambert 2010, 9-25)


Lambert, J. (2010). The Digital Storytelling Cookbook. Berkley: Digital Diner Press.

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