Mobile Version | Print-Friendly Version
December 2014
Forward to a Friend  |  RSS Feeds  |  Archives  |   Follow us on TwitterLike us on FacebookFollow us on LinkedIn
Free TESOL Journal Article: "Taking Digital Stories to Another Level: Making Documentaries"
by Gilda Martinez-Alba

This article first appeared in TESOL Journal, Volume 5, Number 4, pgs. 743–749. TESOL members can access all issues for free here. To become a member of TESOL, please click here, and to purchase articles, please visit Wiley-Blackwell. © TESOL International Association.

Using digital stories to have students tell about themselves, share their culture with the class, and learn from each other can help with establishing rapport, shows respect for different cultures, and can be motivating for students and their language teachers. However, what happens after that? After making their first video, students have some basic background knowledge about making a video; therefore, it would be advantageous to use this new knowledge and build on it by taking video making to the next step to make documentaries. Teachers and students could use the structure of a documentary to build language skills while improving their video editing skills to create interesting short documentaries, which can teach about the course content, history, science, health, citizenship, and so on. This article will cover the steps and structure involved in making a documentary, tips for making it look and sound good, and ideas for free editing software for the computer as well as the phone and iPad.
doi: 10.1002/tesj.169

A digital story is usually provided by a first person and the focus is on the process of making it rather than on the product or the film itself. It can be thought of as an emerging documentary form, because it provides facts and perhaps even wants to make people think differently about a topic, whereas, in a documentary, multiple viewpoints bring together a topic, and the product is as important as the process of making it (Sanchez-Laws, 2010). Documentaries are also more structured than digital stories. Renov (1993) stated that there are four aspects to a documentary: to uncover, influence, examine, and explain. Digital stories may include some or all of these areas, but tend to be more personal in nature and are not bound to including these.

Fehn and Schul (2011) researched what aspects of documentaries students submitting to the National History Day contest had, and they found that students found images and made video recordings, edited their films, narrated them, included a soundtrack such as music and sound effects, interviewed experts, and provided citations. They concluded that “new technologies can work powerfully to engage the cognitive and affective skills of teachers and students” (p. 40). They can also be used to develop the language domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Another study conducted in an eighth grade history class of students making documentaries showed that students were interested in the process, were motivated, and demonstrated creativity in making the films (Swan & Hofer, 2013). It appears that making documentaries can be a useful method to get students actively learning, and future research will hopefully provide more insight into its uses in the classroom (Fehn & Schul, 2011).

Step One: The Topic

The story is the number one thing to keep in mind when making a documentary. What is the story going to be about? Is it compelling? It has to be something that would be of interest to a certain audience (West, 2010), and that the student making it is passionate about in order for it to unfold into an interesting film. Brainstorming potential topics in class to get students thinking about different ideas would help to get the process started.


Download the full article and references for free  (PDF)


This article first appeared in TESOL Journal, 5, 743–749. For permission to use text from this article, please go to Wiley-Blackwell and click on "Permissions" under "About This Journal."
doi: 10.1002/tesj.169

Previous Article Next Article
Post a Comment
Share LinkedIn Twitter Facebook
 Rate This Article
Print This ArticleForward This Article
Table of Contents
TC Homepage
Tech Gems for Writing
Teaching Talk: The Essence of Lesson Prep
Academic Writing: Scaffolding for Beginning ELLs
Quick Tip: Individualized Spelling Lists
Free TJ Article: Making Documentaries
Association News
Job Link
Assistant Professor in Linguistics (TESL/SLAT), California State University, Fresno, California USA

Assessment Director, Center for English as a Second Language, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky USA

English as a Foreign Language Lecturer, University of Fribourg, Switzerland

English Language Learner Teachers, Cesar Chavez Public Charter, Washington, DC USA

Lecturer (Full Time), Foundation Program Department of English, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar

Want to post your open positions to Job Link? Click here.

To browse all of TESOL's job postings, check out the TESOL Career Center.

TESOL 2015
2015 TESOL convention registration now open!

Online registration for the 2015 TESOL Convention & English Language Expo, 25–28 March, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada is now open.

For the best rates, register by 15 January 2015.

Visit the convention website for complete details. 


TESOL Connections is the newsletter of TESOL International Association
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages

Active TESOL members may read current and recent issues of TESOL Connections online at Inclusion in TESOL Connections does not constitute an endorsement by TESOL.

For article guidelines:
For questions about TESOL Connections:
For questions about copyright or permission:
For advertising:

TESOL International Association
1925 Ballenger Avenue, Suite 550 Alexandria, VA 22314-6820 USA
Tel. +1 703.836.0774
Fax: +1 703.836.7864
E-mail: (general information)