Monday, August 13, 2012

Visual Story Telling

Visual Story Telling
by Susan Stephenson,

One of the subjects I find interesting is visual literacy. I think kids need us to help them become visually literate, and that we, as teachers and parents, need to become visually aware too. So I was delighted to stumble across a Flickr group recently: Tell a story in 5 frames (Visual story telling). Here's a way to have kids tell a story in a restricted way. They must use only five frames to tell a story, one with a beginning, middle and end. This forces them to think very carefully about economy, and making the maximum impact in a brief way.

What a wonderful challenge this is for kids! A challenge, but an achievable one. It allows kids to become involved in creating story without already being good writers. There are lots of guidelines for the specific Flickr group, and there's some great advice there. But we can adapt the idea and use it with kids, while developing the guidelines that suit our educational purposes. Deliberately set up photographs make great frames, but kids could use drawings or even cut out pictures from old magazines to accomplish the same task.

One example from the Flickr group I think works very well is Humpty Dumpty. I love that LEGO is used to support the story - most kids will have toys and models they'll enjoy incorporating into a tale. And the egg itself is not high tech - just cute, with its delightful expressions.

Some questions we could ask kids: Is this a successful communication or story? What makes it so? How would you interpret the story your way? What story would you like to tell in 5 frames? What would you need to set up to be able to tell it? How can you accomplish that?

I decided to make a five framed story I could share, and share my process too, in case that might help you and your kids or students.

Creating a Five Framed Story, the Book Chook way

1. I started by thinking: what story do I want to tell, who is my audience and what do I need to tell my story? The "what do I need?" question somehow took over. I realised I don't have too many toys around, and little time to make things. So my question became "What on earth do I have around here that I can possibly use to quickly tell a story?"

2. I brainstormed some props and ideas: "soft toys, LEGO, kitchen implements, fruit, vegetables. Could add features to objects with blutak and paper. LEGO the only one that allows movement of a sort." Then I found some LEGO Fabuland animals, and remembered the plot of a story I'd written. Could it be condensed into five sentences? Yes.

3. Once that was sorted, all I needed to do was sketch out a rough storyboard, setting up my five frames.  I hinted at a setting with a green rug, arranged my props and took some photos with my iPad. So I could share my example here, I added my own text to each photo, whereas the Flickr group's rules say only a title should be given and it's up to the group to then interpret the story. Why not try both ways? You can see my five frame story below. (My apologies for the fact the fonts and images below are different sizes!)

Looking for Treasure

So there you have it. I worked backwards. The props came first, then I worked out the story. It was almost suggested to me by the props. This is a lot like kids actually play, and felt natural to me. I truly don't think it matters which order you choose, so long as kids get the chance to play with story. The trickiest thing, for me, was making sure I had a beginning, a middle and an end told in five frames. This is great discipline for any writer.

With younger kids, they might need some scaffolding with this activity. You could suggest they interpret a nursery rhyme or joke. If you want to include text, you could try something as simple as:

1. At one o'clock, the knight …
2. At two o'clock, the knight …
3. At three o'clock, the knight …
4. At four o'clock, the knight …
5. And then at last, the knight...

Telling a story in 5 frames reminds me of another Flickr-based idea. This one's from CogDogBlog, and is called Five Card Flickr. It's a little like getting five hands of picture cards, and you must choose one from each hand and then use them to tell a story.

I love the visual aspect of storytelling! Great children's book illustrators send a thrill up my spine. If you're a regular The Book Chook reader, you know I applaud the way comic creators and image editors can sneak some communicating skills into kids' lives. Want to know more about visual literacy? I collect interesting snippets on my Visual Literacy ScoopIt page, or read these articles here at The Book Chook:

Why not give some form of visual storytelling a try this week with your kids?


  1. Ingenious idea! I must share this with my readers. Thank you so much for sharing this, Susan. :)

  2. @Becca Lostinbooks How about a challenge for you? Plot summary in five frames!

  3. Another great resource Susan! A unique activity to extend a challenge for a child who loves writing and telling stories. Love it!

  4. Thanks so much for this fascinating post! I work with children in a primary school who often have trouble structuring stories and this seems like a great way to get them thinking without becoming overwhelmed. I will certainly bookmark this - thanks again!

  5. @PennyGlad you like it! Hope to see some wildlife pics made into a five-frame story soon!

  6. @childtasticbooksI agree, especially with some scaffolding to help them. I was surprised how long it took me to work out the perfect five-frame story though - maybe I needed scaffolding too! With junior primary kids, you could try: One day...for the first frame. And get the kids thinking about what happened next (3x). Then the resolution. "Until finally..." or "At last..." can introduce the final frame. Of course, they don't need to actually write the story, either. But the thinking is important so they will come up with a recognizable (by the viewer) plot line. Contact me if you want to discuss this further as I may not be being coherent here!


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