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How Students' Brains Are Wired for Digital Storytelling (Plus 4 Projects to Try )

/ Victoria Sambursky

Students participating in digital storytelling activity on laptop. Orange filter on top of image.

Think of an example of great storytelling. Maybe a favorite book, podcast, or episode of a show on Netflix pops into your head. Or even a funny story told by a friend you just had coffee with may enter your thoughts. Whatever comes to mind, that's the point  —  the story was so good that you instantly remember it.

A great story holds power — and digital storytelling is no exception.

Digital storytelling is the most accessible and entertaining medium used worldwide. But it does more than give us great shows or videos; it provides a mental framework for understanding the world. Digital storytelling accomplishes this in many ways, including impacting the chemicals in our brains that make learning and knowledge retention "stick." This benefit, along with many others, is why educators use this medium to:

  • introduce their content and lessons
  • help students see the joy in learning
  • teach students how to tell stories

This article discusses digital storytelling and its benefits, including how it impacts students' brains and why this is crucial to long-term learning. We also introduce effective and practical video projects to try with students in the classroom. 

What is digital storytelling?

Two people recording a podcast.

Whether through book reports, oral presentations, or class discussions, teachers ask students to share stories daily. In our digital-first world, students can relay the same information through podcasts and multimedia projects - adding a modern spin to a classic practice. Digital storytelling blends tradition with technology and allows students to tell stories through voice, text, images, audio, and video.

It's important to teach today's students not only how to tell stories but also how to do so using multimedia tools and digital lesson plans. Digital storytelling accomplishes these objectives by helping students learn how to build a narrative framework using digital tools. This medium also helps them grow the technological skills, innovation, and mindset needed to thrive in higher education and 21st-centruy careers.

Rather than adding to the workload, digital storytelling projects can also be a simple way to amplify what teachers do best and help students see the fun and purpose of learning. Below, we share all the top benefits this medium offers, including how digital storytelling meets critical educational standards and how this medium even "lights up" the human brain.

Five benefits of digital storytelling

4 teal and yellow colored brains in a row. Yellow background.

1. Grabs attention

Ever heard of a "hook?" No, not the fishing kind. This hook is an angle that grabs a person's attention and creates interest or a "buzz." Have you seen the latest viral trend on TikTok incorporated into a soda commercial? That's a hook. Digital content, from social media to apps to digital platforms, is everywhere, and whether or not we like it — it's what students identify the most with.

Digital storytelling can be a "hook" teachers can use to grab students' attention and get them interested in a new lesson. One study found that digital storytelling effectively supports teaching and learning while improving student motivation. Once the class is onboard, teachers can shape the content to deliver the skills and ideas necessary to achieve the content objective. 

2. Persuades the brain and heart

Stories stick. How? According to experts, storytelling activates multiple parts of the brain. It also initiates certain "feel-good" chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. Triggering these different regions and chemicals helps commit the information to long-term memory. To better understand this idea, let's discuss what makes a story successful.

There are many ingredients to a great narrative, but to engage an audience, it must evoke emotion. To do this takes three key elements:

  • an inciting incident, problem, or challenge
  • building of tension through events
  • a moment of revelation or resolution is achieved

Most successful stories in history have this basic format, sometimes called the 3-Act structure. Now, teachers can take this format and apply it to digital media. However, for this kind of storytelling to work, teachers must ensure students understand how to evoke emotion. This is where the cool storytelling and brain science come in. Digital storytelling is powerful because it activates different brain areas, including the limbic system, which is associated with emotion and long-term memory.

When someone watches a funny, heartwarming movie, their limbic system (specifically the hippocampus and amygdala) is triggered and assigns value to the things they are most connected to. Chemicals like dopamine are also released, improving focus, memory, and motivation. These actions help the person recall events and moments in the movie several days or months after watching it for the first time. Digital storytelling in the classroom works the same way.

Using different methods of digital media to teach a lesson or unit can help students recall facts and details, sometimes even years later. To help learners understand how to use this medium to connect with others, have them experiment with video storytelling tools, such as music, images, voice-overs, transitions, and so on. Show them how using these elements helps evoke emotion and make strong connections.

3. Builds empathy and SEL skills

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, includes five overarching skills:

  • self-awareness 
  • self-management 
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision-making

The captivating art of storytelling naturally meshes with these social-emotional learning principles, creating a synergy that resonates deeply with students. One study suggests that digital storytelling helps students develop communication skills, express ideas, learn to work together and strengthen literacy practices.

By using this medium, students can combine SEL with multimedia tools and craft narratives that allow them to express themselves, practice empathy, and foster compassion.

Students working on computer with their teacher.

4. Accessibility

Digital storytelling appeals to students with diverse learning styles and enriches the educational journey by fostering a sense of personal investment and self-directed learning. With this in mind, this medium can be used to implement the Universal Design for Learning framework. UDL is based on three categories: engagement (the "why" of learning), representation (the "what"), and action and expression (the "how"). The overall goal of UDL is to create motivated, resourceful, strategic, and goal-oriented learners.

Bottom line, this UDL framework is about accessible learning for everyone, where all students can participate in meaningful, challenging educational opportunities. Digital storytelling is perfect for demonstrating these principles, allowing students to understand and communicate in ways that are relevant in today's classrooms.

5. Elevates mastery

One of the most significant impacts of digital storytelling on learning is its ability to foster critical thinking and deep learning. This medium lets students showcase their understanding or mastery of a subject, allowing them to become independently creative and make choices that elevate their points of view and voices. When learners create their own stories, they must think about:

  • how they will present their ideas and effectively communicate their message 
  • the content they include in their stories, ensuring that it is accurate, relevant, and appropriate

During this process, students have a sense of purpose and are driven to learn because of their ability to create something they can share with others.

Four video projects to try with your students

Digital storytelling is a powerful way for students to collaborate and practice the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. WeVideo, a cloud-based, interactive multimedia platform, helps teachers work on digital storytelling projects with students through easy-to-use multimedia creation tools that are aligned with ISTE standards.

For example, teachers can bring the power of digital storytelling into their classrooms by utilizing WeVideo's Assignment Ideas Library. This platform holds standards-aligned video projects teachers can use with their students for fun and engaging learning. Below are a few to get started!

1. Emotions Through Video

Illustration of emojis popping out of magenta video.Explore this WeVideo project.

Grades: K-12 | Subjects: Language Arts, Reading, SEL, Visual Arts, Performing Arts

How it works: students create short videos demonstrating how images and sounds arouse various emotions. Students choose the emotion they want to evoke and combine images, video, and audio to create multimedia compositions.


  • students look at how storytelling using sound and images can evoke emotions much stronger than either modality can by itself 

Pro tip:  for older students, move beyond happy, sad, or angry and toward more complex emotions like confusion or embarrassment.

2. Collaborative Research Project

Illustration of research paper graphics against orange background.Explore this WeVideo project.

Grades: K-12 | Subjects: Reading, Science, Language Arts 

How it works:  students are arranged in groups to create videos that share the results of their research on a chosen or assigned topic.


  • collaborate with peers to investigate and report on phenomena, ideas, persons, or other topics
  • transform research into a short video presentation highlighting key learnings, findings, and, if applicable, solutions

Pro tip: go beyond the classroom and challenge students to take what they have learned to make a difference in their school or community!

3. 'I Am' Poem

Illustration of paper and pencil against orange background.Explore this WeVideo project.

Grades: 3-12 | Subjects: ELA, Math, Science

How it works: students create an 'I Am' video poem to demonstrate understanding of a particular topic. This project is typically used to share biographical information. However, it can also be used to personify a concept or share information from a specific point of view. 


  • students create an "I Am Poem" to demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary terms or concepts
  • helps create an emotional current that helps viewers connect with the information being shared

Pro tip: to give the project a little kick, enhance the production quality with advanced editing, such as sound levels, transitions, and text!

4. Bring Your Book to Life

Illustration of tree growing out of open bookExplore this WeVideo project.

Grades: K-12 | Subjects: Reading, Language Arts

How it works: students take a traditional book review project and bring it to life using video. In groups of 2–4, students will discuss the book, write a summary, and decide what to tell the audience in their video. Teachers can use this activity to study plot, character development, or other story elements.


  • students create video-based book trailers to share their thinking and deepen their understanding of a piece of literature.

Pro tip: use a green screen background for a setting from the story.

Start your journey

Digital storytelling is a powerful pedagogical tool that opens doors to a rich learning experience. It empowers students to harness advanced technology and multimedia resources to craft compelling narrative presentations.

By integrating this multimedia technique, teachers can offer an immersive learning experience that engages students' hearts and brains and empowers them to take ownership of their unique creative expressions. And let's face it - kids love to share their stories, and their classmates like to watch them. So get out there and start your digital storytelling journey today!

Victoria Sambursky.
Victoria Sambursky
Victoria began her career in secondary education, where she worked as a high school English teacher for several years. Eventually, she transitioned to the nonprofit world, working in adult education and later as a scholarship fund director. After the birth of her daughter, Victoria took her love of writing in a different direction and became a professional content writer. Her published works include feature articles, blogs, and interviews on many topics, including higher education and social-emotional learning. These days, you can find Victoria hiking around the Northeast and spending time with her dog, Shelby.