Digital Storytelling Without Word Processing Part 1: Google Apps

We want students to be storytellers. We also want teachers to tell engaging stories that help students connect to content. However, both pen-and-paper and word processing can be daunting. Further, storytelling in classroom contexts can happen in many different ways beyond the traditional narrative. In this post, I will tell the story of using Google tools to tell engaging stories without word processing.

Brainstorming and Storyboarding with Google Jamboard

Storytelling starts with brainstorming ideas. There is no better app for brainstorming than Google Jamboard (on the web) (Play Store) (Apple App Store). Jamboard is invaluable for saving and revisiting brainstorms because Jams save to Google Drive. The app can also import content from Google Drive and connects to Google Classroom!

Students can add images, web content, and AutoDraw graphics in Jamboard which makes it perfect for storyboarding.

Telling Stories with Geography – MyMaps and Tour Creator

As students are progressing through a unit ask them about the locations that are relevant to what they are learning. For example:

  • In English Language Arts, “What are the locations in this novel?”
  • In Science, “What locations on Earth illustrate the concept we are learning?”
  • In Social Studies, ” What are the important locations in this unit of history?”

These prompts will help students process what they learned and send them down a rabbit hole of research to tell stories. Further, teachers can use geography to tell the stories of content. Fortunately, there are two great Google geography tools for storytelling.

Google My Maps turns maps into stories. For instance, have a look at these two maps – one about Civil War battles in North Carolina, the other about just a few of the New Deal’s lasting impacts in San Francisco.

A pro-tip for making the most of Google My Maps for storytelling is to include images in points added to the map. Landscape-oriented images work best. Also, get creative with custom icons.

In the Google My Maps editor, click a point interest. Click the paint bucket. Then click "More icons" to choose a custom icon.
Click the paint bucket to change the icon for a point on the map.

For more information on using Google My Maps, please read my Google My Maps Tips and Tricks blog post.

Google Tour Creator allows both students and teachers to make their own 360° tours using Google Street View imagery. Bring your students beyond the walls of your classroom! Tours can be viewed in the Google Expeditions Android app or simply on the web. For example, here is an animated GIF of Frederick Douglass Before Publishing His Biography, a tour I created.

Animated GIF of a Google Tour Creator tour of Frederick Douglass's life.
Note the point of interest: Storytellers can add images, text, and sound to tell their story.

The most powerful tool for storytelling in Tour Creator is points of interest. Here is a quick tutorial on adding points adding points of interest to Tour Creator tours.

Use Google Sites to Make Digital Breakouts

Digital Breakouts, using response validation in Google Forms and hosted in Google Sites, are a great way to bring gaming to content. But they are also a powerful tool for telling stories. Here are three digital breakouts I have created that tell stories:

  • Cuban Missile Crisis tells the story of the last four days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Shirley Chisholm: Unbought, Unbossed, & Unlocked tells the story of Shirley Chisholm’s run for president in 1972 as the first black woman to seek that office.
  • Defeat Barry Goldwater! tells the stories of the very eventful Summer of 1964 and the Democratic National Convention in August. Please note: this breakout is very difficult. It is perfect for a whole-class collaboration, a 90-minute block, or any students that excel at digital breakouts and need a challenge.

Here are some tips for using Google Sites for storytelling with Digital Breakouts or otherwise:

Animation – Toontastic 3D

Toontastic 3D (Google Play Store) (Apple App Store) is a very useful animation mobile app from Google. It lets students quickly create animated short stories and science reports. The basic story prompts students to include:

  • Setup
  • Conflict
  • Challenge
  • Climax
  • Resolution

The science report option prompts students to include:

  • Question
  • Hypothesis
  • Experiment
  • Results
  • Conclusion

The app has prefabricated characters and settings. The characters are customizable. Users can create new characters and scenes from scratch. All told, this is a very user-friendly and fun way to digitally tell a story. For more information on how Toontastic 3D works, please watch this video of me using the app:

Tell Stories with Numbers Using Data GIF Maker

Data GIF Maker is a Google News Lab website that makes animated GIFs from small sets (2-4 numbers) of data. Here is an animated GIF I made using it.

2016 Electoral College Vote Animated GIF made with Data GIF Maker
Hillary Clinton 227
Donald Trump 304
Made with Data GIF Maker

For more information about using Data GIF Maker, please read my blog post, Storytelling with Numbers Using Data GIF Maker.

Advanced Challenge – Tell Stories with Numbers Using Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio is like Google Sheets merged with Google Drawings. It is a very advanced program, perfect for going deeper with students who need a challenge. Data Studio connects to Google Analytics, Google Ads, YouTube Analytics, and plenty of third-party advertising analytics platforms. This means students are using a product real-world professionals use in their everyday lives. Data Studio also connects to Google Sheets, so students can access it as well.

Data Studio is a somewhat advanced tool. Part 2 of this post will include two apps that make telling stories with data very easy. However, Data Studio’s connection to Google Sheets and real-world relevance make it worth exploring. And look what I created with it:

Graphic of Bernie Sanders's approval ratings by group created by Tom Mullaney using Google Data Studio
Look at what I created with Google Data Studio!

I started with Data Studio by going to and playing around. Google has a product overview and a YouTube playlist that are very helpful.

I hope these Google apps are helpful as you create stories for your students and help them become storytellers. Our story continues in Part 2 of this blog post, Digital Storytelling without Word Processing – Edtech Apps. In the meantime, if you have any questions or thoughts to share about storytelling with Google apps, please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.



  1. Hi Tom! This is great. I literally just emailed a tech friend hours ago asking if she had any concrete examples of how to use Jamboard in the classroom. Your ideas for storytelling using Google Apps are amazing. Thank you for sharing!


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