There’s a special app for that – Part 11: Creative apps for digital storytelling

Welcome to Creative apps for digital storytelling, Part 11 of “There’s A Special App For That” series on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad apps for students with special needs. Have a look at our others in the series:

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Digital storytelling – why we need to focus on creative apps

In August 2010, iEAR (Education Apps review) published an article entitled, “What Do Teachers Really Want in An App?” They list seven preferences that educators would like to see in app development. The article brought forth the challenge of finding apps that are truly educational in nature and not simply “drill and practice” apps but are more creative (like digital storytelling as we will discuss). We think the most important points raised by this article were the following:

  • Teachers want apps in which they can input their own “curriculum” in some fashion.
  • The majority of apps are locked down with regard to content and they cannot be manipulated enough to meet the teacher’s specific needs.
  • Educational apps in general are too focused on “drill and practice” and there needs to be a greater emphasis upon “constructivist” types of activities.

There has been a lot of development since that time and we are seeing an increase in “constructivist” apps. Teachers are very creative in the application of apps that they use with the students in their classrooms.  We feel that the best apps are the ones that promote creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and critical thinking skills. In addition, the most creative apps are multi-disciplinary, focusing on broad competencies so that students can use them to enhance the curriculum in many different disciplines. Apps for digital storytelling fit this criteria nicely.

What is digital storytelling?

Digital StorytellingDigital storytelling is a first person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds. Storytelling is one of the oldest methods of teaching and learning.

An important tool to leverage “multi-literacies,” digital storytelling can teach important literacy concepts using digital content. For example, the creation of a digital story can teach characters, setting, and plot in a highly visual and interactive way.

Teachers who bring digital storytelling into the classroom are discovering what makes this vehicle for expression worth the effort. They watch students gain proficiency in writing and research, visual literacy, critical thinking, and collaboration. They see students take part in a range of learning styles. Of course, they also see students make authentic use of technology. Sometimes, they even hear students discover the power of their own voice.

Edutopia, Digital Storytelling: Helping Students Find Their Voice

The power of digital storytelling is the possibility of representation of various literacy concepts in multiple ways. Digital storytelling can also be a dynamic and compelling way to communicate. These factors are important for students with special needs who might not have been successful with traditional narrative writing. In addition, the interactive component involved in digital storytelling enhances learning for those students who learn in different ways. Its important to note that apps for digital storytelling can range from extremely simple to more complex, and the apps you choose should match your students needs and the curriculum goals of the specific project.

Digital storytelling for students with special needs

For students with special needs, the creativity of digital storytelling apps has allowed us, as educators, the opportunity to observe and understand the strengths of our students. New apps are primarily hands-on and highly visual, and provide an opportunity for those learners who struggle with traditional instructional methods to take advantage of their abilities and strengths. Professionals in special education want to use apps in many different contexts, integrated into global curricula, across disciplines, as well as be able to insert their own content. Ultimately we want to customize, individualize and personalize the use of these digital storytelling apps for our students.

Digital storytelling resources:

Digital storytelling: Recommended apps

Here are our recent picks for digital storytelling. These apps encourage creativity, provide support and remediation for students with special needs, and can be used in many different classroom settings. They are motivating, engaging and will encourage learners to demonstrate their strengths.

1. Toontastic ($Free)

Toontastic iconToontastic was designed for young students (preschool and elementary) although many others will enjoy this app.  It was designed in partnership with Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and Zeum: San Francisco’s Children’s Museum and this app has won several awards in the educational category — Parents’ choice award, Sesame workshop, and Children’s Technology review.

Toontastic is an animation app for digital storytelling that provides extra support, as it teaches the steps involved in animation.  The app is designed for customized cartooning; it resembles a puppet show with simultaneous recording. Using a cartooning template that takes the student through five phases of animation, the student can record a storyline using their own characters or the characters within the app, as well as select their own music also provided within the app. Another feature is the ability to share cartoons online — adding a cultural component to digital storytelling. With built-in possibilities for sharing stories, our students enjoyed watching other cartoons from around the world.  For students with special needs, this is a highly creative app that is excellent for expressive language skills-effective for students with language delays.


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2. Strip designer ($2.99)

Strip Designer IconThis is an easy-to-use app for designing non-animated comics for digital storytelling. Use personal photos (or photos from the web) to create comics, using templates and advanced customization options. For curriculum purposes, comics are an excellent tool to teach literacy — strip designer provides a platform for an alternative genre of writing, and in certain instances can teach various aspects of the writing process. Comics are an ideal approach to teaching narrative writing skills. This app is great for students who are interested in developing graphic novels.

There are also a number of great resources for using comics in the classroom:


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3. Flipbook ($4.99)

Flipbook IconFlipbook is an easy-to-use animation app that allows students to create animations from still drawings. Once the students draws a series of animations they can be pieced together as a movie and played back. This app is motivating for students who enjoy illustrating. You can also share your animations online-when you buy the app you can see others’ animations through See this review from for more information on Flipbook.


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4. This is My Story (and I’m sticking to it!) ($1.99)

This is My Story IconThis app teaches sentence structure in a highly creative way. An early years app for digital storytelling, this is designed for young students (pre-school to early elementary). The app allows students to create a “silly sentence” based on the picture. There are several activities within this app, but the “make up your own story” option offers the ability to make up a story within a fill-in-the-blank template. This app offers students an introduction to sentence structure in a highly visual way, and its effective for students who are learning to read visually or with an alternative approach.


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5. Book Creator for iPad ($4.99)

We really like this app. Its fun, creative and easy to create your own book. Have a look at the developer’s intro video:

Book Creator for iPad IconBook Creator allows the student to create his/her own e-books using simple-to-use templates. Book making and story telling becomes incredibly fun and engaging with this app. Import photos from your iPad, and use multiple text options. The best part? Students can post and read their creations on iBooks and create their own individual “bookshelf.” Additional options are saving books to Dropbox as well as printing.


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6. Doodlecast for Kids ($1.99)

This app can be used for digital storytelling with illustrations or for screencasting purposes. The developers have a great video overview:

Doodlecast for kids IconThe app is designed for younger students to be able to illustrate their story with the use of a prompt. Essentially, the app provides a prompt to begin the storytelling process; for example “what is really loud?” or “who is wearing the hat?” The student can then illustrate the concept or their ideas with an illustration. There is no option for text; however, this is a great app for students who have visual strengths.

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Although not specifically designed for digital storytelling, we had to mention two other creative apps that we like:

7. Skitch for iPad ($Free)

Skitch is an app that allows the student to edit and annotate photos, webpages, maps, etc with various drawing tools. Have a look at this quick intro video:

Skitch for iPad IconThere are many uses for Skitch besides storytelling-it can be used as an organization tool, research, and to remember important concepts. This app was recently acquired by Evernote and is fully integrated within this app. We can see many used for Skitch, but the ability to annotate and edit pictures for students who need a visual approach to learning is particularly interesting for pedagogical purposes. Another use: try Skitch for creating visual scene displays for students who need alternative forms of communication (see our previous post) as part of your digital storytelling initiative.


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8. Rory’s Story Cubes ($1.99)

Rory’s Story Cubes is an excellent game that uses dice to tell stories. They have a great video on their site that gives an overview of how the game works. The game has been written up in many blogs and won a Parent’s Choice Award in Spring 2010.

Rorys Story Cubes IconThe developers took the concept of the game and adapted it to an app on the iPhone. However entertaining this game can be, this is an excellent app for therapeutic use for students with language delays-we recommend it to speech and language pathologists as well as teachers and parents. Shake the iPod or iPad and a series of picture cubes are shown on the screen. Use these cubes to make up a story starting with “once upon a time.” As students use a picture, it can be manipulated on-screen into a sequence or moved around the screen. We’ve found that nine images at once can be overwhelming for some students-one feature that would be nice is the ability to reduce the amount of cubes shown when the iPad is shaken. Use as a starter for creative writing or for oral storytelling purposes. Instructions are available in six languages.


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Digital storytelling can help provide alternative literacy opportunities to students with special needs. What is particularly impressive about these creative apps is that they provide an infinite number of possibilities for students. There is always a new digital story to create! Do you know of other creative apps for digital storytelling? Please share them with us in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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3 Responses to There’s a special app for that – Part 11: Creative apps for digital storytelling

  1. Jean-Eudes Lepelletier May 31, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    Great list of apps indeed… and I think you could also include my app Tapikeo HD (, since one of the features is about story-telling !

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