Woices and Google Earth for Digital Fiction

These are some of the ideas I have been brewing over during my half term break from school. Today I managed to have a great few hours and got 3 solid looking weeks of planning done which incorporate all of these concepts. As the next few weeks pass I will reflect on their effectiveness in the classroom with our classes.


Not a particularly new idea as this is a firm favourite for digital storytelling. I have always spoken highly of this simple application from Microsoft because it has such a clearly set out structure to follow. It is particularly beneficial for young children as there is noa chance they will get lost in an open application searching for features or trying to remember how to do things. Photostory is linear in structure and so each step has to be passed by to finish.

We have had success in the past with Photostory so it is familiar territory for the staff in Year 5 but our classes have yet to look at it with us. They had some brief experience with their classes last year but not on the scale we want to use it.

The children will be generating illustrations, clay models, images and paintings to help tell the story of James and the Giant Peach for the first few days. We are not taking on the whole story though, as the children have already written a letter explaining about his early predicament to an imaginary character. We are going to use Photostory to bring that letter to life and make it multi modal in nature. The prior writing will be a good source of support and the children will add audio and narration of their correspondence in this new digital way.


I first came across Comiqs from Steve Kirkpatrick’s excellent blog. There are growing numbers of online comic and cartoon sites but the feature that makes this so useful in the classroom is its simplicity. I am looking forward to mashing up their writing into this different digital form following our Photostory work. The children will have to reappraise their writing and look at the direct speech of characters in more detail due to the comic book genre.

I have contacted Michael at Comiqs regarding multiple logins and just asking advice in general about using it with a class of 30 or even 60 children in total. It is clear that a class sign in system, like Voicethread, is not yet in place so I wanted his opinion – single login for the class or multiple logins. He replied:

Currently, it might be best to use a single login and password for the site. However, managing the photos, etc, would be a bit of an issue. However, we might look into implementing a paid service with better much login and classroom support.

If this is the case it should be interesting looking out for this in the future. I am excited about letting the children loose on Comiqs and know they will enjoy using it for their digital narrative, nonetheless it remains to be seen how well it copes with large amounts of media in a single account, accessed by many children.

Google Earth

During a seminar at the Scottish Learning Festival Ewan McIntosh explained about using Google Earth for narrative in Penguin’s 21 Steps examples from Charles Cumming. The idea struck me that beginning with a journey would be a great way to tell a story and combined with the children’s general confidence around Google Earth it should be a great medium for narrative.

The idea for our own work is using James and the Giant Peach as our launch pad, but taking it in a different direction. I thought today that the class could write his escape from the clutches of his Aunt and to write the ongoing story using placemarks in Google Earth.

I spent some time hunting around for a place in England somewhere that matched the location of the house from the Dahl story. I found somewhere in Dorset I think, on a hill with a thin sliver of sea visible in the distance.

I will show the children how to create a path using Google Earth and talk through James’ possible escape. We will use the real features of the land to help inform the narrative. I will ask the children to write 6-10 parts of the escape story from James’ point of view. Each placemark could form a paragraph and must refer to the real environment around it.

I love the idea of a visual pathway beginning the story rather than traditional plans or notes. I think the children will respond well to this digital form of stroytelling and perhaps we can make it an option in the future for writing narrative. The possibilities are huge for the scope of this work and combined with other information and creative media within Google Earth layers it could really support children’s storytelling. This is the one I am most looking forward to exploring.


To support the location driven narrative of Google Earth and to provide the children with the opportunity to talk through their writing ideas prior to using GE, I have decided to plan in a few sessions using Woices. This is a geotagging audio site and is meant to be used for recording audio references “echoes” about places in the world, they then can be combined together to form a “walk” of “echoes” with something in common.

An echo is an audio record that is attached to a physical real-world location or object. Echoes are words, left by one person at some precise place, that can be listened to by anyone, as if their author was still there. Echoes can speak about any topic and respond to any user’s purpose. They can speak about local history, art, curiosities, personal memories, and so on. Just something you think its worth to leave that may make the world a more interesting place.

As soon as I saw this tool i thought digital storytelling on a map! And that is how I am planning on using it, the children will take their journey from Google Earth (see above) and record audio of James’ escape story. The children have to navigate on a world map to the location of the first piece of audio, so giving them a real location to search will be important, and then they record part of the narrative. Whereas Google Earth placemarks are the written version, Woices is the spoken version.

This is still very much an unknown service and I am unsure how it will cope with the media we will throw at it in a very short time. I will be getting in touch with the folk at Woices to forewarn them and to get some advice about usage. Once again their is an issue around many users on one single login and with lots of media being generated.

I am planning that the children will work in pairs to create their Woices audio on the map – once the “echoes” have been created they then can choose a bunch of them to create a “walk” and this will tie in together theor work creating a seamless narrative.

Of course now thinking about it the pooled audio provides for an interesting option of generating a whole variety of “walks” by combining different children’s ideas. I also had the thought that the Google Earth journey type narrative could lead from one path to another. The starting point for one child’s story could be the end of another, the whole class has the same theme and you begin with a shared/modelled piece of work and then the children take different parts of the journey. Combining to form a whole class digital journey narrative.

There are many unanswered elements here and a completely new application to explore in the classroom, but there is also the reliability of Photostory and the exciting prospect of geo-narrative in Google Earth. I am looking forward to what the children make of it all and broadening their horizons to the nature of storytelling and narrative.

11 thoughts on “Woices and Google Earth for Digital Fiction

  1. Or, combine the two using http://mapskip.com On this site you can write a story upload your own picture and add a sound file. It uses Google Maps so you can get up close with the satellite view, too. Here’s my story using a picture from Wikimedia and a sound file from I can’t remember where: http://www.mapskip.com/stories.php?story=328

    I love the idea of a travelling story from location to location, how are you going to ensure people read it in the right order, or will it matter.

  2. Comiqs is a neat site but I think its also of value to note that education Comic life licences are very reasonable. We have recently purchased Comic Life to create ‘How to’ comics for ICT, student create comic versions of Shakespeare Plays (with digital cams) and so forth.

  3. Good luck with the Google Earth idea. I’ve been doing something similar with my S2 class in relation to Theresa Breslin’s novel ‘Divided City’. Would be very interested to hear how it goes

  4. Some excellent ideas here Tom. I look forward to hearing how they develop through the next half term.

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  7. I am so glad you all have break at this time of year, it allows you all to have time to research the latest and share with your “working” peers around the globe. I hope we get to reciprocate when we have our summer break. Thanks for sharing.

    Cheryl Oakes

  8. Some really nifty ideas there Tom. I love how you are exploring and experimenting with technology. This post was what inspired me to start blogging and exploring the possibilities technology now provides for my students and myself. Love you creativity – keep it up!

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