Creating Talking Books – a practical example of digital literacy development

I have written about digital literacy quite extensively and you can read about various models of digital literacy in my recent post, Defining and Developing Digital Literacy. I have also spoken about strategies for developing digital literacies, but have not specifically offered ideas for classroom activities. This post is aimed at sharing one practical idea for developing digital literacies – by creating talking digital books.

This is not a new idea – there are countless resources online giving great information on how to engage in this type of activity with your students. It may be adapted for almost any age group, and is suitable for a huge range of concepts – fiction or non-fiction. Kids have been creating books for…well…forever! I remember writing and ‘publishing’ my own little stories, illustrating each page and designing cardboard covers, stapling the pages together and proudly sharing them with others during my primary school years thirty years ago, and this greatly enhanced my traditional literacy skills. Having a real audience to share my stories with (i.e. classmates and family members!) was so much more inspiring than just handing in writing to the teacher, and the pride of actually ‘creating’ a book was a great motivator.

Today, we have a wide range of digital tools to enable students to create texts that encourage traditional literacy skills of reading and writing, as well as a range of digital literacies also, as they combine audio, visual, animation, multimedia and more. They can share their stories with a much wider audience (the world!!) and can learn many different skills, wrapped up in the one publication.

Using Doug Belshaw’s eight elements of digital literacies, the first and most obvious is the cognitive element, as the students must be able to develop the technical skills to operate the applications needed to create the book. This leads to creative and constructive literacies, as both will be developed as students design and then put together their book, assembling the text, audio and visual aspects. While younger students might draw their own images, or take their own photos to illustrate the text, older students may be introduced to concepts of Creative Commons as a source of material to remix and republish. The platform on which the book is distributed also offers learning opportunities. If the book is shared on a blog or web platform, there will be different considerations compared to if it is published on a protected learning management system with regards to copyright and student privacy. Students have the opportunity to learn that distribution platforms can influence the product being developed, and this is an important awareness for future content creation.

How to create talking, interactive books

There are many ways to create a talking e-book. Depending upon what technology is available, two of the easiest are using PowerPoint or using a specialty application such as Book Creator.

Option One: PowerPoint

Creating a talking book in PowerPoint is fairly straightforward. The challenge for the students is in creating high quality text, images and voice recordings which are the elements that the book requires! Basically, a talking book in PowerPoint is a series of hyperlinked slides, with a narration recorded and embedded into each page. Most people are pretty familiar with PowerPoint, but here are a few tricks to make the process easier.

Decisions regarding colour, layout, font and narration must be made. This image is from the Public Domain, but students could create their own or use Creative Commons images also.
Decisions regarding colour, layout, font and narration must be made. This image is from the Public Domain, but students could create their own or use Creative Commons images also. Hyperlinking and animations bring the book to life. 
  1. Take advantage of the pre-created Action buttons:

These action buttons will do exactly what they look like; the forward arrow, when placed on a slide and clicked in the Slideshow mode will forward to the next slide; the back button, backward. The Home button will return you to the first of the slides. They are hiding right down the bottom of the Shapes list, under the Insert tab. If you go past the triangles, squares and callouts, the action buttons are right at the bottom. Choose the button, and the hyperlink window such as the one in the image above will pop up, ready for you to link the pages.

  1. Use the built in sound recorder:

Under the Insert tab, on the far right hand side is the Audio tab. You can either pre-record your narrations, or record right onto each slide.

One of the advantages of creating the talking book in PowerPoint is that it can be saved and shared to be viewed on any device. However, as with any PowerPoint with sound files embedded, you must make sure that the sound files and slideshow files are saved in the same folder, and transferred together.

Option Two: Ebook Creator Apps

book creator apps

Using a pre-designed ebook creator app such as Book Creator removes the issues of separate sound and slide files; the app will construct a book that is saved as an .epub file, which will incorporate, image, text, sound and even video if you wish. Personal experience has led me to decide that these books are most easily created on the iPad, as the inbuilt iBooks reader is a perfect way to experience the book. Other epub readers such as Bluefire reader struggle with books that include sound files. Building and viewing on the iPad makes for a seamless experience. With Book Creator you can also export books to a Dropbox folder, which is handy for teachers who wish to collect all of the books onto one device for later viewing. You can also download Book Creator onto Windows PCs and Android tablets, although I have found the iBooks app to be the best external application for viewing the completed books outside of the actual app.

The Book Creator app is very intuitive. It is easy to bring photos, pre-created video, sound recordings and text onto each page, and its simple interface is not distracting. On most platforms, there is a free and paid version of the app, so you can play with the free one before committing precious funds.

The process of creating a talking book using Book Creator also opens up opportunities for ‘app-smashing’ – the term used when multiple apps are used in conjunction with each other to create a finished product. This gives students the opportunity to develop different skills within the one process. This article gives a great overview of how 11 different apps  might be combined with Book Creator to embed a wide range of content and media.

Option Three: Embed Stem

talking infographic

Books don’t have to be digital to be interactive. You can use the principles outlined in my post about creating an interactive infographic to get students working on a physical book that has sound effects. Using the free Scratch software, and a MakeyMakey, students can share their story complete with spoken dialogue or realistic sound effects. Step by step plans on how to make this happen will feature in an upcoming blog post – so stay tuned!

Like most things online, the best way to get familiar with the creation of talking books is to dive in and get started. Creating a book yourself will give you a better idea of the capacity of the app or tool you are using, and as you create, ideas for how this activity might suit your own context will begin to percolate. If you are looking for inspiration, I have curated a list of the resources mentioned here and more on Pinterest. These might get you on the road.

The key though, is this. Talk about what the students are doing. Investigate the different stages of production, and look at the opportunities to develop digital literacies at each one. Many digital literacy activities already happen every day, they are just not recognized and explicitly addressed; these lost opportunities are the most important ones, as the best digital literacy development occurs embedded within everyday actions – so that it becomes a fluent and natural part of learning each day. 

Have fun!

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