From Storyboard To Video: A Reading Visualization Project

Rickford Grant, Toyama University of International Studies


  • Key Words: Reading, Video
  • Learner English Level: Low to mid-intermediate
  • Learner Maturity Level: Late teens to young adult
  • Preparation Time: 2-5 hours (cumulative)
  • Activity Time: Three to four class sessions (plus normal time used for introducing a story)

Teaching fiction can be quite a challenging task, especially when dealing with lower level students. One of the biggest problems is getting the students to enjoy and become involved in whatever story they are reading. Japanese students, however, too often see any English reading task merely as a quest for answers, which is a tendency too often reinforced by assignments which focus mainly on the studentsユ comprehension of the language in the story. Unfortunately, what usually follows, after a considerable investment in time and dictionary wear, is that students have little or no idea of the basic plot of the story for which they have been so diligently proving their comprehension.

The storyboard to video project is one way of circumventing this tendency. It is a visualization project by which students begin to learn to see, and even hear, what they are reading--just as they do in their own language. A storyboard is a series of sketches that portray the important parts of a story and also give parts of the dialogue. Storyboarding is used as a step in animation, television, video, and film production.

For the EFL classroom, however, the focus of the project is not so much on the production of a video per se, but rather on the process leading up to that product. The project is, in a sense, a disassembly and reassembly process through which the students focus on the basic components of a story, and then reconstruct those components into a visual form: First into drawings and then, time and resources permitting, into a video end project.

The Story

Although one story or passage is enough for the project, having a variety makes for more interesting end products and allows the students to work in smaller and less redundant groups. At the same time, the students are given the chance to read a greater variety of literature and perhaps find a story that is of particular interest to them. If the end product is to be a video, the passage should have only one or two settings, and have a number of characters no greater than the number of students that the teacher intends to place in a group. It is fine to choose a story with fewer characters in that other students can serve in other capacities within the group.

In general, the passages should be kept rather short. I try to keep the length under 1,000 words, especially if the passages are not graded materials. It is also important that the materials be something new to the students and be of a caliber that provide enough of a challenge to pique their interest once they are under way. Although there is a tendency to think that Japanese students respond only to Disney stories, two selections popular with my students are the rather obscure "The Light Gray Spring Coat" by German writer Wolfgang Hildesheimer, and a section from the story "Child of the Owl" by Lawrence Yep. I have also used, with equal success, excerpts from Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Fifth Business by Robinson Davies, the English translation of The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki, and the graded edition of the play Picnic by William Inge.

Step One: Visual Scenes

After having presented all of the stories in a manner suitable for the class, the students are broken into story groups. Groups of six or seven seem to work well when it comes to the video stage of the project. There should be enough students in each group to perform the acting and narrating slots and do the filming, etc.

After the groups are decided, the students are given an assignment in which they break the story into visual scenes. The students receive a handout which has a series of entries, such as the following:

Setting/Location: _______________________________________________________

Characters: _______________________________________________________

Action/Description: _______________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________

The students are instructed to think like a director and write down only those scenes that can actually be seen--no dialogue or thoughts (unless they are visual as well), just actions and descriptions. This should be done as a homework assignment so that each student benefits from this initial visualization exercise. It is useful, however, to have the groups complete the first two or three scenes in class so that the teacher can make sure that the students really have a grasp of what it is they are supposed to be doing.


Next comes the art--a crucial step in the visualization process. At this time the students illustrate those visual scenes which they isolated in the previous phase. For some students the idea of drawing may seem childish, while for others, feeling themselves lacking in artistic skills, it might be rather daunting. The storyboard metaphor, however, when clearly explained in the professional context from which it is derived, can help to alleviate some of these concerns and bring about more satisfactory results.

The students use A4 sheets of paper with four rectangular spaces in which they illustrate the visual scenes decided upon earlier. Each student should illustrate all the scenes for that group's story. I have found that this assignment yields far better results when done at home as a solo effort and gives everyone in the group the chance to see how each member sees a particular scene. This also gives the teacher a chance to check the students' comprehension.

In groups, the students then select those pictures which they feel best represent the visual scenes in their story (teacher intercession may be necessary here in order to confirm that those representations are valid and that each of the members' work is represented). The selections are then pasted together with the related excerpt from the story underneath as a caption (see Figure 1), and these are then distributed to all the students in the class.

Listening In: Scripting

Now that the students have begun to see the story, they can learn to hear it as well. In this phase, the students, in their groups, go through the story and highlight any dialogue or narration that they find. Once finished, the students then begin preparing a script which lists the information for each visual scene (setting, characters, action/description) followed by the dialogue and/or any narration related to that scene. The students now have a completed script and are thus prepared to begin bringing the story to video. Of course, if resources are limited, the project can end in a live in-class performance rather than a video production, or, if time is a problem, as a much shorter illustrated story.


The storyboard to video project has been very successful in my classes in Japan and the United States. The process not only encourages students to visualize and thus better enjoy what they read in English, but also generates considerable communicative language use in the reading classroom. The final presentations are usually quite lively and exciting and help to promote a lot of enthusiasm and life in the otherwise potentially staid reading classroom.



Davies, R. (1977). Fifth business. New York: Penguin Books USA.

Hildesheimer, W. (1987). The light gray spring coat. In: The collected stories of Wolfgang Hildesheimer. New York: The Ecco Press.

Inge, W. (1992). Picnic (Yohan Ladder Edition). Tokyo: Yohan Publications, Inc.

Tanizaki, J. (1995). The Makioka Sisters. New York: Vintage Books.

Vonnegut, K. (1992). The Sirens of Titan. New York: Dell Publishing Company