Digital Profiles: A Unit of Study


New York is a city of characters. The Green Thumb, whose community gardens in a Brooklyn housing project shows children that eggs don’t come from eggplant. The Dictaphone Doctor, last of a dying breed. The Jury Clerk, who says ‘Good morning’ 200 times a day, and means it. The Teenage Mother. The Tabloid Photographer. The Iraq Veteran. The Walking Miracle. Throughout 2009, The Times introduced 54 such individuals in sound and images, ordinary people telling extraordinary stories—of passions and problems, relationships and routines, vocations and obsessions.Introduction to One in 8 Million, The New York Times, 2009

The New York Times spectacular One in 8 Million series captured the craft of digital storytelling with such power that it brought out the storyteller in everyone, a teacher told us. “Each time I listened to one of the stories,” this ninth grade English teacher said, “I kept thinking, ‘How can I do this with my students? How can I help them tell their own community’s stories?’”

In the summer of 2009, the youth-led news bureau Y-Press decided to do just that. In a two-week summer camp called City Stories, Y-Press journalists (ages 11-18) trained campers from area (Indianapolis) community centers to pursue stories about people in their neighborhoods, using audio slideshows and writing. The Y-Pressers had been honing these skills all year, posting the results on the pages of the Indianapolis Star and on their own website. During the two-week camp, they taught fourth and fifth graders how to take photographs, collect sound, meet potential interviewees, write questions, and make editorial decisions to create compelling audio slideshows.

In the summer of 2010, Jordan Denari, a Y-Press alumna who coordinated that summer’s program (between her freshman and sophomore years in college), wrote about City Stories for Her piece also included audio slideshows in which the Y-Press counselors talked about the challenges of teaching digital storytelling—and what they, themselves, had gained in the process.

Digital Profiles: A Unit of Study by Y-Press and The Indiana Partnership for Young Writers

Digital Profiles Curriculum (13 pp.) PDF

Worksheets (7 pp.) PDF

Attachments (15 pp.) PDF

This past summer, Y-Press journalists teamed up with The Indiana Partnership for Young Writers to create Digital Profiles: A Unit of Study—embedding the journalistic experiences provided by City Stories into a writing workshop curriculum. The Unit stretches across five to six weeks, allowing students the time needed to engage in the real work of writers. The suggested daily mini-lessons are not meant to be recipes for producing digital profiles, but rather a framework for teaching the qualities of good writing and the particular craft skills needed to create digitally or print profiles.

With delight, we offer here the complete Digital Profiles: A Unit of Study. The curriculum, we believe, is a powerhouse in its own right; the fact that it was co-created by youth journalists makes it all the more noteworthy.

Y-Press is a diverse, youth-driven organization that develops leadership, civic engagement and critical thinking through journalism in a variety of media, providing a forum of local and global youths’ perspectives. Y-Press began as a Children’s Express bureau in 1990. Young journalists report on issues affecting youth locally and globally. Interviews are conducted by reporters (ages 10-13) and written by editors (ages 14-18) for audiences of all ages. Outlets include, The Indianapolis Star and its website; WFYI-FM (90.1) and its website; and the Y-Press website.

The Indiana Partnership for Young Writers, an affiliate of Orchard School Foundation and IUPUI School of Education, provides ongoing and in-depth professional development in the teaching of reading and writing to teachers in grades K-8 at more than 90 schools in nine counties in Indiana. Founded in 1999, IPYW is committed to inquiry-based workshop teaching that sustains lifelong academic and workplace success.



Digital Storytelling by students provides a strong foundation in many different types of literacy, such as information literacy, visual literacy, technology literacy, and media literacy. Summarizing the work of several researchers in this field, Brown, Bryan and Brown (2005) have labeled these multiple skills that are aligned with technology as “Twenty-first Century Literacy,” which they describe as the combination of:

Digital Literacy – the ability to communicate with an ever-expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and seek help • Global Literacy - the capacity to read, interpret, respond, and contextualize messages from a global perspective • Technology Literacy - the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance • Visual Literacy - the ability to understand, produce and communicate through visual images • Information Literacy - the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information.

In the area of technology literacy, students who create digital stories improve their skills by using software that combines a variety of multimedia tools including working with text, still images, audio, video and oftentimes, Web publishing. In the area of technological literacy, Digital Storytelling can provide a meaningful reason for students to learn to digitize media content by using scanners, digital still cameras, and video cameras. In addition, as students create the narration and soundtrack for a story, they gain skills in using microphones, digitizing audio and working with music and sound effects. Riesland (2005) notes that even as the definition of the term “Visual Literacy” is being hotly debated by researchers and educators, there is no dispute that computer technology is at the heart of the debate. She challenges the educational community to reconsider what it means to be literate in the age of technology and argues that teachers must equip their students with skills that will enable them to understand and communicate through visual modes, and “thrive in increasingly media-varied environments.”

Riesland goes on to call for a new definition of visual literacy education, one that will allow students to successfully navigate and communicate through new forms of multimedia, while taking on the role of information producer rather than just being information consumers. In summary, when students are able to participate in the multiple steps of designing, creating and presenting their own digital stories, they increase a full complement of literacy skills, including:

Research Skills: documenting the story, finding and analyzing pertinent information • Writing Skills: formulating a point of view and developing a script • Organization Skills: managing the scope of the project, the materials used and the time it takes to complete the task • Technology Skills: learning to use a variety of tools, such as digital cameras, scanners, microphones and multimedia authoring software • Presentation Skills: deciding how to best present the story to an audience • Interview Skills: finding sources to interview and determining questions to ask • Interpersonal Skills: working within a group and determining individual roles for group members • Problem-Solving Skills: learning to make decisions and overcome obstacles at all stages of the project, from inception to completion • Assessment Skills: gaining expertise critiquing their own and others’ work.

Robin, B. (2006). "The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling." In C. Crawford et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2006 (pp. 709-716). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator