By Dan O’Reilly-Rowe, 2009.

Negotiating the shape of a story that is being collectively authored by a group of people can be tricky. People can get very attached to their ideas, and it takes a great deal of trust and open-mindedness to craft a story with a group. This is a fun, hands-on activity that can be used as a warm-up if done quickly. It also opens opportunities for educators to discuss story structure, visual storytelling, and collective decision-making with the group.


  • Practice camera work
  • Experiment with visual storytelling
  • Collaborate as a group in the construction of a story


  • Works well for large groups with limited access to camera equipment.


  • Video camera
  • Television monitor for playback
  • Cable to connect camera to monitor


  • Basic camera work
  • Storytelling
  • Collective decision-making


  • Have participants stand in a circle to begin. Count off so that each participant has a number.
  • Each participant will have a turn being the camera operator/director and will take one shot, up to ten seconds long, in the order of the number that they just received. During their turn, they have control of the story and can call on any other participant to act in their shot.
  • The idea is to build a coherent story that has a beginning, middle, and end. This means that each person will have to think about what has already happened in the story, especially in the shot that came immediately before theirs. Also think about how many shots are coming after, and how the story is moving towards a conclusion.
  • Put some thought into the camera work. Before taking the shoot, describe the shot to the rest of the group (eg. “I’m going to zoom in from a mid-shot to an extreme close up of her left eye”). Remember to call for quiet on the set before pressing the record button. Make sure that every shot is framed differently than the one before it to avoid jump cuts.
  • There will be no editing. The tape will be played back exactly as shot. One take only. If someone makes a mistake just keep on going!
  • Keep the energy high and push the participants to think and shoot fast.
  • Once all participants have taken their shot, rewind the tape or select the first video file in the sequence, connect the camera to the TV, and play it back for the group.
  • Process with the following questions:
  • Did it make sense? Was it a story? What makes something a story anyway?
  • How did the edits work? Any surprises?
  • How did the camerawork choices affect the meaning of the piece?
  • Did the story go where you expected it to? How did you feel about sharing the story with the rest of the crew?

Other Things to Try

  • If the group is small, each participant can have multiple turns.
  • This activity can be done with simultaneous sound recording, but also works well with no sound recording. If shooting silent, play music during the shoot, and play music when screening footage.
  • This activity can be repeated several times over a period of time and used to evaluate the group’s developing storytelling and camera skills.

Storytelling Prompts | Finding Topics to Explore

Morgan Sully, 2010.  Coming up with a worthy topic for a story can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be.  Here’s a few prompts to get you started. Participants Can work for small or large groups.  Not much technology is needed for this activity. Skills/Technique This...