As my district prepares to “go back” to school (we are eLearning for the foreseeable future) one of the concepts I’ve heard a lot about is Zero Week.

If you’re like me, you had never heard of Zero Week before this moment. Here’s the easy explanation: during the first week, focus on ZERO content. Instead, focus on class culture, get to know you activities, team building, and returning to a more normal school environment.

While I’m happy that my district is starting remotely, I am more nervous about the first week than ever before. How do I build a relationship with a student I don’t see and interact with the way that I normally would.?

Enter digital storytelling. Over the summer I was lucky enough to pilot a National Geographic Education course, “Storytelling for Impact in Your Classroom: Photography.” From that course I learned how NatGeo photographer tell the story of the places they see. I’m going to have students tell me their stories using images and text.

Here’s the simple version:

  • You can only appear in your title slide picture – all other images should explain who your are without you being in them
  • On your title slide you can should write a 50-100 word intro to yourself in third person
  • The other slides should tell your story in 5-8 images (ideally taken by you). You can include a 2 sentence caption (again in third person)
  •  Have fun with this!

I also included a few (certainly not all) of the tips I learned from National Geographic about taking good pictures. The thing is, some of these students are far better at photography than adults I know because of Instagram, Snapchat, & TikTok.

I included my example so that students know a little more about me and see how to simple this can be.



Will this be a perfect replacement for getting to know my students? Not at all. But it helps them to take control of their story and share some of their interests with me.

Possible Extensions:

  • having students share 1 slide of their digital story with a small Zoom breakout group.
  • asking the question of what other people (siblings, parents, friends, teammates, etc.) might include if they were telling your story.
  • using one image as their Zoom background to protect their privacy in class meetings and let their peers know a tiny bit about them.

What are some ways that you are planning to replicate the “get to know you” activities in a virtual environment? I’d love to know more!

2 thoughts on “Digital Storytelling for Zero Week

  1. Thanks Chris! I love this, and it reminded me of a plan I had, but that had escaped me over the past couple of weeks, as I became increasingly nervous about the beginning of the year.
    I will be using Haiku Deck for this activity (I have a paid educator account, but Google Slides will do the same,)–both so that students learn how to use this tool, and because HD forces students to use minimal, if any text with their slides and has a bank of high-quality images. Haiku Deck now also allows audio to be added which might be a nice touch since students won’t hear each other’s voices as much in an online class.

    Another activity that would be helpful for students to understand the importance of the image and to streamline their text, is a “Death by Powerpoint” lesson (yes–I show the YouTube video) where we go over some of the aspects of bad presentations, and then the students are challenged to make the worst presentation they can–purple polka-dot text, multiple animations flying around, and 40 bullets in tiny font…it’s a fun way to have students get the bells and whistles out of their system, and understand why less is more. After this…I’ll follow-up with our own digital stories.

    I really appreciate that you included the simple version and the extensions, as well as your example–I’m inspired to work on my own example this afternoon!


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