March 2023Technology

StoryMap for Designing Place-based Multimodal Narratives

By Angela Lee-Smith, Yale University

Angela Lee-Smith



Storytelling is an extremely valuable activity for developing students’ language skills. StoryMap is a helpful storytelling tool for language learners to effectively communicate and share place-based digital storytelling that narrates about people, events, emotions, and information related to specific places. The online platform, developed by Northwestern University’s Knightlab, allows users to set locations or identify and mark places which can correspond to a series of events. StoryMaps offers users the ability to integrate multimodal texts by supporting the use of photo images, audio, video, and writing. In addition, its interactive and engaging geographic mapping creates a more dynamic and engaging communication experience than traditional static presentations using a paper map or slide presentation. In practical terms, the StoryMap platform is sustainable and accessible, so language instructors and students can easily add, edit, and save. The platform can be used regardless of classroom mode — virtual (synchronous, asynchronous), in-person, or flipped. 

Name of the tool logo picture - StoryMap - Maps that tell stories - button that says Make a Storymap
Primary purpose of the tool To create a series of place-based storytelling/narratives mapping on a digital map platform incorporating photos, audio/video, and writing. 
Cost and subscription Free, but you need a Google account to use the tool
Ease of use and accessibility  Straightforward and easy to use

Sample Student Projects that Implement StoryMap JS at All Levels of Proficiency in Korean 

Here I provide some examples of student-produced place-based projects at all levels of proficiency. These projects were produced individually or collaboratively using StoryMap JS.

StoryMap Project and Technology Incorporation

My Happy Place (Beginner class)

Picture 1 - StoryMap: My Happy Place - has a map on the left with photographs on the left. on the right we see a YouTube video and some text in Korean
Picture 1 – StoryMap: My Happy Place
Project description and objectives: This project aims to facilitate supportive environments where students can be socially connected and build a sense of community by recommending their happy places on campus and the surrounding area. It is a multimodal and place-based digital storytelling project from a first-semester Korean class and shares each student’s storytelling about “my happy place” at the campus and local area, in multimodal meaning-making ways: visual, aural, and spatial modes (e.g., video, images, music, mapping, on top of linguistic mode (oral and written).

Campus Tour Guide (Intermediate class)

Picture 2 - StoryMap: Campus Tour Guide - we see a map on the left with markers on the map. On the right we see a video and some text in Korean
Picture 2 – StoryMap: Campus Tour Guide
Project description and objectives: This is a class project to create a digital college campus tour guide. Each student in the intermediate Korean course chooses one of the most important or unique features of the campus and writes a guide or informative text about that feature. As a class, the students produce and publish a comprehensive campus tour guide including a written brochure and oral guide in Korean. Featured information includes residential colleges, libraries, statues on the campus, dining halls and food, university history, student communities (extracurricular clubs), diversity and cultural centers, and opportunities and resources.

Life StoryMap: Retracing My Footsteps (Advanced class)

Picture 3 - Autobiographical Life StoryMap - we see a map of the United States on the left. On the right there is a picture of a restaurant, some writing in Korean, and it says in English Albany, Georgia
Picture 3 – Autobiographical Life StoryMap
Project description and objectives: This project explores how life stories and autobiographical writing promote learning in an advanced language course. Students reflect on their lives and choose three major / meaningful / memorable / influential places for them and write short narrative essays about them using the StoryMap tool. This project features autobiographical writing as an activity through which learning is fostered and mediated is a major strand of narrative in adult education. Such writing leads to learning and growth as it enables students to bring a sense of order to life, to reflect on meaningful moments of events, and to gain insight into their own development. 

Now I will show you the steps that you need to create your own StoryMaps.

How to Make Your StoryMaps

1. Log in with your Google account.

2. Click “New”.

3. Create your title slide first. Type the title/name of your StoryMap. Then click “Create”.

Picture 4 - Creating a title slide - there is a map at the top. on the bottom left, you can enter in media. on the bottom right, you write a title and other text.
Picture 4 – Creating a title slide

4. Add Media: Upload an image from your computer or Add URL for audio/video. 

5. Type a caption text and credit for the image or video. 

Picture 5 - Adding media content - you can add in a url of an image or upload an image
Picture 5 – Adding media content

6. Make sure to click “Save”. Then, click “Preview.” 

7. Add a headline and a story/narrative in the text box. 

Picture 6 -  Add a headline and story text - you can format the story text with bold, italics, and add in links. There are also marker options and background options.
Picture 6 –  Add a headline and story text

8. Save and preview to see your progress.

Picture 7 - Save and preview - you can click Save and preview to see what it looks like. This one shows Kyungbok palace in Seoul, Korea.
Picture 7 – Save and preview

9. Click “Edit” to continue editing. 

10. To add slides, click “Edit” then click “Add Slide +”.

Picture 8 - Add more StoryMap slides - click the Edit button and click the plus sign to add a slide.
Picture 8 – Add more StoryMap slides

11. Each time you add a new slide, you will see the map search box for mapping your place on the map. Search the place of your story. 

For Mapping, add a slide for each place in your story. Setting the location is easy: search for the name or address. 

For example, StoryMap Slide 1 is for the National Folk Museum in Kyungbok Palace.

Picture 9 - Mapping - you put a marker on the map or search for coordinates. This marker is to the national folk museum.
Picture 9 – Mapping

12. Repeat the same process as in Step 4-7 to add more slides and Step 10 for mapping. Each student follows Steps 4-7 and 11 to add their slide for a collaborative class project.

Additional Information

  • Language Support: StoryMap JS gives you a variety of options of (about 30) world languages to use in controls and messages when displaying your StoryMap. Click “Options” and then choose your target language. 
  • Class project: Each student can create StoryMaps and share with the class. Also, you  could create a Google account for the class and have each student contribute their StoryMap slides as well.
  • Style of map: The visual style of the map can be changed with a few presets.
Picture 10 - Options for style of maps - size, language, fonts, with other options.
Picture 10 – Options for style of maps
  • Sharing and Publishing: Click “Share” to share the project with others (e.g., instructor, classmates). Then you will see the shared link created for your project. You can copy the embed code of your project and put it on your own website. 
Picture 11 -  Share your project - Click the share button - a map is showing below and it says This is your title slide. The title slide shows all points from your other slides.
Picture 11 –  Share your project
Picture 12 - Your final creation - it has a map on the left. on the right it has a photo and then text that says Kyungbok palace in Seoul, Korea, with also some text in Korean.
Picture 12 – Your final creation


The StoryMap JS platform promotes multimodal communication. Through reading and writing text, students apply not only vocabulary and grammar but also stylistic differences and registers in written text, and the audio or video component provides students with listening and speaking practice. Further, the interactive mapping component helps students visualize the map and location. This makes lessons and language use more engaging, personalized, and enjoyable. 

Through place-based storytelling projects, my students used geographical locations as the starting point  to create authentic, meaningful, engaging, and personalized learning in a variety of contexts. Practically any place, including the students’ own “places” – home, campus, neighborhood, town, community, or countries – can serve as a valuable resource in place-based storytelling. Making effective and practical use of technology through StoryMap JS enabled my students to experience creating and sharing their stories about places and apply what they have learned in the language classroom to meaningful and creative language use in real-world contexts. Places on a map may mean no more than geographical places, but they can be significant and influential places in one’s life when shared with their stories.

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