Visual Story-Telling Project for Grades 6-12

Angelica Allende Brisk, Cambridge Media Arts Studio (original author); Ana Caldeira, Somerville, MA High School, Tobe Stromberg, Cambridge (MA) Rindge and Latin High School, Marian Grogan, TERC (editors)
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Students learn how to use a sequence of images to illustrate the difference between sequestering and emitting carbon.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

The Visual Story-Telling project assignment provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding of what it means to emit carbon and to sequester carbon, by creating a word-less sequence of images of objects that either emit or sequester carbon, or (as in the case of the biosphere) both. The series of images needs to convey the message without the benefit of oral explanation.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Research, analysis and synthesis of complex climate science content
  • Collaboration with other students
  • Using compelling story telling and images to deliver a message

Skills goals for this activity:

  • Background internet research from vetted sources
  • Formulating and planning a series of images that will tell a story
  • Filming and video production
  • Collaborating on pre-planning, production and film screening
  • Critique (peer review) of others' work

Context for Use


The visual story-telling project is suitable for students in middle school and high school science classes in which students are studying the carbon cycle. This might include classes in

  • Ecology and environmental science
  • Earth Science
  • Chemistry

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students will benefit from a prior understanding of the carbon cycle and how the biosphere can act as both a source and a sink for carbon in the cycle.

How the activity is situated in the course

The visual story-telling project is a good first media project to use in conveying science concepts, as the media skills needed to create it are straight-forward: sound is not necessary and editing is done in the camera, through careful planning, rather than post-filming using software. The focus of the project is really to tell a story without explaining it - not an easy task to accomplish!

Description and Teaching Materials

The Visual Story-Telling (VST) project follows a sequence of activities that are described in the CAM Visual Story-Telling Project Handout linked below. Media resources (documents, PowerPoint presentations and videos) that are recommended for this project are also linked below and referred to at the appropriate points of use in the project handout. Additional media resources and good websites for researching climate science topics are included in the Resources section at the end of this project page.

CAM Visual Story-Telling Project Handout for Grades 6-12 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 637kB Jan22 14)

Music From a Bonsai

Street Skiing from All.I.Can

CAM Before You Tape (PowerPoint 24.7MB Dec3 13)

Visual Story-Telling video (Quicktime Video 126MB Jan7 14)

CAM Field Production Cheat Sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Dec3 13)

CAM Peer Review Form for Video Projects (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 111kB Dec3 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is important to check in with students as they develop this project and ensure that their understanding of the science content is clear. Fostering a positive environment for collaboration is also important - i.e. encourage students to:

  • critique each others' work respectfully and with a collective goal of having all projects in the class be strong;
  • explicitly acknowledge excellent work by their classmates;
  • consider how they will take their work beyond the classroom.

If you are short on time for this project, students can create a slide show of still images using the same rules of framing and mix of shot types, without taping video.

This media project can be used for other topics in climate science; for example sustainable vs non-sustainable activities, examples of how global climate change is evident in our environment, etc.


There are several points in the development and completion of this project that offer opportunities for assessment. For example:

1. Students' understanding of carbon sequestration and emission can be assessed verbally prior to filming and in the images they choose to tell their stories.
2. Visual aspects of the project can be assessed for quality, using (or adapting) the sample rubric provided with the VST project handout.
3. Peer review of team members can be helpful for students to review each others' roles and contribution to the team effort (a Peer Review for Video Projects is included in the Teaching Materials above)
4. Group screenings with constructive feedback provided by the audience (classmates, other students, families) offer students an opportunity to refine their climate science knowledge and visual story-telling skills.

References and Resources

CAM Climate Science Resources -good websites for climate science information and images

CAM Media Production Resources - print and online tools for creating media projects