Multimodal Storytelling

Multimodal Storytelling

This tool encourages learners to share a story using different modes of communication.


4 - 12+


Biology, Storytelling, Experiential Learning, Photography

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This tool encourages learners to to share a story using different modes of communication. Engaging in multimodal storytelling can help Explorers (and/or learners) stimulate the imagination and be more expansive and creative in the ways they communicate their discoveries and work to different audiences.

Why use this tool

Multimodal storytelling is a way to tell stories that extends beyond traditional text. Storytellers artistically and coherently arrange different forms of communicating information to effectively share a story. There are five different modes of communication to consider:

  • The linguistic mode refers to printed, written text, or the spoken word. Its emphasis is on language and word usage, whether in writing or speaking.
  • The visual mode refers to what the audience can see. It could include telling a story using video, animation, or still photography. It might also include changing the appearance of text - in color, italics, font choice, and size.
  • The spatial mode refers to how the text or images are arranged in space. It is related to the arrangement, organization, emphasis, and contrast of other modes in a given text.
  • The gestural mode refers to movement and gesture. This comes into play in speeches or video where non-verbal cues communicate information.
  • The aural mode refers to what the audience can hear or not hear. It entails music, voice, sounds, or even the absence of sound.

A multimodal text or essay can combine the various modes of communication. Engaging in multimodal storytelling can help Explorers (and/or learners) stimulate the imagination and be more expansive and creative in the ways they communicate their discoveries and work to different audiences. Watch how in this TED Talk Anand Varma, National Geographic Explorer and storyteller, provides a glimpse into a beehive and reveals one of the biggest threats to its health.

As with any story, there is a process of development, production, refinement, and sharing, as described in the Storytelling Road Map (PDF). Multimodal Storytelling requires additional questions in each of these phases.

When to use this tool

This tool can be used after learners have had an experience or learned about a phenomenon that they would like to share with others.

  • Time: 60 minutes to multiple days
  • Audience: 10 and up
  • Ease of Use: medium

How to use this tool


First, decide if you need to have a variety of multimodal texts and resources available to your learners to serve as examples as they  generate ideas for use in their own stories. Some multimodal options require access to digital tools, images, videos, or the ability to research topics more thoroughly so you will want to make sure your learners have access to what they need. For your own background, it might be helpful to visit the website and preview the videos that demonstrate each of the five modes, Multi-Modal Communication: Writing in Five Modes.


Step 1: Develop the Story

This is where the story begins, often with a question, concern, or pressing issue that needs attention.

Multimodal Storytelling Considerations:

  • In what format are you writing? A newspaper article? A social media post? Where will you share this story? Who is your audience?
  • What are you writing about? Does the story call for a certain mode? Or do you have some creative freedom in how you present your ideas or make your argument?
  • What information is critical to the story and how should it be conveyed to your audience? For example, what visually stands out about the place in the story? Who are the characters in your story?
  • Do you intend to have an impact on others with your story? If so, what do you hope people will think, feel, or do next?

Step 2: Produce the Story

This is the phase in which the storyteller determines the best way to tell a particular story.

Multimodal Storytelling Considerations:

  • What elements of the story would be appropriate for different modalities?
  • How would a certain mode affect the way your audience will receive or experience the message? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using certain modes over others?
  • Would a combination of modes enhance the story? If yes, how should they be organized, sequenced, and coordinated?
  • How can different modalities help your audience interact with the story to think, feel, and want to take action in the ways you hope?

Step 3: Refine the Story

In this phase, story elements are organized, reviewed, and finalized.

Multimodal Storytelling Considerations:

As the storyteller, review your work (and have others provide feedback) on the following questions:

  • Do the selected modes add value to the story? In other words, does each mode used add to the meaning of the story?
  • What challenges or constraints arise when using different modes in different parts of the story?
  • Are the different modes coordinated well so they enhance the story or do some make the story more challenging or confusing?
  • How should the story be reorganized or revised to meet the needs of the audience?

Step 4: Share the Story

In this final phase, storytellers must determine how they will share their story.

Multimodal Storytelling Considerations:

  • Who should know about this story?
  • What platforms does this audience use?
  • How can this story be shared using those platforms?

Modifications, Variations, and Extensions

  • If multiple modalities are selected to support the story, in the “Produce the Story” phase, the storyteller needs to figure out how they will work together. A scaffold or visual representation that maps out the sequence, type, and purpose of each modality would be useful for coordinating across multiple modalities so the story coherently and effectively conveys its message.
  • For learners constructing multimodal stories for the first time, have resources available for them to use in their stories. Allow students to work in groups to talk through decisions about selecting and organizing multiple modalities for one story.
  • Another approach for learners to see the value of multimodal storytelling is to assign the same story to different groups with the expectation of each group focusing on one of the five storytelling modes. Have groups present and discuss the affordances of each modality for communicating the story.
  • A fun challenge with multimodal writing is to have a constraint that text cannot be used at all for the story. Allow students to be creative with this variation.
  • Refer to the videos included in the website “Multi-Modal Communication: Writing in Five Modes” to support oral and written language accessibility.


Conijn, J., Rietdijk, W., Broekhof, E., Andre, L., & Schinkel, A. (2021). A theoretical framework and questionnaire for wonder-full education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 54(3), 423-444.

Fillmore, A. Multi-modal Communication: Writing in Five Modes. Open English @ SLCC, Salt Lake Community College Pressbooks.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Elizabeth Wolzak, Director, Learning Innovation, Edu Lab, National Geographic
Heather J. Johnson, Vanderbilt University
Stephanie Hamilton, Education Consultant, Global Inclusive Learning Design Reviewer
Kate Gallery, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Graphic Design
Patrick Cavanagh, National Geographic Society
Rights Clearance
Jean Cantu, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 9, 2024

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