Each year, I lead a graduate level course for teachers on how to use digital classrooms (versus 'learning management systems') where students freely share work and exchange ideas and reactions to deepen student engagement, critical thinking and writing.
Concerned that teachers don't have enough time or equipment to pull off complex digital stories with their kids and still achieve quality, I decided several years ago to show the teachers how to do something simpler -- a photo story. Get a powerful story from an elder, a compelling photo and podcast the text (add music if time for tone). I created a model and asked them to do the same -- when teachers write with students or share personal stories the impact on student engagement is profound.
My subject was my uncle, Frank Glazer, a classical pianist who has performed all over the world. He has had some amazing experiences, as he outlined recently on The Story. And, oh yes, at the time he was 95 years old . (UPDATE: Sadly, at 99, just 6-weeks away from his planned 6-concert, 4-state birthday concert tour in Feb. 2015, he died. I was honored to be with him when he took his last breath and I would not trade those last two weeks of his life for anything in the world.)
I had some great material. I had a deep understanding of the person I was telling a story about. I had a compelling photograph. I had music, which was a key part of who he was. And I had no trouble just telling a quick story of who he was; this took me 20 minutes.
This piece has since gone all over -- cowbird.com, thirdcoastfestival.org to name a few -- and it has been used by hundreds of students as a model for their own stories. And consider this: I didn't write the original story, I spoke it. Which proves the value of using audio -- of just telling a story -- as an exercise to get kids "writing," particularly the reluctant writers and/or chatterboxes. Another important note: keep it simple.