Storytelling Workshop for Immigrant Educators – Watch and Learn

July 14, 2020

A storytelling workshop for immigrant educators was presented to nearly 400 online participants as part of the Public Education Institute’s Educator Webinars.

The session included Adam Strom from Re-Imagining Migration on the learning arc and storytelling, educator Emily Francis on using your personal story to build relationships with students,  journalist Jake Halpern on telling immigrant stories with graphic narratives and Michael Sheridan, director of Community Supported Film, on using video to tell immigrant stories.

Michael presented New Immigrant and Refugee Visions as a tool to engage students in dialogue – both between US and foreign born Americans and between new immigrant populations.  Michael also shared an Awareness Building Video Exercise.  The instructions for this exercise are below.

Watch and learn from the storytelling workshop:

The presentations were followed by a dynamic discussion facilitated by Denzil Mohammed, ILC Public Education Institute director.

Follow-up comments included:

[The presentation] highlighted a strategy of sharing stories. Using video is very popular now, but what [Michael] added was a way of not being intrusive. Starting with another person and an activity is a great way to start and later approach the issues and feelings that surface during the process.

The presentation and especially the [NIRV introductory] video made the idea of using videos in this way more accessible.

This module helps not only integrate immigrant stories, but technology.

This offered a very tangible way to introduce and amplify immigrant voices, thank you!

Learn more about the Immigrant Learning Center Webinar:

Awareness Building Video Exercise – Download here

CSFilm is available to provide further training on using video for students and educators.

Story Selection

Select someone outside your cultural background and film them doing one activity that is specific to their ethnic, cultural, historic background. This may be cooking a particular food, practicing a culturally specific music, dance, art form or craft making etc. Interview them about this activity and its connections to who they are now and where they have come from.

In preparation for filming the activity and interviewing your subject, research the activity and culture so that you are informed and aware of what to expect and what you want to know more about. Select a time when you can film your subject on their own without other people or distractions.

Filming the activity

  1. Ask your subject to try and do the activity as they would if you were not there filming them. They do not need to talk to you or explain what they are doing. You will talk to them about the activity during the interview.  You should try and film the activity without ‘directing’ your subject.
  2. Record at least 15-20 individual shots of the activity being done.
    1. Think of a shot like a sentence in a story. The shot visualizes one aspect of the activity.
    2. Notice that most activities have aspects that repeat themselves. Take advantage of these repeats to record the activity from multiple perspectives
  3. Shots
    1. Don’t move the camera while recording each shot except to follow the action.
      1. Use a tripod or hold the camera steady. Don’t zoom or move.
      2. Press record and hold the shot, counting at least to ten before you stop recording or move the camera. Hold the shot much longer if you can capture the complete ‘story’ of that action.
    2. Vary your shots from wide shots that establish the location, to medium shots of the full body and activity to half-body shots with more intimacy, to detailed shots.
      1. Make sure to capture multiple detailed shots, including the face, hands, actions specific to the activity, materials being worked, etc.
    3. Composition: pay attention to what is in and out of the frame of each shot. Try not to chop important objects and keep the interesting activity of the shot fully in the frame.
    4. Try and capture the activity with a sense of a beginning and ending


  1. Interview your subject after filming the activity and, if possible, at a different time. This will give you time to review your shots of the activity and to reflect on the questions you would like to ask.
  2. Preparing for the interview
    1. Prepare questions that expand the conversation from the specifics of the activity filmed to the more universal issues of your subject’s culture and identity.
      1. For example, rather than asking your subject, “where are you from?” ask an activity specific question, such as, “where did you learn to make Tortillas?” [or whatever the activity is]. It is likely that this question will cause the subject to speak of where they are from and to expand on their background from the perspective of the activity.
    2. Work on questions that will expand the conversation and not lead to yes/no answers
    3. Wrong: “Do you like making Hmong textiles?”
    4. Right: “How did you get interested in making Hmong textiles?
  3. Setting up your interview
    1. If easier, you can do an audio recording only of the interview – the visual story should be told by the activity you recorded, not the interview.
    2. If recording video of the interview
    3. You and your subject should sit and the camera should be just to the side of your head and at the height of your eyes. This is easiest done with a tripod or other camera support.
    4. Fill the frame with the upper third of the subject’s body, from about the chest up.
    5. The interview environment must be quiet. It is very difficult to understand or edit an interview with a lot of background noise.
  4. At the start of the interview tell your subject:
  1. To look at you, not at the camera – it will make them feel more comfortable.
  2. The questions will not be used in the final film, so please put the subject of questions in their answers. For example,
  1. How do you feel about the use of non-traditional musical instruments?

Wrong: “They are…; Right: “Non-traditional musical instruments are …

  1. During the interview
  1. Listen. Try not to be looking at your questions.  Look at the subject and make the experience conversational. If you’re relaxed and comfortable your subject be relaxed and comfortable.
  2. Don’t make noise – since you are not in the visual story. You can give visual feedback, like smiling and laughing silently.


Use a simple editing tool to put the shots in an order that visualizes the story of the activity.  Once the subject and activity has visually established themselves, start adding audio from the interview to expand the story.  Try and create a beginning, middle and end.

Editing tools:

Open Shot: Mac and Windows,

i-movie: Mac platform app

Windows Video Editor: Windows 10 app




Related Posts:

Keynote address at FCTV 30th Anniversary

Keynote address at FCTV 30th Anniversary

Michael called on FCTV to join him in working to educate the public about the importance of who selects and reports our news. Once the public starts hearing from more local voices we will begin to understand what the issues are that need to be addressed. We haven’t yet begun a dialogue based on good information.


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