beanz Magazine

Visual Storytelling Apps

marilenabarber on Steller

Visual storytelling apps are a great way for kids to document and explore their lives.

While journalists, filmmakers, and business people use visual storytelling in their work, these tools can be a powerful way for kids to learn how to tell stories, use professional software, and in some cases build a portfolio.

Visual storytelling apps for phones and tablets are a great way for teachers to help students make sense of their daily lives inside and outside of school. Plus it is fun to be creative and share your work. Teachers and students involved in school publications also might use these apps to create and publish stories for their communities.

Families also can use these apps to help their kids capture events, for example, vacations or birthday parties. In addition to living through these events, storytelling apps could help kids step back from the event and see it from the point of view of a photograph or video. Creating a visual story also might engage them during boring parts of a vacation or party.

These visual storytelling apps also are great for kids who are shy or reluctant to share their personal experiences. Kids can use these apps privately to help capture what happens around them then turn the raw photographs into stories to help make sense of their experiences.

These apps primarily use photos to tell stories with text added only if necessary. Video also is possible with a few apps. Some apps have online galleries where work can be shared. However, galleries might not be appropriate for young children.

Here are four visual storytelling apps to consider. Steller, Storehouse, Pixotale, and Shorthand apps can involve sharing stories over the internet. Steller also lets you share stories privately, for example, with a teacher or class. Pixotale is supposed add private viewing, as well. The 1 Second Every Day app is limited to sharing with a class or family. Only the 1 Second Every Day app works with Android phones. The other apps work with iPhones and/or iPads.


This iPad and iPhone app happens to be my favorite of these apps because a lot of interesting people publish stories on a regular basis. Plus stories are experienced horizontally, like flipping pages of a magazine. Clicking through a few stories can be a wonderful way to pass the time.

The story creation tools are fairly easy to figure out. You press a thin but large plus sign at the bottom center of the screen. This leads you through a process to select a theme and up to 20 photo or video media assets. Then you work from an editor screen which makes it mostly easy to add text and pages, as needed, as well as reorder pages. Publishing is a matter of creating a collection, for example, family events or trip names, then clicking Publish to upload a story to their servers. Once published, you can share your story and embed it into a web page. Deleting a story is less obvious: apparently you have to edit then delete a collection to delete one story.

What didn’t work? The iPad version of this app is simply the iPhone app scaled up. And I could not figure out how to change my password on their website: it wasn’t under Profile or Settings. And support is minimal, an email address only, but the software is mostly easy to use and figure out.


This iPhone and iPad app lets you create and publish stories. Once you create an account, you’re forced to follow at least four publishers, from groups like NASA and National Geographic to people who are famous or offer stock photos and videos or their work is visually interesting.

Stories are experienced vertically, by scrolling down the screen, so the content layout is less rigid and more like a web page than a magazine or book.

To create a story, you press a circle that appears at the bottom middle of the screen. Controls to add and edit visual content are at the top of the screen or appear when you select a photo or video. You can save your stories as a draft or publish them. It’s mostly easy to collect photos and videos then resize and reorder them. Adding text can be done on the title photo and around photos and videos. The result is a vertical flow of images, text, and video. To get the best idea of what is possible, click through stories on their website and scroll down their app page on their website.


This visual storytelling app proved to be the easiest to use. The first screen lets you browse published stories. If you want to sign up to create your own stories, click the icon at the top left to sign in or sign up. From there, it’s easy to figure out how to create a story, add text, video, photos, maps, and polls.

Currently stories are either draft or published on the Pixotale servers, same as Steller. However, Pixotale appears to have plans to roll out private stories which would be great for teachers and anyone else who wants to limit who sees their stories. Overall, this clearly is the best app to create visual stories easily with minimal fuss. The app provides a lot of useful easy to figure out functionality

The stories published with this app display as a vertical flow of images, videos, text, and other content. You scroll down to read stories which read more like web pages than books or magazines.

Deleting stories locally and on the Pixotale server also proved very easy by clicking around in both locations using the app. The only oddities are a lack of a support email on the main website, a profile page which does not include the ability to change your password, and no contact information on the Pixotale website. However, the Welcome to Pixotale channel available on the app does include lots of tutorials, news, and other useful information.

1 Second Every Day

This $2.99 iPhone and Android app began life as a Kickstarter project. Its creator, Cesar Kuriyama, wanted something to record pieces of his daily life to gain insight into his life. The app is a combination of video and photo capture tool with reminders to record your life daily. The result is a movie of one second images of a period of time. This video shows the process. There’s also a decent click through tutorial on the Settings page in the app.

What’s not explained anywhere is the first screen you’ll see when you start the app. You have a choice between Timelines and Crowds. Timelines lets you create timelines to organize your one second videos. Crowds lets you share your compilations with others. To begin, select Timelines. Whatever start point you select, Timeline or Crowds, click the Crowds icon with three people, top right of the screen, to switch between these two modes.

Selecting Timelines leads to the click-through tutorial which shows you how to save snippets of your day. Click on any date and either select a video shot for that date or, if one doesn’t exist, you’ll see an editor screen where you can add a photo and text. Selecting Crowds displays community contributions. From the Timelines screen, you can create one or more timelines or rename the default My 1SE timeline. Each timeline has its own calendar. Click on a date to add a video snippet.

While clicking around the Crowds portion of the app, and the Blog for the website, shows little or no activity, this app could be useful for telling personal stories. The app appears under development and adding capabilities. But the basics you need already exist and work if you have plenty of free space on your phone to collect daily videos and create compilations.

LEGO StoryStarter

While not a visual storytelling app like Steller, Storehouse, and others mentioned above, if you use LEGO Education products in the classroom, definitely look into StoryStarter. Kids create stories with Lego characters with tools similar to visual storytelling apps, for example, shooting then adding video then adding text captions. Storytelling apps are designed for telling stories. LEGO StoryStarter can be used to tell stories although it is designed to help teachers teach literacy.

Storytelling Basics

While some people are natural storytellers, for most of us telling a story well depends on how connected we are to what happened. We tell great stories to family and friends when something funny or sad or unbelievable happens to us. Happily there are some basic techniques you can learn to help you tell any story in a simple engaging way.

For example, good stories have some or all of these qualities:

What does each person in the story have to gain and/or lose? The possible gain or loss often is called a hook and the “will she?” or “won’t she?” question gets the listener to listen. Be sure you answer any questions by the end of the story.

Tell the story from start to finish. This is called an anecdote. Often the simplest way to tell a story is the best way. Complexity is hard to manage, and remember, when you tell a story. Before you tell your anecdote, you might begin in the middle of the action: something happens to a person and they must decide how to respond. The problem can be a hook to engage your audience.

Know your story well enough to relax and improvise a little bit. Listeners and readers connect to stories about people who face a problem. You can embellish parts of your story to help them connect, for example, by saying more about the problem or the persons in the story. Storytelling is not reciting a set of facts perfectly. Storytelling engages other people in a story about characters, the problems they face, how they succeed or fail, and the basic message and emotions from the story.

Your audience determines how you tell your story. People use stories to communicate and create shared experiences and emotions. Audiences need characters and problems to connect and a message to tie all the pieces of the story together.

Writing a story is a series of steps to discover the key details about your characters, the problems they encounter, and the outcomes. You also want to think about your audience and the message you want to share with them. Don’t be too concerned if you don’t know your story instantly. Or too confident if you’re sure your story is perfect without any work.

Before you tell a story, sit down with a piece of paper or a computer screen and quickly write down all the characters, the problems, and the outcomes. Write down details about your audience. How do you want them to feel during and after hearing your story?

Then write the story from start to finish as simply as possible. Write the story in one sentence, then again in three sentences, then maybe five sentences. Then write the story by expanding parts of your simple story; highlight the story problem and the parts of the character that make the problem important.

After these exercises, write the story piece by piece, the way you build with Legos. Look at the characters, problems, and outcomes for your story: what’s the best place to start? what’s the best place to end your story? how do you get from the start to the end of your story? You might take these answers and write your story as one to three sentences. Move parts of your story around to get the best structure. Then expand your sentences to get your story as simple and effective as possible.

When you have your story done, go back to your original notes about characters, problems, outcomes, audience, and how you want your audience to react to your story. Make any changes if needed.

All the writing and rewriting helps you memorize the key details about your story which, in turn, help when you tell your story. You’ll know what to leave in and out of your story.

When you use a visual storytelling app, apply some or all of these ideas about how to tell a good story. For example, what might be a strong image to start your visual story given your story, your characters, the problems they have to solve, and the emotion or tone you want to set with your audience?

There are other visual storytelling apps to explore following the links below.

Learn More




1 Second Everyday




Top 5 Storytelling Tools

3 Free iOS Apps for Visual Storytelling

Introducing LEGO StoryStarter

REVIEW: Hands-on with LEGO StoryStarter

How to Tell Your Story without Boring Your Audience to Tears

The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

How to Tell a Story Well

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