Cliffhanger Studios for ESOL – Digital Storytelling Resource

Digital storytelling is increasingly being used in language teaching; as is usually the case, Wikipedia is quite a good source of information on this topic. There are loads of online tools out there that you can use – I’d recommend having a look at Nik Peachey’s blog as well as @europeaantje ‘s toolshed site.

Here I’d like to introduce another free online resource for supporting English language teaching – Cliffhanger Studios for ESOL, produced for LSIS. Disclaimer: I’m in the support video (but I said what I really thought). Right, that’s out the way – I just want to describe what I think is a valuable free resource.

The resource was originally created to support modern foreign language teaching including versions in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Polish which can be downloaded from the LSIS website (You download the CD image, which you can burn as a CD-ROM).

The big difference with the ESOL version is that it is available on line and does not have to installed from a CD-ROM, this means that learners will be able to access the resource outside of class time. You can access the resource from here: Cliffhanger Studios. You can access the resource without registering, but it is much better if you (and your learners) do register; registering allows learners and teachers to share content that they have created using the resource.

The basic premise of the resource is that learners can watch “soap opera” type situations and then have to create role-plays in the class, or online to show the end of the ‘Cliffhanger’. They can then watch the ending to see how it compares with their own version.

I’ve produced a lesson plan to show how to embed it into a classroom situation – Example Lesson Plan (E3)

Here I’m just going to go through a few sections of the resource and discuss how I’d use them:


Character cards
Learners can read about the background to the characters in the resource

The characters section of the website gives you a breakdown of the characters in the video clips, describing them and giving some background. Each character’s information is presented in a form giving personal information, along with some description of personality. This could be used with learners working at a lower level to practice describing other people, using third person forms, or could be used to present vocabulary that learners could use to describe themselves; all the language included in the resource is also presented as audio which can support learners with low levels of literacy.This sheets can all be customised and new images and audio added, so this resource could be used to present characters unrelated to the video clips – or learners could create their own, possibly using famous people, or class members (you would have to do this quite sensitively). There is a lot of potential to using this for language development outside of the scenarios already contained in the resource.

For learners with a higher level of literacy I have found it useful to present adjectives to describe personality, and get learners to predict how the characters might act in situations that are presented in the video clips – they then give a good contextualisation of what can sometimes seem a bit abstract to convey to learners.


Learners can watch clips with or without subtitles.

There are four video scenarios included in this resource, I’d say that they range from a high elementary or pre-intermediate to intermediate level ( E2/E3 to L1). Each video centres around a ‘Cliffhanger’ (hence the name of the resource). Learners watch the clip up to the cliffhanger and are then presented with ‘Pause and Reflect’ questions before being shown the end of the clip.

There seem to be two main ways of exploiting these resources – for comprehension practice and as a stimulus for discussion and more creative work. Exploit the resource as a chance for contextualised listening practice – give learners some comprehension questions or focus on particular items of vocabulary. All the videos have subtitles which can be used to support comprehension if needed.

I’ve managed to get a lot of use from the resource as a stimulus for different activities. Once learners are familiar with the characters and the scenario, I ask learners to predict what follows the cliffhanger and then to work in groups to prepare a role play. You could get learners to write scripts or you could ask them to use the storyboard section of the resource (more on that below….).

They can also be used as stimulus to discuss the issues involved in the clips. They all feature scenarios that learners should be able to relate to and to have an opinion about.


Learners and tutors can create scenarios

This is the most powerful part of the resource. Learners (and tutors) can use the storyboard feature to create scenarios using the characters from the videos. Just choose a background from those offered, add the characters and props and then script the dialogue using speech bubbles. Learners can record audio to ‘attach’ to speech bubbles. Once they have created a storyboard they can share this or present it.

I think that storyboarding like this can lead to a greater focus on accuracy (as with forums – see this post.), also adding audio allows learners to develop their use of stress/intonation etc.

This part of the resource is the most flexible, and the most powerful – that it can be edited in so many ways means that tutors can build up content to use with kind of situations and at all kind of levels. It works very well with the video resources provided, but can be used completely separately.

Community of Practice

What I think this resource really needs is a community of practice around it. It has so many potential uses, that the only limiting features are the users imaginations. If scenarios were built up by different tutors and shared widely then it would be even easier to use this with classes. The question here is which is the best way of co-ordinating this?


5 thoughts on “Cliffhanger Studios for ESOL – Digital Storytelling Resource

  1. Wow this is an outstanding site! I haven’t seen it before but it looks like it is just packed full of potential for learning in the ELL classroom. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Glad you liked it… I do think though that the true potential of it will be greater once there are a few people using it and sharing content… – Spread the Word!

  2. Can you explain more fully how I can access this resource. I have tried via Excellence Gateway and just get a blank web page.

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