LittleWorld: A sample application that could be built with this. (Mocked up in English instead of French for reader convenience)

Play with live test versions of a Star Wars themed transmedia improv meeting center:

NML Cantina sandbox in English
NML Cantina sandbox in French
NML Cantina sandbox in German
NML Cantina sandbox in Spanish

Translation Note: all translations are currently done using instant machine translation until I can get someone to help human translate other languages. I know they're awful translations. Sorry.

Production Note: the NML Cantina was not developed from scratch, but simply extends an already existing, freely available online community management system.

Usage Note: these versions are provided as test versions for anybody to experiment freely and get a feel for the software used in this activity. If you would like to use this activity in your classroom, please email ravi(at)mit(dot)edu to have a private space generated for you (free of charge).


Two of the most popular and proven instructional techniques in foreign language learning today are communicative activities and content-based instruction. With a communicative approach, students learn a foreign language through its use in communicative activities, such as role playing imaginary stories. With content-based instruction, a second subject besides the foreign language is used as the primary content for study, however, all instruction is presented in the L2 to implicitly teach the foreign language. This activity combines both instructional techniques by using curriculum that was designed originally to teach students about telling stories through role play, but presenting it in the L2. It uses a modified social networking application to provide students with a live context to interact with one another, scaffold their storytelling abilities and stimulate their role play.

The activity presented here is themed around a scene from the original Star Wars movie. If your class already uses a story with lots of periphery/anonymous characters (for example, a German class using Der Besuch der Alten Dame could use any scene which includes a number of the townsfolk), you could easily modify this activity to work with your class's existing story (contact ravi(at)mit(dot)edu for info). However, the Star Wars clip used here would also be appropriate in a foreign language class as it is quite short, is not meant to include spoken language anyway (the students fill in the language themselves) and has nothing to do with the rest of the Star Wars plot.

The goal of this activity is not only to engage in role play, but to have a productive dialog about storytelling elements in the process of role playing. The activity was originally designed for Jr. High students, however, the additional challenge of using an unfamiliar language should also make it challenging for high school and above. If your class has beginner students, you may need to select from the suggested discussion questions only those that are appropriate to your class level.

Visual Walkthrough

See the lesson guide for example discussion questions and more in-depth instructions

First, the teacher plays a short video clip from the movie Star Wars which shows a space cantina containing a variety of different patrons in the background. Students are asked to select one of these background characters to take as their own for the rest of the activity.

Next they make up and enter a profile describing the background details for their chosen character.

After reading through each other's profiles online, students are then instructed to find a partner. Their job is to explain what similar interests may have brought their two characters to the cantina together. They must build a story in which their characters met each other in at least three different locations prior to coming to the cantina together.

Their first task is to find images of the three locations (brainstorm different possible locations as a class first and write the names on the board in the L2 [optional: restrict locations to those culturally specific to the target country]).

Next, students are to write captions describing what their characters were doing at the chosen location in either a powerpoint presentation or the free openoffice impress.

They then add dialog bubbles or voice recordings to pre-made cutout images. You can use a free sound effects catalog in the target language to allow students to browse through sound effects to include in their presentations.

They then post their creation to their personal blog. Students then visit each others blogs, leaving comments about each others presentations and responding to other comments.

To conclude, students use the chat feature to improvise a story about what happens when all of their characters finally meet at the cantina.


Media Theory Overview

(Developed by

The general focus of this workshop was to teach storytelling skills relevant to a new media literacy environment. After completing the series of activities detailed below, students will exhibit an introductory grasp of narrative conceptualizing applicable to a range of digital media modes. Moreover, students will understand foundational principles relevant to telling stories across media formats.

This activity challenges students to think about some of the fundamental elements of storytelling, and introduces them to basic vocabulary terms.


During this activity, students are introduced to the Cantina clip, which will form the basis for their engagement during the workshop. Teachers should let students know that it is not necessary that they be familiar with the entire film. In fact, over the course of the workshop, they will be making their own media versions of this story and thus potentially altering their existing relationships to the film overall.

The clip is highly detailed, providing clues for a narrative that has yet to be established. Students should be encouraged to look for story elements within this framework while considering what remains to be told. Please refer to the questions in the curriculum to guide this discussion.

Additionally, this section is meant to draw students' attention to different storytelling modes popular in the media today. Students are asked to consider the "who, what, where, why, how" of storytelling, the differences between "real" and "fictional" stories, and their own personal relationships to the stories around them.

Technical note: Teachers should cue the clip before class in order to save time and be careful to stop the clip at timecode 46:53 before the scene becomes more violent.

Part I

Students are likely to mention in the introductory discussion that media makers find material for their stories from a variety of sources. In fact, in the new media literacy environment, we often base our creativity from other media pieces we have been exposed to. Much new media has been sampled, or reused from someplace else.

For the remainder of the workshop, students will engage in creative conceptualizing, using the Cantina clip as source material for this process. Understanding the concept of sampling and how it relates to authorship is a critical skill in the new media literacy environment. Teachers may want to raise preliminary, age-appropriate thoughts about copyright concerns here. More information on copyright and internet age collaboration, including explanatory animations to share in the classroom, can be found at:

The workshop developers purposely chose to use the Cantina sequence from Star Wars IV: A New Hope as the foundation for developing workshop activities. By using curious-looking, non-human aliens as the basis for character and plot development allows for conversations on gender, diversity and multiculturalism without having to talk about specific human races. By mapping these discussions onto other races from other planets, it allows students to express themselves in a non-threatening, broad way. It also allows students to examine the characteristics they mapped onto their individual aliens on the basis of appearance alone, such as Why do you think the character with the big head is smart? or How do you think a ‘spy’ might look?

I. Character

Section I challenges students to think creatively about character development. At the teacher’s discretion, issues of caricature, race, and gender may be relevant here. Teachers may choose to save this discussion for the end of the workshop, drawing on other media examples involving "sympathetic monsters." However the initiation, at some point in the workshop, of a conversation around representing ourselves and others is essential to young media-makers as they begin to identify and articulate their unique voices as transmedia storytellers.

Teachers may wish to think of the next several activities the way "improv" exercises function in a theater class; designed to move at a quick pace, these activities require students to, without hesitation, "get into character," while simultaneously creating imaginary environments and events.

In this first activity students create a 'profile' for a selected character from the Cantina clip. Profile creation is a trend teachers may be familiar with through social networking websites such as Friendster or Flickr; students may already be comfortable with this activity. Students have their first opportunity to fill in some of the missing pieces from the clip as they relate to the characters. Akin to more traditional "role-playing" scenarios, in this activity, students learn to take on a character from the inside out.

II. Location

This activity challenges students to work productively in a collaborative setting, and to employ a basic 'concept boarding' technique as a way to build upon concepts of character, location, and sequencing.

Students will again fill in key story elements missing from the Cantina clip, in this case constructing a series of settings or locations, and the evolution of a plot. Students will use online resources (google, flickr) to find images, an important skill for new media makers. Teachers should prepare a sample search for images based on key words (expanding/combining terms i.e. dog, doghouse, dog world…) to demonstrate to the class.

Students will develop basic sequencing skills as they arrange their PowerPoint slides to begin to explain how their characters moved from one location to the next, ultimately ending up in the Cantina. By focusing on relationships between location, sequence, and character, students will experience the process through which narrative clues are determined across these three key story elements.

Part II

III. Concept Boarding Refinement

In this exercise, students return to their PowerPoint projects in order to add additional narrative elements such as dialogue and sound.

Here students should be allowed creative freedom to integrate sound and written dialogue elements as they wish, however, teachers may choose to show some examples (Completed PowerPoint files can be found at or ). Teachers should draw students’ awareness to the range of possibilities for sound placement within a slide. Teachers also should demonstrate to the class how to draw dialogue bubbles. For students who need more direction, teachers may also demonstrate how to create a dialogue template suitable for written dialogue improvisation:

  1. Copy character images onto a single slide.

  2. Draw blank dialogue bubbles for each character.

  3. Copy this slide 5 times.

  4. Students will then trade off writing dialogue into these slides. In the case that fewer than 5 slides are necessary, blank slides can simply be deleted at the end of the section.

IV Story show/reviews

An important piece of media creation, is, of course, reception and in this exercise students will reflect their ideas to the group. This activity is meant to empower the students around their work. However, because each team holds some of the clues to the overall story of "what's going on at the Cantina," this activity is significantly more interactive than traditional "show and tells" to which students may be well accustomed. Students will experience an audience of collaborators, which is again, a concept privileged in the new media environment. Teachers should encourage students to make connections between stories.

V At the Cantina

This activity is meant to build upon the story show and emphasize the interconnectivity of the various stories and characters. Again, it requires that students "become" their characters and interact with each other in order to deepen the multi-media narrative. Teachers should be careful to monitor the dialogue, keeping it focused on relationships between characters (not students!) and how these characters got to the Cantina. Students will have fun while experiencing instantaneous, interactive, multi-author narrative construction; the activity also provides a logical narrative endpoint after the construction of numerous stories leading to the Cantina.

Lesson Guide

(Developed by



Materials list:

  • DVD of Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Platform for playing DVDs (computer or DVD player attached to TV)
  • Chalkboard and chalk
  • Basic Vocabulary Sheet handout (one per student) (included in package)
  • One computer with internet access and PowerPoint software per group of 2-4.
  • Examples of completed PowerPoint materials (included in package)
  • Users guide to and PowerPoint (included in package)
  • headphones for computer (strongly recommended)

Student Skills:

  • ability to navigate the Web
  • ability to search for images on the web
  • ability to download and save images from the web
  • ability to upload materials to the web
  • familiarity with PowerPoint or the Free Openoffice Impress software
  • familiarity with chat software

Note: Take time at the beginning to turn on the computers, and to log in (as necessary).

Note: For optimal viewing, show the DVD on a television screen or projector.

Part 1: (1.5-2 hours)


This activity challenges the students to think about some of the fundamental elements of storytelling, and introduces them to basic vocabulary terms.

1. Distribute the Basic Vocabulary Sheet to the students.

2. Inform students that they will be discussing storytelling in general, and digital storytelling in particular.

3. Show the "Cantina" scene from Star Wars IV: A New Hope. (Chapter 20, from 44:50 to 46:53 time code) for the students. Please take care to not allow the clip to run over, as there is some violence.

Questions for reflection:

  • What is the story associated with the scene you just watched? Can you identify one? Why or why not?
  • What elements of a story were missing/present from the clip we just saw? (Make a list on the board together with the students. Here are some items which may be included in the list):
    • Characters we care about (that we know something about their history, motivations, preferences etc’)
    • A sense of change over time, of ‘something happening’ (sequentiality)
    • A mood
    • A sense of genre, or what type of story is being told. Do you think this is a fiction or non-fiction scene?
    • A plot, or a sequence of events related to a set of characters different locations)

4. Ask students to identify some favorite stories, and lists them on a chalkboard. Note any commonalities of genre, characters, plot line, fiction vs. non-fiction, characters, medium, delivery system, etc.

Questions for reflection:

  • Are video games stories? Why or why not?
  • Can you write stories on the internet? Why or why not?

5. Referring to the list of story elements the students have generated, inform them that they’ll have a chance to add some of the missing elements to the cantina scene and create their own stories.

Questions for reflection:

  • Why do people tell stories?
  • What do we get from seeing/hearing them?
  • Who writes stories?
  • What was the first story you remember ever hearing?

Estimated Time: 25 minutes

Note: This exercise is designed for one student per computer, but can be adapted for use with up to three students sharing a computer.


Note: the "iChat" field name in the character profile must be filled out.

Note: Clicking on a character’s picture will display its complete profile.

Note: More help at the Cantina site can be found at
nkocantina/help or in the Users Guide.

Cantina Exercises:

What’s going on at the cantina? Why is everyone there? The following exercises will help students to create a story explaining how different cantina characters ended up there.

I Character Development:
This activity challenges the students to think creatively about character development and issues of caricature, race and gender in a broad, non-threatening context.

1. Tell the students that they will be creating stories using computer tools that explain how different groups of characters ended up at the cantina.

3. Show Cantina clip from Star Wars IV again.

4. Instruct the students to create a profile for a character at A specialized album will have been set up ahead of time with photos of each of the main cantina characters. Instructions for using the cantina are listed at the top of the home page.

5. (optional): students may add additional details like the character’s house to the profile as time allows.

6. Once the profiles have been completed by everyone, go around the room and ask each student to share three things about their character, such as the character's name, where they are from, and one of their hobbies.

7. Allow a few minutes for the students to explore the Cantina site and to read other character profiles.

Time: 40 minutes.

Questions for reflection:

  • Does the character you’ve chosen seems to you more real now? Why or why not?
  • Some people choose to paint/write on/sing about real-life characters they know well, including themselves. Others prefer to explore imaginary characters. Some people think that there's always a little bit of you whatever you create. Is the character you’ve created based on anyone you know (including yourself)?
  • How did you decide how to describe your cantina characters? Can you determine behavior from appearance?
  • How does your alien different from humans? From other aliens?
  • How are each of the characters different from each other? How might their experiences differ?
  • Do you prefer stories (movies/tv/games/books) about characters that are very different from you, or more like you?

Note: teams consisting of students each using computers will share a single team computer for the rest of the workshop.

Note: Students are encouraged to use the images of the characters found at

to insert into their PowerPoint slide files.

II Location:

This activity challenges students to work productively in a collaborative setting, and to employ a basic 'concept boarding' technique as a way to build upon concepts of character, location and sequencing.

  1. Have the students divide up into teams of 2- 4 people. Instructor to assist as necessary.
  2. Instruct the groups to think about a sequence of events that eventually leads their group of characters to the cantina, and why they are headed to the cantina. Once all the group have generated a basic story outline, proceed to the next step.
  3. Instruct the groups to search online for three images of locations where the characters they created visited as a group BEFORE they arrived at the cantina. Two place to start looking for images are or The students need to be thoughtful about what brought these characters together in the first place, and what prompted them to finally go to the cantina.
    • Let the students know they will be adding pictures of their characters at the locations into the slides later.
    • Let the students know that they do not need to complete this exercise today, that next session they will be returning to finish it.
  4. Have each group paste each location image onto a PowerPoint slide; arrange each slide in order of its occurrence in the story. A series that describes the important points of a story is called a concept board.
  5. Instruct the groups to briefly annotate what the characters are doing at the different locations, i,e. "Trixie and Freddy and Bob volunteered to come to the stage at a magician performance they all attended. The magician asked them to step into a pink particle accelerator." Remind the students that their locations can be as wild or as fanciful as they like.
  6. Have one student from each group upload the PowerPoint file to the Cantina as a blog entry at
  7. Direct students to download and check out other stories in process; suggest they leave a comment on at least one character's blog.

Estimate time: 35-55 minutes

Questions for reflection:

  • (Go around the group quickly): Give a one word description of your story so far.
  • How did you pick the locations to put your characters in? Fun, ridiculous, serious?
  • How important is the order of the slides if you want to read them as a story that ends at the cantina? Will the story still make sense if the first and the third slides will switch places? Would it be a more or less compelling story then?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of creating fiction in a group?
  • Where did you get your images from? Do you know who took the picture? Why or why not?

Before everyone leaves for the day:

Note: technical support for adding dialogue bubbles, uploading files and importing sound can be found at
nkocantina/help or in the Users Guide.

Note: for successive slides representing dialogue, compose the first slide including the characters and the ‘dialogue bubbles’, duplicate the slide and then modify accordingly.

Note: if time is limited, you may instruct students to download each concept board story file and upload the files of the other groups.

Part Two (1.5-2 hours)

III Concept boarding refinement

This activity challenges the students to revisit their earlier story outlines and refine them using the results of the dialogue improv activity, as well as changing perceptions of character, location and narrative. Students are also asked to consider the role that sounds and transitions can play in a multimedia presentation.

  1. Have the group from last time reconvene.
  2. Show the cantina clip from Star Wars IV again. Review the basic building blocks of story generation:
    • character
    • location
    • action/plot
    • sequencing
    • tone

    Questions for reflection:

    • Do you notice anything different about the cantina scene after watching it a third time?
    • What are the similarities between you and your character? The differences?
  3. Tell the students that in the last session, they explored character, sequencing and location. Today they will add to their story’s plot, and add dialogue “bubbles” and special sound effects to complete their story.
  4. Instruct the groups that they will be refining their PowerPoint concept board files they started last week.
    • Allow students time to search and upload new location images/adjust their PowerPoint concept boards as necessary.
    • Instruct the students to add narrative text and dialogue bubbles to each slide/card/etc.
    • Direct the students to the websites and Sound clips and images of the characters can be downloaded to the project computer, and then embedded into the concept board file.
    • Headphones are strongly recommended for this portion of the workshop.
  5. Once students have completed their story, instruct them to upload them to a character blog.
  6. (optional) Allow/encourage students to use digital cameras to take snapshots of team members 'acting out' various story elements. Upload shots to computer, then import to story file.

Estimated time: 50-60 minutes

Questions for reflection:

  • Who’s going to see your story? Who would you want to?
  • How does your story or the elements in them (location, characters, music) resemble any stories or elements you are familiar with? How are they different?
  • How far back in time did you go to tell the story?
  • What adjustments did you make to the original concept board file?
  • Who wrote the story? What about different pieces of the story?
  • Who owns the story that the group is writing? Who owns stories you see on TV, or songs you hear on the radio? Who owns older stories that everyone knows, like “Romeo and Juliet”?

Note: technical support for accessing the Chatbox can be found at
nkocantina/help or in the Users Guide.

V. At the Cantina
This activity challenges the groups to spontaneously improvise dialogue and interactions relating to their characters

1. Using the Cantina’s Chatbox feature, instruct the students to talk to the other characters once they all arrive at the cantina together. Chatters must stay in character, and to remember why they were heading to the cantina in the first place.

Estimated time: 10 minutes

Questions for reflection:

  • What kind of things can improv dialogue add to a story?.
  • Did you discover anything new about your character by role-playing it? What do you think about role playing as a way to create stories... does it make it easier for you? Harder?
  • Did learning the other characters’ stories influence what you said in the cantina?

VI Review

1. Review of basic vocabulary of storytelling, as well as more complicated concepts such as:

  • point of view
  • multiple storylines
  • fact vs. fiction
  • embedded lessons/messages
  • authorship
  • audience

(optional): show images or clips from movies featuring sympathetic monsters, such as:

  • Shrek
  • Sully from Monsters, Inc.
  • Clem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Any version of Beauty and the beast
  • Any version of Phantom of the Opera
  • Any version of Dr Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
  • Any version of Frankenstein

(optional): show a portion or all of the movie Star Wars IV, to view the original cantina scene in the context of the film.