We are teaching in an age in which technology is a big part of our students’ lives. From gaining access to phones, tablets, and laptops at earlier and earlier ages, students surpass the technology skills of previous generations at a quicker pace. By harnessing those technology skills and interests students possess, we can promote writing and get students engaged in the stories they write. By utilizing online resources, teachers can wield the love of technology to create a love of writing. Let’s take advantage of this by utilizing our best ideas to use technology to teach writing.
Here are some online tools students can employ to work through every part of the writing process.
I am a big follower of Ruth Culham’s 6+1 Traits of Writing. I’ve applied this particular method to teach writing to elementary and middle school students for over ten years. The first trait of writing is ideas. Students find a topic, focus on the topic, develop it, and use details to elaborate on the topic. Utilizing technology to help students gain ideas for their writing pieces is a no-brainer.
One of the biggest challenges from students that we hear often is, “I don’t know what to write!”
I always tell students to write about what they know. What is something they love? What interests them? What are they experts on already? If general paper and pencil brainstorming doesn’t get the ideas flowing, then have students visit this plot generator.
This website can generate various specific writing ideas. Students answer different questions and a whole story is generated for them. I don’t allow students to use this story as their own, of course; however, the story can inspire them to write their own based on the answers to the various questions they gave. It’s a lot of fun to see the stories generated and how the website pieces the details together.
There are many options to choose from such as the scene builder in which the generator cues you to write your own story using scene-by-scene prompts and guidance. This option allows the students to use their own words. The questioning and prompts along the way help students develop and elaborate on their topic. Give it a try!
If a student is struggling with what to write or even if you would like students to begin a story in a unique way, have them draw a picture or multiple pictures first. They can use technology such as Google Slides to create a digital picture by inserting various images.
A tool that I have fallen in love with over the years is Canva. With a preloaded database of tons of images and graphic designs, students can easily create a unique digital picture.
Then, they write a story based on the picture they created. The idea is to set up a scene to inspire them. By first visualizing the setting or a specific scene that will take place, students can then write their story based on their picture or pictures.
We have a resource that does just this digitally! Students visualize and create a snowman scene with their own unique snowman character. Then, they write a story based on that scene.
Not everyone has access to this in their classroom, but for those teachers that have an Amazon Echo, there is a fun new feature for your student writers. Simply say, “Alexa, make a story.” An adorable whimsical screen pops up asking you to select a theme, a character, a name, and adjectives. Then, Alexa works behind the scenes to put together a five to ten-line story with five unique scenes. Each scene has music, sound effects, and moving visuals. A child can save the story in their Echo and even if they were to choose the exact same options again, the story would be different. Students can go into their gallery to view previous stories, characters, and other options they’ve chosen.
Variety of Ways
This can be used in a variety of ways. Students can be inspired by the generated story. Students could also just be inspired by the options the “Make a Story” gives.
For instance, the theme options include “space exploration,” “underwater,” or “enchanted forest.” If you were to choose “underwater,” the hero character options would include pirate, mermaid, scuba diva, octopus, or shark. Each theme gives different characters, like an alien, among other choices for “space exploration,” or a unicorn for “enchanted forest.” Once a main character is chosen, you choose a name, adjective, and color. Students can use these options as ideas for their own story.
Lastly, students can visualize how stories can really come to life. The biggest complaint with writing I hear from kids is how it’s boring to them. In an age of technology, we have to compete with television and exciting movies. If students understood that television shows and movies started off as writing, they’d see how exciting writing can actually be. Using an Amazon Show really brings that idea to life.
Teachers can make their Amazon Show into a writing center or use it as a whole class for a modeled story. Students can even use it individually as well.
My fourth-grade son absolutely loves this feature and probably creates a new story every day. If I didn’t already own an Amazon Show, I would buy it for the classroom.
Comic Strip Brainstorming/Mapping Using Storyboard That or Canva
Storyboard That is a comic strip generator site. Users get two free storyboard creations a week. Educators can receive a free trial if they don’t want to go the personal user route.
Students choose from the database of scenes, characters, elements, speech bubbles, and other tools to create a comic strip. Students can also play around with the site to create a brainstorming comic strip that will help inspire them to create a story.
Ruth Culham’s second trait in writing is organization. Students can also map out their entire story using Storyboard That, sequence the events, and arrange it accordingly.
Canva also has comic strip templates. Similar to creating a digital illustration, students would generate a comic strip to inspire a story or use the comic strip to illustrate their whole story. Students love to play around with digital comic strips. It makes writing come to life and also incorporates their tech skills. It also just plain makes writing fun!
Ruth Culham’s next writing traits are word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and conventions which make up the composing, revising, and editing parts of the writing process.
Once students have successfully created their ideas and have typed their stories, editing and revising are made easy through technology.
Google Docs will always be my favorite tool to edit and revise with students. Using the “Editing” or “Suggesting” feature, students can see my revisions and suggestions in real-time. As I delete a sentence or type a comment, students immediately see it on their end as well. Students can see what I suggest without it actually changing their story unless they “accept” the suggestion. It then automatically changes their writing when “accepted.”
Students can also comment back if there are questions as well and I can view them and respond back.
When teaching how to write a proper MLA-format essay, using the color highlighting feature on Google Docs comes in extremely handy. Students highlight what I’m looking for in specific colors. For instance,
- Topic/Ending Sentences: Blue
- Context: Yellow
- Evidence/Quotes: Red
- Analysis: Purple
Even thesis statements and TAG (Title, Author, Genre) have their own colors in the introductory paragraph, and restated thesis and mic-drop sentences have their own colors in the conclusion paragraph.
The color code systems allow students to see quickly if they’re missing something and even determine that they don’t have enough of a requirement. Students can visually see that their context is five sentences while their analysis is two and then they can edit it.
Elementary students or younger middle school students can also employ color-coded editing. Students must highlight all of their punctuation in blue or highlight all of their topic sentences in pink. Depending on what you’re teaching, you can focus on specific standards such as having students highlight all their adjectives in a descriptive essay in yellow.
For a generic elementary to younger middle school-age editing color code, I like to use Rainbow Editing. Check out this freebie here!
Once students have written their story, revised it, and edited it, then presentation or publishing is the last trait and step of writing!
Every published book utilizes technology, so why not have students utilize it too? Students can publish their written work in a variety of ways.
Students can make use of Canva Docs, Presentations, Comic Strips, Posters, and a variety of other templates on Canva to publish their stories. By copying and pasting their story and illustrating them using a variety of pre-loaded graphics, students can create published work similar to a book.
Google Slides can also work in the same way. Students copy and paste their paragraphs into various Slides and illustrate them, creating a book.
Creating and preloading various writing templates and papers into Google Slides also gives students a chance to copy and paste their stories onto themed writing paper that can be printed.
We love to create Google Slides writing paper templates to do just that.
Check out our Spring Bulletin Board complete with writing prompts and Google Slides digital writing paper that students use to publish their work.
Take it a step further and students can publish their work for the world to see on a blog. WordPress is a free website where students can create their own website where they display their student work. This would also serve as an online portfolio for their family and friends to view their stories throughout the year. Also, learning WordPress would be a technology skill students can work to master.
Students could also use Storybook That to illustrate their own story after they’ve fully written the entirety of it.
Why beat them when you can join them? There are so many online resources to walk students through the steps and traits of the writing process. By making use of the technology skills students possess plus their love for all things technical, students can see how writing can be fun and also applicable to the tech world.