Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Creative Writing Tool: Scholastic Story Generator

Maybe you've been here before. It's writing time in your classroom. You spot a student exhibiting these behaviors:

First sign: The deer in the headlights stare.
Second sign: The pencil doesn't move.
Third, fourth, and fifth signs: The sudden urgency to get a drink, use the bathroom, and then snap the lead of the pencil for the sole purpose of getting to leave the seat again to sharpen it. Then, the inevitable phrase...

Student: I don't know what to write.
You: You don't say?
Student: I don't have any good ideas.
You: You have nothing to fear. I've got just the tool you've been searching for. I couldn't help but notice you were looking in all the wrong places: the bathroom, the drinking fountain, and the pencil sharpener. You didn't find it there did you? No. Let me show you what you've been looking for, and where you can find it. It's called Scholastic Story Starters, it's right here on the computer, and it's been waiting for you.

I have a card stock flip book in my classroom that gives students writing ideas by providing a character, a situation, and an action. My students love to use it when they have full on "writer's block". It got me thinking that there had to be an online version of a story generator like the one we have in the room. Sure enough, there is, and it's called Scholastic Story Starters, and it's so much more than a story generator.

Story Starter is pretty straight-forward. You type in your name. You choose your grade level (which correspond to writing standards and offers suitable options for different age groups). The next step is where the fun begins, the story starter machine appears on the screen. There are four buttons that correspond with sections that are randomly generated by the machine. Here is a small list of the 4-6 grade options:
1. Writing Format: list of characteristics, T.V. commercial, a newspaper ad, myth, birthday card, etc.
2. Descriptor/Adjective: greedy, handsome, awkward, horrible, chivalrous, stubborn, etc.
3. Character: screenwriter, monkey, cantaloupe, Venus flytrap, rock star, etc.
4. Situation: talks in rhyme, discovers a secret city, wins the lottery, discovers a talking frog, etc.

You have some freedom at this point. You can pull the big SPIN handle to randomly select all four sections at once, or you can choose to change as many or as few options you wish by clicking each button separately. The first time I used it, Story Starter created a zany and wonderful writing idea. This is what I got: Write a list of characteristics about an awkward rock star who only talks in rhyme.

Scholastic Story Starter Machine
It didn't take long for me to begin a list in my notebook. When I was done, I had an amazingly interesting character who alone conjured up several story ideas.

Now, you can stop using Story Starter at this point and return to your writing journal, or you can move on to the next step, and choose a format like, newspaper article, letter, postcard, or notebook. Upon making your choice, you arrive at another page where you can type your story directly onto the page, draw a picture (optional), and then print it.

Oh, by the way, if you have an interactive whiteboard, Story Starter is compatible!

Scholastic has a great teacher's guide article about using Scholastic Story Starters in the classroom. It has wonderful ideas and some handy resources. I urge you to give it a look.

I hope you can use this tool in your classroom soon! I know you'll love it, and more importantly, so will your students!

No comments: