This is the post I wrote as a guest on Free Technology for Teachers.
I'd like to share with you two free technology tools that I use, in tandem, to get my students working creatively and collaboratively, and liking it!
1. Listen to a story, get inspired
2. Brainstorm ideas
3. Create your story
4. Share your story with us
Those are the four directives I give my students before they embark on a writing activity I call the "Picture Book Challenge". The Picture Book Challenge culminates in students working together to make a well written digital picture book. When the challenge is over we embed the books on our class wiki. That way peers and family members can enjoy the fruits of their labors. I use two tools to help my students accomplish their goals. One tool is called Storyline Online, and the other is called Storybird.
Storyline Online is a free website where members of the Screen Actor's Guild read popular children's picture books. There are plenty of well loved selections: Stellaluna, A Bad Case of Stripes, Thank You, Mr. Falker, Enemy Pie, and To Be a Drum are just a few. For the purposes of the Picture Book Challenge I use Storyline Online as a way to inspire my students to come up with ideas for their own work. You could also use Storyline as a listening center to improve reading fluency. Also worth mentioning is the captioning function which can help struggling readers and students who are English Language Learners.
Storybird. Richard has blogged about Storybird before; which is how I first heard about this amazing tool. The user interface is simple by design so students can concentrate on the creative process (see the video below). Adding text couldn't be easier. You simply type the text and move it to where you want it go on the page. Images are added in much the same way, they are easily dragged and dropped on the page. The artwork available to students will not only inspire creative prose, but they are highly interesting and diverse enough to suit different tastes. Your students will be creating digital books in no time and enjoying themselves while they're at it.
Much to my students' chagrin, Storybird is lacking a print feature. They love their projects so much they want to actually hold on to it. Currently, the only way students can share digital picture books is by HTML code for embedding, or via a web link. Storybird developers are working on making printing available in the future, but it appears there will be a cost associated with printing books.
I love using Storyline Online and Storybird together. Storyline inspires my students to think about how to write their own wonderful pieces. While Storybird allows students to write, and create beautiful pieces with very few barriers. My students' reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. The best thing about these tools is that even my most reluctant writers are excited to write.
It could be for that reason alone to make these educational technology tools a part of your teaching toolbox.
Jason Kornoely is a fourth grade teacher at Forest Hills Public Schools located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has his Master's degree in Educational Technology. Jason's blog: InterGrade: Instant Teaching Ideas focuses on providing tips, tricks, and strategies that educators can use right away in their classrooms. You can also follow Jason on Twitter.
Storybird Quick Tour from Storybird on Vimeo.