4 Free Technology Tools for Your Writers Workshop!

AUGUST, 2012

4 Free Technology Tools to Jazz Up Your Writers Workshop!

Staff Spotlight: Herman Makes it Happen!

Find us at a Conference This Fall
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
~Peggy O’Mara
Jazz Up Your K-5 Writers Workshop With Technology!
The new school year is sneaking up fast, and you’re probably already fine-tuning your lessons for the Common Core. How will you teach the new technology standards for writing? Today we’ll show you some free tools that add meaning and excitement to students’ writing experiences.

First, do you know what the writing standards require in technology?  If not, take a quick look before reading on. The expectations increase as kids move through the grades.

For example, kindergarteners must: “With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.”

First, second, and third graders must “use” (rather than “explore”) those digital tools. Fourth and fifth grade students are required to use not just technology, but specifically the Internet to produce and publish writing.

So, how can you bring digital experiences into your writers workshop? The free tools below will get you started. They’ll provide your students with rich opportunities to collaborate with peers and open the door to sharing their work with a huge audience. 

Digital Tools, Grade by Grade
One way to approach digital applications is to use whatever is already available on your school’s computers. Here’s an inspiring portrait from Edutopia, showing how one fifth grade teacher guides students into using Apple software to publish student narratives, poems, and other creative projects.
Mrs. Dalesio’s fifth graders are using iMovie and other digital applications to publish narratives, poems, and even math tutorials they’ve created.
These are inspiring examples by a teacher who’s obviously a real tech whiz. But don’t worry if you and your students aren’t as tech savvy as Mrs. Dalesio and her class. If you teach younger students, or you just aren’t ready to tackle video production, here are some equally exciting options.

StoryBird (Grades 2-5)

StoryBird is a free online application students can use to publish their stories, poems, book reviews, ads, and anything else they can imagine. Younger children can work with friends, parents, and teachers to create online versions of their illustrated stories and share them. Although the tutorial below doesn’t mention it, children can upload their own artwork. Try recruiting a few parent volunteers to learn the application at home and help you as roving assistants when you teach your class to use StoryBird. The 4 1/2 minute tutorial below will show you the creative possibilities in this simple tool.
A video tour of StoryBird, a free online application that allows students to publish and illustrate their work, collaborate with friends, and share their final projects with a large audience.
Little Bird Tales (Grades K-3)
In Little Bird Tales, children can upload their own illustrated stories and record themselves reading to an online audience. Even kindergarteners can do this with help from adults, and older children can read their writing to large online audiences. We know kids who have entertained younger siblings on long car trips by playing Little Bird Tales for them on their parents’ smartphones! 

How does it work? Each reading is saved as a short video and stored on the site for others to view and hear. Little Bird Tales stories can also be emailed to family and friends; online Mother’s Day cards, anyone? Though the interface is not as slick as StoryBird’s, being able to hear the author’s voice adds a something special, as you’ll grasp when you hear the story below by four year-old Victor.
Click image to view another K-5 technology tool, Little Bird Tales, via WriteSteps, with Common Core Lessons and PD for strong elementary writing skills.
Little Bird Tales can even be shared by very young children like four year-old Victor. Much like StoryBird, it’s a free online application that helps students practice reading and writing skills. Little Bird Tales also addresses the speaking and listening standards.
ePals (Grades 3-12)

The Common Core introduces a new writing element in third grade: keyboarding. As third graders learn to type with less effort, writing to pen pals from across the globe becomes a thrilling and viable activity. Try ePals, a safe-Internet company that gets great reviews and helps teachers integrate writing skills with social studies. 

Partnering with classrooms around the world, teachers can introduce ePals to teach cyber-etiquette, parts of an email correspondence, grammar, and sentence fluency, not to mention geography and cross-cultural understanding. The program is set up so that teachers can view emails before their students. This allows teachers to pick out details to emphasize in classroom discussions.

The control it provides educators is one thing that makes this program so appealing. Teachers can create their own access and protection settings according to the needs and ages of their students. Find classrooms around the world to connect with here, and then click on the tutorial below to get started.

With ePals, your students can correspond safely with pen pals from other cultures.
Digital Publishing on Local Websites
Here are even more tools, some with links to student samples, from Nicole Dalesio, the teacher in the first video. But digital publishing can also be meaningful with less glitzy activities. Book reviews uploaded to your local library website, and persuasive letters or comments submitted to your town’s online newspaper give kids a thrill, too. Writing for people they might actually know is meaningful and engaging, and helps kids connect their writing to an authentic purpose.

What digital tools have you tried with your students? What are you planning for the coming year? We’d love to know! Share your tech tools for publishing student work on our Facebook page, and we’ll enter you in a drawing to receive a complimentary set of classroom privacy folders with word walls for your grade level!

Staff Spotlight: Herman Makes it Happen!

With a winning smile and a presence that glows, Awareness Ambassador Herman Humes brings not only 38 ½ years of classroom experience to his work, but also some wonderful personal qualities.

Here’s something about Herman you probably don’t know. During his long career teaching K-5 children, he also spent many summers as a group therapist for children whose parents were in co-dependency and substance abuse treatment. Herman also brought this training into the monthly Family Nights he created at his school with a long-time teaching colleague and friend, Arlynn King (now WriteSteps’ coaching director). Among other things, Herman and Arlynn taught families healthy ways to relate to each other and solve challenges. They called their program Parents Empowering Parents, and were twice honored for their work with Ypsilanti Community Partnership awards.
Image of Herman Humes, WriteSteps Awareness Ambassador and award-winning K-5 teacher who loves sharing Common Core writing and grammar lessons and videos nationwide.
Awareness Ambassador Herman Humes taught in K-5 classrooms for 38 1/2 years and twice won awards for organizing literacy and drug-prevention programs for families. Herman says his children, Zoey (age 13) and Kenlee (age 8), think WriteSteps is the best!
Now retired from teaching, Herman loves sharing the good news about WriteSteps. “In my district, we forever struggled with writing,” he said. “Writing was never my forte, so I was always nervous when trying to teach it to my students.”

Although insecure with this subject, Herman says he kept trying because he knew that children who can write become good readers. He felt he was making progress with John Collins’ approach to assessment and management, but still lacked the right instructional tools. Then, his colleague Arlynn discovered WriteSteps and told him, “You’ve got to see this!”

With Arlynn’s help, Herman brought WriteSteps lessons to his kindergartners, who he said had an unusual amount of “high activity issues” and low academic skills.

“They just struggled a lot with school,” he said. “Then, with WriteSteps, I saw incredible growth. I saw them ‘buy into’ writing, become comfortable with writing, and become proud of their writing.”

Herman said his class did a lot of “publishing,” leaving their stapled and illustrated stories with administrators and other teachers. The little books were also placed on shelves in their classroom – “and those were the books my students loved reading the most!”

WriteSteps at Charter Schools Meeting September 20th

Come see us at a conference this fall! You can meet WriteSteps team members, try the eWriteSteps teacher portal to our online lessons and videos, and win lessons, kindles, and other prizes. We’ve already been to Boston and Nashville this month, and you can meet us in Indianapolis in September. Curriculum Creator and third-grade teacher Denise Dusseau will exhibit at the Indiana Charter Schools Conference and Expo, September 20. Get more information here, and join our Facebook page to stay updated on more WriteSteps conference appearances!

“Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to

question what they read.

Teach them to question everything.”

~George Carlin