April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Join the Writing Revolution With These Tools

writingRevolutionWe are in the midst of a writing revolution, fueled by arguably the greatest open communication tool ever invented: the Internet.

“Kids hate to write” is a refrain I often hear. The truth,  is, though, our young people write more now than they ever have. That writing may not always be for academic purposes, as Andrea Lunsford pointed out in her Stanford Study of Writing. But make no mistake: all of us, and especially our students, are writing. We write, as we have in the past, to communicate, to connect, to share our ideas, and to learn from others. Today, though, we can perform these activities via the web, with our ever-present phones and tablets, and incorporate rich media such as photos and videos—and all within a matter of seconds.

We are, as it turns out, driven to write. And our technologies are helping propel our words forward.

As evidence:

  • About 2.5 billion email users worldwide send hundreds of billions of emails each day
  • No fewer than 2.5 million blog posts are written and published each day
  • Some 500 million tweets are sent each day

So, how do we help our students harness this inclination—the cultural imperative—to write, so that they can become better academic writers? How do we provide guidance as they navigate the complexities of an online world of writing and writers? What are some tried-and-true tools and platforms?

Below is a list of my—and my teaching colleagues—top resources. All are essentially free to use. The list is by no means comprehensive. I’m sure have your own favorites—if so, please share them in the comments section below.

Tools To Spark Writing: Fiction

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

The Young Writer’s Program challenges kids to write a novel in the 30 days of November. The site offers workbooks and resources that will motivate your students and allow them to unleash their inner novelist. Grades 4–12

Tools To Spark Writing: Nonfiction

KQED Do Now allows students to respond to a current issue each week using social media. The issues range from politics to the arts and sciences. In this age of fractured political discourse, Do Now helps students practice constructive online conversation. Grades 8–12

National Geographic Education Who doesn’t love National Geographic’s images, videos, and articles? Kids can use the vast resources at this site to spark their imaginations and get their writing juices flowing. Grades 1–8

Newsela Offering daily news stories, differentiated by reading level, Newsela is a popular resource for  teachers seeking to help keep students stay current. Have your students use these high-interest pieces as a jumping off point for argumentative blog posts. Grades 2–12

New York Times Learning Network Though primarily a space to find lessons related to New York Times content, the Learning Network’s high-interest pieces lend themselves to writing assignments. Additionally, the Learning Network periodically runs writing contests for young people. Grades 7–12

Publishing Platforms for Kids

Figment This teen writing space (you need to be at least 13 years old to register) provides a community of peers who support one another as they go through the writing process. Figment offers the opportunity to join groups and enter contests. Grades 8–12

Kidblog Younger students can hone their blogging skills at this safe, closed platform. A student’s Kidblog experience is moderated and managed by a teacher. Grades 1–8

Wattpad My 13-year-old niece turned me onto Wattpad, where she writes fan fiction about her favorite novel, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. This is a great and popular place for teens to share their stories with peers. Beware of inappropriate content however; teachers should manage carefully. Grades 8–12

Youth Voices This vibrant online community allows students to write and communicate about issues that are important to them in a variety of formats, from blog posts to videos. The space has a long history as a publishing platform and social networking space, along with committed educator involvement. Grades 8–12

Reference Tools

Dictionary.com and Thesaurus Rex If your students need to look up the definition of a word, Dictionary.com is a handy online resource. Not only does it provide definitions, it pronounces words and has fun features such as a word of the day. Thesaurus Rex is an app, so it’s only available on mobile devices, but it will give your kids synonyms and pronunciations of words, and it can also sort synonyms by relevance. Grades 6–12

EasyBib makes it, well, easy for students to cite sources and create bibliographies in a variety of formats. One caution: the free version includes ads. Grades 9–12

Wikipedia, as I’m sure most of you know, is an online collaborative encyclopedia written by those who use it. It is one of the most visited sites in the world. And it trades on the idea that the crowd will get it right more often than not. Your kids probably already use it, so why not help them understand the pitfalls and how they can contribute to the building of a knowledge base for others to use? It’s translated into multiple languages and has a Simple English Wikipedia version for users whose first language isn’t English. Grades 8–12

Zotero A free, open-source research tool, Zotero helps you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It doesn’t have the most user-friendly interface, but its features are robust. Grades 9–12

Stories That Inspire

StoryCorps is an oral history project, a treasure trove of compelling one-to-one interviews between people who know each other. I’ve more than once shed a tear listening to a StoryCorps piece—your students will find a story that moves them, too. Grades 4–12

TED Playlist for Kids Various TED talks can work with different ages groups. That said, the good people at TED have curated videos they think are especially relevant to young people. Some of the TED talks are given by teens, others simply focus on issues that young people will likely find fascinating. Grades 9-12

Youth Radio If you listen to National Public Radio, you’ve probably heard a piece narrated by a Youth Radio reporter. Youth Radio provides well-researched stories of interest to teens, produced and reported by teens. Grades 9–12

Online Identity and Digital Citizenship

Common Sense Education’s K–12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum

OK, so this isn’t a site devoted to writing. But if you want your kids to write online, they need to understand what it means to create and value their online identity, and how to interact responsibly with others—particularly if they expect to give or receive feedback. K–Grade 12

Paul Oh is director of community engagement at the Teaching Channel. 

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  1. Nikki Hansen says:

    My favorite publishing resource is writeabout.com – you should definitely check it out!!