Watch student writing come alive with free online writing tools. Publish student writing online, participate in collaborative writing, or develop interactive fiction. Tools can be used either by students in grades 7-12 or by K-12 teachers. Included: A dozen Web sites with online or downloadable tools for improving student and teacher writing.
Why rely only on traditional word processors like Word or AppleWorks for writing in K-12? In the last few years, a number of free and engaging writing tools have appeared on the Web. Many help you share what you write with the world. Others allow you to collaborate with others online, and still others help you create "interactive fiction." Read on to find the tool that's right for your class.
Google Docs is a free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form application offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. So your students could, for example, record their thoughts on Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and then invite other classes to add their thoughts or edit the original document.
This is not exactly one tool; it's the best bank of online writing tools for grades K-12. These are all interactive tools that walk students through dozens of writing tasks. First graders can write their first business letter on an easy-to-use template and print it. Middle school students enjoy the comic creator, practicing storyboard skills in the process. High school students use the drama map to help them better understand the elements of reading dramas. Venn diagrams, alphabet games, many poem generators, and much more await you! This site is easy to use and will run on most browsers. (You might need to download Flash, a free program for online animation.)
3D Writer is a simple, and single-minded word processing program available for free download (PC only). Although it looks and feels a lot like older versions of Microsoft Word, it's lean and mean (i.e. few bells and whistles), so it can focus on its goal of creating hypertext fiction. What's that? Simply put, it's text that, through hyperlinks, allows students to add notations, provide further information, or even offer alternate endings. So, 3D Writer helps students learn how to writewell, in 3D -- writing a paper that is not only on that one piece of paper, but links to relevant and dynamic resources. Be sure to check out the Resources link for ideas on using 3D Writer in K-12 classrooms, as well as in many content areas. Files can be uploaded into Dreamweaver or other Web design programs or into Word, but for most K-12 teachers, the exciting part of 3DWriter is simply its simplicity and focus on hypertext fiction.
A Mac alternative to 3D Writer, Button Talk is also a free download. The focus here really is more on story writing, although how you use Button Talk's hyperlinking tool is up to you. Even if you don't have a Mac, be sure to explore the dozens of links to fiction written with Button Talk. ButtonTalk is simple to use, even in elementary classes. Students see a blank page and six buttons they can use to link to the next parts of their stories. (Does the princess open the tower door, find a dragon climbing the wall, or take a nap?) Note that with Button Talk you can create collaborative fiction (How about a one-act play written by students across the globe?)!
Just imagine -- a way to engage the "I Hate Poetry" student! Poetry Forge offers a number of online tools for generating original poetry. Great for the 7-12th grade student, Poetry Forge contains three poetry generators, all of which are cross-platform. The Metaphor Poetry tool prompts students to complete the metaphors "spring is" "diversity is" and "freedom is." The "Hope is" tool is probably the easiest for beginners; students add nouns, adjectives, and verbs to alter Emily Dickinson's poem of the same name. Finally, the Found Poetry generator allows students to add new lines to poems by Whitman and Dickinson, and at the same time gain a better understanding of literary devices and syntax. A number of supplemental resources are included on the site, including tips for teachers on how to encourage substantive student work using the tools.
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Article by Lorrie Jackson
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