10 Digital Writing Opportunities You Probably Know and 10 You Probably Don’t

On Thursday I finally had some time to sit with our Key Stage 2 (junior) literacy coordinator and talk about how technology can support writing outcomes for the Primary Framework for Literacy.

It was a meeting all about ideas (my favourite) and we discussed the best ways that technology could support the process of writing and drive the eventual outcomes. In this post I have included a list of 10 literacy/writing tools or outcomes that, in my opinion, teachers should currently be aware of. Many of them are basic yet still powerful tools in the classroom that support children’s writing. They are in no particular order.

In addition I have also included 10 alternative tools that either offer a different perspective on digital writing or are a little known tool, that may have huge potential in the classroom. Not everything is free nor is it online – but the list will hopefully provide food for thought when you are looking at your next non-fiction or narrative unit with your class.

1 – Photostory – in my opinion one of the simplest and yet most powerful tools for primary literacy. I particularly appreciate the linear structure of the software, the ease with which you can incorporate speaking and listening and the quality of the multi-modal outcome.

2 – Powerpoint – I have never been a fan but PPT does offer a wider range of tools a functionality then some other presentation software. Children could create a non fiction text with linked contents and glossary – including the use of film and audio. There are of course heaps of online equivalents including 280 Slides, Zoho and Google Docs.

3 – SMART Notebook – in the same family as Powerpoint of course with the same sense of a non-chronological text could be created with it. This has proven a very effective tool for the children in our school as they have been watching Notebook in action since 2003. The children enjoy the ease with which you can work with the object based interface. A recent example of use in Year 4 in our school saw the children using screen capture to find, within a text, examples of language features and they then authored their own linked information texts.


4 – MovieMaker – (and Apple equivalents of course) simple and in the same boat as Photostory – it just gives you the complete package of allowing children to incorporate film into their texts. We have used it to create responses to the Aiden Gibbons film The Piano. The children added text, spoken word, soundtracks, film, still images (+effects) transitions etc.

5 – Word Processor – simple word processed documents could be done in Word or Google Docs. This year we have completed an instruction text on how to create and play a game in Sploder.

6 – Short Podcast – using Audacity or other recording/podcasting software children could create short scripted podcasts. They could be part of revision or even as an example of a balanced argument. The audio could then be imported and used in other applications.

7 – Film – there are lots of simple mini digital video cameras available now and ideally with lots in the classroom the children could create their own original films. They could present an interview, part of a story, balanced argument or an explanatory text for a different topic. We are looking at getting as many Flip Videos as we can get our hands on.

8 – Voicethread – still not that widely used, but one of the most important speaking and listening tools I have used in the classroom. Films, images or text can be explored – comments can be added via text, webcam, audio or even by mobile phone (!) – as the pupil is adding their comment they can also use a pen tool to highlight the feature they are discussing. Children could use Voicethread to model interview questions, structure responses to a narrative or to share ideas for story starters as we have done earlier this year. The collaborative feature provides them with a pool of ideas and support from their peers. Huge potential.

9 – Kar2ouche – you have to pay to use this but our Year 6 teachers have had great success with Kar2ouche to support their Macbeth work. Scenes can be storyboarded from a bank of illustrated graphics, audio can be recorded directly in or layered on top from a resource bank. There is room for the children to write a fuller narrative for the scenes or just to add speech bubbles. In the same category as Photostory due to the storyboarding but much more powerful.

10 – Myths and Legends Story Creator 2 – a free online version of Kar2ouche that focuses on a specific story type. Classes can have unique logins and they can record audio and build scenes from a set of graphics, their own images can be imported. A great alternative to Kar2ouche and perfect for the Myths and Legends unit.

No doubt that not much of that is new to many of you, however I hope that the next 10 alternative tools gives you further food for thought and something to explore for next terms’ writing units. It is an exciting time to be encouraging young children to enjoy writing as there are so many free tools that engage and take a different perspective on it all. 

1 – Google Earth stories – the imagery presented to us in Google Earth provides a rich platform to inspire and develop stories. Work could be written into the placemarks or indeed media created elsewhere could be embedded within them like we have done. Information text located in the correct context would of course be ideal, for example an explanatory text about the features of a river system using the River Nile as it’s location or indeed the Valley of the Kings as the location for information in an Egyptian topic. Why not do a WW2 evacuee story and find a train station in a large city and then follow the line out into the countryside? Endless contexts for writing.

2 – Wordle – I thought this little tool would be great to analyse written stories in the same way Steve Kirkpatrick has done with his class. A Wordle could be a great way to introduce a text – exploring what is emphasised to help understand the type of writing it is taken from. Is it instruction, explanation – how can you tell? Another idea is that the children create a poem as a Wordle, it would certainly be challenging the form of conventional poetry.

3 – PicLit – this great creative writing tool allows you to drag vocabulary onto an image. Although you cannot upload your own images, the picture gallery is well stocked with inspiring pictures to explore. Children could try and tell the story within the picture or create some poetry in response to the image. PicLits can be saved, emailed and used elsewhere.

4 – Tag related search – using tag related searches can help children to understand the family of vocabulary that they could use. The relationships we generate between common words could be tapped into by a class to not only explore the images from Flickr, as in Tag Galaxy, but also broaden their vocabulary for written work. Don’t just focus on the images but explore the language too.

5 – Woices – place a recorded piece of a story audio on a map, combine the pieces into a route or journey. Woices will allow you to create a geotagged story or journey with audio being the main medium. Work could be narrative based or a simple recount of a recent class trip or journey into the local area. More informative tourist guide type outcomes could be scripted and added to the correct locations on a map.

6 – Cartoon strip – Tools such as Strip Generator and Make Beliefs Comix give children the opportunity to quickly generate short cartoon strips. The simplicity allows them to quickly explore aspects of narrative and speech as they take seconds to figure out how to use. I used Make Beliefs Comix today with my class to support their understanding of direct speech. Thanks to willie42 and MrKp for first suggesting these, we had a good lesson.

7 – Museum Box – Thanks to smilin7 for suggesting this one. Museum Box is a tool from the makers of the Myths and Legends resource above. It “provides the tools for you to build up an argument or description of an event, person or historical period by placing items in a virtual box.” Children can add text, files, video, audio and images into the box and it looks like a really unique way to explore an event or historical figure. It would be good to help the children explore characterisation – what would we put in the box to help us understand Aunt Sponge? I look forward to exploring this more in the future.

8 – Textorizer – This is an online tool that allows you to upload an image, add text and then the image is recreated using the writing. It would be a good exploration of imagery and written text – perhaps a short poem created over series of lessons with a bold or distinctive image as a starting point. Then textorized as a final emalgamation of text and imagery. Thankyou to nzchrissy for pointing out this one.

9 – Bookr – I have always liked the pimpampum applications and in fact one of the very first blog posts I wrote was using Bubblr their comic strip tool. Bookr is from the same family and it is very easy to create a simple book using Flickr images, add some text and then publish.

10 – Adventure Island – Another resource that I discovered through Twitter, the thanks going this time to helenrf, Adventure Island provides a platform to write a reader defined adventure story. “Pupils create challenges and puzzles for the visitor to solve. As the visitor travels around a created Island, descriptive writing for each area encourages them to explore further. Will they be able to survive, and leave the Island, or will they remain forever … trapped?” This resource is based around a Y6/7 transition unit on Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo but could be used detached from that context – there is plenty of supporting ideas and tips on how to use it with a class.

Phew! It is always good to get all of those ideas buzzing in your head down in a blog post and I hope that there is something here for you to consider next time there is a writing outcome in a literacy unit. Throughout a writing unit I look to use at least one application that encourages speaking and listening, and refining of recorded speaking as a precursor to writing. I wouldn’t use these tools in isolation and some compliment each other very well.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but it certainly helps to illustrate the breadth of opportunity currently available to explore literacy in a digital form. As always, please let me know your thoughts, what you might add and what classroom experiences you have had of using them. 

29 thoughts on “10 Digital Writing Opportunities You Probably Know and 10 You Probably Don’t

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  4. Great post – as we make slow steps to incorporating ict in literacy*, it’s good to see people constantly looking forward. Like Martin I’d not come across PicLits before – another idea to testdrive, thanks!

    *I was looking at one of the new Y5 literacy units with an LA consultant who has made huge efforts to overcome her IT reluctance to ensure that schools receive the right message about ICT. The unit suggests that children are introduced to new software (the example given is the Hot poatoes suite) and asked to explore and determine the purpose of the software, before writing a set of instructions for new users. I’m sure her reaction, of total bewilderment, isn’t untypical. Why not pick on something with the obvious appeal of Wordle, Toodoo or Pivotmaker – another opportunity to engage lost?

  5. This is a fantastic list! I just wanted to add another that you may or may not know of: http://www.thinkitinkitpublishing.com. We offer professionally illustrated wordless picture books in which kids write the stories and we publish them. The illustrations provide the scaffolding that many writers need as a starting point to express themselves. Thanks for this wonderful resource list!

  6. Great list. Some I use. Others I’m planning to use. The strip generator might be my favorite.

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  8. To,
    This is a great list for teachers. Some I was familiar with and others I will definitely have a look at especially Strip Generator. I am working on a resource which looks at improving literacy through moving image.

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  12. Great list Tom! Does exactly what it says on the (virtual) tin!

    PicLit and Woices are new discoveries to me.

    Will need to think this through for Reading also…


  13. Hi Tom,

    This is a great list!

    You can also add ToonDoo, a free and easy-to-use comic strip creator with loads of cool features.

    To know more about ToonDoo in education, you can also write to us at the address mentioned in this contact form. We’d love to hear from you!

    ToonDudette from http://www.jambav.com

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  15. Wonderful stuff Tom – thank you!

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  17. Hello Tom!
    This is a great list!
    I’m sorry. My english it’s terrible. But I will try to write.
    I use with my pupils Publisher. You can create a newspaper (We did one ” La Tijereta” published with the local diary), a calendar with photos or produced phrases by the Kids.
    I hope that my offer serves.

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  19. Hey Tom! I have always wanted to do that.
    See you later.

  20. Hey Tom,
    I am Nicholas from Nicholas’ Soccer Blog. I really like your blog. I think you put a lot of thoughtful effort into your posts. Do you have a favorite soccer team. If so, which team. I look forward to your feedback.

  21. Tom,
    Your first 10 reaffirm what I already use to help teach literacy in my classroom, while your second 10 are new to me and tools I will be looking into to spice things up. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Tom, that is a good list. I have used Wordle for character attributes of book characters. The piclit is really a good one. I have just recently discovered Glogster.com which is a type of scrapbooking. They have wonderful examples of literature and social studies projects that kids have done. There is an EDU version with no adds and they are all private. Besides book projects, they would make great e-portfolios for parent conferences when the children participate. They would be a great way for kids to showcase their work and also a way for parents to respond to their work. Keep keeping us informed!

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