Saturday, January 30, 2010

Create an eBook or PDF "magazine" from Web Content

Zinepal is a user-friendly site which allows one to create a printable (and digital) magazine from online content. There is a free version of the service as well as a "pro" version for a subscription fee. There are quite a few uses for this beyond the classroom, but below I've shared some of the ways I've used it with my students.

1. Capture the content in your class' or students' blogs to create a literary magazine, complete with pictures.

2. Students can create zines as part of their research on a given topic. Because content can come from a varitey of sources, students are able to print a mash up of complementary information.


xTimeline is an interactive site for creating and sharing timelines. While it's free there are numerous ads (most of which seem to do with belly fat!).
On xTimeline, students can not only connect events to dates, but they can embed images, links, audio, and video. Students can save their work to the site, email it to others, and link their timelines to other pages as well. Another nice feature is the ability to comment on timelines.

There are hundreds of timelines already saved to the site, with topics covering most everything you could think of. The timelines are user-generated, however, so it's a good opportunity to teach your students to fact-check.

How can you use xTimeline in your classroom?

1. Have students create a timeline of an author's life or events from a novel.

2. Create a "bogus" timeline filled with mistakes and incorrect dates. Have students research and then revise your work.

3. Have your writing students plan out the plots of their short stories.

4. Have students write out their "life stories" and then place major events on a timeline. This assignment had an added bonus for my writers. Many felt like they didn't have "timeline-worthy" events in the personal essays they had written, even though, as one student commented, they had written "basically [their] whole lives, word for word!" Focusing on finding "timeline-worthy" events made them edit their work down to the "good parts."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Digital Comic Strips

This was something I'd had students do for YEARS. I'd drag out the ancient markers and copy paper and have students draw out a scene from our reading. Despite my students being high schoolers, I always got stick figures floating around in white space. It was a good assignment in theory.

There are lots of sites where students can create digital comic books, graphic novels and the like. Two which I've used before are Bubblr and Pixton. Each have a free version you can use, but Pixton also has a space just for educators which has a very small subscription fee. Both have a lot to offer, and do basically the same thing. Depending on your students, one may be more appealing than the other. For instance, Bubblr uses images from Flickr which may or may not be an issue with your school or grade level. When I used this in my satire unit, I presented both sites and let my students choose which one they wanted to use.

How can you use these sites in your classroom?

1. Have students satirize a serious theme or topic from your class content.

2. Have students summarize plot lines through comic strips. This is a nice way to check for understanding.

3. Have your writing students become "cartoonists" with a stock set of characters and a weekly deadline for new strips.

2 Fun "Magnetic Poetry" sites

Here are two fun sites which I've used when students complain of "writer's block." They're a simple way to get the creative muscles working again. Fridge Poetry is a simple application that allows you to stick magnetic letters onto a "fridge" to write poetry, short messages, or whatever you like. You also have the option to send your Fridge Poetry to someone else via email.

Another similar site is called Shocked Poetry. This site functions like a virtual magnetic poetry kit. You can create a poem from scratch, start with a theme, or get inspired by others' work that has been saved to the site. You can save your poems to the online gallery or send your work as an e-greeting. I haven't found anything offensive on the site, and since the words for the poems are from a preselected bank, I assume that there aren't any taboo words. I never had an issue when I used this in my high school classes as far as inappropriate content, but you might want to preview it first. I wouldn't recommend Shocked Poetry for lower grades.

How can you use Fridge Poetry and Shocked Poetry in your classroom?

1. Use these sites for brief breaks during an extended creative writing task.

2. Use these sites as warm ups. Set a timer for 3 minutes then have each student share his or her creation. Vote for the best one.

3. Use Shocked Poetry to explain to your writing students that words are tools that all writers manipulate in a different way. By browsing the gallery of poems within a theme, your student will see how many others used (essentially) the same words each in his or her own way.

4. Use Fridge Poetry to leave messages in the voice of either a character in a story your student is reading OR a character from your student's original story.

5. Have students use Fridge Poetry to post comments from characters in your class content, then have other students try to guess who left the message.

6. If your student is having a hard time condensing a line of poetry, have him or her try to revise it using Fridge Poetry.


Wordle is one of my favorite sites to share with teachers. The idea is so simple, but there are so many applications. Wordle creates "word art" from any text you choose. You can manipulate fonts, colors, styles and layouts of the text. Paste a chunk of text into the application and Wordle will create a design in which the words appear larger or smaller, depending on their frequency of use in the pasted text. You can publish your creations to a public gallery and/or print them out.

How can you use Wordle in your classroom?

1. Have students paste in their original poetry.

2. Have students paste in their original poetry to determine what words are being "over-used."

3. Have students create autobiographical, visual poems by pasting in their names along with adjectives which describe them. Wordle lets you manipulate the text so you can, for instance, repeat some words more than others (like your name) so they appear larger.

3. Have students paste in text from political speeches, etc. to get a visual of the rhetoric used in the speaker's message (remember, the more a word is used, the larger it appears). Try Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" or Bush's "9/11 Speech."

Collaborative Storytelling

Storybird is a way to create short, illustrated "books" online. According to the site, "Storybirds are short, visual
stories that you make with family and friends to share and (soon) print." Students write original stories to accompany(very cool) artwork provided by the site. I love that the artwork is contributed by many artists, and all of it is beautiful and evocative in its own way. Students publish their stories to the site where the stories turn into virtual picture books. Soon, for a fee, Storybird will allow users to purchase a printed version of their books. For now, it is still a beta version, and welcomes comments and suggestions from users. It bills itself as a child and family-friendly environment and I used it with my students without any problems.

How can you use this site in your classroom?

1. Students create original stories inspired by the artwork.

2. Students create a book of original, illustrated poetry.

3. Students write a biographical sketch from their childhood aimed at younger children.

4. Students create Storybirds to share with the class. Have them read their stories on their designated day.

5. Have students write a childrens' book illustrating and explaining a difficult concept in simpler terms ("How a Bill Becomes a Law," for example).

6. Have students interview a senior citizen or a member of their family, then create a Storybird to tell their subject's story.

Successful Peer-Editing

Peer-editing has always been difficult for my students. Without constant direction and supervision, peer-editing often turns into chatting about everything BUT student writing. This year I used a wonderful site to get my students excited about this part of the writing process, and, happily, I found some additional benefits as well. Voicethread is a collaborative, interactive site which uses images, audio, and text to create a multi-media slide show. Students can, for instance, record themselves reading their essays, complement them with images and music, then upload them to the site. Once uploaded, any number of "peer-editors" can view the VoiceThread and comment on them (either by recorded voice or typed text). One nice feature of this site is that users upload pictures of themselves, and when they make comments the text balloons seem to come right from their mouths. Voicethread can be 100% controlled by the teacher. There is a free version as well as a moderately-priced subscription version.

How can you use Voicethread in your classroom?

1. Students can publish their writing on the site. One beautiful side-effect of having my students record themselves reading their work is that they WILLINGLY edited over and over to "get it right" before posting.

2. Students can peer-edit others' work.

3. Students can "publish" a work-in-progress and invite others to comment and collaborate, offering ideas and suggestions.

Are your students "Glogging" yet?

One of the favorite assignments ever in my AP class has to be the Glog! Glogster allows your students to create a multi-media "poster" complete with text, images, audio and video. Glogster has created a space that is specifically for classrooms, and as such it can be completely private, and 100% controlled by the teacher.

How can you use Glogster in your classroom?

1. Students can create a Glog illustrating a major theme from their reading.

2. Students can create a Glog for their original poems. Use Freeplay Music for instrumental music suited for any type of writing

3. Students can create a Glog for characters from their reading, complete with relevant quotes and appropriate "theme songs."

4. Students can create a Glog that can serve and an alternate cover for a book, complete with a new summary and blurbs.

5. Students can put a novel or character in historical context. For example, students can create a Glog for The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn in which they use video clips of the Mississippi River, audio clips of Mark Twain, images of slavery, quotes from critics of the day, etc. For The Crucible,students could use images of the actual court documents (available HERE), audio clips from a production of the play, and an original poem written in response to themes or situations in the text.

A "Reading Log" kids will want to keep.

If you are an English teacher and haven't yet discovered Shelfari then you and your students are in for a happy surprise. Shelfari allows your students to maintain a virtual "book shelf" where they are not only able to comment on books they've read, but recommend those books to others. They can also create private groups (as I did with my AP Language and Composition class) and build a community shelf. This site DOES have ways to make your class groups private. However, individual "shelves" are only private if they are set to be that way. I highly suggest you play around with it for a bit before jumping in with students.

How can you use this in your class?

1. Create a group shelf on Shelfari for your classroom. After each student creates an account, have him or her contribute a book to the class shelf (complete with a personal review and rating).

2. Have students build and maintain a personal shelf to serve as their "reading log."

3. Because Shelfari is a sort of social network, all of you can be connected in a virtual "book chat."

4. Have upperclassmen create a shelf with the college-bound reading they've done while in your class. Allow younger students to browse the shelves for recommendations.