Aug. 11, 2015
One of the most daunting things that professional writers face is the blank page – look up "writers facing blank page" and you'll get over a quarter of a million results. If that's how professional writers feel about it, imagine what it must be like for children. No wonder some of them don't much like the idea.
Fortunately, Purple Mash has a range of applications that are ideal for cajoling the reluctant writer into putting pen to paper, so to speak. Here they are.
2Connect (a story planning tool)
2Connect is a mind mapping program. Lots of people use mind mapping as a way of generating and linking ideas very quickly, and this is exactly what 2Connect allows you to do. The nice thing, as you would expect, is that it has been designed especially for children.
When pupils start a new mind map, suggest that they choose the Story Planner template. This gives them a starting point, and is not quite as terrifying to look at as a blank page!
Choose a suitable template to get started
In my story, I started off with the names of my two cats, which I linked to my name in the centre. Then I thought of a neighbour's cat's name, and linked that to the word "Problem". So even though I had no idea what I was going to write about when I opened the template, already I have the glimmerings of a story forming in my head. This is exactly what you want your pupils to experience.
The application lets me build up the details in my story to make it come alive. For example, I can add a picture and a sound. I can also open the text area, and this is the really clever part: I can start typing or, if my motor skills aren't great, I can click on the boxes in the mind map and see the words appear in the text area.
Having a mind map helped me to begin writing my story
I can also save it in a shared folder so that my friends can add their parts, and I can give my mum and dad a link to where my story is on the web (a facility that is available for all the applications covered here). In other words, I've gone from a blank page to being a published writer in the space of one lesson!
Blank Writing Templates
Not all writing comes under the heading of "creative writing" of course. For example, writing an email is an important skill in itself, and is very different from writing a story. But where do you start?
This is where the blank writing templates come in. There are 9 different ones, including templates for an email, a comic book and a newspaper page. Whichever one you select already has prompt text and/or a writer’s check list.
The email template is a good one to consider, because it lets you teach children how to write emails safely. How? Well, it doesn't actually allow them to send their emails, only to write them. Also, it has information about aspects like how to write a good subject header, which appears as soon as you hover the mouse pointer over the relevant box, e.g. the one containing the word "Subject".
Now you can teach pupils to write emails safely
2Create a Story (writing with animation)
Another way you can fire up your pupils' imaginations is to introduce them to 2Create a Story. This not only integrates words, pictures and sounds, but you can also animate the pictures, which is great fun!
There are two modes, a standard one and a very simple one. Either of them will be good for encouraging pupils to write, because if you can't think of anything to say, you can start by building up an animated scenario. Once you've done that, it would be natural to want to write about it. And then you can do just that, right underneath the animation.
A bit of animation adds life to any story
We all know that getting children to work with each other is a good thing to do, and the program 2Write makes it very easy for that to happen. If you're familiar with Google Docs then you will already understand what this is like to use. In a nutshell, you can type something, and a friend can type something on the same page – and at the same time!
Each person will have a different colour assigned to their name, so it will be very obvious who has written what.
The story is updated immediately, as people type, and because it is all happening online, you can use your imagination to set up some very interesting scenarios. For instance, you could arrange to have the children collaborating with "pen friends" in a different class in the school, or one that is on the other side of the country. Or you could arrange for some children to be in the school library, say, or the playground, reporting on an event, while the "Editor" back in the classroom makes changes as necessary, such as correcting spelling.
A great example of the old proverb, two heads are better than one
Lisa from 2Simple and I had a great time experimenting with this tool, and you can see the beginnings of a best-selling story in the screenshot! The important thing for you to realise, though, is that when we started we had no idea of how the story would go. What made it easy to create the story was that each of us sparked off some ideas for the other, and that made the story flow.
This gives you a few more options to get pupils writing. Again, there are several templates, and one that you may find especially useful is the Storyboard. This lets you plan a story in blocks, as a sequence, which is exactly what animators, video makers and comic book authors tend to do.
What kind of writing would you like to do today?
Start by drawing a picture, then add some text underneath it. Simply by creating some pictures and adding a sentence or two of text underneath each one, pupils can build up a story almost before they realise it!
Over to you..
All I've been able to do here is give you a brief introduction to several tools at your disposal to help you get your pupils to write. Spend some time exploring them all for yourself or even ask the pupils to try them out and report back to the class!
The key thing to bear in mind is that, taken together, these applications provide many different entry points for children to begin to write. In addition, there are templates, clip art, sound effects and text prompts, and instant video help throughout the suite of writing-related programs.
What are you waiting for?
About Terry Freedman