Yesterday, I was collaborating with one of our teachers to find ways to help improve her students' ability to write. She had several students that were struggling with understanding the prompts and writing while staying on topic. After looking at a couple of options, we decided to try Write About This and Tell About This as a tool to give students a visual aid and make connections as they started their stories.
Tell About This is an app that provides students with a picture and prompt. The prompt is read aloud and students press the microphone in order to record their voices as they respond to the prompt. This give students a place to start. They feel comfortable sharing what they see because it is what it is. They can't be judged on simply stating what is there. After the recording, the video can be saved to the camera roll and shared on YouTube or other outlets.
In this case, the student was having trouble describing and sharing how a thunderstorm might make her feel. The teacher explained to me that she was off topic and that she wasn't sure that the student was understanding what she was being asked to write about. With that information, we decided to provide the student with a picture of a thunderstorm and asked her to share the details that she saw. As you can see the original prompt was to tell how she might feel but we quickly realized that we were going to have to start with details. I talked with her about details and asked her to just tell me what she saw when she looked at the picture of the thunderstorm.
After that, we recorded again and I asked her to tell me how she would feel if she was in this thunderstorm. We talked about different feelings and then asked her to record again sharing her thoughts.
After recording her thoughts using Tell About This, I then showed her the same picture in the Write About This app. I asked her to think about what she said when we recorded. We talked about the details that she shared and the feelings that we talked about. I then explained that writing is a lot like speaking on paper. I told her to use her pencil or the keyboard instead of her voice to share her thoughts. She seemed to understand and was ready to write. This is what she wrote when we finished the details portion of the activity. We plan on going back and adding the feelings portion to this to put together a complete paragraph.
This student went from having difficulty understanding how to describe a thunderstorm to being to able to make a connection because of an image. She used her voice to document what she saw and then created several sentences using that information.
These apps helped me understand how useful it is to help students understand that writing is simply speaking on paper. As this student progresses and continues to use these tools, I hope that she will find her voice and begin to write independently. However, until she feels comfortable, using these apps together will serve as her training wheels. Instead of saying "I don't know what to write" or "I can't think of anything" she will have a tool to serve as a launchpad for her writing assignments.
Write About This is a great tool to use for whole group writing as well. You can simply project the prompt onto your wall and ask students to journal. Sometimes a picture is motivating and can serve as a visual aid for those students that need a starting place.
Here is another place to find wonderful photo prompts. These prompts require some critical thinking and encourage students to use their imagination. My students love to blog using these photos and I often use them as a way to start our class time.
How are you using technology to encourage writing? Please comment below to share new ideas or how you are using these same apps to engage your students.