It’s a website which allows users to create and share their own written personalised stories. The stories can then be published for the whole world to see or just sent via email to close family and friends. Children age 13 and above can create their own account but younger children have to give their parents email address. Teachers can add children to their accounts by creating classes. What I love the most about this site is that it allows children to express themselves in modern, interactive and tech-savvy way. Even the most reluctant writers want to write a Storybird! If I asked a child to give me 5 words to do with a “train journey”, they would struggle. But give them a picture like this and the task doesn’t seem so daunting anymore. Storybird is the key that has unlocked some of my students minds and got them writing.
How Does It Work?
1. Start by choosing a picture. You can either browse the themes or search for a particular subject. I prefer to search for a topic like “pets” or “Christmas”. Choose the picture you like and use that artwork to start a storybird. The artwork provided is by professionals and is colourful, detailed and imaginative. It is designed to kick-start children’s thinking and get their ideas flowing.
2. Once you have decided on the artwork for your first page, it will appear in the centre of the screen with images as thumbnails surrounding it. You click and drag images onto the page, add pages and change the layout.
3. The stories can then be published online for the whole world to see or just sent via email to close family and friends. The end product has a professional finish even if there is only one word per page.
Here is a storybird written by one of my students. Tolu is 7 years old and is a budding writer. Please feel free to add your comments to encourage him.
Take One Storybird Picture…..
You don’t have to write pages and pages to create a storybird. I take one picture and get children to write just one page worth. Here are some ideas to try
Use the picture as a prompt for some descriptive writing. For example if you search the word “dragon”, choose the best picture and describe the dragon.
Find a picture of a scene like a beach or party or playground. Use this as the opening scene of a story.
Choose three different characters, and dedicate one page for each character.
Choose 3 different types of weather scenes, and write a diary entry taking place in each type of weather scene.
Younger children love to make lists. They can just use it to make lists of things they would like to do, things they would like to eat and places they would like to visit.
Use it to make an illustrated dictionary.
The key, in my opinion, is to help children with the planning of their writing. You can help them by listing related vocabulary, brainstorming ideas, putting them in a logical order and deciding how to connect their ideas. Why don’t you give it a go?
For many children, writing can be a daunting task. When presented with a blank piece of paper and a writing task like “write a recount about what you did today”, they manage to squeeze out only 3 or 4 lines in 30 minutes. I usually get the questions “how do I start?” or “how long does it have to be”, and then a bit of time-wasting whilst pencils are sharpened and rubbers are found. There is evidence of lots and lots of rubbing out, correction and re-phrasing. It shows lack of confidence and writers block and children don’t really get why their writing is so bad; they can’t tell you how to improve it.
So how can you help a child with weak writing skills? The easy answer is to get your child to keep a diary or sit down and write a story every day, but even professional writers find this difficult to do. And for the reluctant writer, this is equivalent to climbing a mountain. Below are some practical and easy methods which work.
The Slow and Untidy Writer
If you have a child who is a slow writer and focuses all his concentration and effort into the actual art of writing, then this is stopping the flow of ideas. So in this case, you could act as a scribe for your child. The child dictates and you write their story for them. The point is that your child gets his ideas on paper in a logical order, that it makes sense and that it uses his imagination. Ask lots of questions to extend ideas and prompt for better vocabulary. Encourage your child to add more details like adjectives and adverbs, and encourage him to formulate the full sentence in his mind before dictating it. You will find that your child will have written much more than 3 or 4 lines and this in itself is a very good motivator to write more.
The Child Who Doesn’t See The Point In Writing
If you have a child who says “who’s going to read this anyway” or “what’s the point in writing” it means that they don’t value the art of writing. They find it easier to just say it, and writing it down is wasted time.
Talk to your child about the importance of writing and why we need to learn to write. I think the writing process involves three stages of evolution. First we write to communicate. Most children understand this and it’s how children start to learn to write. They start by making lists and writing messages, even annotating pictures they have drawn. You could start off this as a daily activity. Ask your child to write a shopping list, a birthday wish list or even a list of things to do. There are more ideas on lists here.Set a good example by writing things on post it notes and leaving them about the house for your child to find. Children follow by example.
The next stage is the “writing to entertain” stage. Who are they entertaining? Well at first it’s themsleves so they have to write about something that interests them. I have a collection of writing prompts on my Pinterest and you can pick and choose one which will be suitable for your child. One of my teachers picks interesting topics for her students to write about. She teaches older children and often her essay titles are about issues which affect them. So instead of asking them to write a speech persuading their school to give money to a charity of their choice, she will ask them to write a speech to persuade their school to allow students to manage the school Instagram account.
The final stage is the “writing to express” stage. Expression takes time to develop. It can be in the form of poetry, or just by the words and the tone of the writing. You should be able to hear the writers voice through the writing. It uses emotion and can be quite honest writing. I have had reluctant writers who love to write poetry.
The Child Who Doesn’t Know What To Write
A child who writes the bare minimum and finds it difficult to add detail and interest in his writing is suffering from writers block. They need guidance on how to pad out their writing and they need to know specifically how to extend their writing. They start writing without thinking about content and stumble after just writing the first sentence.
Brainstorming ideas and plots before writing can help unravel a child’s writing brain and helps to visualise the direction the writing is going in. Brainstorming can be mind maps, spider diagrams, flow charts or even lists.
Checklists are also useful to remind children about features of different writing types and what they should be including in their writing. A simple internet search will yield checklists for “recount writing” for instance. If the checklist reminds a child to “say or show how a character reacted to an event” then the child is more likely to do so at each stage of the story.
Another method I use is to get the child to write a sentence followed by a question word to help extend the writing. For example the child writes “I saw a boy playing football”. This could be followed by “who, why, when, where or how” to add in some detail. Ask specific questions about your child’s writing:
How did that happen?
Did you react to that event?
What did you do?
Can you tell me more about…?
What are some other words you could use to describe…?
Where were you?
Why did that happen?
Once your child has produced their masterpiece, then avoid the urge to criticise it. Writing is a personal process, a form of expression, so any criticism on the writing can feel like you’re criticising the child. Always make positive comments and acknowledge improvements first before you pick on the bad bits. I will finish with a few websites I use to motivate writers and provide inspiration.
Storybird -Storybirds are short, art-inspired stories you make to share, read, and print. Read them like books, play them like games, and send them like greeting cards. They’re curiously fun. Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and “unlocking” the story inside. Choose an artist or a theme, get inspired, and start writing. Children can either write their own books using the pictures to inspire and create plots, or just as a prompt for a piece of writing. In this case they choose a picture and just describe what they see in the picture.
21 Stunning Photographs With Meaning – stunning photos of a variety of subjects, including children, flowers, people, and more. Each photo was selected not only for being stunning, but also for an underlying meaning that will be sure to brighten your day. Hopefully, these beauties will inspire your child to create beautiful pieces of writing.
The Literacy Shed – this website has lots of cartoons and short films to inspire your child to write. We use this as a starting point for writing, and one of the simplest tasks is to get the child to watch the video, and write a summary of the stroy line. It’s a matter of simple recall, but don’t be surprised when your child says she can’t remember anything aprt from the first scene. That’s because she’s not used to focusing on the storyline and just watching for entertainment. As she practices more, she will remember more and more details. Another great feature of this website is that it has lesson ideas too, so if you wanted to do something more in line with the national curriculum, then theres plenty of material to work on.
But if you haven’t got the time or struggle to explain things simply to your child, get a professional to help. Our fully qualified teachers can unlock the writing bug in any child!
At the initial assessment I can work out why your child is struggling with writing, then I can design a unique programme for him to follow.
Vocabulary building is a fundamental skill in english, as it improves reading comprehension, spoken english and written expression. Learning vocabulary is not just a matter of looking up the meaning of a word in a dictionary, but a more complex skill that is learnt through seeing and using the word in a variety of ways. Multiple exposure to the word in different situations and using different learning methods can help with vocabulary development. A good vocabulary is also important in the 11+ exam and should therefore be started early.
The inspiration from this post came from a comprehension exercise that I was doing with one of my students. The word “harmless” came up and I had to try more than one way of explaining it to her. I learned that later she used the word “harmless” to describe herself and “harmful” to describe her little sister in a conversation with her mum.
Here are 6 ways to improve vocabulary….
1. Using Visual Props
Draw a picture to show the meaning of the word.
Make flash cards with the word on one side and the meaning on the other
Download and print pictures or photos of the word
Use WORDLE.NET to create word clouds. Just type words with the same meaning and it generates a word cloud. This example is all the words which mean “yummy”.
2. Acting Out
Write down 10 words on flash cards. Get the child to pick a card and act out the meaning of the word without talking. You can print your own flashcards on Quizlet.
You can use props to help you. I have a cuddly teddy in my classroom because the word “affection” is on our vocabulary list. So to illustrate “affection”, I cuddle the toy.
find the opposite of the word and explaining the meaning of the opposite word
Make the word longer by adding prefixes or suffixes
create vocabulary word lists for common words. I have a collection on my Pinterest.
4. Vocab Games
Matching game – make flash cards
type 1 – 10 vocab words to learn
type 2 – 10 definitions of each word
type 3 – 10 synonyms of each word
type 4 – 10 opposites to each word
Match type 1 to type 2, match type 1 to type 3 or type 1 to type 4. There are a total of 12 different types of combinations you can try. Once you’ve mastered 2 combinations, then try to match 3 sets of cards, and then all 4 sets of cards.
this one called vocabulary.com is really good for older children (age 12 and above)
parent draws a picture to represent a word, child tries to guess the word
child draws the picture and parent guesses
This game is useful for reinforcing key words or technical language
Time your child for one minute and see how many words they can come up with related to a particular topic. You can type the words in wordle.net and generate a word cloud. This one was created from the key words from “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck.
5. Practice and Use
Provide opportunities for your child to use new words and to practice using them in games like crosswords. Also, use the words in a conversation with your child and try variations of the word, like adding a prefix or suffix to it.
6. Visual Thesaurus
Finally I will leave you with a website recommendation called “Visual Thesaurus” which is an excellent resource for vocab building.