-When faced with a blank sheet of paper and told to write a story most adults would struggle to put anything down on paper. Yet we ask students to do this all the time, and it’s no wonder some of our students react to writing with such dismay.
This article was originally published in the April 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine. You can freely read the article in our online version by clicking here.
It’s the same with assessment of writing. I see students being assessed by given a blank piece of paper and a genre that they’ve hardly been taught. Shouldn’t assessment be an opportunity for the student to show off their writing skills and achieve the highest grade possible? I’ve never understood why so many schools assess what their students don’t know.
‘Creative Writing’ doesn’t mean giving students a blank piece of paper with a pretty border on it either.
The beauty of the internet is that it’s a brilliantly creative platform, not just for original work but also a place where the ‘remix’ is flourishing. Online generators have been on the web for donkeys years – often infringing copyright rules, but always giving the ordinary online mortal a chance to imagine.
To pretend that their name is up in lights on a movie billboard, that their own band is playing on their iPod or that they can have a snazzy animated logo without a sniff of programming knowledge.
Having explored and used them in the classroom, I can definitely say that generators are an under-used web resource and are great for independent learning.
You often just click the mouse for a drop down menu or type whatever you want and then click ‘Generate’ – it’s as easy as that! The beauty with generators is that they will produce a piece of text from nothing! Very useful for reluctant writers – especially boys. I use them as starters for a longer piece of writing or just to stimulate ideas within a topic or theme.
It’s all about ownership. If those reluctant writers can enter a few words or choose a few objects, they can generate their own text. I have found this to be really empowering, as often these reluctant writers are only ‘reluctant’ because they find it difficult to actually start writing. Even the greatest authors in the world have tricks to help stimulate their writing when approaching a blank page.
Often when we ask students to write a piece of non-fiction it’s within the confines of a template and never actually looks like the writing it’s suppose to imitate.
Here’s where generators come into their own, because you can make a newspaper that actually looks like a newspaper.
Much better than students drawing textboxes and look great stuck into their books. You could use it as a stimulus for a new topic or a hook to draw the students in. Often with newspaper report writing students find the creation of actual news difficult. There’s an amazing fake news generator that will put the student as the subject of the news report. It’s called Global Associated News (globalassociatednews.com) and it generates a news website just from imputing a name.
I don’t know why, but students really like it when it’s the teacher that has suffered the terrible misfortune of missing in a Congo Rainforest. It seems to motivate them to write even more of the teacher’s misadventures!
One of my favourite sites at the moment is NewsJack.in it allows you to type in any website and then literally change anything, text and pictures.
The great thing about generators is their ability to infuse kids imagination with a few clicks. I have found that this benefits students that struggle with creating an initial idea-even an adult finds creating original concepts hugely challenging.
Teachers often search for templates for most non-fiction text types, brochures, leaflets, posters, etc often the awkward Publisher is the tool of choice. Printing Press (bit.ly/uked15apr16) from ReadwriteThink.org is ideal for presenting student work this way. Not only have you a host of choices but several templates within each document type, you can also upload photos. There’s no sign up and it allows the student to save progress with a local copy, just in case they don’t finish.
All writing should be taught as part of a process and another fabulous resource from ReadWriteThink, Cube Creator (bit.ly/uked15apr17) addresses this in a very creative way. Cube Creator is a great writing planning tool. It allows you to plan Stories, Biographies or Mysteries. Especially useful when most students find planning a piece of writing, very difficult.
It asks the students pertinent questions related to each stage of the planning process.
Then the really innovative aspect of Cube Creator is that it turns the pupils own answers into a 3D Cube net that they can print out and use to write with.
A good way to stimulate students with generators is to use the Blue Peter ‘Here’s one I made earlier’ approach. You want them to write a story or an article, show them a magazine or book cover with the teacher’s photograph on it and tell them that this could be them. It’s amazing how much writing gets produced when students have something to aim for.
Quite a number of websites do this. Big Huge Labs (bighugelabs.com) does will convert a photograph into a printable magazine cover. Even I can be on the front cover of RockStar magazine!
Pulp-O-Mizer (bit.ly/uked15apr18) is another favourite generator, especially useful when teaching the Science Fiction genre. You can generate a series of fabulous ‘Pulp’ 1950’s inspired book covers that look fantastically retro, but are very customisable. You can change the title, text, colour and illustrations to produce a very professional looking cover.
I’ve also used them to teach about persuasive writing, generating slogans, logos and billboard ads. It was a 6 week a project and have written about it in more detail at j.mp/genadvert.
Finally, generators can be used simply for signage. Instead of a boring draw label that the teachers print using MS
Word why not use a Star Wars or Harry Potter logo generator! When you have a new class in September why not let the pupils generate their own name tags using some of these inspirations, guarantee that will definitely have the whole class engaged for the rest of the year.
As with every piece of new technology or Web 2.0 tool, the learning runs alongside the stimulus. I interweave the generators within a learning process, often using them at a time when feel the students need a little creative push to help them produce more imaginative work. It’s essential to use generators like this, too often educators use them as a ‘starter’, the students quickly lose their enthusiasm and the very reason that the web tool was used in the first place becomes a reason not to use them! With a few clicks of a generator you can transform those reluctant writers into the authors of the future.
Julian has taught for 16 years across all year groups and Is an Assistant Headteacher in an Inner City Primary School. He is a passionate advocate of using technology to stimulate learning. Julian co-created the Creative Partnerships ‘inathirdspace’ project, which partnered teachers and artists. In 2010 he was awarded the Microsoft Innovative Educator award for using QR Codes to stimulate storytelling Julian shares his ideas at ideasfactory.me. Follow him on Twitter at @ideas_factory.