Read it or Write it!

For some reasons, I have never been very confortable with the idea of using technology in my classroom. Is it because back when I was in elementary school and high school teachers did not use them? Who knows! What I know though is that I have always feared that classroom management would take so much time when using ICTs that 1- students would not have enough time left for learning, and 2- I would probably be exhausted at the end of the period for having spent so much time on classroom management that I would go crazy!  However,I have recently decided to take some time to learn more about the different ICTs that can be used in ESL classrooms. To my surprise, my opinion on the matter is slowly changing…

This week, I have discovered a great tool that I will surely consider using in the future with elementary or high school ESL students. The tool is called Storybird. Storybird.com is a great website on which teachers, parents, teenagers, or kids can subscribe in order to read or write creative stories. One very interesting aspect is that signing up is free and it only takes a couple of minutes. Once you are signed in, you get to decide what you want to do: create a new story, or explore stories that are already posted on the site.

What is great about Storybird is that it can be used with ESL students to develop each of the three disciplinary competencies.  Examples of how to use Storybird in education are provided on this site. For example, a teacher can decide to have students practice reading, in groups or individually, in silence, or out loud, by using one of the stories already posted. The stories to explore were written by other individuals using the tool (students, teachers, parents, etc), and are classified by age categories (preschool, kids, tweens, teens, and adults) or by topic categories (adventure, animals, diaries, dreams, etc), which make them very easy to pick from. A teacher can also ask students to read a part of the story, and to create their own ending. Another possible activity is asking students to read a story, to write questions related to the story, and to exchange their stories and their questions with a partner so that they can reinvest understanding of another text. Many other activities can be done, depending on the teacher’s imagination.

Storybird can also be a great tool to help ESL students develop their writing skills and their creativity. On storybird.com, numerous pictures are available for the author to choose from, so even a person who is not good at art can create his/her own book. In order to choose from the illustration bank, one simply has to enter a key word, and the illustrations associated with that key word automatically appear on the screen. Once the illustration is chosen, the text can be written. As mentioned by Lisa Michelle Dabbs, the authors can decide to keep their story private, publish them for the world to appreciate the talent, or print them.

I think that this tool can be used with both elementary and high school students, because the teacher can adjust the task requirements depending on the language proficiency level. Also, this tool is extremely easy to use. Knowing that the majority of the kids nowadays are particularly comfortable with using a computer and the Internet, the time taken for getting the activity started can be relatively short. Classroom management can also be controlled quite easily because most of the activities can be done individually or in groups, so the teacher can totally decide on the spur of the moment depending on the climate of the class. Finally, I liked the site because it is pretty (colourful), and I think that when working with kids we should not neglect this aspect.

I am really glad to have discovered such an interesting and easy technological tool that can help ESL students develop the three MELS competencies in a fun and creative way! I am even kind of disappointed to have discovered it so late in my practicum that I will have to wait until the next one to use it with my students.

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