I was reminded about Storybird at my March District Librarians meeting last week and realized that I haven’t shared it with students and teachers at my new school this year.
Storybirdallows anyone to “make gorgeous, art-inspired stories in seconds.” (Or, more realistically, minutes.) The site has a huge collection of searchable and browse-able artwork, and a simple drag-and-drop format for creating online picture books, chapter books, and poetry pages.
First page of art results for the tag “rain.” (Click to enlarge.)
Users can’t upload their own artwork, so students who write a story first may have difficulty finding exactly the right art to match their words. For that reason, it might be best to let the art inspire the words, which is helpful for students who have trouble coming up with ideas. Once students have chosen the artwork they want to use, they add the pictures to their book pages (as many or as few as they want) and type in their text. Students can save their work and continue to edit it later, until they are ready to publish. Published works can be shared or kept private.
Once an art collection is selected, students are given a template for creating a book. (Click to enlarge.)
Education accounts are free and allow teachers to create classes and assign user names and passwords to their students. This makes it easy to monitor student progress. Stories can be viewed online at the Storybird site and can be embedded in a website or blog, but there is a fee to download them. Printed copies of finished books can be ordered from the site for a fee, and you can even use the site as a fundraiser. Your students purchase published copies of their books, and you keep 30% of the sales.
Here’s a Storybird book I created as I was learning to use the site tools. (I was trying to model writing rich descriptions by using lots of adjectives and adverbs.) It only took about 30 minutes from start to finish.
If you’re a fan of Storybird and you have any user suggestions, or want to share a story or poem, please leave a comment!
Testing season can be stressful for students and their teachers! We asked teachers for their favorite positive, motivational, stress-reducing, hard-work-encouraging and just plain fun read-alouds for those bubble-test kind of days.
The author (Hannah Hudson) goes on to list 6 titles that teachers recommended, with an explanation of why each book was chosen. It got me thinking about which books I would want to hear if I had taken one bubble test too many. Here’s what I came up with:
Dex: The Heart of a Heroby Caralyn Buehner (Because no one epitomizes the importance of hard work and dedication to a goal than Dex!)
Dexter the dog is little but he has dreams — big dreams. He wants to be a superhero! So he reads all the comic books he can, works out to build his muscles, and even orders a hero suit. Dexter has determination, spirit, and heart. He proves that no matter how little you are, you can still do very big things.
Instructions for using this book:
Brainstorm ways that students can prepare themselves for standardized testing (getting a good night’s sleep, eating a nutritious breakfast, etc).
Allow students to design a Testing Hero Suit. Features might include a cape in case the testing room is chilly, pockets for mints and #2 pencils, a belt buckle with a built-in pencil sharpener, and a logo to represent some sort of testing motto. (A large question mark, for example, with the big red NO symbol over it.)
Grandpa’s Teethby Rod Clement (Because I LOVE the visual twist at the end!)
Grandpa’s teeth, which were handmade by the finest Swiss craftsmen, have been stolen! Officer Rate arrives on the crime scene to investigate. He puts up WANTED posters for the missing teeth and rounds up the usual subjects. Grandpa even goes on the famous TV show Unsolved Crimes. But the crime remains unsolved. What is Grandpa going to do? And why does everyone in town keep smiling all the time?
Instructions for using this book:
Athk all thtudenth to thpeak with a lithp ath though they were mithing thome teeth.
Have students smile continuously throughout the day, the way the townspeople in the book do.
Face the standardized tests with the same bright smile the townspeople in the book use.
Skippyjon Jones: Class Actionby Judy Schachner (Because any school story that can pack in Mo Willems’ pigeon, a woolly bully, The Mona Fleasa, a word of praise for the delicious scent of books waiting to be read, a jump rope rhyme, slipping on a banana peel, three different Mexican Hat Dance songs, and a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary words is worth sharing!!)
Skippyjon Jones, the little Siamese cat, really wants to go to school, but Mama Junebug Jones tells him school is where dogs go to get trained. So he goes inside his closet instead, where he finds himself in the school of his imagination, surrounded by dogs of all kinds enjoying reading, art, and music! It’s fun until a bully threatens total lunchroom destruction; then it’s up to Skippyjon to save the day.
Instructions for using this book:
Read it aloud to your students. Even better, play the audio version of the story (my book came with a CD) while you show the pictures.
Write your own set of class lyrics for a Mexican Hat Dance with a testing theme. (“Oh we are the testing banditos Clap Clap, We bubble like lively mosquitos Clap Clap, We all do our best on the standardized test, We hope that our snack will be Fritos Clap Clap!) Use the song and dance during your testing breaks.
Let’s Do Nothing!by Tony Fucile (Because students may need to practice doing nothing, since once they finish the day’s testing they aren’t allowed to read or draw or move until everyone else has also finished the day’s testing.)
Practice doing nothing every time the kids get on your last nerve. These are high-stakes tests after all, so your students really can’t over-prepare for the strict testing environment they will encounter.
Big Bad Wolves at Schoolby Stephen Krensky (Because ya gotta love a book whose cover shows a wolf sitting in class with two pencils stuck up his nose! Thank you Brad Sneed, illustrator!)
Rufus is not like the other wolves. He spends his time rolling in the grass, running like the wind, and howling at the moon. His parents, feeling he needs a more structured existence, send him off to the Big Bad Wolf Academy. The curriculum is tough: learning to huff and puff, determining the best way to enter a henhouse, and coming up with disguises to fool little boys and girls. When it’s time for exams, Rufus is unprepared. Then hunters interrupt the testing, and it’s Rufus who has the necessary skills to successfully fend off the danger.
Instructions for Using This Book:
Discuss with your students how everyone has a unique set of talents and abilities, and that rather than trying to force everyone into the same mold and measure success through a single limited type of assessment, we should….we should….well…
Maybe you’d better just save this book until after the testing is over!
All kidding aside, are there any read-alouds you like to use during testing season? Please share your favorite titles in the comments!
As most of you know, Pi Day is celebrated every year on March 14.
I can’t let Pi Day go by without giving a shout out to a book by one of my favorite authors, Wendy Mass. Her novel Pi in the Sky takes us to outer space for a funny and informative science fiction adventure. With pie!
In Wendy’s own words:
“The germ of the idea for Pi in the Sky came from a quote a middle-schooler gave me. It was by astronomer Carl Sagan: ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’ My brain just started churning that quote over and over until a story started to form. I’ve always loved reading science fiction—starting with Ray Bradbury when I was younger—and I felt ready to take on the challenge.”
She actually started her career writing nonfiction for kids, so she’s no stranger to researching science and math. It actually took her three years to do the research for this book before she felt ready to write about astronomy, evolution, and astrophysics on a level that students could understand.
One of my 4th grade teachers is doing a poetry unit with her students this month, and it got me thinking about Found Poetry. I was introduced to found poetry by author/poet Kami Kinnard at my state school librarians conference in 2014. Her method of creating found poetry involves reading nonfiction text on a topic, pulling out the important words and facts to create a word bank, and then using one of the elements of poetry (repetition, alliteration) or forms of poetry (free verse, haiku) to create a poem.
A great way to tie this type of poetry into the curriculum is to have students research weather using books, magazine articles, online encyclopedias, and websites. Then students can create weather poems using the facts they find. Shape poems are a particularly effective for this topic, but free verse or haiku also work well.
The following books provide excellent simple examples of shape poems:
Flicker Flash by Joan Bransfield Graham explores light in all its forms, from reading lamps to moonlight to flashlights to campfires.
Doodle Dandies: Poems That Take Shape by J. Patrick Lewis (former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate) takes a more eclectic approach to the subject matter – with poems ranging from sports to seasons to animals – as well as with the mixed-media illustrations.
And I just discovered a book that explains Found Poetry in a kid-friendly way:
For years teachers have been using wordless books to encourage creative writing with their students, but imagine putting a new spin on it by having students write dialogue and narration using a comic book format! It’s easy when you use speech bubble sticky notes, and the same book can be used over and over again.
The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to transport one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she’s never met is waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over!
Students could even use this as a starting point for writing their own graphic novel sequel to show what happens to the boy who finds the book at the end of the story!
“A little girl sees a shiny new bicycle in the shop window. She hurries home to see if she has enough money in her piggy bank, but when she comes up short, she knocks on the doors of her neighbors, hoping to do their yard work. They all turn her away except for a kindly old woman. The woman and the girl work through the seasons, side by side. They form a tender friendship. When the weather warms, the girl finally has enough money for the bicycle. She runs back to the store, but the bicycle is gone! What happens next shows the reward of hard work and the true meaning of generosity.”
“A rainy day. Three kids in a park. A dinosaur spring rider. A bag of chalk. The kids begin to draw. . . and then . . . magic! The children draw the sun, butterflies, and a dinosaur that amazingly come to life. Children will never feel the same about the playground!”
The story of what happens when three children find a secret box that was hidden long ago, and travel across town and across time on a puzzling adventure. It’s up the the reader to interpret the ending, and to imagine what happens next.
Click here for additional teaching suggestions for this book.
“A baby clown is separated from his family when he accidentally bounces off their circus train and lands in a lonely farmer’s vast, empty field. The farmer reluctantly rescues the little clown, and over the course of one day together, the two of them make some surprising discoveries about themselves—and about life!”
“When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn, she is at once startled and frightened. But the stranger’s fearful eyes weigh upon her conscience, and she must make a difficult choice. Will she have the courage to help him?”
Here is Henry Cole “reading aloud” from the book. This is a great introduction to show students how to think about and interpret a wordless book.
You and your students can easily cut sticky notes into speech/thought bubble shapes. (Just be sure not to cut off the sticky part!) If you’d like to purchase pre-cut speech bubble sticky notes, here are some that I found online:
Can you recommend other wordless books that students could use to write narration and dialogue? Please share in the comments!