Writing Dialog With Google Story Builder

Bookmark and Share

Today I’m reflecting on another idea sparked during the Google Apps for Education Summit I attended two weeks ago.  Ever since Adam Seipel introduced me to Google Story Builder, I knew it was a perfect fit to use with the Elephant and Piggie series, written and illustrated by Mo Willems.

elephant and piggie

Elephant and Piggie pageIf you follow Book Buzz, the children’s book blog I write for my students, you know I recently posted about Elephant and Piggie.  The simple story lines and mostly two-character adventures are perfect for introducing young readers to the comic book format, which uses speech bubbles for dialog.  Each year I use comic books/graphic novels to get kids hooked on reading and I encourage teachers to use them in the classroom for a variety of purposes.  So what does all of this have to do with Google Story Builder?  Let me explain….

Story Builder is designed to create short videos that mimic what you see onscreen when multiple users are collaborating on a Google Doc.

Elephant and Piggie Story Builder

You simulate that experience by naming your characters and assigning them a unique color, then typing in what you want them to say.  You can even add one of Google’s music clips.  Once your story is complete, you are automatically given a unique URL to share your video.  Here’s a Story Builder video I created using text from the book Are You Ready to Play Outside?

My plan is to use this to spark a creative writing activity in which students would create their own Elephant and Piggie adventure.  I’d start by sharing the book Are You Ready to Play Outside?, then students would pair up to examine other Elephant and Piggie books and come up with an original idea for their own E&P story.  Next I’d show them my Story Builder of Are You Ready to Go Outside and demonstrate how to use the app.  Students would then type up their own Story Builders and share them with the class.

Not only does this make a good writing project, it could also serve as an introduction to using Google Docs for real-time collaboration.  We could even use it in a punctuation lesson by re-writing the dialog-only Story Builder stories using complete sentences with quotation marks, commas, and periods.

*Update 7/27/15:  There’s a great post at the Nerdy Book Club blog titled Top 10 Lessons Elephant and Piggie Taught Us that is fantastic!  Jen Terry and Jacquie Eckert have captured the real appeal of the E&P books.

Chrome Snagitp.s.  It would be great if Google provided an embed code for the finished Story Builders, but all they give you is a link to a webpage view.  In order to show my Story Builder here in my blog I had to screencast it, upload it to my YouTube channel, and get an embed code there.  I used a Chrome extension I learned about at the Charleston GAFE Summit this summer called Snagit to do that, but that’s a post for another day!



Creating Weather Poetry

Bookmark and Share

My 4th grade teachers were looking for some new poetry ideas for their students this month, so I suggested introducing them to Found Poetry.  I was introduced to found poetry by author/poet Kami Kinnard at my state school librarians conference last spring.  It basically 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.

Teachers are bringing their classes to the library next week to research weather using books, magazine articles, online encyclopedias, and websites.  Then some classes will create weather “shape poems” (their idea, which I love!) while another will use a “free verse” approach.

I recommended the following books as good 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. (Hover over the image above to see clickable links for additional resources for this book.)


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.  (Hover over the image above to see clickable links for additional resources for this book.)

And I just discovered a book that explains Found Poetry in a kid-friendly way:

found all around Found All Around: A Show-and-Tell of Found Poetry by Krishna Dalal gives instructions and examples of choosing words from newspaper and magazine articles, books, etc to create and using them to write poems.

Do you have other book recommendations, or poetry-writing ideas?  Please share them in the comments!

You can find more books and resources on my Thinglink Poetry page!


Creative Writing with Storybird

Bookmark and Share

A 4th grade teacher at my school has been using wordless pictures books with her ELA students.  They are examining the details in the illustrations and writing descriptive paragraphs to tell the same stories with words.  (Yay visual literacy skills!)  She came to me asking where to find more artwork that students could use for individual writing projects, so of course I thought of Storybird!storybird

Storybird allows 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 books.

storybird art

First page of art results for the tag “rain.” (Click to enlarge.)

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, until they are ready to publish.  Published works can be shared or kept private.

storybird storyboard

Once an art collection is selected, students are given a template for creating a book. (Click to enlarge.)

The basic features of the site are free, and education accounts allow a teacher to create classes and assign user names and passwords to their students.  This makes it easy to monitor their progress.  Premium accounts offer additional features for a small yearly subscription fee, and printed copies of finished books can be ordered from the site.

We are planning this as a two-day project.  On Day 1 I will give students a brief tutorial on logging in and using the site, followed by 20 minutes to explore and select their artwork.  For homework, students will do some pre-writing based on the illustrations they chose.  On Day 2, they will create and publish their stories.

Here’s the Storybird book I created in preparation for working with the students.  (We were trying to emphasize using adjectives to make your writing more descriptive.)  It only took about 30 minutes from start to finish.

I hope our students enjoy creating with Storybird as much as I did!  If you’ve used Storybird and have any suggestions for us, please share them in the comments!


The Long Winter: a Book Spine Poem

Bookmark and Share

I’ve long enjoyed the book spine poems invented by Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes, and this year I finally decided to try my hand at creating one.


book spine poem

The Long Winter


Here’s a close-up, or you can click on the photo to see an enlarged view that’s easier to read:


Book Spine Poem Closeup

The Long Winter


And here it is in typed text:

The Long Winter

Cold, Colder, Coldest
It’s Snowing! It’s Snowing!
Snowy Flowy Blowy
One Leaf Rides the Wind

Rain, Snow, and Ice
Rosy Noses, Freezing Toes
Clouds, Rain, and Snow
Waiting for Spring


This was actually a lot of fun to create, and not as hard as I thought it would be!  Have you created a book spine poem?   Please leave a comment and tell us where to find it!


Visual Thesaurus vs VisuWords

Bookmark and Share

Our district was recently offered a free trial of Visual Thesaurus.   This is an online tool that creates word webs for users.  It’s designed to generate a web of synonyms and antonyms for any word you type in, and provides the definitions and parts of speech for all words in the web.  You can click the speaker icon to hear the searched word, and you can click any word in the web to generate a new web for that word.

It reminds me of a similar tool I have used before called VisuWords, which is a free online resource that also generates synonym and antonym webs, although it calls itself an online graphical dictionary rather than a thesaurus, presumably since hovering over a word in the web pops its definition.  Color-coded dots and connectors denote the part of speech for each word, as well as the relationships of the words in the webs, such as “is a kind of,” “pertains to,” and “causes.”

If this is a type of tool you are interested in, you may want to take a look at my Comparison of these two Online Webbing Thesauri.   I’m sorry to say I do not know what the cost of a subscription to Visual Thesaurus is; interested parties must request a quote.  VisuWords, as I mentioned earlier, is free.


Writing About Books

Bookmark and Share

book buzzI’ve started a new feature on my Book Buzz blog this year.  (Book Buzz is the children’s book blog I write for students; I post information about books, authors and illustrators, and about special book-related events.)  Each week I post the Thursday Theme, where I present three or four books related to a common topic.  Themes so far have included Bats, Johnny Appleseed, Little Red Hen stories, and a couple more.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to begin a project that requires regular input, and how burdensome it becomes to follow through consistently with it?

By the time I think of a theme, search my library catalog for books that fit (all the books I write about are from my collection), save a copy of the covers to use, write the description for each book, and type it all up, I’ve got well over an hour invested each of these posts!  (And of course that doesn’t include the time it takes to actually read the books!)  Is it really worthwhile to keep doing it week after week?

Yes, I think it is.  For one thing, it’s helping me to really discover what’s in my collection.  Usually when we receive a shipment of new books, my assistant unpacks them and handles any processing that’s needed, and then they go out to the shelves for students and teachers to check out.  Occasionally I have time to sit down and read them first, but not always, particularly with chapter books.  In researching these themes, I’m re-discovering titles I’ve ordered for our library, and I’m seeing which books on a given topic are the most current and useful, which ones may need to be weeded, and where the gaps are for future ordering.

I’m also honing a different type of reading and writing skill.  I’ve always thought I’d like to do some book reviewing, but it’s hard for me to keep a critical eye on a book that I’m reading for enjoyment, and nearly all the books I read are for enjoyment.  (Hmmm, I may have just put into words why so many kids don’t like book reports – it spoils the fun of reading!)  So this is an opportunity to take the time to read for the specific purpose of summarizing and sharing what’s special about each of the books I include in a theme post. 

I’m still finding my voice with this.  I’m trying to aim this blog at kids, but sometimes my summaries sound more like book reviews for adults or book annotations for teachers and librarians, who I hope are also reading Book Buzz, rather than persuasive booktalks for students.  But I plan to stick with it, and hopefully it will keep getting better!

WWW – Writing Fix

Bookmark and Share

To draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in, NCTE has established October 20, 2010, as the National Day on Writing.  So,

This Week’s WWW is…. 




Writing Fix


 This site is part of the Northern Nevada Writing Project, and is full of resources for modeling and teaching writing across the curriculum.  I honestly can’t believe how vast and detailed the resources are, and because the links are all to original material published in-house, there are no dead links on the site!

Use the blue navigation buttons on the left of the Writing Fix homepage to find lesson plans for different writing genres, the writing process, the six writing traits, and more.  You will also find interactive writing prompts, writing lessons inspired by picture books and chapter books, and samples of student writing. 

And don’t forget to give back!  They accept submissions of writing lessons and student writing from teachers and kids all over the world!  A lesson template is provided, and if your lesson is published on the site, you’ll receive a free book!

Happy Writing!


 As always, a link to this website is posted at http://www.netvibes.com/weeklyweb, along with all of the previous WWW websites.