Review by Stacy Zeiger, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2013
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Writing Challenge

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Entertaining story starters can help spice up kids' writing

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • Creativity
  • Character & SEL
  • Communication & Collaboration
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Creative story starters with short time limits help make writing more engaging, even for those who don't like to write.

Cons: Some story starters may not be appropriate for all kids; there are some missed opportunities to extend learning.

Bottom Line: These creative story starters can help build writing skills; time limits can help engage and inspire new ideas on the fly.

Instead of assigning standard story starters, use the app to give students the opportunity to choose their own creative topics. You can use the app as a daily exercise, devoting a few minutes during each class. or require that students write for a set period of time as part of their homework. While students have control over the app's timer, you might want to encourage students to increase their time as their skills improve. This could help them improve their writing stamina, and might also translate to other writing skills, beyond creative storytelling.

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Upon opening Writing Challenge, students are presented with a giant orange start button -- the app wastes no time getting them engaged. Suggestions come in the form of settings, conflicts, vocabulary words, or unique lines of dialogue that may help writers start a story. For example, settings might include "in a jail" or "on a distant planet," while the conflict could be "suffers a serious accident," or "receives a threatening message." Other ideas offered might include vocabulary words like "malicious," "smoker," "horseman" or "peanut" as well as specific lines of dialogue.

After the prompt ideas are listed, students write on the selected prompt for a set amount of time and, when the time is up, select another idea to add to the story. They can stop after a few rounds or keep their stories going for pages.

Writing Challenge relies on it's timer feature to help incite ideas on the spot, which can be just what some kids need when trying to write a story. While enthusiastic writers can choose longer time limits to further develop an idea, shorter time limits might help encourage reluctant writers to simply write a little bit at a time. In either case, the timer helps give each prompt a sense of urgency, encouraging kids to simply get their ideas down on paper.

Writing Challenge can be a solid way to get students started in the writing process. As they add steps, students can move beyond formulaic stories and traditional plot patterns, developing highly creative narratives. Writing Challenge's goal is to help kids get started, and it does this well. However, as students are likely to write beyond a story's beginning, the app might benefit from extensions to help guide students further in the process. Information and tips on plot structure, narrative arc, or even the process of revision could make for nice additions. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Many of the prompt ideas are interesting, fun, and even zany -- they're likely to lead to some very creative stories. While a narrowed set of options can be a big help for many, others may feel confined if they have ideas of their own.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students can learn how to add depth and creative details to their writing; the time limits, even though artificial, can help motivate. However, once they're going, more learning content could help them delve deeper into the process.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The app interface is intuitive and easy to use. Extensions and further instruction on later steps in the writing process would be a nice addition.

Common Sense Reviewer
Stacy Zeiger Homeschooling parent

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
missy W. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Casa View Elementary School
Dallas, United States
Great prompts for writers!
I am always looking for ways to inspire my special education students to write. I liked a lot of the prompts! The time between each prompt was not really necessary for my students. I needed it basically for the story starters. My 4th grader did use the step by step portion which was great for showing them how to build on their story.
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