4 Tools to Inspire and Scaffold Genre-Specific Writing

A girl with white skin and a boy of Asian descent smile while looking at a computer.

Writing is no longer only the act of putting pen to paper. Nearly all of my professional and personal correspondence, including this very blog, takes shape thanks to a keyboard and screen. I may not have owned my first computer when I started college 20-some years ago, but I can hardly imagine making it through a work day now without one.

While I ensure my kindergarten students take pencil to paper multiple times per day to build fine motor skills, I simultaneously use technology to enhance their understanding of writing styles. With the arrival of Common Core, a notable change in English Language Arts is the increased emphasis on genre-specific writing beginning in kindergarten and increasing in sophistication each year. Through the use of free or inexpensive apps and websites, any teacher can guide students through an exploration of narrative, opinion, and informative writing styles. Even better, the creative outcomes can easily be shared online with families near and far, providing an authentic audience for students and involving families along the way.

Tell Me a Story

The narrative genre comes naturally to young children. Whether recounting events from a weekend spent with grandma, or spinning a tale from deep within their boundless imaginations, kids always have a story to tell. It's easier than ever to capture individual or whole-class stories with student art and narration using movie software such as iMovie. Highlighting the need for characters, setting, and a flow of events will structure the process for younger students. Looking for something a little quicker? Toontastic makes storytelling and story sharing fun thanks to easy-to-create cartoons, complete with characters, sound effects, and prompts commonly found in narrative writing.



An Argument for Opinion Writing

Recounting likes and dislikes of a story, with justification, is good way to introduce young students to argumentative/opinion-style writing. A picture collage app like PicCollage is a great way for students to recount important events of a story while also sharing their opinion of an author's work. Students can either capture images from the book itself or create their own art to insert in the collage. Projecting the finished product allows for a visual backdrop as students orally deliver a structured opinion. For a more dynamic activity, record short videos of student interviews in a talk show format about a recent read, then share with future classes as a springboard for discussion.

Just the Facts

When I take my class to the school library each week, the nonfiction shelves receive a lot of attention, specifically the 590s (Animals and Insects). Leveraging that interest, my students build Google presentations on the animal of their choice for a grade-level-wide assembly. Each slide focuses on a different aspect of our research (e.g., habitat, food, and three interesting facts) allowing the slide deck template to scaffold the process. Whole-group mind mapping with a tool like bubbl.us is another great way to demonstrate how informative writing takes shape by organizing research and ideas.

So be brave! Grab a device, download something new, and jump into a tech-fueled writing activity to build your students' skills, as well as your own.

Few would deny technology is an integral part of the contemporary classroom. The tech-savvy educator no longer considers learning how to use a device or program an adequate outcome in and of itself. Instead, we expect our students to use technology to apply learning in new ways, inspire creativity, and share knowledge with others. We must also have the same expectations for ourselves. Taking common tools and finding novel ways for our students to construct understanding is one of the ways we remain relevant in a technology-rich world. So be brave! Grab a device, download something new, and jump into a tech-fueled writing activity to build your students' skills, as well as your own. You'll surely have a story to tell when you're done.

Photo "Medieval Writing" by Hans Splinter. Used under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

Photo "2nd Grade Toontastic" by Laurie Sullivan. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

August D.

I teach kindergarten at a small school nestled among the redwoods of far northern California, and was named the 2016-17 Humboldt County Teacher of the Year. In addition to my regular classroom duties, I am part of my district's Leadership Team, a 2015 PBS Digital Innovator, current National Writing Project teacher-consultant, and co-facilitator of a monthly Next Generation Science Standards collaborative for K-12 teachers for my county office of education.
I enjoy writing about innovative and creative teaching methods for various education organizations (including Graphite, Edutopia, Ten Marks, and more), infusing the maker movement into my teaching practice, and using my classroom 3-D printer in new and novel ways as often as possible. Most importantly, though, I am the proud geek dad of three amazing kids!