Common Sense

TOP PICKS | 23 TOOLS

Tools That Build Real-World Writing Skills

Writing and audience are intertwined. Yet too often student writing never leaves the classroom. When writing is read only by students' teachers and/or peers, they don't benefit from real-world reception and impact. Elevating student voice beyond the classroom can be invigorating, and by writing more publicly, students learn how to tune each piece to its readers. Authentic audiences provide students with valuable feedback and the pride of knowing that what they've produced is being enjoyed. We've curated some of the best tools that give students a real-world outlet for their writing as well as opportunities to engage with the writing of students from all over the globe. Some tools let students participate in positive communities, others task students with sharing their stories or projects, and some even have junior reporter or media creator programs. No matter the tool, each motivates students and provides them with authentic, interest-driven opportunities to connect with real readers.

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Time for Kids

Digital news magazine for kids can drive current events conversation

Bottom line: While some articles lack differentiation, and lessons don't always stretch higher-order thinking skills, this site is one of the best options for bringing current events into elementary classrooms.

Smithsonian: TweenTribune

Trustworthy tween news site has cool classroom component

Bottom line: TweenTribune's questions, quizzes, and educator tools can help kids follow and understand the news; its content may work best with younger users.

Scratch

Creative sandbox opens the door to coding in any subject area

Bottom line: Scratch draws students of all types into coding and lays a foundation for future learning.

Harry Potter Reading Club

The fun and fantasy of Harry's world plus literary discussion

Bottom line: With activities, discussion questions, and lots of free access to the books, this site is a great place for Harry Potter fans new and old.

DIY

Design, build, and share new things offline and online

Bottom line: DIY motivates kids to tackle a wide range of problems with independent and scientific thinking.

Edublogs

Customizable classroom blogs get students writing and collaborating

Bottom line: This rich and safe blogging tool makes it easy for teachers and students to extend the classroom into a wider community.

Elegy for a Dead World

Compelling sci-fi world imagined -- and written -- by its players

Bottom line: With some teacher guidance, Elegy offers an opportunity unlike anything else to get students to write stories and stretch their creative muscles.

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

Wildly engaging contest turns students into novelists in 30 days

Bottom line: A thoughtful adaptation of the famous and fun grown-up novel writing contest, NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program is brimming with advice and encouragement as well as classroom support.

Xyza: News for Kids

Subscription-based, kid-friendly news site keeps kids up-to-date

Bottom line: It's a useful starting point to spark interest in the news and build awareness of current events, but not as ideal for teaching media literacy skills.

LitPick

Tweens' reviews of YA literature great for classroom use

Bottom line: LitPick is a safe, fun environment for YA lovers to read their favorite books while learning how to discuss literature.

Hypothes.is

Browser extension adds layer of annotation and discussion to the web

Bottom line: Free, user-friendly tool opens up the web to in-context annotation and discussion.

Kaizena

Nifty add-on enables audio and text feedback in Google Docs

Bottom line: If your classroom relies a lot on Google Docs, this might just be the feedback tool you're looking for.

Textadventures.co.uk

Play or design text adventures, but creation can get technical

Bottom line: Text adventures can be a blast to play and make, but the Quest game-making tool, while offering some decent support, can be tough to use effectively without coding experience.

YR Media

Dynamic site harnesses creative young talent to produce relevant media.

Bottom line: This fresh and socially aware website will draw students in with visuals and keep them there with the content.

Story Wars

Read, write, and vote on engaging collaborative storytelling site

Bottom line: A cool, competitive approach to online storytelling with a lot of learning potential -- just be aware of the iffy content and licensing risks.

The Harry Potter Alliance

Fan site promotes real-world heroics with activism for social justice

Bottom line: A fun, empowering community for Potter fans who want to talk Hogwarts and make the world a better place while they're at it.

The Learning Network

Process current events through engaging NYT-style lens

Bottom line: From a trusted news organization with its finger on the pulse of the world, this free resource can be a reliable source of activities and ideas for current event discussions.

Underlined

Major publisher's writing platform has some potential

Bottom line: If the community ever takes shape, this could be a good publishing platform, but there are better, less commercial options.

YourCommonwealth

Engage with passionate international perspectives from youth

Bottom line: Offers a rich variety of news and opinion stories on global issues, and its young writers will get U.S. students hooked on civic engagement.

Youth Voices

Vibrant online community hosts authentic student writing

Bottom line: Supported student writing, collaboration, and communication make this a healthy space for kids to express themselves.

Goodreads

Lively community for bookworms to share their love of lit

Bottom line: Using Goodreads can enhance teens' reading experience and help them become thoughtful, enthusiastic readers.

Teen Ink

Get kids writing, publishing, critiquing in this valuable network

Bottom line: Teens will find a wealth of information and many opportunities to further interest in writing and the creative arts.

Write the World

Global community helps young writers write, revise, think, and grow

Bottom line: With interest-based writing prompts and thoughtful feedback from peers and pros, this is a great tool for writing for authentic audiences.

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