Review by Andrea Meyers, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2018

826 Digital

Popular after-school program shares its resources with teachers

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity
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Pros: Writing activities have creative age-appropriate topics that'll connect with students.

Cons: Some activities use web videos but don't include links, so teachers have to search online. There's not much on offer for primary grades.

Bottom Line: This is a worth-bookmarking resource thanks to relatable writing lessons and motivating examples of actual student writing.

Teachers can use the 826 Digital writing program as a supplement to existing ELA curriculum or for after-school programs and tutoring. Though there's no student access to the website, you can save the handouts and supporting materials to Google Drive and assign them to students through Classroom, or download files to a computer and print them to hand out. Get students' creative juices flowing with the writing Sparks mini lessons, and challenge them with longer writing lessons and projects. Have students discuss their thoughts on the sample student texts and then try writing their own narratives, poems, and essays in response to -- or inspired by -- the examples. Use the STEM activities hands-on projects to teach students how to write about science, math, and technology topics. Challenge students to venture into new types of writing with the visual, performing, and media arts writing projects. 

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826 Digital is a writing education program and resource site created by 826 National, a nonprofit organization that runs free writing and tutoring programs for under-resourced students in eight cities across the United States. 826 Digital is aligned to the Common Core ELA standards but can also work for writing programs in states with their own standards. The online program is relatively new and still growing with additional Sparks, Lessons, and Projects.

Sparks are short mini lessons or activities that focus on specific skills, and they're very good for warm-ups. Lessons are built around a topic or genre and often need more than one session to complete. Projects are units based on a topic or theme that teach process and revision and require several sessions for students to complete and master. The Writing Gallery contains student-created texts that can be used as examples for teachers and students to study. 


826 Digital is based on the successful model used by 826 National nonprofit writing and tutoring centers in the United States. The program is designed around a "culture of creativity" that encourages experimentation and risk-taking. 826 Digital provides a road map with the Sparks, Lessons, and Projects, but the program is also designed to help teachers inspire students to write by providing individualized attention. Overall, there's a thorough set of thoughtful resources that teachers will find easy to use and that students will enjoy. The site is attractively designed and simple, and all resources are downloadable and printable. It'd help if there was some more visual variety or iconography, however. The site uses a consistent, mostly text-based design, and it can be tough to read each resource card to figure out what it is.

The lessons span grades 1-12, but there are many more lessons for secondary classes than elementary. (It's likely this will change over time, so make sure to check for yourself.) The learning activities are generally well designed and easy to follow, though some things that would be helpful aren't present, such as links to recommended web videos. This means teachers have to search the web for the videos. Some aren't easy to find and may be lower in search results rankings, which adds to planning time. The student-created texts are wonderful, but more of them for each lesson would be useful.

The online program can be used on its own as a tutoring program, but in a classroom it may work better as a supplement to existing curriculum. Teachers can also supplement with additional lesson plans from the 826 National books STEM to Story and Don't Forget to Write, which are available for purchase. However teachers decide to use the program, 826 Digital provides a solid foundation to build on.

Overall Rating

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

It's organized and generally easy to use. Lesson topics are interesting, and real student writing examples will inspire students. Supplemental materials include some well-designed slideshows.

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

The program takes a holistic approach to writing based on the Common Core. Students close-read sample texts as they write their own original works. Students learn to write STEM content and other forms for the arts. 

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

There's no built-in support on the website, so teachers have to email questions. The design is simple, though, so problems should be minimal. It could use some visual variety to orient navigation.

Common Sense Reviewer
Andrea Meyers Instructional Facilitator of Technology

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