Review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2014

BoomWriter

Collaborative writing platform has the potential to motivate

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3–8
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (4 Reviews)

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Pros: Offers a unique way to unleash students' creativity by building on the work of others.

Cons: The voting structure has potential to turn off students who struggle with writing.

Bottom Line: There's creativity possibility in this tool's unique brand of collaborative and competitive writing, but teachers should take care to keep things positive, especially for less confident students.

BoomWriter offers a few resources to get started. Teachers can take advantage of the pre-made lesson plans; there are ideas on how to turn BoomWriter into an entire teaching unit. For example, teachers can introduce various writing techniques (similes and metaphors, figurative language, dialogue, etc.) and encourage students to use them in their own writing. Or, teachers can use vocabulary lists from any subject to give students a chance to use newly learned words.

Teachers can use writing prompts to support units on different subjects, as well. In social studies, students could write historical fiction to explore past events, or have students respond to a story start pulled from a well-known book that challenges students to rewrite the rest. In science classes, teachers could use the ProjectWriter tool to have students create study guides of key terms and concepts. Writing can happen individually or in pairs/small groups. Students can create books as a whole class, or teachers can break the class into two and have students compare the path each group took to develop the same story start. This could even happen between classrooms.

If your students really take to BoomWriter, you might look into the Camps and Writing Bee events. Both provide opportunities to collaborate with writers across the country; the former, however, is time-limited, and the latter will require you to reach out to the organizers for more info.

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BoomWriter is a web-based writing platform that focuses on getting students to collaborate, both as writers and readers. Teachers can assign three types of writing projects: StoryWriter, WordWriter, and ProjectWriter. StoryWriter is the most fun. It allows students to co-author their own books. Teachers provide a "story start" -- essentially a first chapter -- and students write a follow-up chapter, submitting them for teacher approval. Meanwhile, other students vote anonymously on approved chapters; only the winning chapter's author is revealed, and their chapter is then added onto the story. From there, students go back to the drawing board, write versions of chapter three, submit for approval, and vote again. The process repeats until the book is finished. WordWriter lets teachers provide a list of vocabulary words that students must use in context in their writing. ProjectWriter focuses on nonfiction by having students create a textbook-like collection of academic-oriented writings. All the writing and class management tools are available for free; the Pro version adds grading and progress-tracking as well as rubrics.

Teachers, students, and anyone who visits the site (or Chrome app) can read completed books and even buy hard copies. Extras include Boomer Bucks that students earn for submitting chapters; they'll use these to buy accessories for their "Boomer," or avatar. There are also "celebrity" writing competitions and pre-made lesson plans for teachers.

BoomWriter successfully gets students to take a more active role in the creative process. They can feel proud to see a finished novel that they helped write. Some of the story starts are better written -- and more appealing -- than others, but teachers can also write their own. How much students learn with BoomWriter will depend heavily on teachers' scaffolding of the experience: what kind of help, guidance, and feedback they give on students' writing, and how well they tie story building into existing writing lessons. Having three different writing options gives teachers flexibility in choosing the best context in which to provide writing prompts. Novel writing may be the most fun, but WordWriter and ProjectWriter may fit non-ELA subjects more seamlessly.

Students' ability to vote brings some friendly competition to the experience; this can encourage some but could discourage, or even traumatize, others. Teachers should scaffold the process carefully, especially for students who don't feel they're strong writers, as well as for ELLs and any other students with writing difficulties. The Boomer avatar design may appeal to some, but their big round heads and fanged teeth could come across as strange; the Boomer Bucks marketplace system seems out of place and belies the site's sophistication.

Overall Rating

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

Students will have fun co-creating and giving direction to collaborative stories. Anonymous peer competition and "publishing" finished books will motivate some, though not all -- especially those less confident with writing.

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

Students stretch their creative muscles with inventive additions to a variety of stories. They'll learn about story arcs and practice writing skills and vocabulary development. Deeper learning will depend on implementation.

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 teacher side is user-friendly; step-by-step guides and how-to videos help. The site could do more to instruct students in story development. The exercise isn't as accessible for ELLs and others with writing difficulties.


Teacher Reviews

(See all 4 reviews) (4 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Linda W. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Wareham Middle School
Wareham, MA
BoomWriter works well in a computer lab setting where all students can participate at one time.
I was looking for a tool that would quickly engage students in the writing process and add a little competition to the mix. BoomWriter offers both. You are able to select a pre-written prompts for students and then select the number of chapters that students will write. Students found it very engaging and loved the voting process because it allowed then to read what other students had written. It also encouraged them to become more flexible because when a chapter was declared a winner, students needed to shift gears and write the next chapter off of the winning one. This created some surprising results and increased the creative process and helped students to think more about their writing because other students were reading what they wrote.
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