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

BoomWriter

Creative writing platform teaches collaboration, some writing skills

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Creativity
  • Communication & Collaboration

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
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: Gives kids a unique forum to unleash their creativity, with the opportunity to feel empowered.

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

Bottom Line: There's a lot of potential to engage, but teachers should take care to keep the exercise positive and instructive for all students.

Teachers can take advantage of a few 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 kids to use them in their own writing.

Teachers can use writing prompts to support units on different subjects, as well. For example, kids can write historical fiction to explore certain historical events. Or, teachers can use a story start from a well-known book and have kids rewrite the rest. Writing can happen individually or in pairs/small groups. Kids can create books as a whole class, or teachers can break the class into two and have kids compare the path each group took to develop the same story start. This could even happen between classrooms.

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BoomWriter allows kids to co-author their own books. Teachers provide a "story start" -- essentially a first chapter -- and kids write a follow-up chapter, submitting them for teacher approval. Meanwhile, other kids vote anonymously on approved chapters; only the winning chapter's author is revealed, and their chapter is then added onto the story. From there, kids go back to the drawing board, write versions of chapter 3, submit for approval, and vote again. The process repeats until the book is finished.

Teachers, students, and anyone who visits the site (or Chrome app) can read completed books and even buy hard copies. Extras include BoomDollars that kids 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.

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BoomWriter is a great way for kids to take an 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 kids learn with BoomWriter will depend heavily on teachers' scaffolding of the experience: what kind of help, guidance, and feedback they give on kids' writing, and how well they tie story building into existing writing lessons.

Kids' 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 BoomDollars marketplace system seems out of place and belies the site's sophistication.

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Overall Rating

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

Kids 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 secure in their writing skills.

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

Kids stretch their creative muscles with inventive additions to a variety of stories. They'll also practice writing skills and learn about story arcs. Deeper learning will depend on what teachers bring to the experience.

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

Step-by-step guides help, but aren't always entirely complete or clear. The site could do more to instruct kids 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
David B. , School district administrator
School district administrator
Oakland Unified School District
Oakland, CA,
Boomwriter Fosters Engagement and Collaborative Writing

By itself, Boomwriter will not make students into better writers. But in tandem with explicit instruction during Workshop, Boomwriter provides students with another opportunity to practice their writing skills at school and home. And the prospect of students having their ideas published in a book, makes them experience writing as an enjoyable activity and motivates them to write more. The best thing about Boomwriter is that it is flexible. Although originally conceived to create narrative chapter books, a teacher can easily use Boomwriter to write informational or opinion writing. I am particularly impressed with the way Boomwriter has students compete with each other to choose the best chapter for the final book, but does so in an anonymous, engaging way that fosters collaboration. So students who are struggling writers, can still practice and improve their writing skills while feeling part of the process.

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