7 tech tools for readers and writers

With so many apps, software options and tech platforms available on so many devices, it can be overwhelming to choose the best tools available for teaching and learning.

Thankfully, the tech-savvy educators in the Faculty of Education’s Technologies in Education unit are here to help you stay on top of the latest educational tools, gadgets and strategies.

At their latest Technology SLAM!—free monthly sessions where presenters give three-minute demos of the tech tool of their choice—attendees were introduced to these seven engaging tools focused on encouraging a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages. Add some of these to your teaching toolkit, and prepare to wow your students!

1. Storybird is a free visual storytelling platform for writers and readers of all ages, and it just might be the ultimate language arts tool to inspire student creativity in writing.

The process is simple: users pick a format (picture book, long-form book or poem), choose their accompanying artwork from a wide array of beautiful supplied images, and then add their own words. From there, they can publish their digital books to Storybird’s public library, share their work with a more select audience—such as classmates, teachers and friends—or choose to keep it private. Storybird is a fresh, exciting way to help students develop an understanding of story elements and writing techniques, so they can produce their own engaging and powerful content.

“What I love about Storybird is that it helps grown confidence, appreciation and love of literacy,” says James Park, a learning consultant in Technologies in Education and former high school English teacher. Used in 400,000+ K-12 classrooms worldwide, Storybird is free for any educational setting and works with any curriculum or device.

2. Padlet is like an online bulletin board that allows its users to easily create, collect and store information. The bonus? These digital sticky notes are not limited to text. You can drag and drop online content including images, videos and documents onto your board too. Padlet also makes it very easy to collaborate with others, as boards can be organized and customized visually and shared with others to view and edit.

In the classroom context, Padlet would be helpful to organize and categorize students’ questions, thoughts and ideas. Among many other uses, it can be used as a KWL chart. These can be shared with the class and archived over time to track student growth.

Padlet Backpack—a private, more secure instance of Padlet for school use—is free to try for 30 days, and then plans start at $5/ month.

3. Founded right here in Edmonton, Alta. in 2010, Stormboard is a homegrown success story. Like Padlet, it is a brainstorming and collaboration tool that can be used to organize thoughts and ideas, but unlike Padlet, it works in real-time, has chat features and keeps track of user activity.

Stormboard also has brainstorming templates including character maps, essay outlines and even goal planning. If you’re looking for an online bulletin board similar to Padlet, but with more structure and extra collaboration features, Stormboard is a great option. The software is free to use until December 21, 2016, if you’re an educator. See Education Plans & Pricing for details.

4. Aurasma is an augmented reality (AR) platform that allows users to interact with the world in new ways. Everyday objects, images and places can be turned into an opportunity for AR with Aurasma.

The applications in the classroom are limitless: you could build interactive word walls that are linked with photos or videos, create screencast tutorials of problems being solved, or record a video of a student explaining their work. Drop by the Technologies in Education office in Education Centre North, room 3-104, and you can see Aurasma in action on the wall of staff photos!

5. Animoto makes it easy for anyone to create video slideshows and movies using photos, videos and music. Sync with Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, and other platforms to access your images, choose from a collection of music, and then watch and share your video creation.

Animoto would come in handy in either an elementary or secondary classroom environment—for example, to create a book trailer after a novel study. Students could act out their interpretation of a scene from a book, and using the tools built in Animoto, they could easily add narrations and music to bring their trailers to life. This tool can also be a great substitute for a photo slideshow, podcast or a reflection video. Students can easily use their own mobile device, an iPad’s built-in camera, or a webcam to help them do projects with Animoto. View their pricing plans here.

6. iBooks is an e-book application found on iOS and OS X systems with powerful annotation tools. With the swipe of a finger, users can underline or highlight text with multiple coloured markers and add notes. These notes can also be affixed to the right margin of the page for easy access. Moreover, different coloured notes can be organized to signify different things. For those trickier words, look up a definition using iBook’s built-in dictionary.

Using iBooks is yet another way for teachers to help students learn to stop, think and react to new information and make meaningful connections to their existing knowledge.

7. Draw.io is a basic diagram editor that can be downloaded as an extension to Google Chrome. Quickly create flowcharts with ease by using the intuitive drag-and-drop interface to insert shapes and lines.

Built into Google Drive, this tool uses sharing, chatting and real-time collaboration features, all of which make group projects—and sharing of work between students and teachers—much easier. In a reading and writing context, Draw.io is a great tool for students to demonstrate how characters are related, while also creating mindmaps to keep track of themes, plotlines and symbolism.

Technology SLAM! sessions take place regularly in the Education Learning Commons (3-104 Education Centre North) and are free and open to the public. Follow Technologies in Education and Faculty of Education on Twitter for upcoming event notices.