Sunday, October 18, 2015

How to use Storybird in Secondary ELA

I've been using Storybird since 2012 with my high school students, and it's one of my absolute favorite websites. If you are a secondary teacher, you probably either haven't heard of this gem, or you think it's too elementary for your older students, but I hope this post will persuade you to give it a try in your high school or middle school classroom because it's seriously AMAZING. 

Basically, this is a free website that hosts artists' work and allows students to create poems, online storybooks, and long-form chapter books. The platform is really simple to use. Remember, it is mostly used by elementary students, so it's designed with a simple platform. The only thing that gets my students confused is that once they choose an artist, they must stick with that collection-- they can't pick and choose art from different artists. I actually find this to be a good thing though, or else they would spend way too long on choosing art and less time on the actual activity. 

Secondary ELA Storybird Ideas: 

1. My number one use for this tool is to check for comprehension of complex concepts. For example, when we do our unit on Shakespearian sonnets, I have students choose a sonnet to reword into modern day language. We use the storybook option for this, and each page is a line of the poem. They must end up with 14 pages that show they understand iambic pentameter, sonnet rhyme scheme, and comprehension of the meaning of the poem. 

Here are a couple of lines from one of my student's interpretation of Sonnet 130 


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

This technique can be used with any text! Retelling in their own words is an essential aspect of complete comprehension. Storybird makes this task a little more fun. :) 

2.  Use Storybird as a tool in satire lessons. When we read Gulliver's travels, I use Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book  as a scaffolding technique to teach satire. I follow up this lesson by assigning a project in which students write a children's book addressing a controversial issue by using satire. For example, one of my students chose a later school start time as her issue, and she wrote a children's book using Storybird. She found "animals sleeping" art and came up with a fantastic concept to illustrate how going to school at 7:30 goes against scientific studies on the brain. I can't find her story now, but you can find other examples by searching "satire" on the Storybird website. 

3. Use Storybird as a platform for theme extension. Sometimes it's not enough for secondary students to simply identify themes in literature. Once they have mastered this concept, I want them to apply their learning and up the scale of Bloom's Taxonomy by creating an original story with the same theme. For example, after reading Thoreau, I have students read Henry Hikes to Fitchburg as a mentor text for how an author extends the themes in Thoreau to create an original work in the form of a children's book. 

Next, I have students create their own original story that illustrates a theme in Emerson or Thoreau's work. 

4. Use Storybird's Poem Feature for Seasonal or Thematic Poetry Activities. I really love using the poetry feature on Storybird! It can be used to create fun, or you can use it strategically. For example, if you need a holiday activity, you can have students create seasonal poetry that uses literary device concepts you have been working on. Here is a summer themed example that uses alliteration and imagery: 

Another way I have used this feature is to have students write a thematic poem. This one is from Gatsby's point-of-view and reflects what Fitzgerald believes about the American Dream. 

You can't choose the words you want to show up on Storybird's platform, but if you want to take this idea further, you can create your own word banks with vocabulary words or words found in the literature you are reading by making your own template. More about that here: 

Poem Puzzle

5. Have students narrate grammar concepts using Storybird. 

If you are not an English teacher, here are some ideas that can be used in other subject areas: 

Math class ideas: 
The math teachers at my school do a lesson on "if/then" conditional problems. I can't remember the details, but I know that secondary math teachers will know what I'm talking about. Anyway, to illustrate this concept, they have students write a story that is like the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Students make up their own stories that show how this will lead back to the beginning, creating a full circle concept. Storybird would be great for this activity!

History class ideas: 
I saw a tweet from Storybird this week that showed a history teacher using Storybird to have students explain the constitution from different points-of-view using the art perspectives. 

Science class ideas: 
I'm taking a science and ELA integration class right now, and one thing we are learning is that it really helps science students to be able to narrate the concepts they are learning in class. These narrations normally involve personification of a science concept.  For instance, my partner and I did a lesson on "Travels with Carbon" in which a carbon molecule goes from coal to a fossil to being set free. This type of personification of science concepts could easily be done with Storybird. 

Foreign language class ideas: 
The language teachers at my school base their units on common themes such as "clothing." I think it would be so fun to practice new vocabulary by using new words to associate with the art found on Storybird! 

I would love to hear your ideas and add them to this post! If you are using Storybird with older students, please leave a comment! 


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