Giving Students a Way to Publish Their Writing

Students are inspired to write about what they see using Internet publishing.

By Ann Whittemore


the arrival

Recently, I have been looking for ways to make writing assignments more interesting. When I searched for ideas, I came across several lessons that involved the use of publishing websites. I was curious, so I visited one of them called Storybird. It is a website that allows registered members to create illustrated stories that can then be published on the Internet. When teachers sign up for a membership, not only are they allowed to use the service, their entire class can participate in collaborative storytelling.

An Example of Internet Publishing

Here's how Storybird works. The author, your student, starts their story by selecting the artwork they’d like to use; they then build their story around the images they have chosen. Students are able to invite other students to collaborate in the writing of their story or they can finish it on their own. After reading the amazing things other people have published, I wrote a story of my own; I also came up with some ideas for ways to integrate Internet publishing into my classroom curriculum.

The Storytelling Tradition

Many cultures around the world rely on storytelling as a way to transmit thoughts, values, and ideas; often times we read these folktales in order to teach students multiple concepts about a particular culture. After reading a traditional folktale such as Anansi Goes Fishing have students log onto a publishing website and create a folktale of their own. Folktales often convey concepts of a religious/magical nature, include personification of animals and objects, and share a cultural value or norm. Your students can brainstorm what is important to them, in their homes, community and belief system, and attempt to convey those ideals in their own folktales. Students can publish their stories online and invite another class to read them or, after reading some out loud, you can have the class guess who wrote which storybird.

Using Online Publishing for Self-Expression

Students can also use publishing websites as a mode of self-expression. You can give your students a prompt using a theme found in the literature they are currently reading, such as overcoming an obstacle or fear in Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry. You can have your students write a story that discusses a time they had to overcome an obstacle or a fear; students are not only writing an expository narrative piece, they are connecting to literature in a real way.

Other Modes of Publishing

While Internet publishing is a fantastic tool, not all schools have access to adequate technology. We have to remember, there was a time before computers, and there were these amazing tools, called books. There are scores of books one could use in the same way one uses publishing websites, books that let the pictures drive the words and emotions. My favorite book to use for these types of projects is called The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Elementary school students study immigration, usually in the fifth grade. The Arrival is a picture book about immigration, but the information is presented in a fantastic and surreal way that definitely conveys the idea that going across an ocean can be no different than visiting another world. Have students examine the book in small groups, discuss what they think is going on and then compose a story to match what they see. If time is limited, have each group take one section of the book and then present each part of the whole story to the class. Here are some additional lessons that incorporate storytelling as a way to develop writing skills.

Publishing Student Writing:

How We Can Use Storybird:

Students use Storybird or to create unique art-inspired writing pieces. This lesson is intended for use with ELL students, but could be modified for use with any student.

Book Swap:

This lesson takes students through the writing process from brainstorming to publishing and illustrating. Students work in groups and on their own to compose, publish, and swap original books.

Creating Story Problems:

This lesson has students use Media Blender to create visual representations for word problems in math.