Unleash Students’ Inner Writer with Storybird

I don’t know about you but for me, writing is hard. Nothing is more stressful than staring at that blank page waiting for the words in my head to organize themselves enough for me to write them down. I bet you have a few students who feel the same way. Storybird is a beautiful website that you can use to inspire your students to write and not fear the blank page. It is actually more than a writing website. It is a writing community where your students (and you) can read and write visual stories and poems.

The Art of Creative Writing

Storybird Artful storytelling (2)Writing with Storybird starts with amazing artwork. Writers select artwork from the huge Storybird art library and use that piece of art as the inspiration for their story or poem. The artwork becomes the inspiration for your story or poem. Artwork is a great way to inspire your writers to create stories.

Using the art as their guide, students can write a picture book, a longform book or chapter, or create a poem using an interface that reminds me of magnetic poetry.

Writing, Challenges, and Courses

Storybird has more than just amazing art to help unlock your student’s writing potential. Students can participate in a variety of community challenges that help give them some direction to their creative writing. For example, in the What in the World? challenge, students select an image from artist Julius Tan’s collection of wild and wacky scenes. Then they write about this new world. What do they see, hear, or smell? Then end challenge is to create a three-page picture book about this new place. There are over 20 challenges for writers of all levels. Select one that helps to build your students’ use of dialog or an advanced challenge to push their skills. Browse the challenges on the Challenge page. Storybird Guides

If you are looking for more targeted skill building you and your students can take one of the many writing courses available. Courses are multi-lesson, self-paced experiences created by writing experts. For example, you can learn all about writing fantasy from best selling author, Shannon Messenger.  If you are not up for a full course, you can also explore the How-to-Guides.

If you are looking for more inspiration, browse the community library and read books and poems created by other community members.

Writing Gamified

One of the coolest features of Storybird is the gamified elements. It will only get your students writing, it will keep them writing through badges and crowns (the in-system rewards). As your students write every day or complete challenges, they earn crowns. With crowns, they can unlock access to the courses and How-to-Guides. If you are writing too you can also earn badges and crowns.

Teacher Resources

Storybird includes resources for teachers including classroom management tools. With the educator tools, you can set up multiple classes, build a class roster, assign challenges, grade assignments, and give student feedback. Students join your class using a passcode. Their completed work is submitted into the class library where you can review it, grade it, and give feedback. storybird-review.png

Looking for a new idea for a fundraiser? Storyboard has you covered for that too. Your students can create their own books and then parents can log in and order hard or soft cover copies of the book, or stationary or artwork featuring their poems. Your class raises money from each sale. If you ask me it beats the heck out of cookie dough or wrapping paper, am I right? Read more here.


Initial sign up is free. The way I understand it, you can access all of the features listed above with the free account. Some features, such as courses or guides might just take time to access as you build up crowns to unlock the features. However, for faster access, you can become a community member. A month by month membership will cost you $8.99 a month. Or, sign up for a year at a time and the monthly rate drops to $4.99. You can read all about membership benefits on their benefits page.

Whether you are a teacher who is looking for a way to get your students writing or a young aspiring author looking for that extra kick of motivation, check out Storybird. To bring you a little inspiration, I will leave you with my own poem. Happy writing!

Poetry by Kbrynteson on Storybird (1)
My amazing poetry.


Friday Five: Five Board Games for Your Classroom

Friday Five: Five games for your classroom.

Earlier this week I spent a fantastic day with teachers talking about Gamification, STEM Read, and Games in the classroom! It was a fun day. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to spend the day playing games with a bunch of fun teachers. The only thing that would have made it better would have been some adult beverages. Am I right? New PD idea!!!

Anyway. I digress. Let’s talk games!

Board Games
Our game stack.

Before we started to play we talked a bit about gamification and how to incorporate game elements into the learning environment. You know, things like leaderboards, avatars (not the bending kind), point systems, rewards, themes, etc. All the things that make games fun. There are many ways to use game elements and strategies to engage students in learning. That is a whole blog post in itself. (Read more about Gamification from ISTE – 5 ways to gamify your classroom)

Today, we want to talk board games! There are sooo many to chose from. The list can be a bit overwhelming. Once you find a new game, then you have to learn how to play it. for me, that is my biggest problem. I call it Game Launch Anxiety – the fear of learning how to play a new game. So, the second half of our gaming session let us all get our hands on some games and conquer our fears together.  It was tons of fun.

We had a whole stack of fun games but here are five that are super fun and easy to connect to your classroom.

Five Games for the Classroom

  1. Bring Your Own Book – This is a “game of borrowed phrases.” Each player brings a book of their choosing. A card is drawn and the prompt asks for a phrase, such as “Something you would find in a teenager’s diary.” All the players search their books for a phrase that fits and hilarity ensues. This game is easy to learn and fun to play. I’ve even used this one to spice up teacher PD. Instead of books, we bring lesson plans. Gameplay takes about 15 minutes give or take. I think it would even be fun to play in a foreign language class. First, they find their phrase and then they have to say it in a different language.
  2. Snake Oil – Get your powers of persuasion ready for this fast-paced pitch-o-rama card game! In Snake Oil, you do your best to sell a crazy product to a specific customer.  To start the game, one player selects a customer card. All the other players select two word cards from their hand to create a crazy product. Then they sell, sell, sell! How would you sell a Lava Boat to a Rockstar or some Hug Butter to Newlyweds? The best part, each “salesperson” can pitch over each other. Let the pitch battle begin! The one who drew the customer cards chooses their favorite product and the player with the most product cards wins! This is a great game for building speaking and listening skills, creative storytelling, and persuasive or argumentative reasoning skills. Snake Oil is technically out of print so it might be harder to find but worth the hunt. 
  3. Codenames – Two teams compete to see who can contact all of their agents first using their secrete codenames. But, beware the Assasin! We played the picture version, which I loved! The cards with the codenames (or codename pictures) are placed in a grid on the table. One person from each team provides one-word clues to help their team figure out which codenames belong to their agents. This game seems easy enough but it really makes you think. This game is a good way to stretch those vocabulary skills and think about synonyms. Also, it helps students look for connections or ways to group words or ideas. It is very easy to learn and there are tons of combinations for infinite play.
  4. Doctor Panic – I did not personally play this one but we heard the commotion it caused from across the room. You and your team are doctors and you have a patient to save and communication and collaboration are key. The game lasts only 12 minutes and those 12 minutes are intense. Watch out, if your patient goes into cardiac arrest, one person has to revive them with the whoopie cushion. Yes. The whoopie cushion. This is a hilarious way to build collaboration and communication skills. Great way to start talking about medical careers too. If the sounds of laughter that were coming from our play team are any indication, this one is a riot!
  5. First Martians – This game is beautiful. However, I will confess, this is one of those that gave me Game Launch Anxiety. In First Martians, you have to survive life on the harsh red planet. It is described as an immersive experience where players play through different challenging campaigns to survive on Mars. It looks like there are several different options for how to play. I’ll admit, it looks very interesting but it has a steep learning curve. It has high reviews on Board Game Geek so it might be worth the time investment to learn how to play. If you are doing a Mars unit or reading The Martian by Andy Weir, this might be the perfect game for you. I’m going to add this one to my list of games I need to learn.

More Resources

This was such a short list. How does one only pick five when there are so many great games out there. I could go on and on. Do you have games to share? Or, do you have gamification resources and tools that you use? Share them on my Games Padlet! Leave a rating or comment too.

Made with Padlet

Share the gaming love!! I’d love to hear about how you use games in the classroom. Post in the comments.

I don’t think I said “fun” enough in this post. Fun. Fun! Fun!!

If you want to learn more about our Gamification and Games in the Classroom session, follow the link to our slide deck – https://www.slideshare.net/secret/IgaqUEXSGRUTzC 


30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 25 Symbaloo

Day 25: Symbaloo

Webmixes for Organizing Links

Managing links to all your favorite sites is a huge challenge. Especially if you are a self-diagnosed e-hoarder like me. One of the tools I use to organize my many site links is Symbaloo.

Symbaloo lets you create custom grids, called a webmix, of links. See my webmix for Open Educational Resources (OER) and Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math (STEM) links below. (If the embed code doesn’t work, follow the link.)


I created this webmix to use when I do workshops on OER and STEM resources. It is easier to share my webmix instead of a static list of links. With Symbaloo, I can update my list or add links and anyone with access to the webmix sees my updates. With your free account, you can create unlimited webmixes. You can keep them private or share them publically.

If this was all Sybaloo did, it would still be a great tool for organizing. Fortunately for us educators, Symbaloo has expanded into SymbalooEDU


SymbalooEDu is the educator facing version of Symabloo. With SymablooEDU you can create and share webmixes as well as develop Learning Paths for your students and engage in professional development opportunities for you.

Learning Paths

The newest addition to the Symbaloo family is Learning Paths.  Symbaloo Learning Paths allows you to use the grid format of Symbaloo to create interactive lesson plans. Think of it as creating a game board of learning for your students. Below is an example of a learning path. Each symbol on the grid represents an action for your students. As students move through the path, they engage with new information, watch videos, explore websites, and take quizzes to check for understanding. Your paths can branch and loop to provide a personalized learning experience for your students.

Screenshot of a sample symbaloo learning path
Sample Learning Path

Finding and Creating Learning Paths

With Symbaloo Learning Paths, you can create your own path from scratch or you can search through the Learning Path Marketplace to find a standards-aligned path created by the Symbaloo community of educators. If you find a path you want to use, copy it into your library. From your library, you can assign it to your students or modify the path to make it your own.

Monitoring Student Learning

When your Learning Path is ready, assign it to your students using the assignment code or push it out through Google Classroom, a QR code, or social media channels. Once the path has been assigned, you can track students’ progress. See where each student is on the path and how much time they have spent engaged in the assignments. You can also see the average score for your class and individual student results.

Professional Learning

Symbaloo has created resources to help you learn how to use Learning Paths in your classroom. First off, I have to say that the Learning Path creator and Marketplace are very easy to use. You can log in and get started with little training or support. However, if you are interested in adding some certifications to your professional toolbelt, SymbalooEDU has a certification program. The basic certification program is only $10 and you learn how to make the most out of the SymbalooEDU tools. There is also the PD level of certification that adds a few more perks including being eligible for the PD pro program.

If certification is not for you, you can still participate in Symabloo’s webinars to learn how to use the tools. You can even connect with the community of educators by joining the Edmodo Group.

Symbaloo and SymablooEDU have a lot to offer educators. From getting organized to creating a personalized learning environment for your students, the Symbaloo tools are an excellent addition to your ed tech toolbox.


30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 24 Classcraft

Day 24: Classcraft

Learning is an adventure. As educators, we want all of our learners to have an adventure that is truly epic. All seasoned adventurers know that success greatly depends on having the right gear in your inventory. Classcraft is definitely one of those tools you should not leave behind as you and your learners embark on your quest. If you have not yet heard of Classcraft, then you must have spent the past few years living in the Misty Mountains of Isolation. Classcraft is an online platform that helps you gamify your classroom and engage your learners in their learning adventure. Why gamification? Read their informative article to learn more about the theory behind the design. Why Gamification Article.Classcraft Demo class class list

With Classcraft, your students take on the role of Warrior, Healer, or Mage and work together in teams to increase their stats through quests, random events, boss battles (formative assessments), assignments, and IRL challenges and behaviors. Learners can customize their avatars and earn gear as they collaborate with their teams to learn in your classroom. Classcraft lets you, the teacher and game master, control the game by setting up game rules and custom attributes for each character and designing engaging learning quests. You can even invite parents along for the adventure. They can follow along or play an active role in the classroom by awarding points at home.

Classcraft has a free version and a subscription-based version for $8/month or $1500 per year per district. The free version has enough features for you to gamify classroom management and get your students working together in teams. The subscription-based version, however, adds a whole new dimension to your classroom. With your subscription, you can access Classcraft’s newest features. Such as:

Send your learners on a learning quest with custom interactive learning maps. They face new tasks as they move through the map.
  • Unlimted gear for your students.
  • Gamify your curriculum with custom quests and boss battles.
  • Monitor student achievement with learning analytics.

The district version adds additional administrative resources and dashboards to help you manage district-level initiatives and set up district-wide game rules.

Normally, I go for the free version of the tools. I’m just kind of cheap that way. However, if you want to redesign your classroom into a choose-your-own learning adventure for your students, the paid version has some amazing elements. See the pricing comparison here for a list of all the free and paid features. $1500 a year for a district is not too bad. Also, the Classcraft team has info on how to crowdfund your subscription.

For all you novice game masters out there, Classcraft has developed an extensive knowledge center where you can find support resoruces such as tutorial videos, professional development opportunities, and a teacher forum so you can connect with other game masters. Additional resources on the site include a downloadable guide on bullying prevention and a PBIS Handbook.

I love the fantasy-themed environment the Classcraft team has developed. (Granted, this is coming from a girl who has had a long time crush on a certain honorable Drow with an astral panther companion.) However, the fantasy theme might not be everyone’s cup of mead. I would love to see if there are other platforms out there with a more sci-fi Starcrafty theme or some other genre. In short, the Classcraft team has created an excellent immersive platform to help you level up your classroom. Register for your free account and get your game on today!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 18 QR Codes and Google Forms

Day 18: QR Codes and Pre-filled Google Forms

Today’s tool is not a tool but a tip for a tool most of you already use mashed with a tip for another tool you already use. In simple words, how to create QR codes that open a Google form with pre-filled fields.

Why would you want to do this you ask. Isn’t the better question, Why would you not First the how, then I’ll give you some whys.

The steps are simple.

  1. First, open your form. (Be sure you are in edit mode, not preview.)
  2. Open the More menu. Up in the right hand corner of the screen, you should see the More menu, the three vertical dots right next to the smiling face associated with your Google account.
  3. Select, “Get pre-filled link.” This will open your form so you can enter date.
  4. Enter the information in the fields you want pre-filled. Choose one or all. Its up to you.
  5. Click submit.
  6. A URL will appear at the top. This link will open the form again with the data you entered already filled in.
  7. Copy that link into your favorite QR code generator.
  8. Save it. Print it. Scan it. Boom.

That’s it. When you scan the QR code, you will open the form with your data pre-filled.

Cool, right?

One way to use this in the classroom is to give each student a QR code with their name pre-filled into a form of your choice. When scanned, they open the form and it already has their name. Your form can ask them if they understood today’s lesson or if they need more information about a topic. You could use this for:

  • Attendance
  • Check ins
  • Exit slips
  • Sign-up sheets
  • Formative assessments

The possibilities are endless. Any time you want to have some pre-set data combined with custom entries. For example, I just set this up for a game we did as part of our STEM Read program. We created a store scenario where teams had to buy goods. Each item for purchase had its own QR code. When scanned, the item name, price, and other details pre-populated. The players entered their group number and the quantity they wanted to buy. It was a super easy way to track what they bought as the game played out.

Next time you are using a Google form to collect data and want to simplify the process by having some data pre-entered, think about using QR Codes that open pre-filled forms.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 5 Twine

Day 5: Twine

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic lately.  Blame it on my binge watching of Stranger Things 2 and The Goldbergs. Or maybe it is the fact that my kids are growing up becoming young adults. That leaves me longing for the simple times of being a kid in the 80s. Whatever it is, I’m missing my hot pink parachute pants, zig-zagged-permed big hair, and spending hours losing myself in worlds inhabited with invaders from space or dragons and heroes. Good times. Good times.

Like many 80s kids, I was a huge fan of Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books. The idea that I was in control of the fate of a character was thrilling. I would read and reread these books over and over again to see what new adventures I could discover. I also played a lot of video games. Not only the eye-candy classics like Yars’ Revenge and Adventure, I was also into the text-based games like Zork. Through the gameplay, I was writing the story. It had the excitement of a video game with the control of a CYOA novel. It was awesome.

So, image my delight when my buddy and fantastic educator, Mike Jones (@StemNinja) introduced me to Twine, a branching story creation tool. Rejoice!

Twine is an open-source tool for creating interactive fiction. It makes developing your own CYOA story surprisingly simple. Let me rephrase that. Writing a piece of interactive fiction is HARD. Writing a linear story is hard. Writing one that branches through multiple forks and endings is really hard. It takes a lot of planning and mapping. Twine gives you the technology tools you need to organize and produce your story.

Before you get started, read the support material available online. I repeat. Read the support material!! The Twine Wiki is amazing! There seems to be a very supportive Twine community out there. The user guide on the Wiki walks you through creating your first story in simple steps. It also provides essential information on where your stories are saved and how to make sure you don’t lose them when you clear your browsing history.  This is definitely not a time to skip the directions. Take the time to read the how-to. It will save you time and frustration.

To use Twine, you can either download it or use the web-based version. I used the web-based version to create my first story. When you open Twine and create your story, you are presented with a blank grid that looks similar to any graphic organizer tool. The first time I wrote a CYOA story I used PostIt notes on a wall. This is like a digital PostIt wall.

Twine Start Screen
Twine Start Screen

You build your story by adding passages. At the end of each passage, you enter your choices. This builds your story map. The mapping process should work for both the plotters and pantsers out there. It makes it super simple to visualize your story and see all the branches.

The map of my first story. Easy to follow and see the flow.

Check the flow of your story along the way with the Play button at the bottom. This makes the magic happen and launches your adventure.

Passage 1
Passage 1. Do you open the door or walk away?
Advanced options for story creation.

For more advanced creators, you can even edit your story using JavaScript. If you publish it to a file you get a copy you can launch from your computer and play in your browser.  There are some other features you can access using the arrow on the lower left corner of your story map.

This is a fun tool. Not only for us adults who long for our 80s innocence but also for our students who are just now discovering the joys of interactive fiction. It is an excellent way to build not only their writing skills but also their critical thinking skills and creativity.

Twine looks intimidating at first. Not so much the usability of the tool but rather the fact that you are staring at a blank page with no guidance on where to go next. You have this world of infinite choices staring back at you. All you have to do is double-click and start your adventure.

So, which do you choose? Will you open the door, or walk away?