Exploring Micro Fiction and Visual Stories

Here we are, another NaNoWriMo and I still have not penned the next great American Novel. Every year I think, “This is my year! I will write that book that has been bouncing around in my brain! I’ve got this!” Then December comes around and I realized that I did not have it and the story has again gone untold. Sigh.

Yes, I know that I can write any month of the year. It does not have to be a November thing. But, there is a hashtag. So… #NaNoWriMo

This year however, I have discovered a type of fiction that seem much more my speed. Micro Fiction!

Several years ago I started writing little mini one or two sentence stories. But I didn’t think of them as stories. Just short little musings. I was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas of Story People. I discovered his quirky art twenty five years ago on a business trip to Decorah, IA. (If you have never been to Decorah, go. Go now. I’ll wait.) There was something about his whimsical, child-like drawings and the simple statements that really spoke to me. I loved his messages and was inspired to start writing some of my own. They were silly and sappy but I would post them to social media anyway. It was fun. I mentioned this fun hobby (Is it a hobby? I don’t know.) to a writer friend of mine and she said, “Oh, you write micro fiction!” Micro fiction. What is that? My interest was piqued.

Science tells us that most of our memories, even the ones we hold most dear, are false. They are nothing more than stories constructed by our brains using bits and pieces of fact mixed with ideas from our imagination. But when I remember you I smile so I have decided that I like the way my brain thinks.

K.A. Brynteson

I started doing some research. It is a thing and apparently very popular. From the two sentence horror stories to six word summaries to (let’s be honest here) the social media posts we write with a 144 character limit. We all write micro fiction from time to time.

As I’ve had fun writing more, I’ve been look for ways to connect this type of writing into the classroom. I know that there are many students out there who love to write but find longer works a bit overwhelming. Shorter stories, 100 – 500 words or less, can be an accessible alternative. Accessible, but not easy. The constraint of few words helps you be creative in your word choice. You have to flex your writing muscles. Each word is necessary. They kind of remind me of some of the activities I do in my visual literacy class with images such as my Tell a Story with 5 pictures or my Photo a Week photography prompt. They both focus on constructing a story with either your visual vocabulary or a few well selected images.

Because of this connection, I have started taking the mini stories and turning them into a visual posts, adding a layer of visual literacy into the activity. For the examples I’ve shared in the post, I used Adobe Spark. If you read my blog at all, you know that this is one of my most favorite tools. I use Adobe Spark tools all the time for digital storytelling. I found it was a fast way to take the text and create a visual representation. I experiment with fonts and colors and shapes until I have a composition that I feel compliments the message of the passage. This would be a very simple activity to do in the classroom. Have students write their own micro stories and then us their design skills to turn them into posts or even posters for the classroom.

Here are a few more examples.

Ok, I admit that I am starting to creep into Jack Handy’s deep thought territory, it is still a fun challenge to see if I can take an idea and turn it into a mini story. No, they are not all good. I know that. They are not up to the level of Story People by any means but it is fun. I have also found that I go back and edit them often. Especially when I turn them into a visual post. I play around with the word choice to see if I can say the same thing with fewer words or in different ways. It feels more like playing with words than actually writing a story.

I’m sure that there are students out there that might feel the same way. Micro fiction could be a way to turn even your most reluctant writer into an author, a couple words at a time. Give it a try and see what they create.

If you want to learn more about using Micro-Fiction in the classroom, here are some lessons and blogs to check out.

Happy mini-writing!

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.


Book Creator for Google Chrome

Book CreatorBook Creator has been around for a very long time. I almost didn’t write about it because for many teachers it is not new. However, it is one of those tools you need to rediscover now and then.


With Book Creator, you can create interactive books using your iPad or your Chrome device. For this post, we’ll look mainly at the Chrome version.

Get started with the app for free but, like most ed tech tools, the free version is limited. With the free version, you get one library where you can create 40 books. Not a bad way to get started but if you are using it with your students, you will run out of space quickly. There are different pricing levels starting at $60 per year and going up from there. The right choice for you depends on how many books you expect to create each year. Learn more about the pricing packages on their website.

The Chrome apps works in your browser. (Note, this is a Chrome app so it will not work in any of your other browsers.) As a teacher, you can sign in using your Google or Office credentials or your email. Students can also use their Google or Office email or have them sign in via QR code.

Key Features

If you are new to Book Creator or have not used this tool in a while, here are some of the key features that make this great epublishing tool for you and your students.

  • Shared Libraries – As you build your library, you can invite others to share the space, read your books and create books with you. You can also join other’s libraries. With one of the upgraded paid accounts, you can also add a co-teacher.
  • Integrate Media – One of the best things about ebooks is that they are not just text and images. Book Creator lets you seamlessly add multimedia such as video and web links, Google maps, and audio. According to the Book Creator blog, the tool now even allows you to embed Adobe Spark videos and web pages. For me, this is exciting news. I am a huge Adobe Spark fan. Read my pasts post about Spark Post and Video. Combining these two tools means you and your students can create some beautiful books.
  • Read ebooks – The viewing tools are amazing. Flip through the pages in full-screen mode. Read it on your own or have the Read to Me feature read the book to you. Great feature for your newer readers.
  • Share and Publish – The ebooks you and your students create can be downloaded and shared or published online and made available through bookcreator.com.

A layout view of my book.

  • Teacher Resources – There is a great set of resources available to help you get started. The Teacher Resource page has tips, tricks, and classroom ideas. Because this tool has been around for so long, there is a robust set of resources and support out there to help you make the most of this tool. Also, follow their blog and social media for more fun ideas.

Empower Your Students

Book Creator is an easy to use tool to get your students writing and creating media. There are so many ways to use Book Creator in the classroom. From students publishing their own stories to creating visual lab reports, to making multimedia class anthologies. The list goes on and on. If you are new to Book Creator, create a free account and get started. If you haven’t used Book Creator in a while, rediscover it and explore what you and your students can create.


Doodlers and Daydreamers: STEM Read Podcast Ep 6

The STEM Read Podcast Episode 6: Doodlers and Daydreamers. Talking creativity with Dr. Rhonda Robinson and Tom Lichtenheld.

We’ve all seen those kids. Off in the corner of the room. Staring out the window. Drawing in their notebooks instead of taking notes. We know those kids. Heck, maybe you were one of those kids. The Doodlers and the Daydreamers. The creative spirits who, with the right encouragement and support, might someday change the world.

A peek at some of my doodle masterpieces.

In this episode of STEM Read Podcast, Gillian (@gkingcargile) and I talk to two of our favorite doodlers and daydreamers, Dr. Rhonda Robinson and author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld.

This was a fun episode. Not only did we get to talk to two amazing people about fun topics like visual literacy, creativity, perseverance, and collaboration, we recorded in Tom’s studio surrounded by art, books, and inspiration. And there were cookies there to boot. It was amazing!

Head over to the STEM Read Podcast page to give the episode a listen and check out the show notes. We have links to all of the books we discussed, information on visual literacy, and pics from the studio.

You can find the STEM Read Podcast on iTunes or on our home page on Northern Public Radio. Check out past episodes and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss new episodes. Also, check out all our resources over on stemread.com.

Want to learn more about teaching visual literacy and creativity in the classroom? Check out these past posts,  Friday Five: Build Visual Literacy Skills and Five Tips for Unleashing Your Creative Self in 2018.



Friday Five: Build Visual Literacy Skills

Friday Five: Five activity ideas for building student Visual Literacy Skills.

In a world full of visual communication, it is important that we teach our students how to be visually literate. Much like building text-based literacy skills involves both reading and writing, building visual literacy skills includes both decoding and encoding visuals.

Here are five ideas for how to build student visual literacy skills in your classroom.

  1. Photo a Day (or Week) Challenge: Give your students a daily (or weekly) photography prompt. Every student takes a picture based on the prompt and shares it with the class. Discuss how each student interpreted the prompt. How were they different? How were they similar? Be sure they use their visual vocabulary as they discuss. How did the photographer use line, texture, color, and all the visual elements in their interpretation? Need prompt ideas? Use your current vocabulary list or words or phrases for the book you are reading. Have students take photos of math concepts. Use a mix of concrete prompts and abstract ideas. For example, how would you photograph blue? Join the global Photo A Day Challenge by following blogger FatMumSlim. Every month she publishes a new set of prompts and a hashtag for sharing. It is fun to see how people around the world interpret the prompts differently.
  2. Tell a story in Five: Start by showing your students five images. Place them in an order and have them tell the story that they see. What happens when you change the order of the pictures? How does the story change? Next, have students tell their own story using only five images. These could be their own images or ones they find online. Have them show their stories to the class and see if their classmates can verbalize what they see. Check out the Flikr group Tell a Story in 5 Frames for some excellent examples of five photo stories.
  3. Wordless Videos: Using your favorite presentation/video creation tool, have the students tell you about their favorite place using only images, editing techniques, and music. No words allowed. This will encourage them to use the visual elements combined with the power of music to help the viewer understand why this is their special place.
  4. Compare and Contrast Picture Books: Many of our favorite classic children’s stories have been told through picture books over and over again. Go to your library and pick up several different versions of the same story. Classic fairy tales are perfect for this. You can even select international versions of the same story.  Have the students look at how the different illustrators interpreted the story. How do the illustrations change the story from book to book? Look at the artistic style, use of color, line, tone, and the choice of medium. How do those choices change how you interpret the story? How much of the story is told through the pictures? Do the pictures help you understand the story or do the pictures conflict with what they are reading? Be sure they use their visual vocabulary in their explanations.
  5. I write you draw: Similar to using pictures books, then I write you draw strategy helps students see the connection between written language and visual language. Have each student write a couple sentences describing a setting or a character. Tell them to use good descriptive detail. When complete, they exchange their writing with a partner. Each student then illustrates their partner’s passage. When complete, have them discuss the results. How well does the drawing work with the passage? Based on the drawing, is there any editing that the author could do with the passage? To take it further, have students work together to write and illustrate picture books. Each student writes their own story and illustrates their partner’s story. This not only builds visual literacy skills but also collaboration skills.

Below are a few (five because it’s Friday!) of my favorite visual literacy resources and informational sites.

Bonus! Visit the Public Domain Review for images to use with your students.

There are so many fun ways to incorporate visual literacy into the classroom. Sometimes it might just be tweaking existing activities to include more image analysis or visual vocabulary. I could keep writing about this topic all day but I will leave some for a future post. How are you building students’ visual literacy skills? Share your ideas and favorite resources in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

30 Tools in 30 Days:Day 28 Storyboard That

Create comics, digital stories, and storyboards with Storyboard That.

Day 28: Storyboard That

Using comics in the classroom is a fantastic way for students to express their creativity while demonstrating their understanding. From summarizing a book chapter to creating their own original story, comics are a valuable form of storytelling. However, creating comics might be intimidating to those students who don’t see themselves as artists. Don’t let that be a barrier. Get your students creating their own comics with Storyboard That, a web-based tool for creating comics and telling digital stories.

Screenshot of Storyboard That creation screen.
My first comic strip. In progress of course.

Creating a story with Storyboard That is simple. I created a free account using my Google credentials. With the free account, I was able to create a 1×1, 2×1 or 3×1 celled story.

Customize your elements.
Customize all the elements. From the color of the sky to the pose of the characters. Yes, I could have a pink unicorn with a purple mane and blue eyes.

There are hundreds of backgrounds, characters, shapes, and textures to choose from. Drag and drop your element into your cell and customize as you choose. The level of customization for each element is impressive. You can change colors, resize, add filters, and even change the pose of your characters. The amount of customization combined with all of the characters, background, and textures available allows for unlimited creativity in your storytelling.

When your story is complete, you can save it, edit it, or copy it. You have several options for downloading your storyboards as images or slides. You can also embed them into your website.


You can get started for free like I did or choose from one of their many pricing options. Educational packages start with individual teacher accounts for $8.99 per month for up to 10 students and go up from there based on the number of students you want on your roster. There are many different pricing options to best meet your personal, departmental, school or district needs including a  district-wide license for $2.99 per student.

I do love the free version and for the most part, I was able to create some fun comics. However, there are a few drawbacks to the free version that might make you consider going for the paid version.

Privacy – With the free version, all your creations are public and can be found through a Google search. With the educational version, all storyboards are private and secure. The teacher can see all the storyboards using a class roster and control privacy settings so students can view each others work. This alone would make me consider paying for a license if I was going to use it with students on a regular basis.

Other cons for the free version include:

  • You can only save two comics a month with the free version.
  • Using your own images or graphics is only available with the paid versions.
  • You have limited layout options with the free version. The paid version allows for creating large comic grids up to 100 cells. The paid version also has custom templates for creating posters and other visuals.

Teacher Resources

I was very impressed with the resources and lesson plans available on the Storyboard That site. If you scroll to the bottom of the home page, you see the list of resources for teachers, business folks, and filmmakers. The list of lesson plans and teacher resources is huge!! I mean really huge! They have ideas and lesson plans for all subjects and grade levels. I also really liked the resources for filmmakers. If you are doing film production in your classroom, take a look. You and your students will learn a lot about the process of movie making.

The free version of Storyboard That is an easy way to create short comics, as long as you are OK with sharing them publically. If you currently use or want to start using comics in your classroom regularly, then I would consider a paid account.

Even if you are not going to use Storyboard That, the extensive resource library is a gold mine of ideas, lesson plans, and information. Bookmark it so you don’t forget it.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 13 Sketchboard

Day 13: Sketchboard

I have fallen in love with Sketchnotes. Let me rephrase that. I have fallen in love with the idea of Sketchnotes. I have never created one myself but I love how others have taken ideas, concepts, and processes and turned them into drawings that use interesting visuals to convey the information. If you don’t know what Sketchnotes are, check out the work by Sylvia Duckworth. She is my Sketchnote idol. Basically, it is visual note-taking. I am not good at it at all. But as I said, I love the idea.

I’ve been trying to find a tool that could help me build my Sketchnoting skills. Lucky for me, I came across a tweet from Jennifer Gonzolazes (@cultofpedagogy) from Cult of Pedagogy that identified the six ed tech tools to try in 2017.  One of those tools was Sketchboard, a collaborative whiteboard tool that integrates with other collaboration apps such as Slack and Google Drive. It looked promising.

Scketchboard is designed to help teams work together virtually. At its heart, mind mapping tool that multiple people can contribute to in real time. I tried out the free version and created my first board. I did not play with it much but my first impression is positive.

SketchboardScreen Cap
My first (kind of lame) map.

Some of the things I like.

  • The elements of your board have a hand-drawn feel. Gives you the look of a sketch but in a clean way. Not in the messy way that you might see on my whiteboard when you walk into my office.
  •  You can usee icons and shapes form the library or draw freehand.
  •  The drawing space easily expands as your ideas grow. It is very easy to navigate around your canvas. No matter how big your map gets.
  • You can add members to your team and give them different roles.
  • Integrates with Google Drive.
  • You can turn your map into a presentation by turning areas of your map into slides. (Kind of like you can with Prezi.)
  • Boards can be public, private, or password protected.
  • You can add comments to your map or live chat with your team as you create.

The one thing I don’t like.

  • The free version is limited. Not in features. You have full access to most of the tools and features. However, free users can only have 3 private boards for up to 5 team members. If you are not going to use it with a team, you can get an individual account for $7.00/ month. Organization/team memberships start at $14.00/month for up to 3 members. The business membership is $79.00/month. I’m a big fan of free stuff so I don’t think I’d pay for the upgrade. However, if your team is global and you need the ability to collaborate visually, it might be a good investment. Note: It looks like there might be a special rate or educators. You can email them for more information. I have not emailed them yet to get more info.

I’m interested in what type of price package is available for education. I could see this as a valuable tool, especially for students working on group projects. My problem is that there are so many mind mapping tools out there I find it hard to commit to just one. I’ll need to explore Sketchboard further before I can say this one is my favorite.

Sketchboard may not be the answer to my Sketchnoting dreams but it is a solid collaborative whiteboard tool. especially if you are already using Slack or Google Drive to connect with your team. My quest continues for the one tool to rule them all and get me sketchnoting. Until then, I’ll be here with my pens and my Leuchtturm1917 notebook taking notes and doodling ideas. 

For more information on Sketchnotes, check out the links below.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 9 Text 2 Mind Map

Day 9: Text 2 Mind Map

Even though I am not the best planner when it comes to writing (I am more of a pantser) I do love a great graphic organizer. When I was planning my dissertation research, I used the program Inspiration to organize the theories and ideas that would become my theoretical framework and my questions and thoughts that would become the basis for my research. I do not think I would have made it through my doctoral research without a way to visually represent my thinking. However, for many, learning how to use a concept map takes a bit of practice. Inspiration is a great tool but can seem a bit intimidating for someone who is just learning how to use graphic organizers. I would start with something simpler. There are several easy to use tools available. One super easy tool is a web app called Text 2 Mind Map.

Text 2 Mind Map does exactly what the name says. It converts your text outline into a visual map of information. You enter your information, ideas, and thoughts into an outline, hit the Draw Mind Map button, and Text 2 Mind Map converts your outline into a lovely concept map. There are not a lot of bells and whistles but that is what makes it easy to use even for a beginner. You can control can change the font style, color of the branches, and the line style using the options tab. This gives you just the right amount of control without overwhelming you with design choices.

Enter text to create a visual map of the information.

When your mind map is complete, you can save it or download it as a PDF or an image. The free version of the tool saves your map to a link where you can access and edit it later. You have more saving options with a subscription, including add-free downloads. Subscriptions start at $5.00 a month.

Text 2 Mind Map makes concept mapping easy. It is also a great way to help your students learn how to outline information. There is a very low learning curve and the minimal design makes the tool intuitive.

For more information on how to use  Text 2 Mind Map, watch this quick tutorial from Free Technology for Teachers.

Want to learn more about how to use concept maps in the classroom? Here are a few great resources for you to explore.

Happy organizing!