Like any skill, “mental muscles” become stronger when they are regularly pushed. And just like any sport or training program, a competent and inspiring coach is vital for growth. As a teacher, you know that you must hone your students’ muscle dexterity, but you know from experience that you need to do it in a way that engages them. This is no easy task.
In our last post we discussed the link between reading and writing skills, so we thought it might be useful to offer up a few apps for educators that will help you enhance your students' writing skills while engaging them with a medium (technology) they are excited about and comfortable with. Not a “techy?” No worries. You don’t have to be to use these five FREE apps for educators.
Check out these Five Free (or almost Free) Apps for Educators:
Some of you may already use “clustering” or “mind mapping” (typically these words are used interchangeably) already, but just in case you’re not familiar with the concept, here’s what it looks like:
You give your students a nucleus word, phrase or topic; they draw a circle around this word and then, without stopping or overthinking, they begin to draw spokes from the nucleus word to new words that are triggered by it.
MindJet is an app that takes old-school clustering and mind mapping and goes digital with it.
Your students will get a kick out of seeing how many insightful, crazy and random ideas they have housed in their brains. More importantly though, MindJet can help with topic generation, in-class discussion and also defeat writer’s block.
Mixed Ink (Free)
This app allows your students to upload their writing to MixedInk, peer review and give feedback directly inside the program.
Here’s a specific way you can use MixedInk in the classroom: Say you are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. You assign Chapter one on Monday, along with five reading comprehension questions that students are to have completed and uploaded to MixedInk for Tuesday.
In the next class, you put your students into groups of four and ask them to review and discuss each other’s answers for 20 minutes. Then, for the next 20 minutes of class, your students collaborate with one another to compile a group “remix” of their original answers by pulling specific language from one another’s posts to create a collective response.
Wordle is about as user-friendly as it gets. Go to the website, type (or copy and paste) text into the box and hit “Go!” With the snap of a finger, your students’ text will be transformed into a well-polished piece of word art.
Here’s a Wordle activity you might try: Since we mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird, we’ll use this as an example. Let’s say you want your students to put together a list of character traits for Atticus Finch, Boo, Jem, Scout and all the other main characters. In addition to this, you want them to be able to support these traits by pulling out specific passages and using textual support. Once your students do this, have them Wordle it. Suddenly you’ve reinvented the task and made it fun and creative.
Voki allows users to create a personalized, speaking, blinking, moving avatar. Your students determine what it will look like and what it will say. “How in the world can I use this to help my students become better writers?” you say. Like we said in our last blog, students benefit from modeling, that is, from hearing someone—or in this case, something—read to them.
Most of your students are beginning writers, so they’re still going to be negotiating grammar, style and sentence clarity. To inexperienced writers, their work—even if it is rife with grammatical mistakes and sentence-level issues—still makes sense to them. It’s only when someone (the avatar) reads their work out loud that they begin to hear and see their mistakes.
WriteCheck (Varies with subscription)
It’s early in the school year, but very soon you’re going to have to have the old talk about plagiarism.
Style guides are a necessary evil, but we’re going to offer something to supplement them: WriteCheck. This app will analyze papers against billions of web pages and over 140 million other student papers. Students can pay $6.95 for a one-time plagiarism and grammar check that includes three resubmissions, or they can upgrade to a five-paper (basic) or 20-paper (volume) package.
Do you have a favorite app that you use in your classroom? Please share!