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Explore strategies and tools that students can use to write creatively across the curriculum.
The internet has been the most significant amplification of the written word since the Gutenberg printing press. It has introduced us to websites, blogs, social media posts, email, and so much more. In many ways, people write more today than ever before, and modern writers have an unmatched opportunity to share their thoughts with an extensive audience—essentially anyone with a computer and internet connection.
This writing revolution has opened up almost endless opportunities for our students to express themselves through the written word. Of course, this doesn’t mean they need to be limited to text alone. Writing can be shared in many formats and is often mashed up with other forms of media, like images, video, and audio recordings.
It’s tempting to think that academic writing is the responsibility of language arts teachers, but writing is an essential skill for our students all across the curriculum. Writing in subject areas other than language arts provides students with an authentic context for their writing, and it forces them to think more deeply about the subject matter being studied.
Writing is one of the most cognitively complex tasks that we can ask our students to perform. It can and should be done in every subject area. Writing boosts critical thinking and requires the mental organization of new learning. In turn, it increases retention while deepening the understanding of that new learning. Writing can also be leveraged to have students dive deeper into the metacognitive aspect of the learning process. This type of writing can help students better understand their thought processes while identifying how they learn best.
No matter the context or subject area, writing can help develop critical communication skills, and when shared with authentic audiences beyond the teacher, it can increase motivation and relevance for the student. In many ways, writing across the curriculum is a win–win dynamic. Students gain a deeper understanding of their content and learning process while they simultaneously develop the writing skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.
In this article, we’ll explore seven different digital formats that can be integrated across all subject areas. Within each of those formats, we’ll share writing tools and strategies that you can use to get students writing in your classroom.
7 Digital Formats to Get Students Writing
There will probably be times when you determine the writing format for your students, and there will also be times when it’s better for your students to choose their own format. Whenever it makes academic sense, consider allowing your students to choose the format. This will increase their interest and motivation in the writing project. This often keeps them more engaged and results in a better final product. While we will not list every writing platform available to you in the classroom, the following list will highlight seven top choices to get you started.
In this familiar format, students use a word processing program, like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, to write something. Here, the message and writing take center stage, and the visual format is secondary. Once the core writing has been completed, this text can be repurposed and reformatted in many ways.
- Lab report
- Position paper
- Research report
Blogs are personal essays published online. Typically, bloggers will set up a website where they continue to add posts on a regular basis. Many blogging sites allow people to “follow” a blog. This allows followers to get notified whenever a new post is published. Blogs have become a popular way for writers to share their ideas with a wide audience at minimal to no cost. Blogs also allow readers to respond to posted ideas, making it more of a dialogue than a stand-alone piece of writing.
- A full-class blog (class news, highlights, etc.)
- A passion project/topic
- Reflections on class content
- Book discussions
- Student perspectives on current events
- Class blogger of the week (students take turns)
Websites have become so common that we might be tempted to take them for granted. However, allowing students to create their own sites can be extremely empowering, and it offers many opportunities for creativity. Written messages can be combined with images, video, audio, interactive maps, and more. One significant supplementary benefit of students creating their own websites is that the process demystifies the concept of a website, often making students more informed and critical consumers because they know how a website is set up.
Website Creation Tools:
- An overview of a year in history
- A research project
- A documentation of the scientific process
- A learning journal documenting class progress
- A collection of creative writing
- An instructional site about a topic
- A how-to guide
- A personal learning journal
Comic strips are fun to read, but they can also serve as powerful learning artifacts when students create them to communicate a message or demonstrate their learning. Comics also allow students to be creative and tap into their artistic and visual skills. This can be very motivating for some students. To help guide students in the process, there are several online tools that provide frames, characters, settings, and more. Students can also use a slideshow or word processing tool to create their own comic strip from scratch.
Comic Strip Tools:
- Recreate a historical conversation
- Engage in digital storytelling
- Introduce a concept or topic
- Raise awareness of a social issue
- Apply vocabulary and subject-matter concepts
- Communicate satire or parody
- Tell a story
Students often take a great deal of pride in their writing when they see it published in book form. It provides an increased sense of accomplishment and affirms the worth of their words. Fortunately, it’s easier (and cheaper) than ever before for students to publish their work as a book. Several websites allow students to create digital books for free, while some charge only if you want to have them printed. Digital books provide the added advantage of being able to add multimedia alongside the written text. Again, the authentic product at the end of the process can increase student motivation in the project.
Book Creation Tools:
- Write a piece of historical fiction
- Retell history from different points of view
- Write a biography
- Tell an original story
- Document learning
- Teach a concept
- Create a book of poetry
- Make a picture book
Students can integrate newswriting into many of these formats. Specifically, this would fit well with the creation of a website. It could even be a class news site, with each student adding their own article. However, you could also take a more traditional approach and have students create a print newspaper or magazine. This defined format helps give them focus and purpose. It’s also fun to see the final result printed out and displayed in the classroom. If you are teaching remotely, the finished pages can be posted digitally to your learning management system.
Newswriting Creation Tools:
- Feature a day or year in history
- Create a tribute to a scientist or mathematician
- Publish a paper recounting events in a novel
- Be a journalist for your school
- Create an opinions page with editorials
- Make your own version of a real magazine
Most learning management systems have discussion tools built into their platforms. These can be great ways to get students writing collaboratively. It’s one thing to write for the teacher, but when a student knows that classmates will also be reading the posts, it changes the dynamic and motivation. In addition, it gives students a chance to think beyond their original post and reflect on feedback from their peers. Of course, you will want to define discussion protocols, model effective posts, and have students practice these skills. This process can ensure that the discussion experience is a positive and respectful one for all involved. Explore additional ideas for fostering substantive and respectful online discussions in a previous AOA article.
- Learning Management System (Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom, etc.)
- Vialogues (to discuss videos)
- Discuss a controversial topic
- Conduct a virtual Socratic Seminar
- Pose questions
- Reflect on learning
- Consider the impact of an event or opinion
- Brainstorm ideas
Extend Your Learning
- Why Students Should Write in All Subjects (Edutopia)
- Blogging Resources (Ditch That Textbook)
- Free Newspaper Templates (Free Google Docs Templates)
- Google Slides Newspaper Template (Templates for Teachers)
- Over 1,000 Writing Prompts for Students (The New York Times)
- Best Apps for Creating Books and Storybooks (Common Sense Education)
- Stimulate Classroom Time With These Student Website Project Ideas (WordPress)
- Comic Strip Creations Lesson Plan (Grades 3–5) (Scholastic)
- Five Ideas for Creating Comics in the Classroom (Creative Educator)