This “The Best…” list requires a bit of an explanation.
I’ve already posted The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement. That list primarily contains links to sites that provide direct writing instruction. And I’ve also posted several lists of Web 2.0 tools where writing is a key feature to using them, including The Best Ways To Create Online Slideshows, The Best Ways For Students To Create Online Animations, and The Best Ways To Make Comic Strips Online.
I thought, though, that it would be useful to create another list of the best places where the primary purpose is just to write, and which make it interesting and easy for English Language Learners and other students to do so. I don’t think that’s an artificial distinction and, if it is, so be it!
You can find easier tools that don’t have as many features at A Few Simple Ways To Introduce Reluctant Colleagues To Technology.
Here are my choices for the Best Places Where Students Can Write Online:
Obviously, Edublogs has to be on this list. I know many teachers have successfully had their students write their own individual blogs. However, I’ve found it easier to have class blogs and have students write comments. In addition, the ability to have Edublogs Forums (basically a chatboard) is another real benefit. In our International Sister Classes Project, my U.S. History students have been able to write back and forth to a EFL class in Spain (using the Edublogs Forum) asking them about how Columbus and the Conquistadors are taught in that country. And Edublogs is often the only blogging tool that’s not blocked by school content filters. You might also find Sue Waters’ post on Tips On Blogging With Students helpful.
Posterous is another great blogging application. Users can just email what they want posted on their blog and it is automatically posted with the subject line as the title and the body of the email as its content. I was able to copy images off the web and paste them in my email, along with a written description, and it all immediately appeared in my “Posterous.” You can email attachments and some embeddable applications. You can also post directly to your blog without emailing. I have students use Posterous together with our United States U.S. History Class blog through Edublogs. Posterous has also just added a group blog feature.
The newest blogging tool that looks pretty darn easy is called On Sugar. It has a lot of intriguing features built-into it, including the ability to create a quiz or poll.
Kidblog is another option. Here are good instructions on how to use it.
Jotpress is a new blogging platform that lets you easily write posts by email. It also lets you just copy and paste images into the body of the email without using its url address. You can also go directly to your blog to write a post. It’s a very simple process that is great for people/students new to tech. However, if you wanted to use this kind of application instead of something like Edublogs, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t use Posterous. It seems to have all the advantages of Jotpress — and more.
Micro-blogs are designed for users to write short posts, and to easily add multimedia to them.
Tumblr is the most popular, and was ranked first on The Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education — 2007. Soup is another one that’s easy to use, and is similar to Tumblr. Posterous is another one.
Diary is a new micro-blogging application that is simple to use. However, you are limited to posts containing 255 characters or less.
Kontain is a micro-blogging application that’s been around for several months, and it’s quite simple to use. I haven’t blogged about it before because, up until now, it hasn’t had the ability to let you grab images off the Web. They’ve just added that feature.
Squme is a new site that lets you blog, post photos, create private chatboards and a bunch of other things.
WRITING ONLINE BOOKS:
There are two stand-out sites that allow users to very, very easily and quickly create their own online books.
Tikatok is a new site that is a real find for English Language Learners (and lots of other students). Users can create online books that they write and illustrate (they can also use lots of images available on the site).
It has a number of features that really make it stand-out. You can make a book from scratch, or you can use one of their many story frames that contain “prompts” to help the story-writer along. In addition, you can invite others to collaborate online with you to develop the book.
Once the book is done you can email the link to a friend, teacher, or yourself for posting on a blog, website, or online journal. You can create the online version for free, but have to pay if you want them to print a hard-copy version.
The other exceptional site is called Tar Heel Reader. It has two great features: 1) It has 1,000 simple books with audio support for the text immediately accessible to Beginning English Language Learners and 2) It makes it as simple as you can get for students to create their own “talking” books using images from Flickr.
Anybody can read the books on the site. However, in order to have your students create talking books using their “easy as pie” (and free) process, you need to register and have to have a code. They’re rightfully concerned about publishing the code because of spammers. Gary Bishop from the site, though, is happy to provide it to teachers. Just contact them here and he’ll send it to you. Here’s a screencast from David Deubelbeiss on how to use the site.
Storybird is a neat new site where users can choose artwork from a specific artist and then add text to create a storybook. Susan Stephenson from the excellent Book Chook blog has written a post about it, and I’d encourage you to go over and read her description.
Story Jumper is a new site that lets kids create their own story books. Online versions are free, and you can pay for hard copies. Registration is quick and easy. You can create your books from “scratch” or use one of several templates they have (one or two of them didn’t seem particularly intuitive to me, but most were fine, and the “scratch” version was certainly easy). The offer lots of easy “props” to integrate into the stories, and you can upload your own photos and type your own text. Once you’re finished, you can email the link to yourself and post it on a student/teacher blog or website.
At Bookemon, you can create an online book for free that can be shared and also have the option to purchase a printed version. What really makes it attractive to me, though, is that you can use any of its templates for a book and just upload a Word or PDF document that will automatically be inserted into the book. In other words, a student who is familiar with Word can write a “book” — including images he/she took or ones they grabbed off the Web (that are copyright-friendly, of course); upload it to Bookemon; and within minutes have an online presentation that looks very much like a virtual book. I really like applications that let students use something they are very familiar with and then convert it into something a lot neater. Students just with the knowledge of typing and copy and pasting can quickly create a piece of writing that looks a lot more attractive and can be shared.
ePub Bud is a new online application that lets you create your own eBooks for free. It seems quite easy to use, and lets you grab images off the web as well.
Batalugu is a new site that lets you create your own online book for free. You can then share it’s url address.
I wouldn’t say its as nice or as intuitive as some other apps on this list, but it’s still worth a visit.
Pandamian is a super-simple — and free — tool to create an ebook. Sign-up takes a few seconds, and you’re given your own url address for all your future books. Click on “create a new book” and you’re off! You can easily copy and paste images, and readers can leave moderated comments. They can also subscribe to an RSS feed if they want to be updated on newer chapters. You can make it embeddable by using the “customize” tab.
Simple Booklet, a very easy tool to create online “books” without registering, is now back online. It hadn’t been working the last few times I checked it and its creator — Middlespot — has closed its excellent excellent search engine.
Foboko is a new site where you can easily write and publish books online. It similar in most ways to a number of other sites that are on this list. The big place where it does differ, though, is that it actually takes you through a step-by-step planning process for your story/book. That could be particularly useful for some students.
There are three E-Card sites that I think are a notch above the rest for providing students excellent images and good opportunities for writing. No registration is required for any of these three sites, and the link to the students creation can be posted on a teacher or student blog or website.
One is Picture History, which offers an enormous number of American History images. All of them can be sent as E-Cards.
Smithsonian Images provides access to that incredible collection, and also allows you to use any of them as E-Cards.
Nations Illustrated has 8,000 images from around the world, and also provides an E-Card feature.
Even though this last site is already on my “The Best…” list for slideshows, I feel I have to include here because it’s so easy to use, and my students have often used it effectively for writing.
Bookr is another great tool for anybody, including Beginning English Language Learners. You just type in a “tag” to search Flickr for images, drag them into a book and write about them. Here are samples made by my students. No registration is required.
Five Card Flickr Story lets you pick five photos from a group of pre-selected images from Flickr and then write a story about them. It saves your selection and story, and provides you with a link to it. No registration is required.
The Art of Storytelling is from the Delaware Art Museum. At this site, you can actually use art from the museum’s collection to create your own storytelling experience. It’s pretty neat, and very accessible.
Twiducate is a new web application that says it was designed by teachers. It provides a private social network where teachers and students can communicate, with messages not visible unless users register and sign-in. I could see this being useful for classes of younger learners where teachers or schools are concerned about their web content being public.
Richard Byrne has found another winner in Web Doc, a new sorta’ blogging platform that makes it super simple to write individual “docs.” I especially like its ability to search the Web for images within your “doc” and just post it into what you’re writing. It also lets you add a speech bubble to the photo. It has tons more features, including providing an embed code, and you can read more about it at Richard’s post.
One of its neatest features, as Richard notes, is the ability to for people to create their own “Web Doc” as a comment. The problem for classroom use, however, is that it doesn’t appear to allow moderation for comments. So, I think for most teachers, the best option for now (until they add that feature) is to use one of their other nice features — the ability to disable comments. However, since they are embeddable, it would certainly be easy enough to embed it in a post on an Edublog, for example, and just have people leave comments there.
Page O Rama lets you quickly and easily create a website without having to register. I especially like it because you can copy and paste images directly onto the page. Even though there are quite a few “instant” page-building apps, most don’t have that copy-and-paste image option.
Living Junction lets you fairly easily create simple online books/magazines. You can search, drag and drop images onto pages, and add textboxes, too.
buncee lets you easily create simple multimedia creations — almost like an extended virtual postcard. You can grab media off the web and add text.
Here’s a video about it:
My only reservation about the site is that they ask for your birthdate when you register, and that seems a bit odd. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that students put their correct one. I took a quick look at their terms of service and didn’t see anything about an age requirement, but could have missed it. I just don’t see why that information is needed….
Additional suggestions are welcome.