Narrative is a key component of any writing curriculum, and it tends to be one of my students’ favorite genres. However, by the time they get to my class in middle school, they’ve already written at least one personal narrative every year for several years. They’re looking for something new to capture their interest again, so instead of having them write about their own experiences, I open my students up to fiction writing.
To help generate that flash of excitement, I turn to technology. These five tools can be used as center activities, extension tasks, or just opportunities for students to explore new areas within the writing genre. We’ve tried a variety of technology tools for writing, and these are my students’ favorites.
5 Tools for Sparking Engagement With Narrative Writing
Story Speaker (Google Docs add-on): Story Speaker allows students to create choose-your-own-adventure stories that can be integrated with a Google Home smart speaker or any device with Google Assistant. The Google Docs add-on gives students a template they can edit to create their story. They can add details and dialogue, and have their readers make decisions as they read. For example, a student could create a situation in which a character must decide between turning left or right, with different scenarios following each decision.
Once the story is written, students can share it with the class. The story is read aloud by the smart speaker or other device, and when it comes time for the character to make a decision, the class can speak their answer aloud. If the class was deciding which direction to send the main character, they would yell out “left” or “right.” The device would be able to respond to the class’s answer and continue the story accordingly.
This tool is popular for students who like to create suspenseful stories. I had a student compose a mystery where the class acted as the detective, making decisions and ultimately choosing who they believed was responsible. I also had a student write a horror story in which the protagonist was moving through a haunted house and the class got to decide what the protagonist did next.
Story Wars (website and Google Chrome extension): Story Wars offers a fresh take on writing prompts. The website—also available as a Google Chrome extension—offers a collaborative writing platform for students. After creating an account, students can select from a variety of genres, including science fiction, dystopia, humor, historical fiction, and fantasy, among others.
The program provides students with a random story from that genre. Each story is broken into chapters written by Story Wars users. The student’s goal is to read the chapters that have already been written and then add the next chapter, working to match the style and tone of the story while maintaining appropriate characterization and advancing the plot.
Once two or more users have written a chapter to add to the story, the Story Wars community gets to vote on their favorite—that chapter becomes part of the story, and the chapter that is not chosen is removed from the story. It’s still connected to the writer’s individual account and can be viewed by them at any time.
NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program (website): This program brings the popular National Novel Writing Month to students. The Young Writers Program provides students with a space to compose a novel and to track personal writing goals.
There are resources built into the website to support students as they write in areas such as adding details, building characters, developing conflict, and staying motivated throughout the writing process. Students can also connect with other students participating in NaNoWriMo within the website forums, which are moderated by staff members to ensure that they are a safe space for students to discuss and share writing.
At the end of November, NaNoWriMo is complete and students can see their writing statistics, such as word count and the number of words left to reach their goal. They can also share the narrative they have written.
Write Igniter (website): Write Igniter is perfect for quick mini-activities to practice narrative writing and brainstorming ideas. The website provides different parts of a plot that students must combine to create a cohesive story. When students click the “Shuffle” button, a random character, situation, prop, and setting will appear on the screen. Students then have the job of determining how these elements can be connected in a way that is plausible and creates an engaging narrative.
This tool has helped my students practice the brainstorming process, and it’s a fun extension activity. My students draft their mini-narrative within a Google Doc. They keep all their drafts and refer back to them when they need inspiration or ideas for their writing. If they have a really strong idea, they can use it as a starting point for crafting a novel through NaNoWriMo. Some of my students like to return to Write Igniter when they finish an activity or assessment early during class time.
The Most Dangerous Writing Prompt Generator (website): The goal of this game, developed by the book-writing software developer Squibler, is just to write continuously—no stopping. The website generates a random, single-sentence prompt for the student, who can select the amount of time they’d like to work on the prompt, ranging from five minutes to a full hour. Once the game begins, the student must continue to type. If they stop, the game is lost, and they can either save what they were able to produce or start over. (Or they can try hardcore mode: If they lose, what they wrote is gone for good.)
This activity helps my students get writing. When faced with a new writing assignment, many of my students focus on trying to perfect their words, as opposed to drafting ideas and then returning to revise and edit. This prompt generator pushes students to work through their ideas without worrying about perfection. If they draft something they like, they can save their work and revise it.