Using Storybird For Inspiration

I wrote before about using advertisements as a source of inspiration for getting ideas for stories. Recently for one of my graduate classes, I had to review an online tool. I chose Storybird (, a virtual storytelling tool. The site provides images and you can create a story in book format using the images. I think this would be another fantastic tool for students to use when brainstorming ideas for stories.

Again using the technique I mentioned in my earlier entry, students can chose a complex image and brainstorm questions about the image. They then answer the questions, creating the framework for a story.

With Storybird, the students can additionally create a page for each question and answer, creating the story frame visually, adding additional appropriate images. When my writing club starts again in the spring, this will definitely be a tool I will use.

Making Comic Strips on Word


I created the above comics as part of a mathematics electronic portfolio my junior year. Looking at them, I realized that there is quite some potential to use Microsoft word to create comic strips with students. I have used ReadWriteThink’s Comic Creator but I always feel limited by the landscapes, characters, and objects they provide. For younger children this might be beneficial as it provides structure and is not overwhelming, but I feel older students (5th grade and up) are more familiar with technology and itching to have more control. Through the internet, the student has an endless supply of images (referenced of course!) and with a simple use of line and color on Word, they can make objects and landscapes. Below are the steps broken down:
Create a box using the Insert > Shape tool.

Edit the box so that it has a simple black outline and a clear inside through right clicking and selecting Format Shape. Select Fill, then No Fill. Then select Line Color (Black) and Line Style (I prefer 0.5 pt as this provides enough definition to set it off from other boxes, but it is not overwhelming). You should end up with a box similar to below.

Next you can Copy and Paste this box for as many panels you want in your comic strip. By selecting all panels (ctrl and click on each box) then right clicking and selecting Group > Group, you have created a movable comic strip that is ready to be filled.
You might offer creating a comic strip as an option when looking to assess students on their knowledge of the parts of the Constitutional Convention. Students might select a specific part (such as how states should be represented in Congress) and then create a comic strip on this topic. For a longer, in-depth topic, they would logically add more panels.
I would have the students start by deciding where the comic will take place, the setting. In this case, it would be Philadelphia and more specifically a hot crowded hall with a big wooden table. I would then create a box within the first panel and perhaps a chair. By selecting the box, selecting a .25 pt black Outline and Texture (wood) Fill, it appears to be the top edge of a table. I can then add another box above it with two smaller boxes below to make a chair and apply the same Fill and Outline adjustments as with the table.
By adding a box in the lower half, and by selecting Format > Wrap Text > Behind Text, the box is now behind the chair and table, creating a floor. Create another box above the first and follow the same format steps, you can create the wall. Using Patterns and adjusting the color, one can make convincing wallpaper and wooden floor.

Once the basic setting is created, select all the items within the box and group them together. This makes pasting them into other boxes easier. If the background becomes the foreground when you group them, select the background (floor and wall) and under Picture Tools (Format) select Send Backward until all objects have again reappeared.
The first box can be used for the title, adding a text box and appropriate words. The second panel can be manipulated to include items such as person, speech bubbles, and appropriate objects. Addtionally, as with the examples at the top, one can add captions to the pictures, if they do not want to use speech bubbles.
Overall, the tab used the most when making these comics is the Insert tab. Through this tab, you can insert tables, pictures, clip art, shapes, text boxes, and word art. I use the shapes section the most, relying often on the basic rectangle and line, changing the color and pattern for realism. I do not delve deeply with use of the scribble tool under shapes as it requires dexterity for accurateness I don’t yet possess. It would probably be easier to use this tool with touch screen technology and a wand, as then the student could draw on the screen as if drawing on paper, literally opening up limitless possibilities.

"A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words": How to Use Advertisements to Inspire Writing

Recently with my writing club, the students were talking about how they struggle coming up with ideas for their writing.

In past meetings, I discussed how writers often get ideas from their own lives. The students wrote down a memory, writing a short story as they did, and we talked about how their memories are unique experiences they have expert knowledge on, which is why so many authors write using their memories as inspiration.

Over vacation, I was flipping through a magazine when I saw the below advertisement.
creative writing, teaching, writing
I stared at it, trying to figure out who was in the chair, then the deck seemed so empty and I wondered if they ever felt lonely being in such an open big space with just two people. I ripped out the ad and was planning on stapling into one of my writers notebooks to use as a setting inspiration. Then it hit me.

This is one of the ways I get ideas for stories!

As a lover of history, I often look at an object and will wonder what type of history it has, what story it has to tell.

Where has that water bottle been?

Who bought it?

Where was it purchased?  

I know it probably seems weird but it's the storyteller and historian in me.

 I do the same thing when looking at pictures, often in magazines.

What happened before this picture was taken? Who are these people? Is there anyone just outside of the frame? What is going on the moment the picture was taken?

Then I answer the questions:

They were fighting, they're half brother and sister, the dad is just out of the picture in the kitchen, they are looking at the huge stain on the rug left when the brother threw his spaghetti at his sister and  they're wondering if they can clean it up before the dad comes in the room. Boom. A story.

First, I ask questions that come to mind about is happening in the picture.

Then I answered the questions.

Through this question and answer, I get an idea for a story.

I used this technique today with my Writer's Club and they responded well.

They each choose an ad and for one student, she didn't have many questions but the picture was enough to spark an idea. One thing that I don't think I emphasized enough was that if there are already words on the ad, they should be ignored. All ideas should stem from the picture itself this way the student is the one who is truly creating the story, from their own minds. Other people might find the words helpful, but I find the words narrow my thinking as they fill up my brain and limit my good ideas.


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