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Arguably, storyboards provide the ideal way to introduce young academicians to writing. Story Maps is an open source application that provides young authors with a graphical interface with which they can plot their stories and a text editor to provide the details that will bring their stories to life. In short, Story Maps is a virtual storyboard. The developer who created this application did so as part of his post-graduate studies in conjunction with teachers, students, creative writing experts and an illustrator. It utilizes story elements commonly found in fairy tales.
Upon launch, the user is presented with Planning View, which offers a simple interface. The screen is divided into upper and lower halves. The upper half has a green background and offers tiles, called story cards, from which users can choose story events. The story cards are labeled and have a corresponding image to further convey their purpose. Hovering the mouse pointer over each story card enlarges it and provides the user with additional information about that particular story card.
These story cards can then, individually, be dragged and dropped onto the gray field in the lower half of the screen. Here, they can be arranged into a story map. Near the top of the Story Maps window is a menu bar offering one option, File. From here, users can save the current story, open an existing story, preview the current story, save the current story as HTML or print the story. At the bottom of the screen is a panel offering options to Write your story!, enter your story’s title and a button that allows users to sort story cards. The result is an interface that allows ready access to features and that is also aesthetically appealing and delightfully engaging.
Using Story Maps is easy. As mentioned above, simply click on and drag story cards to the canvas below. Once the story cards are selected, users click on the Write your story! button. This brings up the story editor that takes up the lower half of the screen, while the selected tiles move to the upper half of the screen. The current story card is displayed to the left of the editor.
The story card is described (e.g. Home: “How the story starts”) to the right and ideas for what to write are presented below this description (e.g. for the Home tile: “You could: Introduce the main characters and…”). Scrolling down in this pane brings the user to the editor where the stories are typed. Below this is a toolbar offering Cut, Copy and Paste options on the left and Save Story, Preview Story, Save Story as HTML and Print Story on the right. Prev and Next buttons with appropriate arrows are, respectively, on the far left and far right of this pane and allow users to scroll through tiles without having to leave the editor. Clicking on the Go back to planning button moves the editor pane down so that the writer can access the story cards.
In terms of exportability, Story Maps can save only to its native format and HTML. The HTML format is more like of snapshot of the sessions in question, as can be seen in the screenshot above. Printed pages look just like the HTML pages. The beauty of this is that the hard copy can serve as a graphic organizer when moving the story text to a word processor where the story can be viewed without graphic organizer components.
So, if you’re looking for an engaging application that serves as a graphic organizer and as a motivator to get young academicians writing, give Story Maps a try.
Story Maps is available for Linux, but there are similar Web-based programs available online.
The Story Maps Web site
Fernandez-Sanguino, J. (2012). Story maps: general commands manual. GNU General Public License.
Hammond, S. (2012). Story maps [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
While looking for an open source technology to review, I came across WriteType, .an open source word processor geared towards school-age children. I work in special education in a middle school and all too often I hear students lament about having to type out assignments. WriteType through the combination of an accessible interface and valuable features, strives to be a word processor that students can readily use.
Let’s start by checking out the WriteType window, shown in the screenshot at left. As can be seen, the interface is WYSIWYG, offering a menu bar and the top of the window and simple toolbars below this. WriteType offers only the most common word processing features, such as text and paragraph formatting. Features can be quickly and easily utilized via either the menu or the toolbars. Simply put, everything a user needs is here. There are no tabs or complex menus offering features that can confuse new users and into which one could get lost . This functionality is further enhanced by context menus accessed by right-clicking on the text or area in question.
So, what makes WriteType ideal for students? The integration of certain tools takes much of the pain out of writing. One of these tools is word completion. As the screenshot on the right shows, as they type, users are presented with a list of suggested words in the gray field on the right-hand side of the screen. Simply click on the the desired word in the list, or press an indicated function key, and the complete word is inserted into the document. Another useful feature is the fact that WriteType can read back what users have typed, which will help them to catch mistakes prior to proofreading or printing.
If these features aren’t reason enough to give WriteType some serious consideration, other features include auto-correction and grammar checking. Users can also add words to the integrated spelling list. Text highlighting allows users to mark areas of text in need of attention. Distraction-free mode allows users to work without the added distraction of a menu and toolbars. Other customizations include adjusting read-back speed as well as changing the font size of the suggested word list. WriteType also offers multilingual support. WriteType can be readily customized further via the Settings option under the File menu. Documents can be saved in either the native WriteType format (.wtd), as formatted text (.html) or as plain text (.txt)
WriteType is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS. WriteType teacher workshops are available for free to schools in the Minneapolis area.
Documentation: a word processor to help students write. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
Shinn, M. (2010). WriteType [computer software]. GNU General Public License.