Inspire Your Students with PicLits Creative Writing Site

As a School Media Specialist and educational technology enthusiast, I am always searching for new ways to integrate technology into our school curriculum.  PicLits is a gem of a website that I discovered in 2010 that works very well with creative writing.  I used this site with middle school students during Teen Technology Week.  

I was amazed at the quality of writing I received from students during our PicLits Poetry Contest.  Students were able to select an image from PicLits photo gallery and compose poems that were so insightful, clearly relating to the image they had chosen, and very creative in their word choice and the use of poetic devices. 

Some students even utilized word placement in correlation to further create mood and emphasize the theme of their poems.  Some student examples of creative word placement using images from PicLits photo gallery include:

                               Spiral Staircase

                                                                Swan and Symmetry


There was such a variety of submissions from students that selecting winners proved to be very difficult!

So what exactly is a PicLits?                                     

PicLits.Com is a creative writing site that matches beautiful images with carefully selected keywords in order to inspire you.  The object is to put the right words in the right place and right order to capture the essence, story, and meaning of the picture. from the PicLits website

It can be a caption, a story, a poem, or even song lyrics.  The goal is capture the essence of the image with the written word. Anyone with an email address can create a free account by signing up.  If a teacher has students without email accounts, he/she can create gmail addresses for each class and sign up using separate class accounts*You will probably want students to identify their poems by either including a byline and their name on the poem (if using the freestyle method) or identifying on a sign up sheet the poems they have written since the login for classes will be generic and not include each individual student's name.  Students also may work simultaneously under the same account login.

Once students have an account and a login, they can begin searching the photo gallery for a picture they find interesting as the subject of their poems. There are two methods of composing using PicLits:  Drag and Drop and Freestyle.  Using the Drag and Drop method, students will choose from a list of pre-selected words and drag/drop them onto the image in order to create a story or poem.   

Using the freestyle method, students type in a text box their own words which are then superimposed onto the image they have selected from the PicLits Gallery.  In order to change word placement, students can use their space bar and return key  to move their words around.  

This site enhances student visual literacy and provides a motivating subject to help inspire their own lines of poetry.  The only instruction students seem to need before writing is for them to just tell the story of the image!

Most impressive of all is the involvement and enthusiasm of the site creator, Terry Friedlander!  He took the time to comment on several of our student PicLits that were submitted during Teen Technology Week.  His comments were always positive, specific to the poem, and encouraged the student to keep writing - as you can see in his comment on the poem below:

There are so many great free lesson plans available on the site for teachers to use that allow for differentiation with students who are beginners, intermediate writers, or more advanced.  These ideas for using PicLits with students are available under the Learn It tab.

I also have five original sample activities, handouts, and grading rubrics available using PicLits in your classroom for sale in my Teachers Pay Teachers store:

I recommend educators give PicLits a try!  This is a perfect digital resource for teachers to find stimulating writing prompts to use with their classes and to motivate students to find an image and tell their own stories!

Animoto for Education

Tinker vs. Des Moines School District

Topic:  Landmark Court Cases

Another Animoto video!  This is a sample video I created for a Social Studies teacher who wanted to give Animoto a try.  The topic for students will be landmark Supreme Court Cases.  Animoto really is a technology tool that can be used with ANY content area!

Bookin' It with Blendspace!

Recently, our media center students used Blendspace to showcase their knowledge on a nonfiction book they recently read.  Blendspace is a free educational tool for teachers and students.  Teachers register with their email address and receive a class code for their students to use.  This makes it much easier to assess student projects using Blendspace because you can access all of the presentations under your teacher login once students register (with the class code) and join your class.

What is Blendspace?  Blendspace is a presentation/curation tool that stores various type of texts and media files in a modular format.

One of the things I really like about Blendspace is the ability to easily search, access, drag, and drop content within the Blendspace application itself.  It has a great toolbar that accesses Google image and web, Flickr, and YouTube videos.  Blendspace users also can access Google Drive and upload their own files. Additional options include linking to other webpages.  Students have the ability to annotate resources by adding comments (either by recording their own audio file or by typing in notes or comments).  There's even a thumbs-up "Like" that can be added to Blendspace tiles.

My media center students enjoyed using Blendspace.  I like giving them the capability to create a presentation that can include several different types of media and text (audio, text, pictures, website links, video, ppt. slides, etc).  This projects supports CCSS in its emphasis on including different text types and digital media to represent information on the same topic.  Students are analyzing the content and subject of their nonfiction books and curating different types of resources that relate to their nonfiction reading.

Personally, Blendspace interface seems to me a bit boring.  I would enjoy seeing more interactive elements as you play the presentation.  The students, however, really seemed to enjoy it.

One of our students, who frequently doesn't complete assignments, loved working on his Blendspace!  We all know technology can be a great motivator.  This student, however, even seemed reluctant to work on a music video using Animoto.

Why did Blendspace, specifically, appeal to him?  I am not exactly sure.....BUT it definitely convinces me that it is also a worthwhile educational tool to use with secondary students.

You can find Blendspace projects completed by our students below:

Animoto in Education

Using Animoto to Promote the Reading of Nonfiction Texts

I love using Animoto to showcase student learning!  Recently I posted about creating a music video on a fiction book using Animoto.  An English teacher at my high school recently came into our media center and asked about ideas for student book projects.  I suggested to her that the students could read a nonfiction title instead of fiction.  As we all know, CCSS emphasizes the reading of informational text.  The more students read nonfiction, the better they will be at comprehending, analyzing, synthesizing, etc.these texts types that are typically also written at a higher lexile level.

The project was a success!

We started out with a library activity where the students chose one book from each division of the Dewey Decimal System and described why it was a title they found to be interesting.  This activity helped students see the variety of high interest books and topics that are available in each area.  It helped dispel the notion that nonfiction = reference materials, textbook-y, dry, and boring academia books.

I also did a booktalk and used a variety of nonfiction books to showcase - such as the following:


I also showed students a sample of their assessment - a music video with texts and captions featuring a nonfiction book in our media center.
I chose No Choirboy:  Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin as my video topic:

The students enjoyed reading their nonfiction books and loved creating a music video with Animoto.  Animoto allows them the chance to upload and include their own visuals, graphics, and images in their final video.  They also can demonstrate their learning by including relevant texts, keywords, and vocabulary all relating to the topic and subject of their nonficiton texts.  Here are a few student examples of our music videos made in Animoto on nonfiction books:

I wish I could post all of the videos, but this teacher's class was very large!  I am adding more of the music videos on nonfiction books to a Symbaloo
New to Animoto?  Just apply at the educator's site for the free Educator's Account in order to obtain a classroom code!
This code will allot you 50 student accounts with full access - full length video productions!  Your account will expire in 6 months.  Re-applying under your account settings, though, is easy and fast.  Animoto is very user-friendly.  You can find tutorials on their website that will guide you through the video-making process.

This is really a great tool to use with students - particularly for those who tend to be hands-on learners!

Conversations with Authors

Using Skype to Make Connections

About the Author

Paul Volponi is the author of 11 novels for young adults that are currently being read in high school and middle school English classes around the country. Paul visits these classes often, either in-person or via video conference, to discuss the novels and encourage students who wish to pursue their own writing.

Paul is a writer, journalist, and teacher living in New York City. From 1992 to 1998, he taught incarcerated teens on Rikers Island to read and write. That experience formed the basis of his ALA award-winning novels Black and White and Rikers High. From 1999 to 2005, Paul taught teens in drug treatment programs, inspiring his ALA award-winning novel Rooftop.

Skypin' with Volponi

Recently, we hosted a great Skype session with popular young adult fiction author Paul Volponi!   Final Four, one of Mr. Volponi’s novels, is also one of the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominees for 2013-2014.  

First, I must say that I absolutely adore this down to earth, laid-back, super cool author!    When I first emailed Mr. Volponi a few months ago to schedule a Skype session at Mauldin High School, within minutes the phone in my office began to ring. 

“Mauldin Media Center….” 

“Heyyyyy Stacy!  It’s Paul!”


“Paul Volponi!”

Wow!  Talk about fast and personal service!

 Mr. Volponi stayed in contact with me until our scheduled day.  I was nervous about the web cam and microphone set up because our school (snow, snow, snow) had been closed for days  - right up until 1 day before the Skype session was scheduled.  

Paul was great about giving me time the day before in order to test our equipment and ensure the next day would be a success.  And it was!  Paul Volponi is one of a kind.  He extended an invitation for our students to mail to his home address one page of their writing for him to read and offer feedback. During the session, our students were able to ask Mr. Volponi questions about anything.

Mr. Volponi has a great sense of humor and definitely knows teens!  At first, our students seemed shy and nervous.  Before long, though, they felt as comfortable chatting with Paul Volponi as I had.  Mr. Volponi joked with our students and really knew how to get on their level so to speak. 

Mr. Volponi did talk about his books, but his main focus was on our group and the students themselves.  He encouraged our students to set goals for themselves and to dream big!

Skype author sessions are a great way for schools with limited budgets to host a virtual author visit.  This is definitely worth doing, and I know the students who were able to participate left our media center smiling, laughing, and talking about their experience with their friends and family.

Interested teachers and librarians can contact Paul at to arrange a visit with their students!

Limited funding?  Try the Author Skype Network!  Many others are free or charge an  inexpensive fee.  For a list of FREE Author Skype sessions, try blogger Kate Messner’s site!

Skype an author – give it a try!

Reading Rocks!  Creating an Animoto Video Based on a Novel

Tired of the same book projects and generic novel analysis handouts? So are our students! It’s time to show them Reading Rocks!

Reading Rocks! Using Animoto in the ELA Classroom will provide you with the resources you need to create an engaging, exciting digital storytelling activity. You will utilize this multimedia assessment tool year after year with your students once you see firsthand their excitement, effort, and the sense of ownership over their own learning. 

This teaching and student project packet can easily be implemented with any 6th-12th grade ELA and High School English curriculum and is also aligned with Common Core State Standards. 

As we move towards the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to implementation, it is clear that the use of technology can no longer be an isolated opportunity - it must be implemented in all areas of thinking and learning. 

Students will be expected to evaluate information in multiple media formats and to produce multimedia presentations in order to showcase their learning. Reading Rocks! Using Animoto in the ELA Classroom provides your students with multiple opportunities to acquire these digital literacy learning skills. 

When educator's integrate digital storytelling with a Web 2.0 ed tech tool such as Animoto, students have the opportunity to engage in a process that includes multiple options for digital literacy learning. 

With the Reading Rocks! Teaching Packet, students engage in the creative process of using technology to analyze, plan, search, access, select, sequence, and synthesize images, text, and music through a variety of digital resources. 

In the included lesson plan, students may work individually or collaboratively to showcase their learning by 

 Searching and selecting representative images and music
 Generating relevant texts and keywords
 Analyzing how their music video’s content relates to their 

In this 58 page bundle of teacher and student resources are lesson plans for creating an Animoto video based on a novel, a teacher’s pacing guide with detailed instructions, and the following editable student templates: Student Image and Pre-search Planning handouts, Elements of a Book Trailer handouts, Animoto Image and Keyword/Texts Analysis worksheets, Creating a Video Based on a Novel Project Description and expectation sheets, Animoto Novel Video Grading Rubrics, and Rate that Movie student slips classroom activity. 

This bundle of resources also includes alternative student worksheets and handouts in order to differentiate instruction within your classroom.

You will have access to a Symbaloo Webmix with over 30 Copyright Free image resource links to simplify your students image searching. Included in this teaching packet is access to a Symbaloo Animoto Video Webmix of over 50 bookmarked Animoto student created videos - all based on popular tween and teen novels! 

Teachers can introduce the Create a Music Video Based on a Novel project by showing these examples of student book trailers in order to motivate and excite their students. This webmix of digital resources can also serve as a springboard for class discussion on identifying what elements make an exciting, enticing book trailer.

New to Animoto? Don’t worry! This packet has you covered! 

As a middle school and high school Media Specialist, I have implemented Animoto with hundreds of students the past nine years and successfully facilitated the video creation process with students from start to finish. Reading Rocks! Using Animoto in the ELA Classroom includes over 58 pages of editable teacher and student Animoto resources - all specific to ELA and the English classroom. 

Included are easy to follow How To Create a Video Using Animoto handouts with screen shots, detailed instructions on how to set up your student accounts, and how to work around common problematic scenarios, such as students not having email addresses as required by Animoto. You will also find tips on how to create and manage class Animoto accounts when you need more than the 50 free student accounts allotted by Animoto. The student login username and password slips template will help you keep all login problems at bay. 

The Teacher’s Toolbox handouts will provide you with the information and guidance needed to avoid or troubleshoot problems during the video creation process– such as when the students ask “Where are the images and pictures I saved?” and “Why won’t my picture upload into Animoto?”

With the purchase of this bundle of Animoto in the Classroom ELA resource packet, you will have on hand editable templates in order to use this activity with ANY story or text – from Shakespeare’s plays to nonfiction, informational articles!

This resource bundle will empower students with the capability to create a final product reflecting their own analysis, highlighting their creativity, and providing an outlet to express their own unique voice. 

The Importance of Teaching a Structured Research Process

Research Skills Digital Interactive Notebook

There's no debate! Common Core State learning Standards emphasize that our students should be able to conduct effective research - including but not limited to, engaging in frequent short and sustained research assignments, extracting relevant details, analyzing and comprehending varied text types, evaluating sources for accuracy and relevancy, and synthesizing information from multiple sources.

This may seem like a daunting task for educators!  In my former experience as a High School English teacher and, now, as a Secondary School Media Specialist, I have discovered the key to student success in conducting research effectively is in providing them with structure throughout the research process.  From Special Education students to AP/Honors, they all need guidance in selecting a topic, generating a list of research inquiries or questions, selecting appropriate resources, taking notes vs. copying, and putting their researched information together cohesively from multiple sources.

Many may think that today's generation of digital learners are very lucky, and the research process is so much easier for them than it was when we were students.  They have everything they need to complete virtually any research assignment from their living room couches!  Just use the Internet!  Right?  Wrong!

I believe our information overload and the Internet's enabling students with easy access to info have actually made it more difficult for today's students achieve the research standards outlined in Common Core. Students are accustomed to finding everything they need online.  Frequently, they only need one Internet site to locate enough information to turn in - just copy and paste it, and they're done!  This is NOT the research process!

We had to use multiple sources and synthesize information when we were students.  There was no Internet!  There were books and magazines/journals!  Microfiche!  Oy Vey!   Copy and paste?  What was that?  We had note cards.  You HAD to extract details.  You couldn't copy an entire source by hand!

Looking at research from this angle sheds some light as to the challenges that lie ahead for teachers in guiding our students in taking notes, using more than one source, etc.  The only way to accomplish this is by designing research assignments that require multiple sources and the assessment/end product makes plagiarizing from one online source impossible.  More of this to come!

I am in the process of uploading some of my tested, tried, and true research resources and materials to my TPT store.  Check them out when you have time!  The materials will provide your students with the background knowledge needed to conduct effective electronic searches, evaluate digital texts, and by providing your students with structure during the note-taking process through questions and prompts.

Additional materials I have recently created for teaching research in the secondary classroom include the following:

Evaluating Source Credibility Using CARS

Teaching Effective Research Skills and the Research Process

Research  Skills Task Cards for Google Classroom

Evaluating Sources and Source Citation

You can download for free this research resource!  Evaluate and Cite teaches students to analyze digital resources and to evaluate them for author's purpose and possible bias.  

The materials include graphic organizers, a lesson on evaluating websites for bias, teacher's notes, and more!

Evaluate and Cite:  Resources for Student Researchers