Tech Tuesday

Finds and Thoughts about Tech Integration

Google Docs Story Builder Experimentation


Last week, I read a blog post about Google Docs Story Builder. The idea of writing a story about characters writing/collaborating on a story intrigued me and made me wonder if elementary age students would be able to utilize it?

The first experiment:

A third grade class was learning about opinion writing. They had read the book I Wanna Iguana and had brainstormed ideas of how to express one’s opinion on a topic backed up by reasons. (At this age level, it is called opinion writing, which develops into persuasive writing in upper grade levels.) The teacher had assigned the topic of whether or not students should have extra recess. Students had drafted planning sheets, detailing who the audience would be (the teacher), reasons why they should have extra recess (because, of course, that was the opinion of every student!) and how their opinion would benefit the audience (teacher).

It was decided that the third graders using their notes would work in pairs to write a Google Docs Story. There would be two characters: Student and Teacher. Student would be writing a letter to Teacher about having extra recess. Teacher would be interacting, refuting and encouraging more details as the letter is written. (This is in similar fashion to I Wanna Iguana,  that tells the tale of a boy and his mother exchanging letters about the boy’s desire to have a pet with the mother’s counter points.)

Here is an example that I created for the extra recess writing activity.

While the third graders were enthusiastic about this writing exercise, their results were not as polished or complete as one would have hoped. They only had a 45 minute block to get directions and work on the task. In my opinion, that was not enough time. I could see that when students finally were getting an understanding of the writing, they had to stop to learn how to acquire the address of their story and submit it to me. (I’ll explain my collection method later.) Of course, the next time that these students use the tool less time would have to be devoted to directions. Therefore, a initial, shorter assignment to get them acquainted with the tool would have been a better choice. I also found that the concept was a little challenging for third graders to wrap their minds around. I honestly don’t think some of them understood we’re writing about people writing. Perhaps, this topic would have been better as a second or third use of the tool or maybe, this is too abstract for this grade level where some students are still not fluent with reading and writing? I definitely need to think more and consult with teachers about how to scaffold for third grade.

The second experiment:

A fifth grade class had learned about triangular trade and the Middle Passage during their colonial studies. The teacher wanted to see if students comprehended the material, and it was decided to have them use Google Docs Story Builder in pairs with the following scenario:

You are to imagine that for 15 minutes a captured West African has the opportunity to talk with his captor, the slave runner. The West African can speak freely about anything that is on his mind, including the HORRIBLE conditions he must endure on this journey. The captor will respond appropriately to his captive. Ultimately the West African will find out WHY it is so important for him to get to the West Indies.

The teacher and I demonstrated how to set up two characters, West African and Slave Runner, and briefly started to type in a “conversation” so students could see how the tool works. Also, I want to note that when we loaded the Builder, we watched the examples that Google had playing automatically. It was interesting to see how more in tune the fifth graders were to the clever stories. They were laughing at the irony and jokes! Therefore, it did not surprise me that they jumped right into their writing task. Often the room was very quiet as each partner had assumed one of the characters, and their conversations were unfolding within the stories. When students did speak out loud to each other, I overhead some great planning and editing points being exchanged.

We had told them that they should not get bogged down in spelling as long as their message was clear. Just like the third graders they only had 45 minutes. When I interrupted to show how to copy and paste the address for the story into a Google Form that I had created, the majority were almost at the end of their stories. Furthermore, students were able to wrap things up rather quickly in the time frame.

Here are two student samples from that session:

Middle Passage Conversation 1

Middle Passage Conversation 2

I sent the form results to the classroom teacher as soon as they left the lab, and she was able to show the movies to the whole class on that same day as a follow up, making a nice discussion/review of the topic. (The teacher later reported to me that students couldn’t wait to share this work at home with families, too.) Now, that the students had this experience under their belts, the teacher made Google Docs Stories one of the academic choices for an end of the Colonial unit. I can’t wait to see if/how students make several of these stories to demonstrate their knowledge of a colony.

This tool certainly opens the doors to creativity. I also like the fact that there only can be 10 exchanges between characters in the story. This aspect really makes students choose their words and points carefully while digging into some deeper thinking about a topic. Older students certainly are ready for more complex, clever interactions between characters while younger students may need a more concrete approach. In my opinion, the tool can be used with the elementary age level as long as a good block of time is allotted for younger students to complete the task in the required one session. Please note that teachers will need a way to collect the story addresses as well as display/share the results.

A special thanks to Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Pentedemos for being lab rats!

Still on the fence? Check out this awesome literature example by Ms. Guild!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about Google Docs Story Builder.

2 Comments to

“Google Docs Story Builder Experimentation”

  1. March 28th, 2014 at 10:57 am       Jeanette Says:

    Interesting…this could be great for perspective taking!

  2. March 28th, 2014 at 3:59 pm       lsanderson Says:

    Absolutely, Jeanette! I could see you making some very clever social stories!

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