Storybird is an innovative (and quite addicting) resource that allows users to create, publish and share digital stories with each other. The stories can also be shared publicly, embedded on websites or recorded as video files for presentation.
What sets Storybird apart from other online writing tools is that it offers an immense searchable library of user-generated illustrations. These illustrations are often so compelling that they drive the narrative of the story– and take the author to places they never would have imagined. In the words of the site creators, “Storybird reverses visual storytelling by starting with the image and ‘unlocking’ the story inside.”
To give you an idea of what a finished product looks like, below is a children’s story that offers a few tips on how to survive school. Note that you can flip through the pages of the book either by clicking on the arrows at the bottom of the book or anywhere on the image:
This post will explore some of the features of the Storybird platform and offer some ideas for applying it in the classroom.
In order to begin, go to the site and create a free account by choosing a username and password. Note that educators have the option to create a ‘teacher membership’ that allows them to add and manage classes, as well as create online assignments. Another benefit to this type of membership is that also allows easy access and increased privacy settings for your students (more on this later).
When you log in, you will see three tabs along the top of the screen. The “You” tab allows you to manage your account profile, passwords, pictures, and privacy settings. The “Explore” tab allows you to browse stories or illustrations from other authors on the site. Lastly, the “Create” tab allows you to begin building your book from scratch. Here is what it looks like (click any image to enlarge):
When you click on “Create,” your options for story illustrations will appear on your screen. You can sort the illustrations by browsing categories such as “fantasy,” “vacation,” or “houses,” use recently added artwork, or even type keywords into the search bar to find specific pictures.
Note that there is an immense amount of artwork available on the site so your students won’t have to use the same illustrations for their stories. Just keep scrolling down this page to access new collections.
Writing the Story:
After you choose your artwork collection, you will land on the main story-writing page. The layout is actually quite simple. Along the left and right sides of the page, you will see your chosen illustrations. You can click and drag these pictures around the workspace to organize or plan your story. When you drag a picture into the center, it will be added to your book.
Within the editing frame of the book you can move your chosen image left, right, up or down, and the text box will automatically shift positions according to the location of your illustration. For example, the screen shot below shows the text box on the bottom of the editing frame. In order to move the text to the sides or top, you would just drag the picture and the text would move automatically. Likewise, if you move the image to the center, the picture will fill your page entirely with artwork (there would be no text on the page).
Along the bottom of the page you will notice a retractable scrolling menu; use the double arrow in the center bottom to show or hide it. The menu also displays page by page thumbnail images of your book. You can click on a particular page directly to view its contents, or use the left and right arrows to browse your book pages. Any given page is editable at any given time, just click on the menu to bring it to the editing pane. You can add and delete pages in your story by using the plus and minus signs on the left and right of the menu.
Below is another screen shot of a typical workspace. Notice that I have added some text and moved the pictures around on the sides of the screen. Also, the page selector at the bottom has grown as I have added pages to the story.
That’s the basic process for creating a story. In order to add a title and cover artwork, just click on the “Cover” icon on the bottom menu and choose your layout.
When your story is complete, click on the menu icon at the bottom left of the screen to access options for your story. You can publish your story to the website as a public resource, you can save it privately, or you can invite specific collaborators to work on your story with you (shown below).
In order to share your published story (or any publicly shared story on the site), open the story and click on the ‘share’ button at the bottom of the story. In the image below, the share icon is circled in blue.
Similar to a YouTube video, the site offers you the option to email your story as a direct link, share it on your chosen social network, or embed the story directly onto a website or blog. The options look like this:
To Publish or Not to Publish:
For obvious reasons, Storybird moderates all public stories and comments before they appear on the site. The comments are moderated several times a day, so a comment posted in the morning will appear by the afternoon or sooner. Like comments, stories are moderated continuously. However, given the enormous volume of public stories, it can take some time–even a few days– for a story to clear the moderation queue. There are a couple of ways to speed this up, but the best option may be to choose a different way to share your stories while you wait for the moderators. Here’s how:
The first way to share your book without publishing is to choose to view it in fullscreen mode. It will appear on your computer screen much like a PowerPoint presentation. This way, you can share your book using a classroom projector, tablet or via a laptop computer. Very easy, no waiting required.
The second (and admittedly more involved) way to share your story without publishing is to take a screen recording while you read the book out loud. The result is a ‘movie’ of your book’s text and illustrations with your voice as narrator. The video can be saved and shared as you wish. For teachers (or parents of young children), this is also a great way to get them writing and sharing their work.
Here is an example of a screen recorded book I put together this morning:
Managing Classes and Assignments:
For educators who want to get more involved with the platform, the free teacher account allows educators a few more options than a generic public account. For example, choosing this option allows you to set up classes where you can manage groups and individual users. You can create a class group where all the students have access to each others stories. In order to do this, have your kids sign up for an account first, then you can find their account via name or username (shown below).
Creating a class offers a couple of other benefits. First, it allows you to see all of your students on one page rather than searching the site for them. You can also get access to their real names (not just their usernames) so you know whose story you are reading.
The teacher account also features the ability to create and manage online assignments, complete with a classroom calendar. Teachers can use this feature to set up times and due dates for submissions both inside and outside the Storybird platform. Teachers are also encouraged to write their assignments as stories, so students can read through a ‘book’ to understand the details of their project:
Hint for classroom teachers: you can also use the calendar feature to quickly see which students submitted their story on or before your deadline.
Storybird offers a useful, instructive, and very innovative approach to sharing stories– but the applications are not limited to children’s books. Consider using the platform vertically through a curriculum so older students can share projects with younger students. Utilize the platform for developing ‘how to’ guides for school activities or as a way to orient students to a particular experience. Leverage it for collaborative interdisciplinary units that merge subject matter from across the school. Lastly, try using Storybird as a platform for student presentations or even as a basis for your direct instruction. Its ease and flexibility make it an invaluable tool for anyone– inside or outside the classroom.
Reviews are based on a 5-point scale, and reflect the effectiveness of the tool, its relative ease of use in the classroom, and finally its capacity for generating interest with you and your students.
Ease of Use: 4
Fun Factor: 4