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12 ways to use technology to teach writing to tech-savvy teens

by | May 27, 2019 | College Prep, Essays & Research Papers, High school

Purposefully use the positive elements of technology and the digital world to engage your teens' writing. #techsavvy #teenwriters #homeschool @WriteShop

By Misti Lacy

Let’s get real for a moment. As I write this post, boxes surround me. Boxes, boxes, and more boxes. Why? Because we’re uprooting ourselves from metropolitan Phoenix and permanently relocating to rural Nebraska. My family stands on the edge of a big change, but through it all, we’re choosing to embrace that change with flexibility and a positive outlook.

Understand Your Tech-Savvy Teen

Time flies by, and we scramble daily to keep up with change. Take technology, for example. I grew up on a farm where we had three TV channels and an old-fashioned telephone. On the other hand, most of today’s students (researchers call them Generation Z) can’t recognize a dial tone! They’ve never known a world without media. For their entire lives, cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices have given them instant access to entertainment and information.

Use Technology to Teach Writing

We homeschool because we want well-educated children who write well and feel comfortable with the writing process. Unlike our pilgrim predecessors, we don’t have to rely on an old-fashioned hornbook. Our teaching methods can—and should—evolve to keep computer-literate students interested and motivated. If we don’t use technology to our advantage, we may struggle to engage this generation.

I’m not a computer expert, but as a writing teacher, I enjoy using computer applications to enhance writing lessons. I’d like to share a dozen ways to incorporate technology into your writing lesson plans.

1. Use Video-Game Technology to Teach Writing

Teens who love League of Legends, Minecraft, or Fortnite (or any other game that captures their fancy), may enjoy basing a fictional story on a game character. For instance, they can:

  • Create a narrative. Have them write in first person, as if they’re a character in their favorite video. Use the game’s setting as the story backdrop.
  • Take the protagonist (hero) out of the game and plop this character into an unlikely setting, such as Antarctica or your hometown. As students launch into their narrative, they can write in first or third person, and in either past or present tense. For added challenge, they can rewrite their story from another perspective.

2. Research a Game Developer

Does your kid dream of designing video games?

  • Computer game developers and publishers live all over the world. Your student may like to research one such person or company and write an essay explaining how the individual’s background (or the company’s culture) figures into the game.
  • Encourage teens to research and write about the qualifications, education, skills, and training required to become a game developer.
  • Alternatively, they can write an informative essay about a specific game-development company.

Start here: Top 100 Game Creators

3. Center on the Setting

Setting plays an important role in the gaming world.

  • Settings are often based on reality. Teens can study the history and society depicted in a game and write an informative essay about that era.
  • If the game takes place in a fantasy world, encourage them to take notes on the setting and write a descriptive essay that brings this imaginary world to life.

4. Create Digital Learning Tools

  • Beyond gaming, parents can use websites like Quizlet to create vocabulary games and quizzes for kids.
  • With Quizlet, teens can also make their own flashcards for history facts, SAT words, or math formulas.

5. Build Skills with Online Games

Online Jeopardy games make it fun to review grammar and punctuation rules; spelling or vocabulary words; math formulas; and literature, history, science, or other facts.

  • Assign students the task of creating a Jeopardy game to test and challenge you. Jeopardy Labs is free and easy to use.
  • Or, create a Jeopardy game to stump your teens. Throw the game onto the big screen, break out the popcorn, and have a family game night!

6. Use Simulation-Game Technology to Teach Writing

Simulation games depend on real-world activities to instruct or give practice. Businesses use simulation games to train employees. Kids can learn a lot from simulation games, too, as they build a city, manage a zoo, grow crops, or pilot a helicopter. Simulation games can enhance a subject, making them a great starting point for research or narratives.

7. Let Digital Music Be Her Muse

Does your daughter love to dance? Assign your tech-savvy teen a research project that involves listening to music and recording a video. Later, she can share the results with friends and family on a private YouTube channel.

  • Let her research and take notes about a composer and choose a piece of music. Next, invite her to choreograph a dance to her selected music. The dance should tell the story of the composer’s life. Record a video of her performance.
  • For the written portion of this project, she can prepare a brief biography of the composer.

8. Make Use of YouTube

Students can write skits, monologues, speeches, or essays (informative, persuasive, explanatory, or process papers) and present them on YouTube. Lots of kids have YouTube channels. Why not use them for something purposeful?

9. Use Video and Audio for Research

Why not use video technology to teach writing? For instance, videos and podcasts on topics pertaining to history, math, science, business, and more make great research tools.

The TED Talks library offers hundreds of super-interesting topics presented by experts in a variety of fields. They can stir your child’s curiosity and spark interest in a subject—and the videos make excellent sources for research projects. (Auditory learners may prefer listening to the TED Radio Hour or other interesting podcasts.)

NOTE: Screen content first. Some videos and podcasts aren’t appropriate for teens, so make sure topics, content, and language meet with your approval.

Encourage students to take notes as they watch or listen. Then have them write an essay or report:

  • Opinion paper: Students express why they agree or disagree with the expert, supporting their opinion with facts, logic, and examples.
  • Expository paper: Students explore a topic or idea, consider the evidence, and explain their findings.

Check out High School Research Writing: Getting Started if you need help teaching your teen to write a substantial research paper.

10. Try Technology Tools to Enhance Presentations

To prepare for college, high schoolers should familiarize themselves with tools for making presentations.

  • They can make gorgeous charts and spreadsheets with Google Sheets, Apple Numbers, or Microsoft Excel.
  • Using persuasive and descriptive words and engaging graphics, they can design a brochure describing a product, invention, or vacation destination. Any publishing application will do the trick, but Adobe Spark works well and is free!
  • Alternatively, students can present a literary analysis using an application like Prezi, PowerPoint, or Google Slides. Or they can write a compare and contrast essay and use the slideshow as a visual aid.

11. Design Their Own Printables

A to Z Teacher Stuff is a great place for students to create their own printable worksheets. They can develop word searches, crossword puzzles, and other worksheets based on their research or area of interest.

12. Encourage Teamwork through Technology

It’s important that teens learn to collaborate with their peers.

  • Padlet makes it easy and fun for two students (or more) who don’t live near each other to team up on a project.
  • Even siblings can work together to create story boards, collages, documents, and brochures.

Technology can seem overwhelming, but you can do this—and WriteShop is here to help. The lessons in WriteShop I and II easily lend themselves to using technology to teach writing.

With forethought and determination, we can embrace change! Let’s use the positive elements of the digital world with purpose and intention to teach the writing process to our Generation Z kids.

As WriteShop’s curriculum consultant, Misti Lacy draws from her years of experience as a veteran writing teacher and homeschool mom to help you build a solid writing foundation. Whether you’re deciding on products for your family, exploring our program for your school or co-op, or needing someone to walk you through your WriteShop curriculum, Misti is your girl! She has a heart for building relationships with you and your kids, and through her warm encouragement, she takes the fear out of teaching writing.