All of the features in this program are aimed at motivating students to bypass their fear, express their innate creativity, and experience pride in their accomplishments as writers. For example:
Branching interview questions help students choose topics to write about and stay focused on a central idea. Follow-up questions and suggestions encourage deeper thinking.
The student's answers are categorized into sections such as Character, Setting, Plot, Beginning, and Ending. This shows them how their ideas fit into an overall structure.
Real-time teacher intervention
With many students using the program at once, a dashboard shows you who is having difficulty. You can help those students silently through private notes without the other students knowing.
Progress bars show students how much work is expected and completed. Use your own rubrics for teacher assessment and student self-assessment.
Click a button to get a detailed report on each student's effort and success: Number of sentences written, number of edits, average words per sentence, percent of each essay completed, your rubric assessments and their self-assessments plotted against time. Here's an example:
Teacher and student goals
Topical Storm was designed to support the following goals for students and teachers:
Support for students:
Get writing! The program overcomes "writer's block" by emulating a one-on-one conversation with the teacher. (Teachers can also design the questions.) Branching logic adapts the conversation to each student's interests and abilities.
Think of ideas: Students choose which questions they want to answer, with required minimums.
Go deeper: The computer frequently asks follow-up questions to encourage deeper thinking.
Don't click through: The program enforces minimum words per sentence and minimum number of questions answered at each stage. Progress bars show students when they have enough material to build an essay.
The student's answers are organized automatically to model essay structure in different genres.
Support for teachers:
Let them work independently: Most students find the program intuitive and the questions prompt them to write on their own.
Notice when they're stuck: Your dashboard lets you see during a classroom session when a particular student is spending a lot of time at one question.
Send notes: When you insert a note into a student's essay, the student is notified immediately.
Insert comments: Click to choose from a list of standard corrections and encouragements, or write your own.
Track everybody: Use your own rubrics to assess academic skills and engagement level. Add more rubrics for student self-assessment. Generate progress reports at any time showing each student's effort and rubric scores.