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500 Words 2016

Getting kids writing with BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words (and other projects!)

18th February, 2016

When Chris Evans shared his idea for a children’s writing competition back in 2010, even he couldn’t have possibly predicted the roaring success 500 Words would become six years on.

The much-loved writing competition asks children under the age of 13 to write an original story in no more than 500 words. Since the first competition, Chris and the BBC Radio 2 team have received stories from nearly half a million children from across the UK. The number of entries has grown year on year and shows no sign of slowing down for 2016, with over 120,000 stories submitted in 2015 alone! 

Through our role developing the competition’s submission system, we’re happy to have played a small part in enabling children to share their creativity. Of course, neither ourselves nor the BBC are alone in this. Over the last six years, we have seen a plethora of apps, tools and digital services that have been designed specifically to aid reading, writing and creative storytelling.

With this in mind, we thought we’d take the opportunity to celebrate the role that digital has played in enabling children to express themselves.

In particular, we wanted to look at how digital technologies have helped to support efforts to get more kids engaged with reading and writing. Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, the UK still lags behind in terms of literacy levels; with a recent report commissioned by the OECD suggesting that currently, UK based 16-19 year olds have the lowest literacy levels on average out of 23 of the most developed nations. Clearly there’s still a long way to go and we firmly believe that digital technologies have a central role to play in this.

Below, we’ve shared some of our favourite apps and tools that, like 500 Words, have each played their part over the last few years in enabling children and young people to develop their literacy skills:

  • Little Writer: This ‘tracing app for kids’ has been endorsed by teachers, parents and kids all over the world as a great way to teach young learners how to form letters, words and sentences. What’s great about this app is its customisability, for example you can record your own pronunciations of letters and save them in the app.
  • Endless Wordplay: The latest in the ‘Endless’ app series from app builders Originator, Endless Wordplay ‘sets the stage for spelling, word-building and rhymes’. What’s interesting about this app, is that it removes the notion of targets from the experience, allowing the child to learn at their own pace without pressure to achieve anything specific.
  • Hemingway App: Inspired by American novelist Ernest Hemmingway, this clever little app has been designed to help writers of all ages simplify their writing. We love how easy Hemingway App is to use; simply paste your text into the app and get advice on how to make sure your writing gets straight to the point.
  • Spritz: The makers behind Spritz have come up with a nifty way to save time when reading. Rather than following the traditional method of moving our eyes sequentially from word to word, ‘spritzing’ requires the reader to focus on the mid point of a particular word. This allows you to huge volumes of text at super speed. We think spritzing is great, and it's no surprise that publishers, educators and marketers have used the project to create impact and get people reading.
  • A Novel Idea: A Novel Idea is a lovely tool designed to help plot stories and record bursts of inspiration. The interface enables the user to create characters, locations, scenes, and novels and then link them together to create the story’s plot. This tool is perfect for budding writers of any age who need a little bit of extra help coming up with their first big idea.

No matter your age, it’s fantastic to see more and more projects like these making an impact on literacy. So if you’re a parent, teacher or relative of someone aged between 5-13, make sure your little ones grab a pen and get scribbling soon, as the deadline for 500 Words is fast approaching! Who knows, maybe you’ll be left feeling inspired to write your own story?