Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Writing with Avatars (1)

In the column I write for the wonderful Alphabet Soup magazine, I talk to kids about trying tricks that published writers use to get into a story. One of these is getting to know the characters in your story before you write. Some people do this by creating a character profile; others by searching for pictures to represent their characters.

One way that might work for your kids is to create a picture of a character by using an avatar builder. Here are some web spaces where kids can design a character by choosing features, clothes and expressions. If your children are not too keen on writing their own stories, they might enjoy building an avatar, and perhaps labelling features, or writing just a short description of their creation, what it looks like, what it can do etc.


I've mentioned this one before and I think boys in particular will love it. They can personalize their own lego character with the online editor, changing accessories and expressions until they are happy. Use the arrows to scroll though different choices, and even add text to shirts! After that, it's a simple matter of taking a screen grab of their creation, before using it in the writing activity of their choice. My shirt says "tuff girls rule", but I think my avatar's fierce expression is at odds with her tools of choice. 

Bless This Chick

At Christmas last year, I used Bless This Chick to build a festive avatar for my own email signature. This reminds me of playing dress-ups with my dolls and is very cute. I know it's not politically correct to make gender preference predictions, but something tells me girls will love this one. Make sure your kids have a really good look around as there are all sorts of choices to scroll through.  


Muggins has a range of basic avatars to choose from, both human and animal. After you choose one, you can select outfits, scene and props, even change the mood. I could not get past the finish screen, so had to take a screen grab of my character. (If you need screen capture software, I like Skitch and Grab for Mac, and have heard great things about Jing.)

Robot Building Station

Part of the Smarty Games site, this is a very simple place for young kids to build their own robots from a limited number of features. You can print or take a screen grab.

Build Your Wild Self

One of my favourite avatar builders, this lets kids choose from a range of human and animal features to create something quirky and new. As you can see, I expressed some elements of my personality hitherto hidden from my readers. The site lets you print or share, and of course, you can take a screen grab. 


If you don't mind annoying video ads that start each time the page refreshes, AND you don't mind that features "cost" (they give you 2500 free coins once you save), you might like to visit Meez with your kids. I now know enough about 99.9% of germs to open my own Dettol business, but I quit trying to make an avatar. I'm not usually so negative, but Meez just didn't feel like a good place for kids or chickens.


Designing an avatar will be an end in itself for some kids. Others will go on to design a cast of thousands. Some will use their avatars to dictate characters for the video or board game they are creating. Some might even write a short play about their characters. Even if the avatar only forms the portrait section of a simple Wanted poster, you have the satisfaction of knowing your kids have been involved in creating and writing, while having fun online.

A definite Book Chook win-win!

If you know any other free avatar building sites you think would be useful to kids, please let me know via comments or email (Contact Me tab.) Later this week I will have another post about avatars suitable for encouraging kids to write, with historical avatars, gadgets and more. 


  1. For older students, I'd recommend the very cool Hero Factory at http://cpbintegrated.com/theherofactory/. Thought my boys would love it, but girls found it just as cool!

  2. Good post - I have to check out the sites

  3. Keith: I've written about Hero Factory, love it, but never actually thought of it in connection with avatars. Thanks!

    Sheila: I hope you enjoy them. Fun for adults too!

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  5. Petty Witter31 March, 2010

    What an inspiring post. A one-time teaching assistant I still like to keep in touch with what's going on and thought this a wonderful idea, thanks for sharing it.

  6. I haven't seen mini mizer, you are right, the boys will love it! I can think of several that I teach that are going to have fun with that one.

  7. Book Chook31 March, 2010

    Glad you like it Petty Witter!

  8. Book Chook31 March, 2010

    Kelly, I know it's free and I shouldn't be greedy, but wouldn't it be great if you could move them? I started a post on making a narrative with them, but it is so frustrating that they are static.


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