Create Custom Letter Shapes in Keynote

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I made this Everyone Can Create image when I got home from the World Wide Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in July. I left truly inspired and I wanted to create an image where I could showcase pictures of my friends and colleagues to highlight creative experiences from the week. Since I posted it in July, I have had many requests on how to create this, so I thought I’d share!

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I knew I wanted to create “picture frames” of letters and use those as shapes to mask images. There are some great online tools to do this, but I really wanted to create it myself and try to find a way to make it happen. I immediately went to Keynote and started playing around with different ways to complete this project. For the first part of this project, it has to be done on the Mac. Within the shapes menu, there is a very powerful tool called the ‘Draw with Pen’ tool. It is an amazing tool and you can pretty much create whatever your heart desires. Truly, the sky is the limit, just ask my good friend and “Master of the Keynote Draw Tool,” Ben Mountz. He’s made the most amazing images in Keynote using this tool. If you haven’t checked out his work, his Twitter handle is @BenMountz and I promise, you will be amazed.

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I used one of my favorite block fonts and inserted a text block. I resized the text and changed the opacity of the text block so that I could trace over it using the draw with pen tool. You could certainly do yours freehand, but I need a little more practice than the average person because drawing is not one of my talents. ūü§£

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The way the Draw with Pen tool works is that you add points to draw line segments. When you join the points to the original point, you create a closed shape. From there, you can edit the shape to create curves. Once you have your shape, click on it to see the editing points. A square indicates a sharp line, while a circle indicates a curved line. The more you play around with this tool, you can learn the advanced features, including creating a bézier point, which pretty much means the points and the curve change intuitively along the path. If you draw a shape and use a secondary click, you will have these options: sharp point, smooth point, bézier point, or an option to divide the path.

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Once you have all of the letters drawn for what you want to create, then I’d suggest duplicating the letter shapes so that you have more than one of each letter. Using the object list is a really nice feature when creating your own shapes.

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Once the letters are created, you can do the rest of this project on Keynote for iOS.  In the picture below, I filled the letter E with an image. I used the slider to fit different parts of the photo inside the E and I moved the photo around to get it just right.

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Finished project for my son’s baseball team.

You could most certainly extend the use of letter shapes by animating them in Keynote and exporting them as videos. My first thought went to how amazing it would be to have younger students animate and insert voices for letters to demonstrate knowledge of letter sounds. How fun would that be! I’d love to see what you come up with and all the various ways we can turn letters and words into art!

Have fun creating!! #EveryoneCanCreate

PS…I will be taking a break from publishing blog posts. I hope that you go out and continue creating and I encourage you to find awesome people to follow on Twitter! Thanks to all my readers for all your support and feedback over the years! Cheers!!

Archive and Showcase Learning Experiences in a Keynote Portfolio

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As most of you know by now, Keynote is my favorite tool for so many creative reasons. Let me share with you another reason I love Keynote. I love to create non-linear presentations. Non-linear simply means that the Keynote slides will not advance in sequential order. In these types of Keynote decks, you insert links that guide the order of the Keynote presentation. In this project example, if students begin the year by creating the ‘shell’ for their ongoing portfolio of work, then they simply add to it throughout the year. They can create buttons that allow the presentation to go in the order of their choosing and add links to various content areas or learning topics.

Think of the story of learning this type of project tells! It’s powerful evidence of learning and success!

Why not just use a portfolio based app that archives student work, you ask? My answer is because creating it like this¬†is just another way students can become creators of their own work. This is especially great for even our youngest students in learning the basics of web design as they can ‘pretend’ this is their very own website. A website functions similarly; there are buttons that take the user to other pages.¬†Students choose their design from scratch, add linking buttons that will create the action they want. There are no privacy concerns because the only people who would see this are people that have access to the Keynote file. ¬†They can showcase their completed Keynote portfolio to a classmate, or family member with great pride knowing that this is all their own original creation. This would be an amazing artifact to show parents at the end of the year!

To make it more meaningful, when students add work to their Keynote portfolio, they explain what the project was, if they enjoyed it, and what they learned from it. It’s a very powerful reflection tool.

Students can embed video, projects from other applications, screen shots, and so much more to truly bring their digital portfolio to life. Students can use shapes as buttons and add links to various pages in their portfolio as well as add links to external sites. My suggestion is to help students build a shell for their work. Suggestions include:

  • Title slide with buttons, which includes links to the various content areas.
  • Create a slide with the title of each content areas.
  • Add as many slides as you need under each content area.
  • Add buttons to your slides with links that allow the user to go back to other pages.

Title slide with buttons to link to these content areas

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Content areas (Think of this as chapters). Each of these have a link that goes back to the home page (title page).







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What each content area on the title page looks like once each of the rectangle shapes have been linked to slides or external slides. The blue arrows indicate there is a link, but the arrows disappear once the user hits play and interacts with the presentation.


Putting it all together (Video):


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Keynote for iPad has become even more than I have ever dreamt it would be. Add in the animated drawings and new exporting features, Keynote has become a creator’s perfect tool. ¬†When students create projects, they can create their own audio soundtrack in GarageBand and import it into Keynote. That’s why this post is all about how Keynote+GarageBand=LOVE!

Originally, I was going to use Keynote and Clips (which I LOVE, btw) to create this project, but in the end it just wasn’t the right tool. It’s a great reminder that when we use technology, it’s ALWAYS about finding the right TOOL for the right PROJECT. I didn’t need a movie editor for students to complete this project, they could do it all in Keynote+ GarageBand.

In this example, a student interprets a quote that resonates with him as he reflects on a time he’s been studying in history class. ¬†I got the idea of students interpreting a famous quote in history from Apple’s Everyone Can Create curriculum, an amazing resource for teachers and students. I wanted to take it further and I love it when we can combine apps to create something really wonderful, which allows students to share their work in creative ways.

Project Workflow:

  • Create a soundtrack in GarageBand with vocals, live loops, or other instruments.
  • Share file and export as a song, save it to Files app.
  • Open Files app, find the GarageBand¬†song, tap to copy.
  • Open Keynote and draw the person who spoke the famous quote in history. ¬†Add the line draw animation and adjust the timing of delivery as needed. Add the text of the quote. Add animation to the text and adjust the timing so that it matches with the quote as it’s being read in the soundtrack (I like the typewriter animation for animating text).
  • Tap on the slide to paste the GarageBand¬†song and tap on it to adjust the delivery options.
  • Play your move to make sure all of the timings are correct and all of the delivery options are in the right order.
  • Export
  • Share!!



Project Example:

My Top 4 Updates to iWork for iPad


I am like a kid in a candy store reading about all of the new features just released by Apple to iWork for iPad. I couldn’t wait to share them with you so that you could get busy playing with the newest features and creating awesome content for your students when they return back to school. I am happy to share with you my Top 4 iWork updates.


1. Insert recorded audio to slides, documents, and spreadsheets:

You can now add recorded audio to slides, documents, and spreadsheets. This is a game changer…Keynote slides can become books, portfolios, and enhanced presentations with the added feature of audio. Think about how this would impact students being able to create full movies right in Keynote (especially with the new exporting features…scroll down to read more). Pages documents and books now have the added feature of recorded audio. Spreadsheets come to life even more with the addition of audio. Teachers can send out assignments with a recorded narration button to explain in greater depth what requirements are for an assignment. The possibilities of how this will impact our students are going to be amazing!


2. New shapes, advanced fills to shapes and drawings, and image galleries:

You can now add custom gradient fills as well as image fills to any shape. SCORE! There are even more shapes to add to the already large library of shapes. This allows students and teachers alike to create professional looking presentations, movies, posters, spreadsheets, documents, and other graphics. The addition of image galleries is a great feature for presentations and templates for students.


Fill options


Variety of ways to fill a shape. In this example, I put my two ADE buddies, Kelly and Wes, as the image fill with a color overlay.


Add an image gallery!!

3. Charts get a new look!

You can now change the look of your charts by rounding the corners…just a fun and contemporary update for columns and bars.


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4. My new ALL TIME favorite update: Exporting presentations in Keynote as movies or images!!

Long gone are the days where the only way you could save a slide in Keynote for iOS was to take a screen shot. Now, we can export slides as images or movies. This is a HUGE WIN for students, teachers, and other creatives! Students can create an entire book in Keynote complete with recorded audio and export as a movie. The possibilities for creativity and showcasing and sharing learning excites me so much! They can later import their movies into iMovie for sound effects, music, and other movie editing features. Being able to export Keynote slides in a variety of ways is going to change the ways students publish work.




With every update to iPad, my strong feelings supporting iPad in education increase. There’s nothing the iPad can’t do. Our students deserve to be able to interact with tools that give them a variety of options to showcase learning. The greatest part about these iWork updates: they are free! And as my great friend Jim says, “Free is in the budget.”

Have fun exploring these new updates and drop me a line to tell me how they are impacting what students are doing in your classroom!