Friday, 30 October 2009


a.k.a. "Calligrams, part 2" or "Things I want to try which I haven't tried before, part 3"

A couple of weeks ago, via Twitter (where else ?!), I came across ImageChef. My immediate thought was that the part of it to which I had the link - Word Mosaic - tied in very nicely with my previous Calligrams post. But there are other things that it can do as well. Here are some ideas:

Word Mosaic:

You can choose the shape and colours of your image, and then all you have to do is to type in your text.
What can I use it for? Inspiring creativity and independent writing, display, illustrating vocabulary, making calligrams of course

Fortune Teller:

Just type in the text that you want to appear, et voilà.
What can I use it for? Introducing and practising the future tense

Make a custom Soccer jersey:
A useful little something to have up your sleeve for World Cup 2010 !

Candy Hearts: - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

This is just one of the many customisable photos that are available on ImageChef. You can only fit a little bit of text on, but that could be a good thing. Many pupils are put off independent writing by the thought of having to write pages of text in the foreign language. They can be just as creative with a short amount of text.
What can I use it for? Introducing and creating short and simple sentences

Visual Poetry:

This works in a similar way to the Word Mosaic. You can also upload your own photo for a background.
What can I used it for? Illustrating short pieces of text or poems, encouraging independent writing

Poetry Blender: Poetry Blender
Similar to the Visual Poetry tool, but you can fit in a lot more text. There is a variety of backgrounds to choose from.

Enjoy having a play with it yourself - my 6 year old is already hooked !

Friday, 23 October 2009

Storybird flies into my Spanish lessons

ImageChef Word Mosaic -

I first started Tweeting in earnest in April this year, and quickly found that I was hooked. I have lost count of the number of very useful links and fantastic ideas that I have received via Twitter. One of the links that I found was the Free Technology for Teachers blog via which I receive interesting links every day. On October 17th I received a link to an online story-writing site called Storybird. I had a quick look while I was having my breakfast, thought it looked quite good and so set about bookmarking it in Delicious. It turned out that I had already bookmarked it on September 8th. So that was twice that I thought it looked quite good. I had a closer look, this time at some of the stories. I really liked it, and could see lots of potential for MFL, so decided to tweet it:

This started what I can only describe as an avalanche of activity from the Twitterati. Storybird was blogged by Lisibo and Dom and lots of people set about making their own, including me.

The one thing that kept bugging me, though, was how can I use this in the classroom ?

We've been muttering in the LA for at least a year now about promoting the use of big books in the foreign language in primary language lessons. Storybird seemed to offer a useful "in". Therefore I did a bit of research about big books and how to use them, and planned my first lessons using my Storybird.

My KS2s are all beginners, and so have only been learning Spanish since the second week of this term. I wanted to get them being creative with the language that they had learned so far, in particular greetings, saying their name and saying how they feel. I used my Storybird to give an example of how a little language can go a long way. The previous lesson they had done a matching exercise to give them a glossary of useful words and phrases. To reinforce this language, we started the lesson with a rectangle puzzle courtesy of Tarsia Formulator and then checked over our glossaries from the previous lesson. Then came the Storybird. I showed them the front cover and asked what the title was. Then I asked them what they thought the story was about, and what would happen in it. Next I read the story to them and we discussed whose predictions had been right. Then I read it again, stopping at least once on every page, and the class had to tell me what the next word was. After that, we all read it out loud, doing all the silly voices and actions. Then the children set about writing their own dialogues, having seen that they could actually get quite a long bit of text out of the little language that they know.

Year 6 and Year 4 enjoyed it, but it was Year 3 I was most surprised by. They had by far the most imaginative ideas about the story ("the monster has no friends and goes around saying hola to lots of people to find a friend") and were also the most enthusiastic about reading the story out loud, even though they are the least confident readers in KS2. The best bit of their lesson was when the Head came in just as we were all reading it together and was treated to an excellent performance !

So I had a very successful first flight with Storybird, and it's definitely something that I will be pursuing in the future. I'll be incorporating ideas from the National Literacy Strategy along with ideas for working with texts which I have from a Sunderland LA working group back in 2000.

Hence the graphic at the top - I "heart" Storybird !

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Things I want to try which I haven't tried before, part 2

Here are some more ideas which I have found since my previous post:

1. Which card ?
Several children stand at the front of the classroom holding a flashcard, with the picture side facing them. The others have to find out who has which card by asking "¿Tienes ....?" or "¿Te gusta...?" The children with the cards can only answer yes or no.

2. Join up the words
Give children or pairs of children sets of words which have been cut in half. Ask them to reconstruct the words by putting the halves together correctly.

3. Alphabetical order
Give children a set of word cards and ask them to sort them into alphabetical order. Alternatively, with words that follow a specific order like the months, children can race to put them in the right order.

4. Phonics
Make a set of word cards with single words which have the same sounds in them. Highlight the graphemes in a different colour. Use the cards to practise reading out loud, then children can classify the cards according to the phonemes or graphemes.

5. Stand up sit down
Give each group of children a sound, word or phrase. Tell them that when they hear it they all have to stand up together. The faster the activity goes, the more they will enjoy it. As an alternative you could say the word or phrase in English so that the children have to recognise their own phrase and then stand up.

6. Stand up sit down 2
Take your seat, and say a word in the language, for example "español". Then repeat it, standing up and sitting down when you say the final, stressed syllable. Ask pupils if they can explain what you did. Give another example if necessary. When they have worked it out, say a word to them, which they have to repeat, standing up and sitting down at the right time, i.e. on the stressed syllable.

7. Find your group
Give each child a card with 3 pictures on it. These pictures could be hobbies, animals, colours... The idea is that they are things about which opinions can be expressed. The children circulate around the room asking each other questions about what they like, and they answer according to what's on their card. Once a child has found someone with the same like as them, they stay together and find someone else to add to their group. The game continues until everyone is in a group. Ask each group the relevant question and they reply in unison. A simpler version would be for each child to have one word or picture, and for several children to have the same word or picture.

8. Find the sweets
Put the images for the words you are practising on the IWB. Behind one of the images hide a virtual sweet. Ask a child to name one of the images, move it aside and see if it reveals the sweet. If it does, ask the winner to jumble up the images so that the sweet is hidden somewhere else.

9. Spell it out
Give pairs of pupils a set of pictures and a set of individual letters on cards. Call out a word and the pairs race to find the right picture and make the word correctly.

10. Mexican wave
Choose some of the words that you have been learning and want to practise. The children help you to decide on the order in which they will be said. They go round the circle saying one word each, in the right order. They could stand up or kneel up to achieve the wave effect. You could clap your hands to change the direction of the wave. This could be fun with adjectives, where the children have to say, for example, "triste" in a sad way. Alternatively, they could use a sequence such as days of the week for the main words, but you make it more interesting by periodically calling out an adjective so that they have to say the words in a certain way. A Mexican Wave would be a good way to embed short phrases or sentences, or anything where word order is important.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Things I want to try which I haven't tried before

In 2002, when I'd been in the teaching game for seven years, teachers were given a £500 bursary to spend on their own personal CPD. Some of my Science and Geography colleagues, and MFLers come to that, managed to spend it on holidays under the guise of "looking at igneous rock formations" and the like. I, however, always the geek, spent mine on books. Lots of them. To give me lots of ideas for things to do in the classroom.

I became an AST later in 2002, and decided to go down that route rather than the HoD route because essentially I am a teaching and learning person. I like finding out and trying new ideas in the classroom to enhance my teaching and pupils' learning. I also have a pretty low boredom threshold, and get fed up teaching the same thing the same way year after year.

So in 2002, I took my new books and read through them, writing down all my favourite things and saving them in a document called "Ideas". Today I had to start preparing a training session for our FLAs, and my first port of call was this document, to find things which FLAs could usefully do in the classroom. To my surprise, I found that I have actually tried out a lot of these ideas, and some of them are part of my core repertoire.

Since then I've acquired a lot of new books, with yet more ideas, and I'm reading through those too, as much for the FLAs' benefit as for my own CPD as a newbie primary practitioner.

Now I'm guessing that if I haven't tried these things before, then there'll be others too who haven't tried them, so I thought I'd share them.

Here's the first instalment. There is a primary bias, but I'm sure that some of these could be done with KS3 too.

1. Crazy Talk with pupils (I have had it for a while and have used it in resource making, but have never let pupils loose with it)

2. Wordle with pupils

3. Making comics with pupils. Again I've made comics myself for resources but I'd like to see what the children can do with them.

4. Mini-books - an excellent way to unleash creativity.

5. Good taste, bad taste: Arrange opinion phrases in descending order along the wall (Me encanta to odio) Play snippets of music (get lots of different music styles) and pupils stand in front of the poster that reflects their opinion. They are creating a living graph (and not in the Thinking Skills sense !) Ask one or two children for their opinion, and they should say the same opinion as is on the card behind them. Quickly change music and repeat

6. Stick ‘em up: Show a set of pictures on one side of the IWB (or board) with corresponding labels on the other side. Two pupils come to the front and match them up while the rest of the class time them by counting in the TL in unison. If they think they’ve finished but some are wrong, tell them in TL how many are wrong and they try to put them right. When they’ve finished shout Stop in the TL, and the number that the others have counted to is noted as the record to be broken.

7. In the bag: Find a series of objects and put them in a bag. In teams pupils ask "¿Tienes un(a) ...?" and you reply "Sí, tengo ...." or "No, no tengo..." If you do have it, it’s given to that team. The team with the most correct guesses wins.

8. Lily pads: A variation on the writing grid theme. Arrange words on lily pad shapes in columns on a big pond on the IWB. A frog has to jump across safely by jumping on the lily pads one from each column, to make a correct sentence.

9. Choral repetition - I need to increase my repertoire.
Say the word in a different way, such as quickly, slowly, angrily, sadly, happily, quietly, loudly, lightly, heavily, strongly, calmly, lazily, sleepily, fearfully, proudly, secretly, silently, painfully, lightly, seriously, dramatically, gracefully, decisively, worriedly, thoughtfully, stiffly, jerkily, childishly, drunkenly.
Have one half of the class say it then the other.
Say the words row by row or table by table.
All the girls or all the boys

10. Pass me the salt please: Show pupils a selection of objects. Ask different pupils to ask for one of the objects "Pásame el/la....por favor" until all the objects have been given out. Then a pupil who doesn’t have an object asks for one and pupil who has it has to hand it over. This can be done with word or picture cards as well, and obliges pupils to listen in case their card is chosen, and listen to all the available options in case they have to do the asking.

11. Matching sentences with pictures: Give each pair a different picture (e.g. fashion picture from magazine) and about 10 statements about the picture. Some of the statements are true, others are red herrings. The pair read the statements and place the correct ones on the picture and put the rest back in the envelope. You check it, then they swap with another pair to get lots of practice. As a follow-on they can find their own picture and write their own sentences. They could also put into sentences into chronological order if appropriate

12. Weather: Give pairs of pupils sets of picture cards, for example weather symbols and activities. They pair the cards up to make sentences which they can present orally or in writing.
You could also use maps with weather symbols “In the north it’s rainy” or different countries in the world, as well as different animals for different climates.

13. What did I have for breakfast ?: Another way to practise vocabulary. Put a big picture of a whale on the IWB, with some small pictures inside Drag the pictures out and say “For breakfast I ate….” Then put them back and pupils have to guess which one will be pulled out first, by repeating the sentence. You could also use a cat by a dustbin

14. Freetime activities: Show pupils a group of aliens which are all different. Add a speech bubble in which pupils can say what activities the aliens do. Go for some obvious characteristics like couch potatoes, brainboxes, sporty ones, blobs.

15. Action listening: Pupils all stand up to listen. They have to do the correct action when they hear a certain word, and have to sit down if they are wrong. To avoid some sitting down and being bored you can time games and give a point to those left in at the end of the time before starting again.
Give pairs of pupils a sheet with pictures on and they have to listen and point to the right picture.
Or you can give out cards, which they hold up when they hear theirs. Then swap cards over to make it more difficult.

So there's 15 ideas for starters, 15 things that I want to try that I haven't tried before. I'll let you know how I get on !