Search This Blog

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Digital tools to stimulate writing in the classroom

Teaching creative writing can be incredibly difficult. First, you have to get past the 'I can't write attitude.' Most of the time this isn't an excuse students use to get out of an activity. A lot of students honestly believe they can't write. There is a subtext to this though, because every student can write, even if it is only a sentence. What they really mean is they can't write well, so what's the point? A lot of student's are exposed to great writing through films, books, music and it can be intimidating.  Then there is the second hurdle: getting students to come up with something original to write about.

Below are some activities that you can use to get the creative juices flowing!

1. Phrays is a simple site that publishes a  snazzy word definition everyday . The definition is published and phrased in a sentence. Visitors are encouraged to write and submit a sentence using the word.

Phrays can be a great tool for starting your creative writing lesson or for journal writing. Plus it encourages students to expand their vocabulary. For advanced classes why not start your own Phrays in your classroom? For homework each student would have to look up a word to share with the class. Each day a new student could present a word and definition to the class. Add incentive, get students to vote on the best sentence! You could run this on your blog/site or even just in your classroom on your white board.

Toasted Cheese is a writing prompt calender. I find this works best as a journal writing activity. I tell students not to worry about spelling or grammar. Or about how good there story is. Instead I ask them to focus on writing about the prompt.

The Imagination Prompt Generator - is another great website with writing prompts. Even though it states that it is aimed at providing ideas for blogging I find that the topics a very interesting.  

Creative Writing Prompts is another great site that provides students with ideas to get their stories going.

2. 911 Writers Block is an online website that helps students who are struggling with character details, opening lines, verbs, settings and dialogue.  It helps students add depth and detail to their stories.

Blogging is a great way to get students comfortable with writing. You can set a variety of writing tasks for them to complete. In the past I have set journal topics for them to write about, photo essays where they have to use images to tell a story and then embed in their blog and creative writing challenges.  If you have a class blog you can get students to collaborate and comment on each others work.

Virtual Cork boards - There are a few ways you can use virtual cork boards when teaching creative writing.   One great way to use this tool is to get students to come up with story ideas and share them.. To further extend it, once each students has posted a story idea you can then ask the class to pick one (not their own) and write a story.  If you have reluctant writers, why not create a cork board with images and clips to help students come up with their ideas.  What's great about this is that if you set a creative writing assignment students could refer to the cork board if they are stuck for ideas.  Some virtual corkkboards that I recommend are: Wallwishers or Spaaze

Digital Storytelling involves creating stories using technology whether its podcasts, video or creating ebooks. One great tool is StorybirdThis site is great for students  who aren't confident writers because Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the images and allowing students to ‘unlock’ the story inside.  Their motto is pretty simple “choose an artist or a theme, get inspired, and start writing.”   

For more digital story telling resources please read this blog post by Richard Bryne 11 Good Digital Story Telling Resources.

This is a site just for teachers if you are new to teaching creative writing: 10 Great Tips for Writing Short Stories

Do you have any resources to share? Post below!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

VLE’S, Corkboards, Blogs – What is the difference?

I’m still new to this technology business and I know that I still have a lot to learn.  I have adopted a ‘hands on approach’ when it comes to learning new technologies and applying them to my teaching.  I sign up for blogs, create websites, make my own podcasts, create my own class sites etc. I also find it educational because as I experience pitfalls and setbacks I can envision exactly how a student might struggle in the future.

Yet proficient as I am becoming, I have often found myself googling phrases I find on websites that I don’t understand feeling like an idiot because it’s implied I should know what these phrases mean.  VLE, HTML5, embedding, cloud-sharing, encoding, networking, corkboards, virtual learning.  The internet can be an unfriendly place at times.

The purpose of this post is to define all the different ways you can host your classroom on the internet.


Blogs: You can host your classroom on a blog.  However, at the moment blogging platforms are limited in terms of the technology available for you to use.  You can post assignments, create lesson plans, and promote discussion through blog posts.

Pros: You can control who views your webpage and who has access to the editing tools. It can be made easily available to parents and students. Blogs are easy to setup and are simple to use.

Cons: There is no way for students to collaborate in real time and sharing ideas is fairly limited to discussion posts. A classroom blog is only a small element of what could be an encompassing learning environment.

Corkboards – Are similar to a corkboard you might have in your classroom where you pin up student work, notices and important reminders. The only exception is that it is virtual and therefore more interactive.  You can host a corkboard as a teacher. Students can then pin up/share their own videos or notes.

Pros: It is a simple tool and easy to use. It is a great way to share student work with parents.

Cons: You can’t have multiple pages like a blog so your corkboard can become crowded. You would have to create multiple corkboards for classes/projects.


Websites: These are more customizable than corkboards and blogs.  You can host multiple pages the software can facilitate a wide range of tools. You can set up your own blog, incorporate wiki’s, video’s and content. You can deliver assignments and set up forums. You can also link to corkboards and other websites if you wish.

Pros: You can customize your website and tailor it to suite the learning needs of your class.

Cons: Requires some experience in website design.

VLE:  Known as virtual learning environments VLE is software designed to help teachers manage their education courses. It’s a program designed to help create a websites with minimum technical skills. It facilitates communication, assessments and document sharing. You can share and build resources through wiki, blogs, RSS.

Cons: Less customizable then websites.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Future Classroom – What’s Next?


One of my favourite education blogs is ‘Teach Paperless’. Last night I read a really interesting post by them titled ‘21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020.’ It was written in response to the post ‘21 Things That Became Obsolete in the Last Decade.’ 

What I like about the post is that I agree with everything said, more so, I want it to be true because this is how I envision the future of education.

The frustrating thing is that my perfect learning environment, the one of the future, is achievable using today's technology but achingly out of my reach. 

One thing that Shelly mentioned that resonated with me is that Education Classes that fail to integrate social technology will become irrelevant. I often felt that my University professors weren’t preparing me for the 21st Century classroom or on how to teach the 21st century learner. I think the same is of schools. Why they aren’t as far behind as Universities/Colleges I think schools need to be making a more concentrated effort towards creating learning environments that cater to the diverse needs of future learners. 

My perfect learning environment is paperless:

1.  Desks aren’t separated and used as a mean to control learning but are collaborative learning spaces.

2. Every student would have their own personal computer (whatever that may be) with the opportunities to share in ‘real time’ online.

3. Learning won’t be confined to the teacher and the classroom, instead it will become collaborative and diverse. Limited only by the scope of the internet and an individuals imagination.

4. Technology won’t be a tool to get students interested in learning but will become a part of the everyday classroom.

5. Language/Communication won’t be a barrier to student learning. Whether they speak another language or have a learning disability technology will help break down those barriers/frustrations for them.

Monday, 7 March 2011

5 Reasons why you should use Storybird to create digital stories!

1. It’s free!
2. It’s geared towards teachers. You can create an account for yourself or as a teacher. Your teacher account allows you to add students and create assignments.
3. It’s very easy to use. You simply choose the art work that inspires you, click and away you go!
4. It’s collaborative.  Multiple students can work on creating a book together.
5. It’s inspiring. This site is great for students  who aren’t confident writers because Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the images and allowing students to ‘unlock’ the story inside.  Their motto is pretty simple “choose an artist or a theme, get inspired, and start writing.”

Is education killing creativity?

Whenever Sir Ken Robinson speaks I listen. I mean really listen. What he has to say about education wakes me up. It makes me sit up and take notice.  His talk on how schools are killing creativity is very interesting. 

He raises an excellent point in his video. Why is maths more important than dance? Or art? Or textiles? I agree that we place too much importance on educating for college. 

I have to confess that at times I have focussed too much on mistakes, too much on making sure students get the ‘right answer’ and not enough on encouraging them to make mistakes and learn from them.  However, in an ever increasing world of testing, where too much emphasis is placed on results how can we shift away from this? How can we teach students that it is okay to make mistakes because “if you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.”

Thursday, 3 March 2011

My Favourite Web Tool

class_tools_logo One of my favourite web tools of all time is  Now don’t let the visuals of the website fool you, sure it looks basic but it has some really simple and easy to use tools that can enhance the quality of your classroom teaching. 

This website is free and contains tools to help manage your classroom.  You can create free educational games, quizzes, activities and diagrams and host them on your own blog, website or intranet.

My Favourite Tools
  • Venn Diagrams
  • Post It - upload an image/text and add notes
  • Animated Book 
  • Source Analyser
  • Random Name Generator
  • Flash Quiz
My personal favourite is the countdown timer.  It’s simple and easy to use.  You click on the timer, and adjust the time.  You then click ‘countdown’ and away you go.   You can even upload a song for the timer to countdown to or choose one from the list.   I use this to help structure my lessons and provide clear pacing to my activities. 

I also use it as a behaviour management tool.  For example, in an hour lesson I will put 45 minutes on the timer.  The expectation is that they work for 45 minutes of the lesson. If they are not working I stop the timer and I wait for them to be quiet or focus back on their work.  If there is any time left on the timer at the end of the lesson I keep them in.  If the timer ends before the end of the lesson it is free time! 

Challenge: Using the Arcade Generator template create a quiz for one of your classes.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

My Favourite Technology Tool– Dropbox

Okay, I’m new to blogging. Well professional blogging that is. I used to blog about my travels as I gallivanted around the globe. The thing is, is that I never put much thought into my blog, as only my family and friends read it.

Now that I’m writing a blog about digital technologies I find myself getting anxious every time I go to write a blog post. Am I being unoriginal? Has someone already blogged about this? These are some of the thoughts that would go through my head. Then my husband gave me some great advice. Blog about what you are passionate about and don’t worry about whether or not you are being 'original', as that isn’t what blogging is about.  He was right and I have tried to stop doubting myself, however, I’m still not 100% confident when it comes to blogging.

I follow a lot of blogs and through one of them I discovered a blog called Teacher Challenge.  This is a blog that focuses on providing teachers with free online professional learning. It’s relatively new and their first course was about kick starting your blogging with a series of challenges over thirty days.

One of the challenges was to blog and share/review a technology tool that you love.

One tool that I absolutely love and without a doubt has saved my life is Dropbox! I don’t like to think about my life before Dropbox. I used to work off USB and thought it was great. Great until I lost my USB with all my teacher resources. Sure I backed my resources up on my computer but not as often as I should have.

I was then introduced to Dropbox and the idea of cloud sharing. Now, thanks to my husband Dropbox runs off my USB and syncs to my online account and I never have to worry about losing any information ever again.