Blogging and the Literacy Curriculum

This article is cross posted on ABC Splash website. If you haven’t already checked out the site, I recommend you do so. There are many fabulous free resources and interactives for Australian teachers and students.

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2013 is the sixth year that I have used educational blogging in my classroom. When I first began my program, I just tried to squeeze blogging into my already busy curriculum. This might have been a few minutes during transition times or while the students ate their lunches.

I soon realised this was not the best way to unleash the full benefits of blogging. The lack of momentum led to low student interest and lack of opportunities for explicit teaching and learning.

To realise the many educational benefits of blogging and ensure your program has an extended life-span, blogging needs to be prioritised and planned for. It should to be integrated into the curriculum; busy classrooms rarely have time for “add ons”.

When I first began blogging I had a computer ratio of 1:6 in my classroom. Over time, my students have gained access to more devices and this year we implemented a 1:1 netbook program.

Depending on the resources available and our current learning focus, I have used whole class, small group and rotation structures to make blogging work in my classroom.

Blogging is all about literacy

The concept of literacy education has changed as technology has evolved. It is no longer enough to teach students how to read books and write on paper. This won’t adequately prepare them for their 21st century lives.

Our students need to become transliterate and develop the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media, both traditional and digital.

Blogging is an authentic way to teach both traditional reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as multi-modal 21st century skills.

My approach involves spending 10 – 20 minutes of my daily literacy block on whole class blogging. This is a chance to read our latest posts and comments, and take a look at what our blogging buddies are learning.

Our discussions are directed depending on our current reading or writing focus. Through blogging, we have been able to introduce or reinforce a wide range of literacy conventions in an authentic, ongoing context.

Build blogging into literacy rotations

Like many primary classrooms, reading rotations are part of our literacy block. Every week, one of the activities students complete is blogging on their computers.

Their task is to read a certain post on our class blog, a student blog or one of our blogging buddies’ blogs. Students then need to respond with a quality comment, practising their literacy goal.

Create digital portfolios

This year I have been using student blogs as digital portfolios. This approach doesn’t need to be an “add on”. It can replace other more traditional methods of reflective writing, journalling or completing work in exercise books.

In her book Radical Reflections, well known children’s author, Mem Fox, states that “We’re currently wasting a lot of time by giving unreal writing tasks in our classrooms….You and I don’t engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life—we’re far too busy doing the real thing”.

If we want our students to be motivated to use their emerging writing skills, we have to make writing purposeful, challenging, and real-to-life. Blogging offers this.

Blogging for the sake of it or trying to blog on top of the regular classroom curriculum just isn’t going to work. Most teachers are affected by a crowded curriculum.

Find ways to embed blogging into what you are already doing to meet your students’ learning needs and expand their horizons. Looking at integrating blogging into your literacy curriculum is a great place to start.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

How do you integrate blogging into your curriculum?

Literacy Skills: How Far They’ve Come!

I am always telling people how much my students’ literacy skills have improved through blogging.

In my seven year teaching career, I have not come close to finding another medium that helps students to refine their reading and writing so well.

Through advice from the amazing, Linda Yollis, I have been able to set very high standards for my students this year and, with support and practice, so many of them have excelled.

I have provided clear guidelines on writing quality comments which my seven and eight year old students didn’t take long to get a clear grasp of. The students in Mrs Yollis’ class were also role models for my students with their writing (12,000 kilometres away!).

Blogging is authentic. Students are reading and writing for a purpose and genuine audience. It is ongoing. Unlike other approaches to teaching literacy, where you may study a genre or style for a few weeks, blogging is a daily occurrence in our classroom.

Throughout the year, we have been able to discuss the the following (and more) in an authentic context.

  • spelling structures
  • paragraphs and organising writing
  • a wide range of punctuation (commas, capital letters, full stops, brackets, exclamation marks etc)
  • planning, proofreading and revising
  • writing voice
  • similies, synonyms and antonyms
  • verbs, nouns and adjectives
  • vocabulary
  • using bold and italics appropriately
  • tenses
  • how to ask quality questions and engage in conversations.

It has been so much more authentic to teach these conventions in the context of writing on the blog rather than as stand-alone, one off lessons. That’s not to say we don’t do regular lessons and units of work on various conventions and genres, it’s just that blogging is always there and the progress the students make with writing on the blog are transferred to other areas.

In her book Radical Reflections, well known children’s author, Mem Fox, states that

“we’re currently wasting a lot of time by giving unreal writing tasks in our classrooms….You and I don’t engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life—we’re far too busy doing the real thing”

If we want our students to be motivated to use their emerging writing skills, we have to make writing purposeful, challenging, and real-to-life. Blogging offers this.

Many of my students have transformed from emergent writers to very independent, competent writers who produce higher quality comments than some adults!

Rather than just talking about the improvements my students have made, I decided to look back at some comments from throughout the year to find evidence of this.

The presentation below shows how three students have progressed with their blog comments throughout the year.

(Tip: Press play then click on the square on the bottom ride hand side of the presentation to view in full screen. Press escape to get out of the presentation)

How do you think blogging improves students literacy skills?

Super Teacher Worksheets

super teacher worksheets

Super Teacher Worksheets is a useful site for primary teachers that contains free, printable worksheets.

The worksheets are divided into the categories of

  • maths
  • reading and writing
  • grammar and phonics
  • spelling lists and worksheets
  • puzzles and brainteasers
  • holidays
  • science and social studies
  • teacher helpers

In each of the categories, there are activities suitable for a wide range of ages and abilities.

I have found some great activities for my grade two students especially for place value and reading comprehension.

Check out Super Teacher Worksheets and see what activities may suit your class!

Leave a comment. Do you use Super Teacher Worksheets or any other sites for ready-made resources?

StoryIt: Word Games

StoryIt is a website that doesn’t look amazing with its simple layout and advertisements but has some great resources for the junior primary classroom.

While there are stories to read and print, seasonal resources, printable shapes and more – the resources I’ve found most useful are the word games.

There are about fifteen word games available to play online that involve making sentences, making words, spelling, changing words etc.

In the Wiz Game, the goal is to make as many words as you can from the letter tiles. Get the question mark tile to the bottom and a vocabulary question appears. Select the best meaning of the word and earn extra points.

storyit2

The Odd One Out: Word Family game involves choosing the word that doesn’t belong.

storyit

There are games on the StoryIt site that would be suitable for students in at all levels of primary school.

These games could be used as a lesson introduction or closure on the IWB, with a small focus group or individual students could use the games on classroom computers.

Have you used the StoryIt Word Games?

How could you use these games in your classroom?

MeeGenius

MeeGenius is a new site that has been popular on Twitter recently. MeeGenius is an online library of picture books for young children. Currently there are nearly 30 books available to read, most of which are popular fairy tales.

meegenius library

The books can be read independently or there is an option to hear the book being read to you with the words being highlighted as you hear them. If you choose the read along option, you can pause the books as they are read aloud. This is useful as it allows you to ask the students questions and focus on teaching points.

One of the most exciting features of this site is the ability to personalise the stories. This could be a great way to entice reluctant readers and a fun tool to make the stories more meaningful to your students. You simply answer a few questions and the book is rewritten to include new character names and locations etc. You can also click on the “edit” button to rewrite the whole book. This could be useful for creating “Fractured Fairy tales” with students.

meegenisu

You don’t need to sign up to read the MeeGenius stories, however you do need to sign-up if you wish to save and email your personalised stories.

These stories would be great on an IWB or classroom computers. While the site is completely free, you can buy MeeGenius Apps from the iTunes store for iPhones, iPod Touches or iPads (currently AU$2.49)

Leave a comment. How could you use MeeGenius in your classroom?

New Blog: Teaching Literacy in the Early Years

This year I have been team teaching with Kelly Jordan. Combining our two grade two classes has so many benefits and we are finding we are really meeting the needs of our students this year.

Our open plan classroom is a fantastic place to teach and learn!

DSC05869

Kelly has recently started a blog called Teaching Literacy in the Early Years. If you or someone you know teaches in the junior primary area you should definitely check this blog out.

Kelly posts about Literacy sites, ideas, thoughts, resources and strategies with others.

Teaching lit in early years

Drop by “Teaching Literacy in the Early Years” and leave Kelly a comment!

Smories: Stories for Children

Smories is a website with short videos of children reading original stories for kids. There are 50 new Smories added every month. Writers are encouraged to submit their original children’s stories to be featured on the website.

The stories are advertised as being suitable for children aged three to eight although there are many stories that would also appeal to children older than eight.

There is a special version of Smories available for the iPhone, iPod Touch and there will soon be an iPad version.

I have been using this site with my Grade Two class as a means of modelling reading with expression and also as a comprehension activity. I have been encouraging the students to picture the story in their mind as they listen. Listening to Smories is also a good way to revise the features of a narrative.

My students have really enjoyed the stories and find it quite appealing to listen to children their own age.

Next time we do a story writing activity I am going to get my students to publish their work “Smory style” which we can then put on our class blog.

Smories

Do you have any other ideas of how you could integrate this site into your classroom?

Storytelling Tool: Five Card Flickr

Five Card Flickr is a simple yet useful tool that I found out about from a number of people on Twitter.

Five Card Flickr deals you random pictures from Flickr that you put together to tell a story. From each 5 photos you are dealt, you choose one to add to your story. You then repeat this 4 more times until you have 5 photos that you can then use to tell a story.

Students could use this tool for oral language story telling or for inspiration for creating a written story. Stories could be created individually or as a class using an IWB.

Stories can be written on the site and saved to a gallery or alternatively, students could just write on paper.

Especially with younger students, oral language is an important area that can sometimes be neglected in the crowded curriculum.

The possibilities of Five Card Flickr are only limited by the students’ creativity! Give it a try.

five card flickr

Do you know any other sites that are useful for writing or oral language prompts?

Sentence Activities for Lower Primary

This week, I have been reinforcing to my Grade Two students the importance of correctly using full stops and capital letters to form sentences. I have found that primary students of all age groups tend to need constant reinforcement of these concepts.

My students defined a sentence as a piece of writing that makes sense by itself, starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, exclamation mark or question mark.”

I used some great online resources to teach students about sentences, full stops and capital letters.

BBC Skillswise Making Sentences

This site by the BBC has some great factsheets, quizzes, games and worksheets about sentences. My students particularly enjoyed the games which involve deciding whether sentences make sense and adding punctuation to text. This site also has links to activities about putting sentences together and using commas.

bbc sentences

Capital Letters and Full Stops

This site from the Welsh National Grid for Learning includes explanations, games, worksheets and activities about using capital letters and full stops. The resources revolve around a theme of “Dewi the Dragon”. My students enjoyed punctuating the sentences in the story about Dewi with capital letters and full stops.

Capital letters and full stops

Have you tried any of these resources or do you know of any other resources for teaching about sentences?

Two Reading Sites for Younger Students

I recently came across two sites that would be useful in the lower primary classrooms for reading lessons.

SIGNED STORIES

This British site contains a collection of free animated stories. Each story is read, signed and also has the words down the bottom of the page for students to follow along. There are hundreds of popular children’s stories available in a range of genres and the site is growing all the time. While this site was created for hearing impaired children and their families, it has many  uses in the classroom. The videos can be paused to focus on particular teaching points. The fact that the story is read aloud also means that students can independently “read” a more difficult text than they would be able to on their own. Click here to check it out.

signed stories

READING IS FUNDAMENTAL: LEADING TO READING

Although this site is publicised as being for children age 3 to 5, I believe it is a valuable resource for students up to Grade Two. It contains a collection of stories, songs and games. The animated stories highlight each word as it is spoken which makes it easier for students to read along. The story can be paused to focus on teaching points. The collection of stories for school age children is limited at this stage although I expect it will continue to grow. The site is very easy for non-readers to navigate as each option is spoken when you hover your mouse over it. Click here to check out Leading to Reading.

leading to reading

Leave a comment if you have any thoughts about using these two sites in your classroom.