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?

Editing Students’ Blog Comments

Recently, a teacher asked my opinion about editing students’ writing on blogs

She said

“We are having a debate in our primary school at the moment – to what extent should we correct spelling/grammar in posts or comments by students? Our principal sees the posts as a finished product which reflect on our school, while the teachers prefer to see them as a work in progress, encouraging children to write. What do you think?”


This is a question I have pondered myself a lot in regards to blog comments. I can’t help having high standards for my grade two students and I want them to always strive to produce their best work. I also want their writing to be legible. Therefore, I have put a system in place to help students achieve a high quality comment.

The students need to realise that when you’re writing for a world-wide audience, you need to make your writing as good as it can be so that what you’re communicating is clear and effective. Often the fact that the students are writing for a global audience provides the incentive they need to achieve their best work.

While I don’t insist that my students’ comments are flawless, I do insist on an editing process.

This is a run down of the system I have put in place in my classroom:

  1. The students write their blog comment using Firefox as their internet browser. Unlike Internet Explorer, Firefox automatically puts a red line under misspelt words which makes the editing process easier for young students (and older students/adults!). Explicit instruction on what to do when you see the red line is something we cover incidentally on the IWB.
  2. The students read over their writing, checking for spacing, spelling, grammar and all the other things mentioned on our commenting checklist which is displayed in the computer area. Click here to view our poster
  3. The student has a friend read over their comment and point out anything that needs to be edited.
  4. They press Control C (copy) before hitting the submit button. This means if anything goes wrong (eg. wrong anti-spam word has been entered or internet connection is lost), they won’t have lost their comment.
  5. I moderate all comments. If a child has written a comment with some small mistakes, I leave it. If a comment has so many errors that it may be considered illegible (this doesn’t happen too often due to the above editing processes), I call the child over to my computer at an appropriate time and together we edit the comment to make it legible. Teaching at the point of need is quite powerful and I usually leave the child with one goal to work on in future blog posts (eg. it might be “don’t forget to press the space bar after each word”).

These are just my opinions and I don’t think there is any right or wrong answer but I do find, when you set the bar high, you can be amazed at what your students can achieve!

Take this quick poll to share your opinion.


What are your opinions on editing students’ blog comments?

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?

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!

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?

Read Write Think

Read Write Think is a site from the UK that offers a collection of online Student Materials to support literacy learning in the P-12 classroom.

While this site includes lesson plans and web resources, I have found the most useful aspect of the site to be the Student Materials. There are over 50 interactive resources that would be great to use on the IWB in any literacy classroom.

There are many “thinking tool” type resources that could be used as an after reading task such as a plot diagram, book cover creator, character trading cards, story map and timeline. Here is a Venn diagram a group of my Grade Two students made this week after we read a book in Guided Reading.

Grandmas Venn Diagram

There are also some great “learning centre” type games for younger students such as Word Wizard, ABC Match, Word Family Sort and  What’s in the Bag? My Grade Two students particularly enjoy Construct-a-word.

construct a word

The site also includes some useful “writing” resources such as Acrostic Poems, Animal Inquiry, Postcard Creator, Flip Book and Letter Generator.

There are some limitations to this site such as the fact that some work can’t be saved although it can be printed and there is always the option to screen capture your work. Overall, Read Write Think has some great resources for all year levels.

Word Magnets

Word magnets is a fantastic website for the Interactive Whiteboard or classroom computers that I read about Nik’s Learning Technology Blog.

Word magnets is a tool that allows you to paste in some text and then change the text into word tiles like fridge magnets that you can drag and rearrange. Word magnets would be great for younger students who could put a sentence back together or point out errors in sentences.

 There are background proformas you can use to arrange the magnets, like Venn diagrams, tables, A-Z, numeric lists etc. They would be great for all sorts of categorising and thinking skills activities. Here is an activity my Grade Two students did today where they brainstormed uses for the sea and then sorted these ideas into “fun” and “work”.

sea word magnets

This site is very easy to use and it is much easier to use this tool than make your own activity for the Interactive Whiteboard. If you have any ideas about using Word Magnets, leave a comment!

Fun Spelling Games

GamesGames.com is a site with lots of fun and free games. Some of these games are simply “for fun” but there are some educational games which are very worthwhile for use in the classroom. My Grade Two students are enjoying the Spelling Games. There are 18 spelling games where students have to build and find words in a very appealing format.  These would probably be best suited for Grades 2 to 5. The site also has some good puzzle and logic games that could be used in the classroom.

spelling games games