29 Apr

Using Comic Books in the Classroom


I have regularly used comic books in class, and have been known to buy in bulk from charity shops / ebay – then spend hours trawling them to find suitable and good-condition ones! Happily, it seems tablet computers have made that a thing of the past! The crisp and clear screens are perfect for displaying the comics and they don't suffer from wear and tear!

Comics are useful in a variety of situations – and the 'classic' universes – Batman/Superman/X-Men and so on are very popular and well known with the children.

There are others available though, classic stories in comic form, other characters and less well-known superheroes. This means that, given some ownership, children could find comics that they enjoy and that they may not normally have access to. Forming opinions, reading for pleasure and following long story arcs are all perfectly possible.

Why Comics?

Comics allow for the children to read independently as well as group focus for guided reading. The characters and narrative tend to be well suited to focused work and many of the children are familiar with the setting as they recognise them from movies or games.

  • In guided reading, the visual aspect of comics means that children can practice many skills (inferring, predicting) without worrying too much about the actual text.
  • Use as you would a usual text – the same questioning and activities can still apply.
  • Remember as well that these texts may motivate the more reluctant reader to get involved.
  • Longer stories – Graphic Novels – or adapted stories can also be found on iBooks – searching for Graphic Novels will throw up many intriguing titles.
What apps can be used?


Comics+Kids is a great app which has some brilliant free comics – including the Bone #1 – 'The Map

Comixology also contains many well known issues – but you will need to check the suitability!

Marvel's great app is here – again may not always be suitable for younger children.

The folks over at Me Books also have a great app – Me Comics! I wrote about Me Books here.

Android viewers can be found here

This is by no means an exhaustive list – but do give them a try – ask the children for their opinion! It's a great way to get them interested in their reading!

19 Jan

#BlappSnapp – My Story World

#BlappSnapp is a great idea by Julian Wood (@ideasfactory) as a way of sharing great apps,either Android or ioS, for education.

As you know, I rarely push specific apps – but I do get asked for recommendations regularly and have some here.

For my #BlappSnapp I thought I’d examine the use of story telling app My Story World.
My Story World is, at it’s most basic is a Story Telling App, the free download comes with three versions of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. It is possible to create an account for access to all stories on the iPad – and I should mention that I did work with the developers and so recieved these accounts for the schools.

Concentrate on the ‘free’ stories however, they are told delightfully, with the usual options to ‘Play and Learn’ (simple questions) or simply ‘Read to Me’. It works really well over AirServer, and is intuitive enough for Year 1 and Year 2 to work independently.

Stories have a distinctive style and the occasional modern twist!

Once the stories are finished the children get to recreate a version of their own using simple characters and a recognisable structure. The ‘Make a Story’ option allows the children to build a story using a framework supplied by the app. They set the scene, create a ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’.
They can place characters, move them, voice them and act out a story – similar to Puppet Pals.


It’s possible to resize and change the pose of the character.


The reason why I’m sharing this app is really simple: it seems to fit a ‘gap’ that teachers ask for. Stories that can be explored and ask simple inference questions as they go and then a creative activity!

How can it be used?
  • It can be used whole class or with groups – great for a guided reading activity.
  • It fits in really well with KS1 literacy- story telling, planning, sequencing and so on.
  • Encourage the children to plan their story first, playing with characters and dialogue.
  • Creating an account to access all the stories is great value, and they have a great choice of recogniseable stories with beautiful illustrations!
Of course there are always some improvements that could be made:
  • It would be great to be able to export the made story to the camera roll.
  • The ‘Make a Story’ section is only available once you finish the story, meaning that you need to show the children how to fast forward through the story.
  • As usual it works best if the children know which iPad they are working on… So do number the iPads.


Thanks for reading the #blappsnapp – see others here!


05 Jan

Blogging – a useful learning tool?

Since I posted a page which had tips on how to get blogging started in school blogging seems to be increasing in popularity, certainly within the primary schools I work in we have teachers, and pupils, blogging for all sorts of reasons.

More and more research is available on the subject asking about the quality of learning. Researchers seem to be interested in the activities which takes place whilst blogging, and in the collaborative element.

Consider this, from a recent paper in the excellent International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning ( Alterman & Larusson 2012)

At one level, blogging is an activity composed of writing, reading, and commenting, and at a second level, the students share their thoughts in their own voices. At a third level, over the course of the semester, the student posts and commentary form a commons of information that can be mined later in the semester for other kinds of learning activities. Knowledge creation, distribution, and accumulation are analyzed in terms of student participation at both the level of individual events and from the perspective of an ongoing community

It's worth pointing out that the case study was looking at adult learners who were expected to blog twice a week – however elements can be applied to primary schools. For example comments, and how important it is for learners to give effective comments (feedback) – something we regualrly model to our pupils.

Then there is this article by Tse et al in 2010 – they were interested in how blogging can support children who were learning another language, and summarize why others have been very positive about the efffects of blogging:

Chen and Zhang (2003) found that encouraging blogging (a) allows teachers and student to share information and ideas and (b) lets others comment or respond to their postings. Such feedback encourages writers to think about how they are expressing themselves, and prompts bloggers to amend and update blogs. Such blog interactions not only encourage students to read and write, they also stimulate thinking. Wu and Chen (2006) found that blogging helps to boost the confidence of computer users to learn independently, to share experiences and ideas through blogs and to contribute, if only in tiny ways, to the construction of knowledge.

They point out several postive outcomes for the learning of Chinese and English in their paper, such as the pupils independently seeking out English language sites, the development of different language for different social situations and the manner in which pupils who accessed the English language blogs displayed superior English reading performance. The recommendations from the authors include the very relevant fact that pupils were accessing these sites whether or not we used them in school, so it made social and educational sense to use them, and to curate and identify useful material for the pupils.

Duffy (2008) identified uses of blogs in the classroom from their paper:

  • promote critical and analytical thinking;
  • ƒpromote creative, intuitive and associational thinking;
  • ƒpromote analogical thinking;
  • ƒpotential for increased access and exposure to quality information;
  • ƒcombination of solitary and social interaction

Within a personal academic perspective a blog can support; ƒ

  • reflection on teaching experiences;
  • ƒresources and methodologies for teaching;
  • ƒramblings regarding professional challenges and teaching tips for other academics, and
  • ƒillustration of specific technology-related tips for other colleague.

Within an organizational perspective a blog can support; ƒ

  • a common online presence for unit-related information such as calendars, events, assignments and resources, and an
  • ƒ online area for students to post contact details and queries relating to assessment

Within a pedagogical perspective a blog can support; ƒ

  • comments based on content, literature readings and student responses;
  • ƒ a collaborative space for students to act as reviewers for course-related materials;
  • ƒ images and reflections related to industry placement;
  • ƒ an online gallery space for review of works, writings, etc., in progress, making use especially of the commenting feature;
  • ƒ teachers encouraging reactions, reflections and ideas by commenting on their students' blogs, and
  • ƒ the development of a student portfolio of work

How many of these do you recognise. How many can we use within our schools? And how effective are they? As is mentioned by several authors, we are waiting for the longitundinal data, but the research is beginning to show the uses and the positive outcomes.

As usual I would love to hear of any brilliant examples – I will be updating my own advice to schools soon.



Duffy, P (2008) Engaging the YouTube Google-Eyed Generation: Strategies for Using Web 2.0 in Teaching and Learning – The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong – Electronic Journal of e-learning.


Richard, R & Larusson, J A (2013) Participation and common knowledge in a case study of student blogging International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning June 2013, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 149-187

Tse, S. K., Yuen, A. H. K., Loh, E. K. Y., Lam, J. W. I. & Ng, R. H. W. (2010). The impact of blogging on Hong Kong primary school students' bilingual reading literacy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(2), 164-179. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/tse.html



31 Dec

Introducing a New Curriculum – Literacy

In the new year my focus point will be the new curriculum.


Literacy: when I began training there was lots of support for the teaching of literacy, the national strategies were in their heydey and every school I trained at and worked at had several copies of government published documents. Really useful documents. Such as the National Strategies, The Spelling Programme for Key Stage 2 and my favourite – Grammar for Writing. These documents were vital for supporting the introduction of the Literacy Hour and drawing attention to what the teaching of English would look like for the then expected National Curriculum. All of these documents can be accessed through the National Archives

Personally I liked these documents, some hated them. I didn't like the forced 'Literacy Hour' but then I, like many, didn't really do it. But lots of resources, good teaching ideas and creative ways round misconceptions came from these documents. We didn't stick to the units particularly closely, but they were there if needed. Also there was the framework… The framework; the units; the order in which to teach things all came in handy for teachers who were not confident or schools who needed to ensure coverage.

However, we now have a new National Curriculum – all online – though handily sold by Scholastic (!) And we have several months to work with teachers. With the introduction of any school wide change key questions should be asked, and I can thoroughly recommend @michaelt1979's curriculum jigsaws.

This Haiku Deck is my plan for getting schools up to speed:


  • Staff meeting in January : Begin with the big aims and take these from staff – what are we trying to do? Is an integrated curriculum still the main aim? Will our current topic layout still work? What books and genres are we still covering? Shall we discuss with parents? Share resources with staff!
  • These key questions will form an idea gathering session, as well as allow staff to share pressing concerns for staff inset that may be needed. For some schools this is a golden opportunity to review your curriculum.
  • Then we will give teachers / subject coordinators time… Work out what is needed and what is missing. Let them find any training / conferences they might want. A blank staff meeting time will be good for this, and allow for SLT to meet to check the assessment changes. Give staff deadlines for renewed subject action plans.
  • We will plan a unit of work for summer, each year group looking at a particular subject or area.. This can be done together, and does not have to be literacy based.
  • Finally review the whole school curriculum map!

Literacy so far…..

For staff we have a focus on Grammar across the school with short sessions and sharing of grammar games. I have a page here looking at this.

Big focus on vocabulary and topic based literacy. Including the learning environment.

Huge focus on reading for pleasure -I do like Accelerated Reader and Daily Supported Reading – but more books / projects which link school tech with books. Phonics is also a high priority.

We are identifying books / poems which will form Key Texts for our year groups – these will be topic linked.


I would love to hear how other schools are coping with the change! Worth noting that assessment is not a factor in these plans…yet!



23 Nov

Speaking and Listening

The iPad can be used in many ways to develop and promote a wide variety of speaking and listening activites. Although having one in the classroom means the teacher can record conversations and share them – there are some great apps out there which can promote language and encourage listening.

Explain Everything

I have talked about this app extensively – it really is great for all kinds of activites. Take a photograph and ask the children to record their description. Use short videos and ask children to narrate what action is taking place. Children can create instruction video for activities such as cooking or art. The emphasis here is in not needing to get it right, they can re-record or try again on the next slide. You can then use the video within the lesson.

Casestudy : lesson objective was to develop a persuasive argument – children were asked to take part in a debate about bullying – they had to pitch their idea for an antibullying campaign. Using the app they could illustrate their idea, and explain it in detail orally. They had a model the teacher had created and created a wishlist (or success criteria) they were then able to give each other feedback on their ‘pitch’ for the campaign.

Story Building – Developing Writing

Interacting with books with My Story World.

I have discussed using the iPad for writing here – it is a great tool for collecting ideas, creating plans and collaborating on writing. However the oral sequencing of events, retelling a story and rehearsing sentences are all valubale skills that can be practised and made fun with the iPad. Especially for younger children. The app Puppet Pals can be used to act out scenes in a story. The app Story Builder is also great, especially as it encourages the formation of full and correct sentences by asking questions. There are many interactive books as well which encourage the retelling and sequencing of stories, sucb as Me Books, My Story World and the excellent Collins Big Cat series.

Puppet Pals – the fairy tale character set contains characters many children will be familiar with.

Case study : retelling stories – as a guided reading activity the children were asked to retell a fairy tale they had been reading. They had read this in class and could choose any way they wanted to do this. Using the app Puppet Pals HD they could retell the story and explore the character interaction.

Skill Building

Speaking and listening relies on children developing their confidence from an early age, developing the standard of use English so that they can make themselves understood and playing with language features such as rhetorical questions. The iPad can also be used for the children to produce their own video and to learn to give feedback to each other.

  • Use the iPad to record short video – it could be a book review or answering questions. Encourage the use of ‘correct’ language and model the standard you want.
  • The use of technical language within subjects such as science or maths can be encouraged by asking children to create video for a plenary which explains their findings or solutions to a problem


Using Garage Band


Garage Band has lots of uses! The recording function works well for podcasting and straightforward recording, however you can also change your voice, add sound effects and use percussion to tell a story. My tip? Get some headphones for the class!


Case study : using the podcast facility the children recorded a diary linked to the 2012 Olympics. This dairy, which was meant to be informal and context-specific was then developed into a written account, with each child choosing the section they wanted to develop further.

Have you had any success with a particular app or activity? Please add it to this Padlet!


07 Jul

Using Me Books in the Classroom


Being asked to try apps and ideas in school is always fun, but it’s rare that it works so well in the classroom… Me Books, by developer Made in Me has fitted in beautifully!

First of all, as I have discussed on this site, a big focus this year has been on reading, and particularly Guided Reading – see here for more information. The focus for us has been on the response to texts, children creating content and demonstrating their understanding. The iPad is a brilliant tool for that, allowing the children to choose a number of ways to respond to a tasks in creative and collaborative ways.

However accessing quality texts (whole books) and reading for pleasure is not so easy. Teachers can be put off by the sheer choice (and rubbish) on the iBook store, and pupils are not impressed by badly written or dull looking books. Conversely some of the interactive book apps, which I’ve written about here can be too exciting for independent work during sessions – too distracting!

Enter MeBooks – and what looks like a standard shelf app becomes a very useful tool for exploring and creating. As a declaration of interest here, I should mention that I have been given several free accounts to use from Me Books, and have shared these with the teachers I work with.

The app lets you download a book to individual iPads with seperate accounts. For the purpose of this project we were allowed multiple downloads to each account, and I know the developers are currently looking at straightforward ‘paper based’ ways school can order books for their accounts, so you can order 20 copies of the same book for your iPads for example.

The beauty of the app though is within the narration – and the sound ‘buttons’ – take a look at this screenshot.


Those red splodges are in fact sound bubbles, which means that when these areas are tapped an appropiate sound is played. Also allowing the children to have a go at creating their own sound effects. These ‘custom’ versions can then be saved, alongside the original book. The original narration is usually beautifully acted (often by a recogniseable actor!) and really brings the books to life. The illustrations are normally faithful to the book – and yes that is a Ladybird Classic you see on the header image!


The ability to record your own words and to choose where to place sound effects has a few surprising effects in the classroom. As you would expect there is a lot of fun to be had – give the children a purpose and it becomes about voice and audience. Ask them to record a version for the younger years and you have them working in groups to entertain, listening back to the clarity and checking their expression!

Then take this screenshot – here there are a number of characters. What are they thinking? Well exactly, the pupils can quite literally give the characters a voice. They have plenty of fun putting themselves into the characters shoes. Thinking about what is happening in the story, demonstrating understanding, asking questions and characterisation.


Me Books has fitted in very well with our guided reading session at our schools, but it has also been a hit at other times. The Digital Leaders for examples, have really enjoyed recording their own versions of stories and sharing them with the younger children. They even created a mini guide to the app – take a look at their work here. I have started a project with some parents, looking at how they could offer some narrative in a native language, again giving the children a voice.


Follow @me_books on Twitter for more information!