11 Apr

Looking at Spelling

Teaching of spelling is something that I am always asked about. It seems to make teachers anxious and often schools don’t have a specific policy.Phonics provision lower down the school seems to be very rigorous, with activities and interactivity ‘built in’ –  but then often as they get older children are merely given lists to learn… 

Ben Haiku Display

Why is Spelling important?

  • Children get anxious about spelling; worrying about getting spelling right often causes children to stick to ‘safe’ and therefore quite dull words.
  • Spelling is a feature of the national assessment criteria; as early as level 1 the children are expected to make a phonetically plausible attempt at words with digraphs and double letters whilst at level 4 they need to demonstrate that they are able to spell correctly common grammatical function words – such as adverbs.
  • Prospective employers, teachers and assessors all place importance on correct spelling and with a change in emphasis for the SATs at Year 6 there is no reason to think this will change.

How to fit it all in?
There is no suggestion that spelling should always be a standalone lesson in the week. Whilst there is something to be said about the odd investigative lesson where children are given resources to make words, define new words and to play with the physical feel of words; often rules can be introduced and then reinforced as part of regular AfL or plenary sessions in other lessons.
Many rules lend themselves to being introduced alongside other learning objectives – e.g. the investigating of verb tenses alongside narrative writing or the contraction apostrophe when looking at speech and characters.
School Wide

  • I always recommend that there is an agreed upon school policy for handwriting and spelling.
  • Ensure topic words are introduced and shared in the classroom.
  • Encourage word banks to be displayed and working walls for literacy allow the children to share and then correct mistakes.


Multi-Sensory Approach to Spelling
For children who struggle with the spellings there are a number of multi-sensory approaches that can be taken:

  • Invest in magnetic letters/building block letters- grouping the letters together physically like this will allow children to recognise the latter patterns quickly. They can ‘build’ words and this in turn may help them to remember.
  • Encourage tracing (whether on paper or in the air) of the cursive version of the word. Apps such as Explain Everything are great for creating short videos of the word being written.

The International Dyslexia Association have produced a factsheet helping teachers understand how to help children who struggle with dyslexia type symptoms. Their advice is useful for many teachers and the whole factsheet can be found here

Spelling instruction that explores word structure,word origin, and word meaning is the most effective, even though students with dyslexia may still struggle with word recall. Emphasizing memorization by asking students to close their eyes and imagine the words, or asking them to write words multiple times until they “stick” are only useful after students are helped to understand why a word is spelled the way it is. Students who have learned the connections between speech sounds and written symbols, who perceive the recurring letter patterns in English syllables, and who know about meaningful word parts are better at remembering whole words.

Making Use of ICT

It seems only natural that many children enjoy playing games and investigating spelling patterns using a medium that they are very familiar with. As they get older, asking children to revisit words and patterns that they find tricky can be hard unless there is an extra motivational aspect. But the teacher can also put ICT to good use; making use of the whiteboard to create spelling activities that are truly interactive or including quick rehearsal of skills within the day.

  • Use the software on the interactive whiteboard to create games – e.g. compound words which can be pushed together jigsaw style.
  • Make spelling mistakes and model the use of colour when writing to emphasize spellings. Or the clever use of colour to create ‘hidden’ words which are then revealed.
  • There are lots of tips of ways to use your whiteboard over on the The Whiteboard Blog.  (A great resource Danny Nicholson ~ @dannynic)
  • Sorting out lots of words into rules, meaning, prefixes and so on can also be done on the whiteboard – a great talking partner activity.
  • Web based games Many free resources can be found with a search. Try the BBC Website – which cover many aspects from phonics through to Key Stage 2 objectives and beyond. The ever growing Woodlands-Junior in Kent has an award winning website with many resources. SpellZeBub is a free Guardian Educators resource, which plays a short movie to aid the learning of commonly misspelt words.
  • Search online for wordsearch / crossword creators – some of them allow you to create whiteboard compatible images – the one at teachers-direct.co.uk will allow you to do this. Software can be purchased commercially too; such as Clicker and 2Spell.

iPad Apps

This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.

Squeebles Spelling Test: This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.

  • Skill Builder Spelling – a small, but functional free app that allows you to create individual lists for multiple users. Useful app for spelling set lists with phonic support
  • Word Bingo – sight words; very useful for KS1 – incredibly popular with teachers and pupils alike, although it is limited in scope.
  • Squeebles Spelling Test – a great looking app that allows you to create lists of words and then link them to children’s accounts. Around 4 pupils can have an account on each iPad, so it’s better for schools that have class based or pupil-based devices. However it is very polished, and allows you to record the words as well.
  • ABC Pocket Phonics – a useful app for the first rehearsal of phonics and early words. The lite version allows you to take a look first.
  • Montessori Letter and Sounds – a really nice app for early spellers, or indeed those that still haven’t got the foundation.
  • Simplex Spelling – perfect for older children who haven’t got the understanding of the link between words and sounds. Again, the free version means that you will be able to test it out first.

A quick search for Android apps here. 

Most important though is that children begin to work out for themselves what will help them – there are a few activities to get you started here:

Download (PPT, 82KB)


Feel free to comment if you have any great ideas for getting children to think more carefully about spelling!

Further Reading:

A Scottish Education Board look at Active Spelling – A great project aimed at involving parents. 

Spelling City (online paid for resource) 

The Spelling List from the National Strategy – remember this has been replaced (or will be!) by the New National Curriculum. Still great for ideas though…

Download (PDF, 794KB)




06 Feb

Using the iPad with the writing process

The iPad can be a brilliant motivational tool for children in the classroom. The ease-of-use, coupled with the speed that you can get results means that it can be the perfect tool for integrating into your literacy planning. And, as many schools don’t have 1:1 tablet computers it can also mean that the collaborative and group aspect of the technology can be harnessed.


I’ve been working with teachers who are developing the writing process in an attempt to motivate their boy writers. We have been looking at the writing process and working out where the enthusiasm lags, or where skills need developing. This part of the process is important, reflecting on why the children are stalling, or on what the challenges might be really helps the planning process.

Finally we looked at what apps the schools have, what apps the teachers are confident with and, most importantly, what apps would support the different ‘stumbling blocks’ the children face.

The writing process with the apps we identified.

The writing process with the apps we identified.

A first look at the planning and the use of the iPads in the classroom is encouraging. As an example, the children found using Popplet very easy to share ideas, vocabulary and to create branching plans. It could be used for a quick ten minute burst, rather than being the point of the lesson. Explain Everything can also be used to develop ideas, or rehearse their writing, photographing and then reading their work into explain everything proved the perfect way to start a discussion about punctuation! It created lots of classroom talk and allowed for plenty of short writing opportunities. Teachers were able to use the iPads during ordinary classroom planning, allowing for some really quick and professional looking work created. Enthusiasm and engagement really were the key, with the children beginning to ask if they could create their work in a certain way, or if they were able to use an app to demonstrate their learning and their work.

Some of the apps required greater lesson time, but it paid off with their writing. For example, ‘PuppetPals HD’ would be planned in a standalone lesson, developing dialogue, or looking at character. But giving the children access to the iPad for the writing session meant that they were then able to refer back to their planning, or back to their dialogue show and then use the vocabulary in their writing.

Peer asses work in Explain Everything.

Peer asses work in Explain Everything.

It’s interesting to see the iPads being used as part of a ‘workflow’ – there is no doubt that the iPads are designed as a 1:1 device.

Many schools don’t have the capacity for 1:1 but have nevertheless invested and it’s encouraging to see them being used in such a productive manner. This short trial with writing has shown the capacity for teachers and pupils to use the technology.

03 Feb

Why blog?

Are you blogging in the classroom already?


Blogs are incredibly easy to set up, and there are plenty around to give you inspiration. You could begin here. The question is, why bother?


There seems to be plenty of examples about pupils who would not write, or were reluctant writers, who were inspired by blogs to write more and to write well. Not to mention teachers who were inspired by reading/writing blogs. One paper does attempt to answer the question of impact on pupil progress, however it does not seem to offer any statistically significant improvement, although it does offer evidence for motivation and engagement. Other research points to the impact blogging can have when it is channelled towards a learning objective such as second language learning, or critical thinking skills. See link for Hourigan, below. More ‘hard evidence’ is something we are waiting for, in the meantime all we can do is share our experiences.

Some evidence is anecdotal, a quick trawl through twitter gives you enthusiastic and inspired teachers who really believe that blogging is giving their pupils the motivation needed to write.

And there seems to be the point, motivation? A good, well managed blog does more than that:
– it supports audience awareness, great for fine tuning language skills
– develops digital literacy skills as pupils become responsible for their own blogs
– an awareness of cultural differences, geography, citizenship. Check out the brilliant Quad Blogging for details of how schools are linked together to ensure children are sharing experiences across the globe.
– develops communication skills and team building
– can address an aspect of school life, like parental engagement or school dinners.

What about for teachers? This excellent blog here details one school’s journey and describes how blogs were introduced to staff. There is no doubt that teachers benefit from the chance to share and reflect on their practice. Could blogging be the way to do this? This blog from a secondary school teacher encourages plenty of reflection and is a very worthwhile read!
Another excellent mixture of ideas and reflection comes here, KrisitanStill, would encouraging staff to keep a blog be a step in continuous professional development?
Blogs can also be used incredibly effectively for CPD, check out this a site set up to allow teachers to moderate piece of writing in line with National Curriculum levels. Very useful!

It’s well worth checking out the ‘impact’ section of the QuadBlogging site here. Lots of talk about community, collaboration and team-building, which is supported by reading some of the research. It seems pupils are enthused by having a sense of audience, control over content and the use of a medium that they are comfortable with.

Another great site is here Set up by a teacher to share resources and give tips!

If you have any success stories, please add them here!

So where can you start? My advice, is to begin with a teacher who is already interested. Start small and let other teachers see how it can be managed and what can be achieved. A free site, such as posterous or blogger can be used and initially teachers can post and students leave comments. Ensure any comments come to you to be moderated, and start with some very simple posts.

Do remember to think about your e safety policy at the same time as introducing class blogs. Will pupils be taught how to respond to comments? Will you encourage parental contributions? Perhaps a coffee morning for parents to discuss any fears or share any ideas?

Using a school-wide blog, such as The 100 Word Challenge can provide a focal point, and raise the profile of a subject.

Get started with blogging.

Get started with blogging.




The Impact of Blogging and Scaffolding on Primary School Pupils’ Narrative Writing: A Case Study
Ruth Mei Fen Wong, National Institute of Education, Singapore Khe Foon Hew, National Institute of Education, Singapore

Sharon Henry Wellington High School Rosemary Erlam
The University of Auckland

Using blogs to help language students to develop reflective learning strategies: Towards a pedagogical framework
Tríona Hourigan and Liam Murray University of Limerick


27 Jan

Grammar and Punctuation Resources

The Year 6 Sats will include a grammar and punctuation test this year.

Whilst the writing tests have always included marks for spelling and grammar this is the first time that a separate paper has been included. Writing, let’s not forget, is still teacher assessed with some LA moderation taking place.

See the guidance here.

Do remember that it is working from the current framework, see guidance below! Nothing new is added at this stage…

So, what can Primary teachers and Literacy Coordinators do to add more opportunities for grammar and punctuation lessons in their classrooms?

  • Literacy Coordinators need to be reminding teachers of the vocabulary, meanings and correct use of grammar and punctuation now – don’t wait until the test. The draft curriculum is due to be introduced in 2014, but you can use the vocabulary and punctuation guidelines now. Introduce some vocabulary or a rule each week during staff briefing. Share a game that can be played to support this rule or vocabulary.
  • School wide focus – make ‘correct sentence structure’ a school wide focus. Encourage age-appropriate targets linked to sentence structure and reference this in marking for all subjects.
  • Model the correct use – all adults need to be ensure they are a model for the children to use. Remember the saying – if they can’t speak it how can they write it? If they don’t hear it said, how can they write it down?
  • Language rich learning environments – everywhere in school all displays should be language rich – encourage mathematical explanations and model scientific language.


Do share the test and expectations with Parents, the DfE have produced a guide:


There are many home-grown resources out there – and I will begin to collect links and documents here. I’ve been thinking about Maths games – how great teachers are at creating resources to encourage quick recall and calculation skills – and employing this in literacy. Flashcards for vocabulary, matching games for sentence types and ‘follow-me’ cards can all be used for quick grammar and punctuation.




The BBC website, bitesize, is still a good one for practising.

Also Pie Corbett has recorded an excellent video for Oxford University Press here, talking about grammar in context, which is incredibly important!

Thinking about your own understanding, there is an excellent site here, from Bristol University to test you and explain any misconceptions.