Boost your Blog

As part of the Edublogs Teacher Challenge we were asked to share our 5 tips for creating a blog.  This is something I have done quite a bit of in my classroom and now I have a good reason to share it.

Generally the discussions we have in our classroom tend to be about class or student blogs but interestingly the aspects of a blog children found important, I believe, transfers to professional blogs.

When teaching children about the comprehension strategy of evaulation, blogging is a brilliant genre.  We have used this rubric developed by Clarence Fisher, which has been very helpful.  But this year I hope to make our own rubric for our class.

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After using this rubric we discussed what we liked about the blogs we looked at.  It was quite interesting to see that the kids responses mainly came from the logistic side of the blog, with the navigation being more important than the writing.  I guess we wouldn’t pick up a book that was the size of a table as it would be too difficult to read.  A blog shouldn’t be any different.

Here are the 5 top responses from the children;

1. Easy to read: The blog should be easy to navigate and read.  Pictures are a great way to break up lots of writing and don’t forget to use paragraphs!

2. Links need to open in a new window: When we are working through a blog we like to glance at different links as we go.  But there is nothing worse then having to try and find your way back.  By simply setting your target (found in the link box) to open in a new window when you set a link it makes it a lot easier! And it allows people to come back to your blog.

3. Ask questions: We like to comment on blogs but this is a lot easier when there are questions to respond to.  It is easier to follow a list of questions than to think of writing about them from scratch.

4. Pictures and colours: Over crowded blogs make it really hard to concentrate, especially the blogs with ads on them.  They tend to put the ads in the wrong place.  It is easier to read if the writing is separated by pictures relating to the text.  And make sure you pick a good colour for the text.  Not all of them are easy to read!

5. Threaded comments: When you are reading through a list of comments it can be difficult to follow the conversation.  That is where threaded comments come in.  Thanks to Kathleen Morris who showed us how easy it is to do this (Find it in Plugins).

What are your 5 tips for boosting your blog?

What frustrates you when you read a blog?

Please leave a comment.

Online Dictionaries

Recently the Oxford dictionary announced they would no longer be making paper copies of their dictionaries. Although a tech lover, I must admit I was horrified at the thought and quickly added the recent edition to my Christmas list.  When I told the kids in my class, their response was the complete opposite to mine – ‘Why would you need it in a book anyway?  We just use our computers!’

How honest and true they were.  As, when I thought about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I picked up a dictionary in the classroom, but the online dictionary gets used all the time.

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Image: ‘Depth of Field‘ 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/99021790@N00/4269594949

So, what do I use in the classroom?

Dictionary.com

I find this site replaces your everyday dictionary.  This is our favourite dictionary app on the iPad as it is easy to use for the kids. Also it gives you drop down suggestions as you type – great if you are not sure how the word is spelt.

Oxford online

This online version is fantastic for those words you don’t always find in the student dictionary version.  But, as with the paper version, it is not always ideal for the primary classroom.

Visuwords

Now this is a great user friendly dictionary.   It colour codes the words making it easy to see different definitions for the same word or synonyms.  If you are looking for a definition, simply hover your mouse over the word and a box appears defining the word in a simple, clear language.  It is a great resource to look at different words such as nouns, adverbs and adjectives.

Visuwords

Lexipedia

Similar to Visuwords, Lexipdeia sorts words into synonyms, verbs, nouns, etc.  What lexipedia does differemtly is have a side bar where the words are sorted into categories.  This makes it really easy if you are looking for alternative adjectives to a word. We recently used this site to find alternative words to said and walk.  The students found the synonyms using lexipedia and added them to wordle to create a word cloud to display in the room.

Lexipedia

Thinkmap – The Visual Thesaurus

This visual thesaurus is fantastic.  Although not a lot different to the other ones I have mentioned this thesaurus allows you to hear the key word you have entered and you can also change the key word by clicking on a linked word.  Unfortunately you need a paid subscription for this but you can trial it.

The Visual Dictionary

This is not a a dictionary as such but I love the concept. It is a collaborative project where people have added photos of words to create a visual dictionary.  Type in your keyword and it shows you all the photos with that word.  It adds a great new spin on cutting out words from a newspaper to make a sentence.

The visual dictionary

What online dictionary do you use?

Do you have any great ideas for using online dictionaries?

Why not leave a comment?

Spelling

I am always on the look out for different strategies to teach spelling and I thought I would share a few that I use in my classroom.

Wordle is a wonderful tool for spelling.  It is a particularly good way of having children practise new spelling patterns.  Wordle works by inserting a number of words or text into a cloud.  The more the words are used, the bigger they become in the cloud.  This allows children to practise the correct spelling of words when they need to repeatedly enter the word.  When learning a specific letter pattern I have children enter words and take a screen shot of the final product.  This gives them a great refernce to look back at when writing.

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An alternative to this is Tagxedo, which makes the clouds in different shapes.

Along the lines of repitition being a tool for learning spelling, I was taught these two tricks at a PD many years ago and they are both popular in my classroom.

1. Using a tricky word (commonly confused words or those with irregular spelling) of the week children are given a small piece of paper.  They need to write that word, with correct spelling, as many times as they can in 1 minute.  The competition certainly gets them motivated and it is always amusing to see how small they can write their words!

2. Writng a silly story using the same letter pattern.  Give children a time limit to use as many words from the same letter pattern as many times as they can in a story.

I went to the station to begin my vacation.  It seemed the whole nation was there so it was a commotion.  I stepped forward with caution to find a weird creation. It was some lotion with an addition sign.  With some ambition I went to information to ask about it.  The man said it was a formation of portion.

After spending some time in the UK, I did some profession development with Pie Corbett, who has some wonderful spelling activities.  One that I always pull out when teaching compound words is to make a silly story by turning the compound words around.

I went to get the papernews along the pathfoot.  Mum gave me her baghand, which she had got from her boardcup.  On the way I played some ballfoot but got an achehead.

I was recently shown Google scribe. This website predicts the word you will write from the letters you are entering.  From the first entry a drop down menu appears with a list of words you may be using.  Although not specifically teaching spelling I find this is great for children who have spelling difficulties which impedes their ability to write.  It has been wonderful to see reluctant writers proud of what they have written and to see that these children have good writing structure, something I may not have seen if they were asked to write a paragraph.

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What games or activities do you use for spelling?

What are your thoughts on how spelling should be taught?

Please leave a comment.

Handwriting v Typing

I have fond memories of handwriting in primary school.   I still remember my prep teacher showing the class how to write the letters in the air.  Later in school we practised everyday and the teacher would give us a mark out of ten.  My aim was to beat Juliet, the girl who consistently got 10/10 while I only got 9½.

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I now wonder where it has gone?  Don’t get me wrong, I still do handwriting once a week. But it doesn’t seem to have the importance it did when I was growing up.

And now comes the question of the 21st century!  With 1:1 technology do we replace handwriting with typing?

One of my deepest regrets is not learning to touch type.  I can type quickly and sometimes I come close to touch typing but I still stand in awe when watching my doctor’s receptionist!  But watching the children in my class, the digital natives, using their index fingers to search for keys makes me shudder.

That’s why I do teach typing in my class.  We use a wonderful site by the BBC in England.  Some of the characetrs have very amusing English accents, but considering most of us were brought up on the twang of Big Bird I don’t think it will harm them too much!

On BBC Dance Mat Typing, you follow the animals advice as they show you the home row and sing songs about the letters you need to find.

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It has certainly helped me in trying to touch type and I can now see children finding the home row and squinting to get their fingers to reach rather then searching for the correct key.

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What are your thoughts about handwriting and typing?

Do you know any other great typing websites or programs?

Leave a comment.