Tag Archives: literacy

The Story of Me – increasing vocabulary recognition.

I am a primary school class teacher, based in Scotland. I teach Primary 2 (age 6 -7 years).

I designed the Story of Me project to promote recall of vocabulary. It was inspired by an article I read recently by Turk et Al (2015) which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it was used in sentences where they themselves were the subject of the sentence.

At the same time I had been doing lots of work with my class on improving their drawings of themselves. I had been modelling the step by step process I would take to draw a person and discussing with them all the elements that one might think about when trying to represent somebody in an illustration and then, following on from that, how you might illustrate what they are doing in the picture.

I put together the project based on these on these two ideas to see whether co-authoring and the experience of being the subject of both text and illustration could make target words more memorable for children and also to see whether seeing themselves represented by an illustrator would improve their self-portrait skills!

I am currently studying illustration and I was engaged in this project as an illustrator as well as the class teacher (although the children were not aware that some of their stories were being illustrated by me!).

The model was as follows:

  • Identify target group of words for each child – these were a mixture of ‘high frequency words’ and ‘keywords’ from our reading scheme.
  • Children create sentences about themselves using these words.
  • Aspiring children’s illustrators were recruited to work (virtually) with the children in the class – they draw one illustration for each child’s sentence per week.
  • Child is created as a central character so each sentence becomes part of a story about them.
  • Aspiring illustrators gain experience in the creation of a character and placing that character in different situations each week.
  • Illustrations come back to the children via email or online sharing.
  • Over the 4 weeks of the project the children will compile a special book (either a paper book or an e-book) containing an illustrated story about themselves.

The primary aims of the project were as follows:

  • Children develop a strong relationship with the target words and recall them accurately.
  • Illustrators model good quality drawing and illustration for the children and the children develop their ability to draw figures and faces.
  • Illustrators gain experience creating a character and placing it in different situations.

Other intended outcomes:

  • Children get a taste of the collaboration of author and illustrator.
  • Children gain a better understanding of the work of both an author and an illustrator.
  • All children see themselves in the role of an author – they have written a book!
  • Children’s ideas are valued and celebrated.
  • Children themselves are at the centre of the story – they are important and interesting.

The project is now complete and you can see a compilation of our wonderful stories at http://bit.ly/StoryOM2.

There is also a summary of the findings and outcomes of the project against its intended aims.

I hope you enjoy The Story of Me!

Susannah Jeffries

Twitter @mrsjteaches

Instagram @MrsJDraws


Reciprocal Teaching

Recently two colleagues taught me all about Reciprocal Teaching as a way of encouraging literacy in the classroom.

Each member of a group is given a different role, Predictor, Clarifier, Summariser or Questioner. All group members are given a piece of text to read, with each of them looking at a different role within this, it means that when they go to discuss the piece of text, they all have different ideas and perspectives to bring to it and it structures the activity much better.

Not only does this encourage literacy, it also encourages group work and makes each member accountable.

I have created some worksheets that will aid each member with their role and tasks to structure their reading.

You can download them here. Free Printables- Reciprocal Reading

Reciprocal Teaching

Read More Here: http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/reciprocal_teaching

[Posted originally on Learning RMPS.]

Engaging pupils with iMovie trailers

Following a challenging morning, we were bracing ourselves for the afternoon session in our nurture base. We support the most vulnerable children in the authority. We base our practice on the nurture principles and the Boxall profile and the children’s mental, social and emotional well-being is a priority for us. Or, as I’ve seen on social media, ‘the Maslow stuff needs to be done before the Bloom’s’. As a number of our pupils were at bump up days or transition to secondary visits, we were expecting only two pupils.

The first to arrive insisted on some outdoor learning (or absconded if you prefer) following various expletives and suggestions to the taxi escort regarding how she might like to spend her time. Two members of staff headed out to ensure his safety and encourage his return. This left me with one senior primary pupil (there were other staff with younger pupils next door). Let’s call him Jamie, for any Outlander fans.

A calm entry and exit is an important part of a session, so there were three activities available for Jamie to choose his soft start. He chose the Geomag magnetic toys and we chatted about his day as he built his characters. He was a little unsettled so I extended the activity to allow him to quietly focus on his construction. Jamie suddenly asked me about an iMovie trailer he’d seen me make with another pupil. This had been inspired by a session at Pedagoo Perth and had been very successful. With an animated face, he asked if we could make one with his Superheroes.

This led the afternoon away from the plan but was responsive to his needs. We began to plan the trailer. Never one to use twenty words when eighty will do, this took some time but we got there. As we filmed and took photos, Jamie kept saying, ‘awesome’ and ‘cool’. He was fully engaged and, in fact, was leading the project. He chose the text and insisted that his middle name was included in his name for the credits.

When he viewed the finished trailer, his face lit up and he beamed at his name on the credits. After watching it again, he turned to me and said, “This is the best experience of my life”. It was no exaggeration for him. He had been engaged, he experienced success and his day had been turned around. He shouted the other adults over, to share his success.

Jamie then naturally reviewed his project and decided that, next time, it would be better with a green screen so that his hands can’t be seen. I’m not sure if this is possible but requires some PL for me. I am very glad that I travelled to Perth that day – huge thanks to @ciaracreative for her session that day.
You can read about the conversation here. iMovie Trailers


Big Writing workshop @ #tmslfringe12

The workshop I’m am leading at #tmslfringe12 is on my experiences of using Big Writing in my classroom.  I don’t profess to be an expert as I have received no official training (cluster has arranged this for February inset).  Hopefully though people will leave with some new ideas they can use in their classroom.

Don’t worry if you weren’t able to attend because if you click here I have collated all the Big Writing resources I have found so far.

There are also resources available on Ros Wilson’s website.

Big Writing Timer

One Minute Writing

There are times when I have felt very demoralized when I read the children’s writing.  I teach Primary 4  in the north of Glasgow.  No matter how much input I give there are some children who simply do not like writing.

Recently I have started doing One Minute Writing.  It is a great way of using the odd 10minutes before breaks that can happen for a variety of reasons.

The first time I used this was after a fire drill and there was 10 minutes between getting back to class and the morning break.  The children were noisy and restless.

As their literacy jotters were on their desks I asked them to put the heading One Minute Writing and the date.  They were a bit bemused at starting what they thought was a writing lesson with so little time available.

When they had done this I explained that I would write a single word on the board and they would write about that word for exactly one minute.  A timer was set and I wrote the word “fire”.

They all looked wvery industrious. I was impressed. When the timer rang they out down their pencils and every child was keen to read what they had written.  I chose the ones who were usually reluctant to write and also reluctant to share their work with the class.

The results were like list poems.

One example:

Fire is dangerous

Fire can kill

Fire spreads quickly

Fire is hot

Fire can burn you

Keep safe from fire.


I honestly think that they write as much in the given minute as many of them would write in 30 minutes.

Now they ask when they can do One Minute Writing.

Why don’t you give it a try. Let me know how it works for you and your class.


Games-Based Learning CfE

I am a Secondary English Teacher, but first and foremost I am a Teacher. In my past ‘life’ I was a Software Engineer so I am a Bachelor of both the Sciences and the Arts.  In a way I am an embodiment of the tenets of Curriculum for Excellence – I should be, because I hated my schooling: it didn’t fit me, nor I it;

Around this time last year I was near to completing the excellent Postgraduate Diploma in E-learning at Edinburgh University; Digital Game-based Learning was one of the six modules of study that focused on the learning and teaching benefits to be gained from existing and bespoke software applications.

I stumbled upon Silent Hunter III, a World War II software simulation game for the PC, and purchased it for about 2 GBP from Ebay.  I did some thinking (and playing), noting that fans were creating montages of scenes from the famous Das Boot film, overlaying in-game footage with an accompanying narrative in the form of subtitles and posting these (as they do for many other games – especially ‘COD’, from my experience of all-boys Standard Grade classes) on Youtube. (#1 & #2)

Confirmed for me was what I had suspected in the re-definition of what is a ‘text’ formalized in the Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy and English – Principles and Practice (LTScotland, p. 4).  Here lay the opportunity to do cross-curricular with – at the very least – History, Geography and ICT.

So, for the past few months – most of which has been a very enjoyable, with the odd difficulty here and there – I have been trialing my development with an excellent S2 class and a very helpful Computing Teacher who facilitated in providing a room with enough PCs; the Technician deserves similar praise in installing what became 15 copies of S.H. (10 of which were at personal expense and all from Ebay/Amazon Marketplace) and the two ‘Single Missions’ I created using the program’s ‘Mission Editor’: dropping merchant ships in the Atlantic when recreating Patrol 4 (12th April – 22nd May 1941) against HX-121 and HG-61; placing a plethora of vessels, Swordfish aircraft, mines and a wolf pack of U-boats at the Straits of Gibraltar for Patrol 7 (27th October – 06th December 1941) against OS-10.

Pupils have immersed themselves (pun intended) in the life of a Kriegsmarine crewmember on board the U-96 during two of its Atlantic Patrols.  They have consulted non-fiction texts, personal accounts, diagrams, German Navy Grid System maps, clippings from Das Boot and re-creating (with the help of u-boat.net and Google Maps) two actual patrols undertaken by U-96 between April and December 1941.  Pupils responded through functional and imaginative responses, and choice was a key consideration, using non-fiction texts with diagrams as well as pure narrative to convey technical information; I plan to offer the same ‘carousel’ approach next year.  Pupils have read about the hydroplanes, but when they get a chance to command the ship itself and use the ‘external camera view’ they really see the causal connection – the planes in operation and the ship surface/submerge.

Assessment? I think that a metaphorical form of assessment suits Literacy Outcomes very well, adopting one that fits the context of the aspect of study.  For instance, a ‘Ranks and Awards’ metaphor was used to good effect, whereupon pupils progress from Submarine School and begin their careers across the ranks of Seaman (Matrose), Able Seaman (Matrose-Gefreiter) and Leading Seaman (Matrose-Obergefreiter); ‘Award Badges’ were also awarded when the pupil displayed competency or understanding in a particular activity or technical element. 

Outcome? Technical difficulties hampered the collation of in-game footage – a consideration for next year, should technical difficulties persist, would be to have a bank of event clips to cover all aspects of their narrative structure – but pupils superimposed their narrative against still images within Powerpoint.

Pupils have been working in collaborative groups (2-4) and thinking in the four dimensional space of their character’s ‘world’, both boys and girls alike experienced the frustration at plotting a convoy … undertaking watch… encountering a clear-blue horizon and a silent hydrophone; I have seen the most unlikely candidates express distress and excitement at an oncoming destroyer as it fills their periscope view.

With crews not exceeding 44 men for a Type VIIC submarine, the class teacher can have pupils draw names of actual navy men that served aboard the U-96, giving them an additional dimension to their imaginative and functional writing activities.  I am scheduled, with the History Department committed and perhaps offering in parallel a similar activity based on the Destroyer Command simulation game; other departments have expressed real interest but I think will need more convincing.  The plan is to fully implement what will be a 12-week unit during the January-April 2012 term for the next cohort of S2.

Today, complete with a couple of bottles of port for the aforementioned colleagues as tokens of my appreciation, I say “Auf Wiedersehen” to the excellent cohort from S2 (who, of course, signed and sent ‘Thank You’ cards) as we change timetable, and they enter Standard Grade and I contemplate the Microsoft Project plan, the directory of digital resources, the Revell Model Kit, the keyboard layout, the Leverarch folder of texts, the Kriegsmarine Map on the wall…

For my next project – English and Science – Orbiter!

Evolving Literacies in the New Curriculum

Originally posted on the Scottish Book Trust teachers blog

Like many teachers in Scotland at the moment, I am trying to evolve my classroom practice to encompass the spirit of Curriculum for Excellence. Below is a little of what I have discovered in developing and delivering a new unit for S2 on vibrations and waves – sound, light and radiations beyond the visible.

Firstly, I set out to write an exemplar teacher’s guide covering from first principles, the route through and some resources supporting the course. I started with the experiences and outcomes within the curriculum suborganiser and then looked across to the other curricular areas to see what I could pull in to enrich the experience. Needless to say, it was a much bigger task than I anticipated.

Secondly, my second year classes are no walk in the park. One particular day, twenty minutes into a period, having failed even so much as to get the learning intentions shared, I finally blew: I don’t have time to recount the details here but I had the class write me an essay on why I should even bother trying to teach them. What came out of that exercise were several examples of passionate, articulate and intelligent writing.

One example worth quoting from had:
“… I was doing well in first year and now I’m doing worse than I was last year because people in this class have wasted my opportunities for my dream job as a chemist.”

These responses brought me up sharply as I realised that the children already had developed literacy skills, enough to express the frustrations some of them were experiencing.

I saw my task as being to provide them a context within which they could develop these, possibly to a higher order. Two things emerged.

Listening and hearing – active engagement in traditionally passive learning
I thought of Pauk’s Cornell method and set a variant of it in context in the new unit. I was intending on using video extracts to support the learning, including one small 7-minute piece from Julian Treasure on sound health. I had the children make messy, contemporaneous notes on the key things that struck them as the video played. I made my own at the same time, then used these to challenge the children on the content of the video they had just seen. I was impressed by the quality of some of the notes – some hadn’t bothered – and the ability of those who had the key points noted down, to answer even the most difficult questions on the content. This was a rich seam for assessment of developing skills, providing evidence and opportunity. A good example* was from a girl, normally not a big hitter in the summative tests, who enthusiastically used the powerful weapon of good notes to outclass the others in her responses. The point was well made. Many students now take notes as I am talking to them.

Using new media and HHD
The other thing that impressed me in the class response to the new unit was how the childrens’ literacy overlaps and includes digital media fluency. I had another enthusiastic response from several pupils who, when asked if they had anything to share for (optional) homework, produced mobile phones with recordings of sounds they had made, answers to questions and even a video* submitted by email.

It is clear to me that the boundaries are being reset on literacy. Our task as teachers is to make sure we ourselves are sufficiently competent in the new literacies in order to challenge and develop children within them.