15 Great Uses for Talking Tins in the Foundation Stage and KS1

talkingtinsIn preparing for a cpd session with a nursery and infant school, I recently came across the wonderful Talking Tins.  These were originally designed for those with visual impairment and are used to label tins in kitchen cupboards so that the contents can be identified.

They are basically a recording device, which children or adults can record a small amount of talk, 40 seconds in all, to be replayed whenever necessary.

In introducing these to the staff, we generated a list of ways in which they could be used with young children:

  1. for children who are reluctant to leave parents and come into school, a parent could record a message for the child which they can then keep with them and play when they need to hear their parent’s voice
  2. a range of people around school could record a short message and then the children could try and work out whose the voice might be
  3. staff and children can create a treaure hunt around the school or in the grounds as long as it doesn’t rain.   They are not waterproof
  4. pairs of tins could be used, 1 to ask a question and 1 for a response to be recorded on
  5. used with images, descriptions can be recorded
  6. a jumble of images and recorded descriptions  can  be sequenced
  7. challenges for the  sand/water tray or any area of learning can be recorded and set up near the equipment
  8. children can record songs or rhymes that they make up
  9. for those children who find it difficult to remember a sentence once they start to write can record it and play it back when necessary
  10. phonemes can be recorded and matching tasks with the letters can be created
  11. messages for a special/birthday person of the day can be recorded on the tins and given to the child to listen to
  12. children can record and explanation or reflection.  These could be displayed with the work on a notice board that parents have access to.
  13. a child can record a message for parents which can be displayed such as things we will need for our trip to the beach
  14. a child who finds it difficult to remember messages when delivering them around school can record their message and replay it when necessary before speaking to the people who need the message
  15. children can record themselves reading and listen back to reflect upon their fluency

There are of course many more uses for these tools.  Such a simple but powerful idea.  Have you used them for anything?

Just My Type

helvetica1Who’d have thought that fonts could be so interesting? They are in the hands of Simon GarfieldJust My Type is a book that tells about fonts – their history and their use in our world today.  Fonts play such an important part in our lives  although we may not notice them, they  say so much about us.

If you trawl the internet you will find that most bloggers about fonts think that Comic Sans is the worst font in the world (and I agree with them) although when used for its original purpose, text in comics, it’s perfect!

I am a fan of arial myself, not really liking fonts with serifs, but never knew that may favoured font is really a Microsoft clone of Helvetica.   Helvetica is ubiquitous and even has a documentary made about it, the trailer of which shows  it is all around us.

So what does this all have to do with children and literacy?  Well the book set leonme off thinking about the font choices that we make which led me on to thinking about the book Leon and the Place Between again.  I have never quite resolved the issue of the fonts in the book.  There are four different fonts used on the front cover with some pages having as many if not more.  Are they there for a reason, are they there to disrupt the reading or are they there for decorative purposes only?  The only place where there is only one font used is when Leon is in the place between.  When he is called back the change in fonts returns.  They could be said to be suggestive of a time gone by, when everything in childhood was magical.

The other book that I am reminded  of is Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne.  Here one event is told from four different points of view and for each character’s telling a different font is used.  The font used helps to create the character and manipulate the reader to favour some characters over others.

Progression in Animation – take 2

DSC00626We had a wonderful day on Monday at our Animation conference.  Oscar Stringer and Helen came along to show us how to animate and we used the wonderful software Zu3D and Hue webcams.  You can see the animations that the teachers made here.

One of the things that I didn’t get time to share on the day was a draft progression in animation.  I  have tried to write this previously but as time goes on, you look back at it and realise that it is wrong.

So here goes for take 2.  This time I have taken the headings emergent, DSC00627developing, experienced and expert as  has been done in the great book Beyond Words: Developing children’s understanding of multimodal texts.

Once again I must stress that this is a working idea and is not the final outcome.


  • take turns to speak and ensure everyone contributes
  • explain their views and listen to others and agree next steps
  • create short, simple texts making adventurous choices
  • combine images and sounds
  • reflect on own work
  • plans are focused on images and are not always referred to when animating


  • organise roles and take on different roles, actively including others
  • distribute tasks and check progress
  • create texts with a beginning, middle and end
  • show imagination through humour, atmosphere and suspense
  • choose and combine images and sound for particular effects
  • if used, voice over is clear and well-paced
  • reflect critically on own work
  • planning acknowledges image, sound, time and number of shots


  • plan and manage a group overtime
  • understand different ways to take the lead
  • understand and use a variety of ways to criticise and respond to criticism
  • vary the pace and develop viewpoint
  • create multi-layered texts
  • use a range of techniques to engage the viewer
  • integrate sounds and images for different purposes
  • where appropriate, layers of sound are used
  • planning is an integral aspect of animating containing all relevant information


  • adopt a range of roles when needed
  • acknowledge others’ views and adapt/modify own views in light of what they say
  • use and experiment with a range of devices to hold the viewer’s interest
  • develop pace and emphasis
  • use terms appropriate for critical analysis
  • entertain and interest viewers
  • where appropriate, create animations that are open to interpretation
  • planning drives the creation of the animation

What have I missed out and what doesn’t fit with what you know about children animating?

Live Binders: a great tool for teachers

I can’t quite remember how I came across this great tool so if you have already blogged or tweeted about this thank you because I probably heard about it from you!

I love Live Binders!  It reminds me of Jog the Web because it is basically a way of collecting a group of websites together and recording a commentary about them.  What makes this differerent and therefore more usable, is what you can do with your Live Binder once you have created it.

You can share it via email, embed it, copy it and collaborate with others on it.  I can feel a whole series of these coming on!
What would you create a live binder about?

What all teachers ought to know about the benefits of animation

class1a on animation from Matty Dawe on Vimeo.

During an animation project that has spanned this year, I have been concentrating  on what progression in animamtion looks like.  Now that I have a little time I want to spend some time reflecting on what the animation did for literacy learning.  I want to think beyond the work that has already been undertaken about camera shot and the level of detail written,  the link between scenes and paragraphs etc.  These have all been well documented  as part of the bfi work.

Because the animation was linked to poetry three times during the year, the teachers involved in the project found that their choice of poetry changes as we moved through the year.  By the third animation they were quite clear about choosing poems with strong images that were accessible to children.  Not revelationary but in terms of the poems they would have normally chosen for literacy there was a difference.

So how did linking poetry and animation affect learning in literacy?

Creating images from words (reading)

  • Animation and poetry are both about images, amongst other things, and we know that good readers often visualise or create images from the words they are reading.  By linking the two together the children became much more expert at creating images that were suggested by the words in poem.  The animating ‘forced’ the children to think in terms of images.  This impact on their reading was quite pronounced as the children were expecting the poems to create images for them which had not been the case duirng the first animation.  If you have children who do not comprehend texts effectively, animation may be one tool that can support this development.

Creating words from images (writing)

  • For some of the children, creating  images and then creating  poetry from the animation allowed them to tap into ‘dormant’ vocabulary.  That is vocabulary whicc we have but don’t often use in our every day interactions.  The Anglo-Saxons called this our word-hoard.  We use approximately 5000 different words in our day to day communication yet we know so many more words.  For developing writers it is important that we show them how to tap into their word-hoard to bring words forward.  It is also important that we show them the process of seeing images and attaching words to them.  This is after all what many writers do and what Pie Corbett in Talk for Writing calls imaging.  Animating allows us to make these two invisible processes visible for children.

Storyboarding (planning)

  • It was interesting to see what the children did when storyboarding.  Writing is normally a task undertaken by an individual, although many schools do encourage children to write in pairs.  Many primary age children do not understand the concept of planning, writing too much in the plan and then writing out again for the actual text.  The primary purpose of storyboarding when animating was to create a shared visual understanding of what was to be made.  This demanded many skills of the children; the ability to articulate ideas, persuade and negotiate.  It was this process that meant that by the time the children had storyboarded they really had a clear idea of what they were about to make. The purpose of planning was clear to the children and had an impact on the planning that they did when writing supporting the understanding of the two processes – planning and then writing.

These ideas mean that animation is an ideal learning tool for use in literacy and not just once a year.  What else should teachers know about animation?

Other posts about animation

A Recipe for Successful Animation


  • A willing teacher
  • Viewing opportunities
  • Reliable software  (Zu3D or I Can Animate)
  • Suitable camera (Hue webcam)
  • Groups of children with something to say
  • Models that the children can manipulate easily (2D, scissors, toys, paper, photos)
  • The 3 Cs (critical, creative and cultural)
  • More than one opportunity to animate throughout the year linked to the curriculum
  • A microphone


  1. Start with viewing experiences and build them in as regular slots throughout the year.  Offter the children opportunities to see animations that extend the range  that they are familiar with. (Cultural)
  2. Following these viewings, allow for time to respond to the animation.  This could be through discussion, use of toys or models, writing or drawing. (Critical analysis)
  3. The first time that the children use the software, model how to use frames.  Use 12 for a lead in, 6 for a pause and 1 for action.  The pauses are very important as they can make the difference between a comfortable and an uncomfortable viewing experience.  Think of them as punctuation! (Creative)
  4. Try to animate something other than narrative at first because it takes a long time to create a small amount of animation and stories are often long and demand longer animations.  Poetry is good.
  5. Allow sufficient time to make the animation and add sound.  This can take some time at first but the more you animate, the quicker this process becomes.
  6. View your animation and think about what you would do differently if you could do it again. (Critical analysis)
  7. Upload your animation to Vimeo so that others can view it and leave comments for you. Watch other children’s animations on the Persistence of Vision Channel. (Critial analysis and culture)
  8. Repeat the whole process as often as possible but at least twice a year if animation is undertaken in every year group in the school.  If not animate three times during the year and try and convince others to have a go.

Music for your Film and Animation

I am in the middle of trying out Zu3D  animamtion software and am very impressed.  However, what really caught my eye was the site that they recommended for royalty free music – Incompetech.  This site is jam-packed full of royalty free music that can be downloaded and used for whatever you want as long as you credit the creator.  Read the wonderful terms of use here.

The main issue that really sells Zu3D to me is the multi-layered sound track that can be added.  Currently I am using I Can Animate but we have to import it into MovieMaker and then add sound and there is a limit to what you can do including only having one sound track.  I know we could use Audacity but that just adds another layer of things for teachers to learn when sometimes the animation software is enough.

The Zu3D website is full of useful resources for teachers and children.  I really like this idea of using photogrpahs for backgrounds and importing Pivot Stick Figure animations in like these. I love the PE one!

What do you use for animation?

Using Scooby Doo in Literacy

scoobyWe have been recommending Scooby Doo for some time in our texts that teach lists where adventure or mystery are taught.  The cartoon clearly follows an overcoming the monster archetype and the characters are stock characters.  They don’t change or develop, always playing the same role.  These elements are what make it an excellent text that teaches for Yr3 pupils.

Well now we can add gaming to the mix with The Temple of the Lost Souls.  This game sees Shaggy and Scooby Doo searching for the hottest chilli in the world to use in their cooking, and in the process trapping a monster.  The game would lend itself to creating a comic to tell the story.  This will allow children to choose the frames to represent the pace of the ‘story’ and to add key aspects in text.  For a walkthrough of the game see this example.

For a great description of engaging boys (and girls) in writing there is a section in “I know what I want to writei know now!” Engaging Boys (and Girls) through a Multimodal Approach by Petula Bhojwani, Bill Lord and Cath Wilkes that explores making comic strips based on film.  Using comic strips based on games allows children to develop structure and theidea of key events.  Using comic strips based on film allows children to develop the notion of character and reactions to events which are not always present in gaming.

Animating Again!

Today was our second day of the animation project that we are taking part in.  The teachers came with animations their children had made, were ready to discuss the learning that had taken place.

I have to say that the animations were fantastic and whilst we talked several things became clearer to me:

  • when working as a team you need to be  effective at sharing the visual idea so that all can buy into it and understand what is to be achieved.  I was however left with the question about what was the best way to do this.  I suspect there is no one way that is the ‘best’ but  ways that work for some more than others.  Whatever it is, sketching, photographing, talking etc this leads to storyboarding and storyboarding is important.
  • group dynamics were important.  Time and time again the teachers reported that the group that worked best together produced a quality animation.  This illustrates the need to teach the skills of collaboration – not just expecting children to be able to do it.  And probably these issues are barriers to learning generally not just animating.
  • managing the timing or speed of action was an important skill that needed further development.  Pauses are important in animation and provide a sort of full-stop or break like a paragraph.  It means that the animation is not action, action, action.
  • some groups had too much going on in their animation.  I can only liken this to writing that goes on and on but doesn’t really go anywhere and the reader is not really sure what to focus on.  The learning from this is that the children need to develop the idea of directing the viewer’s attention.  Other groups didn’t have enough going on.  I often read writing like this which is what I call minimalist.  Again I think the children need to focus in on what they want their veiwer to ‘see’.

This will  inform how we develop our teaching of animation over the next few months.

As we are teaching animation at least three times across this year linked to poetry we then went onto look at how we could provide a different stimulus for the children and so started with sound.

We listened to three sounds, one at a time and talked around the images they generated for us.  This was a fantastic activity because the longer we did it the less literal the images became and then it started getting interesting.  From this sound we then created an animation and finally  added the sound by exporting the images and importing into Movie Maker.  Below are two of the results.  We did have one crash and  loss of  work.  It’s a painful way to learn to save, save, save.

I will write about the children’s animations in another post.

10 things I really liked in 2009

happynewyearI have now been blogging for 13 months – I forgot the blog birthday.  Strange how online life mirrors real life ; ) I thought for the end of 2009 I would pick out 10 things that I discovered and that have become a part of me, some of which I have blogged about and some not.  When I say I discovered it is of course thanks to all the people in my PLN that discovered them for me!

1. Talk for writing and here – this is a strange one but it is a way of teaching writing that helps children to embed language patterns and use them in their own writing.  I have worked with a lot of teachers and quite a few children in my eight years of being a literacy consultant and this is the one idea that has had the most impact on children and their writing. The other reason that I like it so much is that it is based on skills and processes that writers use and is not a mechanistic attempt to simplify writing for teachers or children.   I am looking forward to seeing how it develops amongst our team and with teachers and children in 2010.

2. There will be several books in this list but one of my favourites that has had a lot of use towards the end of the year and will do so next year is Think of an Eel .  This is a non-fiction text told through two voices; one which I would call a literary non-fiction voice and one which is a more formal report voice. Word order and choice is poetic, sentence construction is varied and paced to fit the life cycle of an eel and the illustrations are watery and also reflect the sentences and life cycle.  This is definitely a text that teaches.

3. 2009 introduced me to etherpad which then disappeared.  It enabled groups of people to write together synchronously or asynchronously and was so usable in the classroom.  It has been  reborn in several  forms of which I use two, Netherpad (which wouldn’t open when I wrote this post so I hope it hasn’t disappeared as well) and PiratePad.

4. Comic creators – the boys writing project that we have run this year has meant that I have had to move into areas of reading and writing where I am not very experienced.  Comics.   The best software to create comics is Comic Life because you can use your own images.  However, if you can’t afford to buy software (and this doesn’t cost much) then the following are great; Super Action Comic Hero , Dr Who Comic Maker , Read Write Think comic creator and Captain Underpants .  Plenty to choose from.

5. One book which has influenced my thinking about how we teach the reading and writing of fiction is The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. I am fascinated by the underlying patterns of story and now when I read can’t help but try and decide which of his seven plots are used.  They help children to see the generic patterns behind story whether in print or as images and can be used in their own writing.  I am not the only one interested in this.

6. I have found diigo to be an invaluable way of reading and commenting on texts online, particularly when doing this as part of a group study.  I have to say that it went beyond my expectations.

7. Storybook creators – I love these sites that allow children to create their own books.  They range from those that allow a lot of choices to those that don’t but all offer something to young writers.  Some of my favourites are; Picture Book Maker, Spot the Dog and Storybird (this is my all time favourite but is blocked by our filters even on my computer – lucky you if you can get it).

8. My Flip Video Camcorder .  More and more schools are getting these as easy to use video cameras to have available in the classroom.  They should be there for children to use a a tool to record learning just as pens and pencils are.  I bought one because I found some of the other cameras in classrooms limiting.  I use it all the time.  It comes with editing software but I prefer to download the film and use MovieMaker to edit.  Very easy to use.

9. The power of animation to allow children to show their understanding of texts.  This is partly due to the project, Persistence of Vision, that we are involved in.  We are particularly focused on the links between animation and poetry. Our outcomes are to try and record what we think progression in animation looks like in primary schools and to develop a professional development package that can be used byanyone interested in taking animation further.  We are working with Oscar Stringer and using I Can Animate software and the powerful yet affordable Hue webcams as our equipment.  I have to own up to having a bright pink Hue webcam.

10.  and finally to all the people that I am connected to through twitter, blogging, LinkedIn,Facebook and online learning a big thank you for all your ideas and resources that you have shared.  It is because of you that I can write a post like this.

Happy New Year.