Who else wants to engage children in literacy but has no money to spend?

As we are about to start the new school year here in the UK there is one thing that is certain.  Times are tough, budgets will be squeezed and yet we still want to engage and motivate our children.  I am always amazed by the amount of money that some schools are prepared to spend on software when they could be making more of what is available online and free.

Steve Cayley the e-learning advisor here in Devon shared this blog post with us and I have to admit to agreeing with a lot of what it says.   I am going to take point number 2 – make use of web-based applications and elaborate upon it for  primary aged children and focus specifically on literacy.  Hhere are the top 5 items I use in my work with teachers and schools and would like to see in all classrooms.  And they are all FREE!

  1. Wikis and blogs.  These are so easy to set up now adays and allow children to write in very different ways.  Wikis allow children to crowd source, something that they will definitely need to learn how to do, and blogs allow the boundaries between reader and writer to be blurred.  They do different things but should be in every teacher’s toolkit.   If boys and writing is an issue for your school then these two tools are a godsend.  The research suggests that boys like to write in the role of expert and these allow children to do exactly that.  Blogger and PBworks are both easy to use.
  2. Google Docs.  These are so useful.  They are word-processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools that can be accessed by any number of people/children to create a document.  And children would be able to access them at home as well as in school.  Google Apps for Education is also a good place to start exploring.  I always enjoy using gmail in the role of a character from a book that children are engaging with in literacy.  I have many many gmail accounts –  the bfg, bluejohn, grommet and peterinparadise.  Children email the character their questions and I respond in role.  It is a type of hot-seating but the delight that most children experience when they receive an email from from the character in a book is priceless.
  3. Twitter and Skype both bring the outside world in to your classroom.  Twitter allows children to ask questions of a safe network of to gather data and Skype allows you to speak to experts and people of interest.  Children of all ages use Twitter with the support of their teacher.  In fact if you are a teacher and are not connected to others through twitter it might be time to start.  Link to those with similar interests and you will be amazed at the support and learning that are an every day occurence.  I am @joysimpson.
  4. Voice Thread.  This is an amazing tool with elements specifically designed for those working with children.  It allows you to share a range of images and for children to then add their thoughts orally or typed.  This is great for activities that require an opininon or as a collection of information.  There is enough available for free on this site to make it well worth while.
  5. Comic makers. Comics are a great form of writing in their own right but they also help us to make visible for children some things in literacy that can sometimes be invisible. I particularly like using comics as a way of making pace in narrative visible. Comic author/illustrators use different size and shape frames which can be linked to hte movement of eyes across the page and then a discussion about the speed of your eye movement. Was it quicker in some places than others? How did the author make that happen? How does this relate to the story you are writing? Artisan CamMake Beliefs  Comix and for all those fans of Dr Who a Dr Who Comic Maker are worth looking at.  You will need to investigate each one to see if it meets your criteria in terms of e-safety looking particularly at where the comics are stored, who can see them and how flexible they are.

And then there are all the great blogs to link to that share ideas and are of course free and available for all to use.  But that is another blog post.

So what are you going to try out this year and how much will it cost?