Top 5 Online Collaboration Tools for Primary Children

I was asked earlier this week what my favourite online collaborative tool was and although I did suggest one, I didn’t really want to miss some others out.  So here are my top 5:

  1. Wikis – these are, I think, the most flexible tool of all.  They can  be used just for text but are best when images, video and podcasts are included.  Think wikipedia and then try out that model with your class.  Can you produce a page about a river in your area, an event that is happening, a period of history being studied, a story?
  2. Etherpad – this is a great tool for producing text that a group have collaborated on.  Etherpad will allow upto 8 people on at any one time.  Each person selects a colour so that writing can be identified.
  3. Voicethread – here images are put together and then comments can be recorded through speech or text.  There is an education section that schools and classrooms can sign up for.  Voicethread 4 Education is a fantastic wiki that shares how teachers have used Voicethread with examples as is Voice Thread Resources and Ideas.
  4. Blogs – although there is only one author usually on a blog, the collaboration here takes place between the writer and the readers of the blog.  The comments boxes are used to continue a discussion that the blogger has started.  Fantastic tools for developing children’s voice and allowing them to write about their own interests.
  5. Mind-mapping – I have been a fan of mind-mapping for some time and there are now online tools that allow you to map collaboratively.  MindMeister is currently my favourite one.  This tool allows you to invite others to collaborate on the mind-map and is so simple to use.  I use the free basic version but there is an academic version at a much reduced rate.  Please feel free to collaborate with me on the mind-map I am creating for a short talk on why children should blog.

The 2009 Horizon Reort: The K12 Edition discusses the reasons why collaboration is so important and also mentions some tools that have proved to be useful and reports about their use.  Well worth reading.

Linked posts: Collaborative Writing with Children and Collaborative Writing

Collaborative Writing with Children

This is the second post in a short series about collaborative writing.  It was written collaboratively using Etherpad at .

Collaborative writing is a new skill for many children.   Letting go of your own writing and allowing others to adapt/change/edit it can be an uncomfortable feeling.

So what can we do?

@AngelaStockman  suggests several ways of collaborating on writing. “Sometimes, we’ll remix three word videos or six word memoirs. I think having the examples there helps at first, but once kids have had experience with this, they are more confident blazing their own trail. I’ve also watched teachers start kids off small on a wikispace and then invite them to continue shaping the piece.”

  1. Give children collaborative writing experiences offline.  Angela’s idea for this is great because it removes ownership of the writing by cutting up and mixing around the words/phrases being used.
  2. @markw29 suggests starting in very small collaborative groups, gradually adding more collaborators over time so that children become used to this way of working.  Children often work in pairs so this would be a good starting point.
  3. Allow time for children to actually play with the collaborative tool being used and to get used to what can be done on it.
  4. Teach about responsibility when working collaboratively.
  5. Try cumulative activities where collaborators add an idea, sentence, line, paragraph one after another.  This means that previous writing is not changed but collaborators must consider cohesion and style to maintain the flow.  Flicktion on Flickr is a great example of this.  If this doesn’t get through the school filter you can still borrow the idea and not use Flickr for it.
  6. @scottfisher74 took the opportunity to address preparation for SATs creatively and gave his class a writing starter that they then went and collaborated on an answer.  The children were in friendship groups.  A good way to group for a first go.
  7. Create the bare bones of a text and ask collaborative groups to improve it.
  8. Here is a great idea from  Diplomacy in Action for a collaborative reflection after working on a piece of writing.  In the group each child is assigned a letter A, B, C etc.  A briefly describes how their participation has affected the group’s work.  2-3 mins and no questions permitted.  B either asks A a probing question or paraphrases them.  B then describes how their particpation affected the group’s work and so on round the group.  This would be a real challenge but would start to get to the heart of effective collaboration.
  9. Story MashUp offers an interesting model for collaborative writing – here the collaboration is between reader and writer.  I do like this idea.
  10. What ideas do you have?  Please share them.

Linked posts:  Collaborative Writing, Using Etherpad in the Classroom, Kent ICT (@mbarrow)has a great page of ideas created collaboratively and from Etherpad itself more ideas.

Written by  @AngelStockman, @markw29, @scottfisher74 and Sara, Jenna and Mo who are trainee secondary English teachers and @joysimpson

Update: a great post about reasons for writing collaboratively

Image recaptioned from lolcats

Collaborative Writing

 With the development of online collaborative tools there are now so many opportunities for collaborative writing.  So wanting to make the most of these opportunities this post about collaborative writing has been written collaboratively using Etherpad .
I am going to split the writing into two posts: models of collaborative writing and collaborative writing with children as there is so much on the Etherpad.
Collaborative writing is not about taking turns to write words, or about one person thinking and one person writing.  It is about sharing thoughts and ideas knowing that the collective wisdom will be greater than an individuals.  It is a collaborative reaching for meaning ,  a description that we often use for guided reading with fluent readers, only this time we are doing it through writing.  With online tools it can be synchronous or asynchronous.
Collaborative writing blurs the boundaries between being a reader and a writer.  Because the writing is not all yours, you need to be a reader to tap into what is being written and what you think about it and then become a writer when you add to, edit, re-organise the writing.  This is collaboration at the point of composition.  In fact when I think about it I collaborate frequently at the point of composition within my team when writing powerpoints for training.  Imagine seven literacy consultants writing collaboratively! 
But we can also have collaboration at the point of idea generation, or capturing ideas as we call it in a teaching sequence.  Here the boundaries between being a reader and a writer are still blurred but are not quite as muzzy as at the point of composition.  You need to read the other ideas listed to check that yours are not already there but you do not necessarily need to read as a writer and try to maintain the flow or cohesion.  You can add in our own style.
The model of collaboarative writing for this post has been interesting.  I set up the Etherpad thinking that I would be collaborating at the point of composition but this wasn’t what happened.  It is actually a collaboration at the generating ideas stage.  The model of writing that we normally use is very much about writing belonging to one person and being of that person. It perhaps feels a little uncomfortable changing something that belongs to someone else.  We need to think completely differently about writing if we are to collaborate at the point of composition. 
The next post will focus on collaborative writing with children, how they found the experience and some ideas about the types of opportunities we can offer them.
Many thanks to @AngelaStockman, @markw29, Sara, Jenna and Mo for collaborating.  I can’t find Sara, Jenna and Mo on twitter.  I would love to know who you are and why you are interested in collaborative writing.

Post it with children

Day 9 of 20 days to better blogging with children has arrived and it is now time for them to start posting.  You will have written a couple of posts and should be ready to start with children.  This means time for shared writing where we show children how we write a post and link to other sites.

So, what to write about?  How about an event or experience the children have recently had, something that has excited them, something they feel strongly about.  Bloggers write about what interests them and use it to share ideas and also to develop their ideas.  In a sense this is writing to learn.  Many thanks to Paul Nichols  for sharing the article on twitter.

Model writing the post, how to make links and how you refer to the person behind the link.  Talk about what decisions you are making, about what to include and what to leave out.  Explain why you think some things work and others don’t.  Discuss what you hope the reader will get out of your post. And most of all share the excitement of publishing to the world!

Make sure that you have let a couple of people know that you have written a post and get them to comment on it.  The children will be excited and want to read what is written and together you can compose a reply that will keep the discussion going.  Try writing several posts with the children.

Image Post-it-face by flowers and machinery

Engaging with comments

 The title of this image is comments hell!  Day 8 of 20 days to better blogging is all about showing children how to engage with commenting on blogs in a way that goes beyond comment hell.  These are the comment equivalents of closed questions.  It is almost impossible to follow on and keep the converstaion going.

Commenting is one of the most important parts of blogging – be it as a reader or writer.  They are about continuing discussion which the blogger or another commenter has started. 

This process needs modelling with children so that they understand some of the processes that we go through when deciding what to write.  I think there are several types of comment and very often they will be determined by the post. 

  • Quite often a post will end with a question.  If readers respond you get an extended post.
  • Sometimes it will end in a manner that works with the rest of the post
  • sometimes it is just a social occasion – see the number of comments on each post here!  You do have to learn to speak the language first.

Your task today is to find a blog that the children are interested in and, together with them, compose and submit a comment. 


Image by P!0

Collaborative Writing

With the introduction of Web 2.0 tools into the classroom, collaborative writing is now becoming a reality.  This is not the collaboration of writing that we used to know where one child wrote and the other had the ideas or took turns in writing words.  This is one which can be extremely powerful.

I recently read a wonderful post  by Mark Warner ,which detailed how he used Etherpad in his classroom, and was struck by the children’s responses.  They reminded me of the responses from trainee teachers I had worked with using wikis.  What is becoming clear to me is that the model of collaborative writing is different, very different and demands that we approach our writing differently.  But how?

What I would like to do is to write a collaborative post about collaborative writing; how it is different and how we can prepare children to make the most out of it.  I will post the writing in a fortnight.  If you have a point of view about collaborative writing or some ideas to share please drop in and add them. 

How many words to tell a story?

Just picking up on a theme running through twitter and blogs at the moment which is telling stories in a set  number of words.

Why would we want to limit the number of words?

Limiting the number of words means that a semantic squeeze is applied!  Every word has to work very hard and carries much meaning.  It is obvious that the more words allowed the more development and description there can be. 

  • Lots of words but filmed  One of my favourite all time videos on YouTube.
  • 60 word mini sagas or 50 word mini sagas.  These could be retellings of stories already known or original.  The words could be recorded as photos and may not convey a story but be linked in other ways.  This is a great wiki because the teacher explains how they went about the task.
  • Tell a story in five frames.  Not words but images.  This is a group on Flickr and is a great source of resources to support writing.
  • 6 words What a great model for blog postings for a class.  This idea is supposed to have started with Ernest Hemingway but many authors have joined in.
  • 3 words.  Not much to go on here but they really do communicate a message.  Link how you share the three words to the content.

Three word comments!


Post It!

Day 6 of 20 days to better blogging with children is about writing your own post.  You have been reading blogs, commenting on them and have now set up your own blog.

Time to write your first post.  You will probably have noticed that on the whole people do not write very long posts.  They also write about things they are thinking about.  You could write about what you and your class are going to do on their blogs.  You could write about how you are going to use the blogs or a welcome post for the children.  Write about whatever you want.  As Seth Godin says

It is a difficult habit to develop but an even harder one to stop.

I always use the preview button before finalising.  It shows whether the formating is what you are expecting and I quite often find typos. Hit the publish button and you are up and running.  If your blog is available publicly and you would like someone to read it and leave you a comment, leave a comment with your url in on this post.

  • Day 1 Become a Reader of Blogs
  • Day 2 Keep Track of Your Blogs
  • Day 3 Joining in the discussion
  • Day 4 Staying Safe
  • Day 5 Finding your blog
  • Day 6 Post It!
  • Day 7 What are you interested in?
  •  Picture by

    Become a Reader of Blogs

    This first task of 20 Days to Better Blogging with Children is to become a reader of blogs yourself.  The purpose of this is so that you can see what people are already doing.  Try and read some that are written by childen, some by teachers and some that are written by people who are not teachers.

    Make sure that you look through all the pages as well as the posts.  The pages are usually listed at the top of the blog.  I always find the About page, if there is one, particularly interesting because it gives me an idea about why this person is writing their blog.  The Home page is where the posts appear chronologically.

    Explore ways of finding posts on the blog.  Down one of the sides you can usually find some or all of the following:

    • categories – this is usually a great place to start searching.  This blog has categories linked to ICT, Talk For Writing, Writing, Reading etc.  If you click on one of these all the posts that are categorised under that heading will come up as a list
    • tags – each post is tagged with key words.  Sometimes you  will find a tag cloud which is basically a list of all the tags used on the blog.  The bigger the tag, the more posts there are with that tag.  Digital storytelling is the biggest on this blog so far, with improving writing a close second.  If you click on those tags you will be taken to a list of posts with that tag.
    • archives – these are all the past posts ordered by the month they were written in so not that helpful for finding specific things

    As you are reading the blogs, think about what you like about them, how they are organised and what makes them easy to ready.

    How do you find blogs?

    There are several ways that you can find blogs to read by searching.  To start off with I found recommendations from others the best.  So here are some of my favourite blogs in no particular order:

    • Teachers Love SMART Boards  I learnt so much about how to do things on Smart boards form this blog.  If you have a SMART board and want to find out how to do things, the challenges are particularly good.
    • Angela Maeirs is a Literacy Consultant/Coach in the US.  On her blog she regualarly posts video of herself working with children.  This is what makes her quite unique.
    • is a blog that shows lots of ideas for using technology in the classroom and is a very good starting point
    • a lovely blog from a Devon teacher sharing with parents
    • Flickr this blog just gives an amazing insight into all the fantastic photographs that are stored there
    • Indexed and this is just something that I enjoy
    • Google blog search to find blogs of things that you are interested in

     Happy reading

    Day 2 – how to keep track of all your blogs, including blogs that the children write

    Why should children blog?

    I am fairly new to blogging and as part of undertaking an online course in blogging, 31 days to be a better blogger, I have had to reflect on my learning.  The learning in technology has been enormous – technorati, google analytics and heat maps to mention but a few but there has also been some quieter, less obvious, learning and that has been around me as a writer and how this might impact on teaching children.

    I have never considered myself to be a writer although I do think of myself as a reader.  Someone recently said to me whan I was talking about not being a writer  “Well you blog don’t you?”  And yes I do, so I am a writer.  So what has made me think I am a writer and kept me going?

    The first thing is that there are people who read the blog and comment.  They are listening and responding and joining in with the conversation.  The delight in switching on in the morning and finding that not only has someone read what I have written but have also commented.  It is one of the things that keeps me writing.

    I am slowly discovering my voice and my niche in this blogging world.  I have tried out a variety of different types of post and content and am learning about what appeals to my audience.  This is a small, global audience but one that has interests in common.

    Not everything I write is of interest to everyone so I can make mistakes, in terms of content or quality of writing and nothing happens.  Literally.  This means that I can try things out.

    In order to write, I need to read.  I therefore read a lot of blogs.  I read them because I am interested in what the authors have to say but also read them and think about why the post appealed to me.  I am reading and responding as a reader but also reading as a writer.

    Commenting on others’ blogs was quite scary to start off with. But this is what blogging is all about.  Establishing contacts and discussing. I didn’t know whether other bloggers would be interested in what I had to offer the conversation.  However, with time and practise my confidence in this area has grown.

    The reading, thinking and involvement in social networks generates further things to blog about.  This post is as a result of the interest in a previous post about blogging to improve children’s writing and belonging to the 31 days be a better blogger group.

    Are these not the things that we want children to experience as writers?  I think these  have implications for us if we want children to blog.

    • We need to set up a method by which children have access to a range of blogs in areas that they are interested in.  I am not writing about literacy and ICT because someone told me to.  I write about it because I am interested in it.
    • We need to find a community that will read what children have to say.  Not just adults who are supporting the process but those who are also interested in the content so that we can be thinking about audience and purpose when we write.  We need to establish this community so that feedback is given to the children in a meaningful way and nourishes and nurtures their writing.
    • We need to givem them access to a range of ways of writing blog posts so that they can try things out and find their own style and voice.
    • We need to encourage children to write about what they are interested in when they have something to say.  For some this might be a lot more frequently than others.
    • Not everyone need have an individual blog.  There may be some common interests that mean that a group blog could be established.
    • We need to teach children how to comment so that it shows you are thinking about the ideas in the writing.
    • We still need to teach children about how to communicate their ideas effectively.  Grammar matters! (I am a literacy consultant after all!)