Friday, 18 December 2015

#LikeAGirl Assembly

In the past, we've used videos in assemblies. In the main, these have been courtesy of Assembly Tube (and some we've made ourselves too). If you've not already checked out that resource, we suggest you take a look. One of our favourites from Assembly Tube is The Impossible Dream assembly.

At the start of this month, our vice principal shared the following videos with us:

With these videos, and some we added, we lead an excellent assembly with Years Five and Six. 

At the start, we showed the introduction of the first video, which showed people running in a silly way when asked to 'run like a girl'. This got a giggle from the mixed-gender audience and then we cut straight to this:

Chrissie Wellington being a real inspiration for us given her amazing achievements and, despite these, she is still relatively less well-known (we are always eager to do some Chrissie Wellington plugging). We discussed what an amazing athlete she is.

Then, because we are actually boys and feel that it is just as important that we get rid of stereotyping boys, we showed an extract from this video demonstrating Mad Chadd and his stunning dancing:

Rather sneakily we added this, in part, because we are both teaching dance next term and it allows us to demonstrate that it is not alright to say that dancing is "only for girls."

Moving on, we discussed how pernicious the phrase "like a girl" has become, both as an insult and, more worryingly, as a normal everyday comment. We also talked about how important it was to avoid other 'isms' through stereotyping and from this had a general discussion about moving forward with doing what people want.

Personally, we felt the most important part of the assembly came at the end: we discussed not letting others limit us or even limiting ourselves because of generalities and stereotypes. We ended by asking the children to ask a simple question if they are told they are not allowed to do something because they are a boy or a girl: why not?

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Word Class (Parts of Speech) Paper Chains

After our recent lesson using emojis to cover word classes, we were thinking about something a little more festive.*

We wrote five sentences, printed them on strips of paper, cut them up and asked children to recreate the sentences as paper chains. Each word class was printed on a different colour so that the children could identify the classes before and after making the sentences**. With the sentences we made, the capitalised words at the start of the sentences, commas and full stops were included on the strips of paper to get the children to think about how that impacted on where in the sentence the word would be placed. Our sentences can be found here.

**The word 'flies' is included as a 'subject'. With some children, an interesting discussion was held about why this word was not included as a 'verb'.

As it turned out, not all children made the original sentences that we had. Not all worked perfectly, as some had not considered tense and plural/singular before constructing the sentence. However, again a good discussion point. 

*Paper chains are not just for Christmas.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

More Dice for Writing Exciting Sentences.

We are now trying the next step in our use of dice to support children in their use of Alan Peat 'Exciting Sentences'.

With the Year Six class we work with, we are giving the children, who have all been taught different sentence types over the last three years, a blank cube net as might be found here. The children, who are writing mystery narratives, are going to choose the most relevant and useful sentence types for their piece of writing, The challenge will be to take two dice and merge the two different sentence types into one wonderful sentence of complexity and detail (instead of appsmashing; sentencesmashing).

Whilst we love the way 'exciting sentences' serves as a toolbox for equipping children with different ways of adding sentence structures and punctuation, the ultimate aim is for children to develop a proper understanding of how those sentence structures and different pieces of punctuation work. Then we want them to effectively and appropriately 'break the rules' in order to make their writing more effective.

The purpose of this intermediate stage is to get the children to take a proactive role in choosing which sentence types work best for the text type they are writing and, more importantly, how they go beyond their basic use in making them more effective. For those writers who are confident, we now want to teach them to take risks with their writing and start deliberately breaking rules, from a basis of knowledge, in order to engage the reader.

The children found that some sentences worked more effectively than others. For example an 'if, if, if, then' sentence worked well with 'simile' sentences. It made them think even harder about the effect the words were having on the reader especially when the sentences went wrong. It also demonstrated those children who were learning the sentence types parrot fashion and needed some grammar and punctuation intervention as well as those who had a deeper understanding.

To get started with the 'exciting sentence' types, buy the book here.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Word Classes (Parts of Speech) & Emoji

At the start of December, I shared a lesson I'd carried out with my class utilising the Emoji Keyboard on iPad devices. I've recently done something very similar, but this time with the focus being on word classes (parts of speech).

The emoji symbols give the children a prompt for what they could include in the sentence and next to the emoji is an indication of how that emoji is linked to a word class. In the main, the sentences created were correct. Where errors occurred (adjective / adverb confusion or the wrong noun being used as the subject), it provided the opportunity to address misconceptions. Once children had used my prompts, they were then able to create their own. They had to follow the same process though: create the prompt first and then write the sentences. 

It was interesting to see how children could take the same prompt and create so many different sentences from it.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Maths and Mariokart

One of the best video games in recent times (and much further back) is the consistently excellent Mariokart available on the various Nintendo devices.
We recently looked at how we can make use of this video game to do some 'real-life' context problem solving.
To start we asked the question: how fast is Mario driving?
Mathematically, this led to an excellent discussion on what information we needed to know in order to answer the question. We talked about units of measurement, distance and (inevitably from a  scientific point of view) the different variables we needed to control. After this discussion, we were able to move forward with carrying out some experimental races.
In order to keep things accurate we used the time trial race (which took out the danger of flying mushrooms or turning into a rocket); avoided the use of speed up pads and completed the race several times.
 Practical maths part one was finding an average from the times we got after the first round of races. Then we needed to find out the distance of the track we were racing on. Initially, we could not find the distance so we fired off a message to Nintendo and they, brilliantly for the class, replied and directed us to a different wiki site to the one we had visited in our early research. Now, armed with our times and distances, the class was able to try and find the speed average speed that Mario was travelling at around the track.
The kids were very excited to take part in this activity and eagerly engaged with the problem. All children were able to take part in the initial maths discussion and, working in mixed ability groups, were able to come up with a solution.
Next we are going to work on coming with comparative speeds for the different vehicles in Mariokart.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Non-Handwriting, Handwriting Ideas

In our classes, we regularly have children who find handwriting challenging and, now that they are in years five and six, have been through endless practice lessons, interventions and groups. Whilst we still find the traditional copying methodology has a place, we are always on the look out for more engaging ways of getting children to practise their fine motor control.

Firstly, we used origami with the children. We gave them some easier models to fold using some cheap, but lovely paper from Tiger. As our inspiration, we used some of the characters from the Origami Yoda series, which also provides simple instructions to follow in creating some of the characters from the novel. This activity allows the children to practise precision and small hand and finger movements.
Image credit: 'Caesar' (Edges traced in Inkscape using a self-taken photo.) GFDL (

Next, we used some larger dot-to-dots books from this series of books (although some can also be found here). As they go from 1-1000, they are extremely complicated and need great control to complete. The children loved these and spent a significant amount of time trying to guess what the picture was.

On the Discovery  Education website we found some complicated mazes (impossible according to one pupil). Again these took a significant amount of control to finish successfully.

Most recently, we gave the children free rein to create a sculpture out of some older, and harder, modelling clay. The children loved the creativity of this task and, because of how tough it was, needed the children to strengthen their hand muscles in order to get the clay pliable,
Image Credit: Dan Bollinger (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
All of these activities have been delivered during registration time over several days with some resources being sent home as the children have been so engaged by them.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Calculation Races

Earlier this week, my class and I were undertaking a Number Talk. The question we were using was '19 X 24'. I hoped many children (mixed ability Year Five) would use a mental method or jottings (partitioning, rounding & adjusting and so on). 

However, over 90% of the class used a grid method or expanded column multiplication. Nothing wrong with that, except the focus we'd been having on mental methods and not always defaulting to a written method. We listened to how children had arrived at their answers and then discussed which were the most efficient. As a class, we then solved both 19 X 28 and 19 X 35 using rounding (20 X 28) and partitioning (10 X 35 added to 9 X 35) to remind them of the available less formal / mental / jotting methods available to them.

In order to win over the remaining doubters I still had in the class, I set the children a challenge. They'd solve a question using only mental methods, while I tired to answer it as a written method on the classroom whiteboard. Although I wanted to prove the mental method was quickest, I still tried really (really, really) hard to do my method quicker than the class. However, I 'lost' all three times (19 X 56, 19 X 45 & 29 X 34). I'd only got beyond setting up the method and doing the first part of the calculation. Class. Won. Over.

Will be doing more of it...

Monday, 7 December 2015

Dipdap Writing Prompt

As the father of an eleven-month-old baby, I've recently become aware of CBeebies. For me, one programme has stood out. I can't get enough of Dipdap. No words, an animation and a story to follow in a about three minutes. Brilliant! 
Copyright owners: I'd love to add a Dipdap image here. May I?

"Series in which a drawn line creates endless challenges and surprises for the unsuspecting little character, Dipdap"

As I watched it more, I realised its potential for using it as a writing prompt in class:
- narrative voiceover of what's happening on screen;
- character descriptions;
- pause the video and predict what might happen next;
- write a script of an episode;
- plan an episode;
- film an animation in a similar style.

I will use this to accompany the Film Narrative unit of English work in Year Five. There are numerous copies of Dipdap episodes on YouTube. I'm unsure of which, if any are there with the permission of the creators of Dipdap and have therefore not included any in this post.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

When Plans Change

When plans change, it's useful to have the odd activity available that you can make use of. Here, Liam wrote about how this, for him, has become a 'gift'.

One App Whole Class - Take a look at our previous blog post about how we've used one tablet for the whole class to interact with it. 
We've shared in the past ideas for working on times table knowledge. Each of these can easily be picked up with minimal notice. Also, how about some Place Value Yahtzee or maths games with playing cards?

Try Something New - Through Twitter and other teacher's blogs, I regularly see things that I want to try in my classroom. They don't always fit into current topics being studied or might be a valuable one-off lesson focusing on a key skill. Therefore, when a spare hour or half hour crops up, it's a good chance to give them a go.

Websites and Apps - Got computers, laptops, tablets available? Grab them, use a website you subscribe to, an app that teaches or revises something. It'll be a good use of the time. 

Spelling - There are plenty of word games and activities that could be used to work on a spelling rule or current spelling list. Boggle, Conundrum, wordsearch, anagrams and so on...

Now, when someone says that the plans have changed, your job is to say, "Excellent!", turnaround and go have fun...

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Crowdsourced Documents

In the past (and in the future), we've used crowdsourced documents to gather ideas. Below are links to the documents we've set up and others have contributed to...

In Google Docs:

Video Ideas

Counting Stick

What to Blog About

In Google Sheets (as a response to a Google Form):

Interesting Adverbs (Year Five)

Words to Describe a Castle

Please use the content of these if they're useful and, of course, add if you have something to add.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Emojis & Homophones

"Why do they keep using the wrong 'their', why?" That was me on Thursday evening. Marking some writing and in the 50/50 choice between 'their' and 'there' (if a child was simply guessing), it had been used incorrectly far too many times. Result? Need to do something about it...

While planning this week, I happened to have a spare English lesson to do something with and had booked the iPad devices 'to do something English based'. Somehow, the idea of using emojis to practise, teach and show understanding of homophones came to me. In the past, my use of emojis in English lessons have been based upon Lee Parkinson's ideas, so some credit must be given to him and his books

On an iPad device, in Pages, I set up a document with some emojis as prompts for sentences. I then uploaded this to my class GAfE Google Drive for the children to download onto their iPad devices and use to complete the task. 

The children needed to write sentences using my prompts, before they were the allowed to generate some prompts of their own. Some of their work can be seen here

The emoji keyboard can easily be turned on for iOS, it's also available on OSX. I believe it would also work on a Chromebook and other tablets. I'm unsure of its availability on Windows. 

This lesson engaged and enthused the class to work on and think about their homophone choices. It did not make them homophone experts - there's still some work to do with that...

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Shakespeare in Primary Classrooms

We received this Tweet:
We're often asked for resources for certain Shakespeare plays. Between us, we've studied Shakespeare with Year Five pupils for over ten years. We've frequently changed plays, but covered them in a very similar way...

To start, watch the Animated Tales version of the play being studied and then, as a teacher, read the Matthews and Ross version of the play. In addition to these, watch and read Animated Tales and Matthews and Ross versions of other plays to generate a general interest in Shakespeare. We have some comprehension questions to accompany those books (will post link here soon). Also, share all or part of the original script. It's important to see that too.

Scene setting. Describe the place where the play is mostly set. The island in The Tempest, Illyria, Verona, the Forest in Midsummer Night's Dream and so on. Work on adjectives, similes etc.

Mind map the characters and their relationships. Shakespeare often wove a tangled web with his characters. Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet can all be a little easier to understand once the characters and their relationships are plotted.

Character study. Pick a particular character and write an in-depth character study of their personality, the way the are portrayed, the choices they make and more.

Explain the plot using a story staircase. How do the rises and falls, twists and turns make the play so enjoyable to perform, watch and study?

Over the past three years, our outcome of the Shakespeare study has been writing a newspaper article about a part of the play. 

This idea came via Matthew and has worked very well. 
Image credit: Matthw Sullivan

Getting companies to come into school to support the understanding of the play and act parts of it add to the children's enjoyment and ability to engage with it in a deeper way. We have positive experiences of working with both Shakespeare 4 Kids and West End in Schools.

Finally, if time allows, get off site and do some filming...

So, no we don't really have anything specific to a particular play. From our experience, viewing them as a story and studying all that a story has to offer (while praising Shakespeare's excellent work) provides an excellent way to study these plays. 

Recently, this was delivered to all Primary schools in the UK.