Category Archives: Writing

The Things that Counted: Reflecting on 2016

When I moved up to grade 4/5 last year after teaching only the early years in my career so far, one of the things I both looked forward to and most feared was how to engage students in their learning by making it real.

At the end of that year, I chatted with my kids about what experiences they got the most out of, what they enjoyed about the year. There were two consistent responses: the Poetry Slam and the Kids Conference.

Interestingly, a lot of the parents I talked to also had those two experiences as a stand out from their child’s year. This is important to me; if parents see enjoyment, value and focus in their children’s learning, it makes it much easier for them to support and extend the work of the teacher.

Poetry Slam

The poetry slam came about when my team was planning a poetry unit. We thought that ending the unit with a poetry slam would be a great way to share. When I explained this to my grade, I happened to mention that often poetry slams are held in public places, like an auditorium. One student asked if we could do ours in the local cafe and I said “Why not?”. My initial reaction was to say no because the teachers had discussed having all our grades share together, but when the students come up with a way better and completely reasonable idea, you have to drop your plans and go with it.

Throughout a really successful unit, the kids worked with a mentor poet, Cam Semmens, who coached them over four sessions. They wrote many poems, scrapped some and reworked others. They tossed and turned over their final performance poem. They practised the way their poem would be spoken and watched other poets slam (including this hilarious one by Nick Offerman entitled ‘A Slam Poem to Bacon‘).
They picked the date, called the cafe and booked their space (and submitted their milkshake orders too). They called up the local newspaper, were interviewed and organised a photographer to come down during the performance.

A self-organised story in the paper!

They invited their parents to come and watch, and nervously walked down to the cafe that morning to deliver weeks’ worth of writing. They beautifully performed their pieces and supported the students who had stage fright.

Read their blog post on the Poetry Slam here.

Often as teachers we talk about a genuine purpose for writing being important, but often forget to include this in our planning, and even more often forget to ask the students what would be the best way to share.

The Poetry Slam was one of the most powerful learning experiences I’ve seen in my class. Students were driven, they were excited, they were analysing their writing and helping each other do the same. They were desperate for conferences to get feedback, and soaked up every second of the mentor poet’s expertise that they could get.

Having purpose turns ‘work’ into ‘learning’.


Kids Conference

After speaking at #DigiCon16, I was invited by Jo Clyne, a brilliant historian and educator, to have students present learning at the HTAV Kids Conference. This conference showcases ways that teachers and students are doing using technology innovatively to learn about history and geography.

In the midst of a history and civics unit, together Jo and I came up with a plan which resulted in a launch lesson with Jo, followed by a longer-term project where students worked in groups to tell the story of an individual or group’s experience of Australia’s Federation. Some of these groups were selected to present at the conference.

My students were both excited and terrified at the size of the lecture theatre!

The whole class took the tram to ACU for the day and attended their first conference. They took notes and met students from different schools (including secondary students) who were all using technology in new and powerful ways to learn.

This conference was exceptionally powerful for my students; not just watching others, but seeing their own learning shared in a public forum was genuine, challenging and exciting. What they presented was something they were confident in and had worked hard on, and they got feedback from students, teachers and a university lecturer on how great their end products were.

As the dad of one of my student presenters excitedly mentioned to me on the day, “10 year olds did not present at conferences back in the day. That was for university professors.” This is not the case anymore. 10 year olds are more than capable.


The lesson I have learnt is that:

  1. It is possible to provide (and be open to) genuine ways for students to engage in and share their learning with a wide audience and in meaningful ways. 
  2. Not only is it possible, it is vital. 

Integrating the Class Blog into Literacy

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 3.31.59 pm

Something I have been working on this term is making stronger and more efficient links between reading and writing, and authentically including the class blog into those sessions so we don’t need a whole session allocated to blogging each week. Here is an example of what I have done this week.


My students are learning about writing setting descriptions to use in narrative and descriptive writing.


In reading, we worked on identifying literal information about a setting. I modelled reading a setting description from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (first six paragraphs of this). Students visualised as I read and then noticed the way the Chocolate Room was described using some of the five senses.

IMG_2993In another session, we read a book called Anzac Biscuits (it describes a little girl and her mum making biscuits at home while her father is away in the war and the perspective swaps between the characters very vividly). Students noticed the various ways the setting and action was described, again through the five senses, and noted them on a sense-o-gram.

  • In writing I used the blog as the launch point for all the learning we would do for this lesson. Students read the learning intention from the blog and we used the picture prompt on the post about the five senses to refer back to what we already had noticed in the mentor texts.

    Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 11.52.02 amWe then travelled through The Secret Door from a link on the blog post. The Secret Door is THE COOLEST EVER tool! It takes you through the door to a real place that could be anywhere in the world! It gives a 360 degree view and allows you to walk around as you would in Google Maps Street View. The students were each taken somewhere different, including a theme park, underwater in the Great Barrier Reef, the South Pole, inside a telescope, and the middle of a baseball field during a game.

    From here students brainstormed some words they could use to describe the setting they ended up in, using the five senses as a prompt.

    In reading the next day, students looked for setting descriptions whilst reading independently, and in particular for phrases rather than just single words. They either marked them with sticky notes or took photos using their iPads.


In the next writing session, students went back through the secret door to a new location,  took a screenshot of the view and wrote a descriptive paragraph about setting, using the five senses as a starting point, and reflecting on the types of descriptions we had been discovering in books and mentor texts.


Students added their setting image and a description on a Padlet (an online shared pinboard) which was embedded into the blog post we were using. Here’s our setting Padlet. This way student can go back and access the ideas collected on the Padlet anytime they want to use an idea.

The class blog post is here.

I am really happy with this series of lessons; I linked literacy lessons so that what was covered in reading spilled over into writing through the mentor texts we read and analysed. The writing flowed easily from students as they had seen authentic author examples of what they were trying to do, and the blog fitted in perfectly. Students can now access the Secret Door tool on the blog, as well as their own and their classmates’ setting descriptions to use in the future when writing narratives.

Publishing Writing using Tech

I give my students choices about how to publish their writing. We have enough iPads in our class for 10 students to publish using them.  At the beginning of the year, they were reluctant to publish using the iPads as it meant they wouldn’t have time to make a ‘real book’. How far we’ve come. I am very proud that at this point in the year, my students (and myself, I guess) are more open to and aware of the myriad of ways there are to publish writing. They have come around to the idea that just because it isn’t printed doesn’t mean someone can’t read it or listen to it and enjoy it as a text. Here are some of the different ways my students have published this term.


Book Creator If you don’t have this – get it! There are SO many ways it can be used! Book Creator allows users to create an eBook that can include text, pictures, videos, drawings/annotations and voice recordings and sounds. It has a very simple interface and is easy for students to navigate without much support at all! You have the choice to turn it into an interactive eBook that allows you to push buttons to play audio, or a video that plays through the pages and recordings automatically.

Photo 255 1 from Emily Fintelman on Vimeo.




Adobe-Voice-app-for-iPad-allows-users-to-create-a-video-presentationAdobe Voice     This app allows you to make simple, animated videos. You select a theme, record your voice and choose pictures from the range of images available, or add your own. The app creates good looking videos, with not too much work by the user. Again, this app is not too difficult for students to find their way around. It requires a log in.




icon_256imovie-0624Kids Doodle and iMovie  To do this one, we learnt a bit about ‘app smashing’. Kids Doodle allowed students to draw their illustrations, and recorded it as they drew. Students then saved the video and created an iMovie to record their voice over the top of the video they had inserted. This created a very unique style and was a very effective way for my kids to present their narratives. Listen out for the sneaky sound effect in this one.


telligami-iconTellagami   Tellagami is an avatar creator which allows you to pick a character and background, and make your avatar talk and move either by recording your voice or by typing the text. You can also choose your avatar’s voice. Again, this one is really simple for kids to use and the end result looks fantastic. There is a time limit of 30 seconds with the edu version, but this can be overcome by recording a few videos, then stringing them all together in iMovie. Simple.


The downside (?) to using Adobe Voice, Tellagami and Kids Doodle is that students do not get to present their actual written work. I found this difficult to reconcile myself to at first because we had spent a lot of time and effort looking into spelling, speech marks, paragraphs and lots of other secretarial aspects of writing. But I guess telling kids that if their narrative isn’t “written” in its culminating stage that it is not done correctly, is equal to telling Woody Allen his films aren’t done because not many people have read his stories off a page. I had to remind myself (and my class) of the purpose of their writing. Have you written it to entertain someone? How can you best do that?

Do you have any different ways you encourage students to publish? Any cool apps I should know about?

Similes and Switchzoo


My class has been learning about poetry and ways language can be used to paint a picture in the reader’s head. One of the ways we have been doing this is by writing similes.


The-Mixed-Up-ChameleonI introduced similes for the first time with a short discussion on their prior knowledge about similes (they had none) and then read the book The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle. I have honestly never had so much laughing in my grade as when the kids read this book today. They identified the similes in the book quickly and started coming up with their own.


Image source

Students then used the free app Switch Zoo to create their own Mixed-Up animal in the style of the Chameleon from the book. The Switch Zoo app lets users start with an animal, then change its head, tail and legs to the head, tail or legs of another animal. The results are hilarious (read: hideous)! Students wrote similes about their mixed-up animal by picking an adjective to describe their animal (e.g. fluffy) then choosing something else that could be described using that same adjective (e.g. pillow) to create their simile (e.g. My Rhicrocog is as fluffy as a pillow.) The app allows you to add a name and profile for the animal and display it as you might see on a sign at the zoo.

Here are some of our Mixed-Up Animals… enjoy!

rabbit switch



Image source – Mixed-Up Chameleon

Image source – Switch Zoo