I wasn’t going to blog today. Honestly, I wasn’t. But then I thought, following on from yesterday’s post, I’d make some letter cards to share with everyone (and you can download them here). What struck me while making these was 1. – how difficult it was to find letters that were not watermarked or copyright protected and 2. how few lowercase letters were actually available. I had the most success looking at craft and home furnishing sites and I ended up creating some of the letters by using word art and filling them with unusual textures.
With this in mind I had a bit of a brainwave. Why not send children out and about (around school or possibly when you’re offsite) with a wordlist, plus a camera or mobile device, and let them find the letters required and take photos of them. You would have your own bespoke set of funky letters to use. It would be a really hands on way to support spelling and I’m sure the results would look great on a display.
I thought over the next few blog posts I’d revisit a few old ideas that maybe some of you hadn’t seen before and I’m going to start with a few fun activities linked to words and spelling. Some of these activities would be simple to implement in the classroom and some take a little more time and effort but all of them would be useful to use in a literacy session. I’m also going to add some links to useful web activities you may not have seen before – hopefully there’ll be something for everyone. And we’ll start with the picture above. This was created just by collecting lots of different styles of lettering from the internet – there’s plenty of it around and you could print out a whole load of different letters onto card (or use them digitally) to put a bit more pizazz into your letter cards. Let’s face it – they look a little bit more appealing than a set of plain cards with Sassoon Infant or Comic Sans letters on them. Of course their jazzy nature isn’t going to suit everyone (it’s possibly not the best idea for pupils with dyslexia) but it does look rather nice (might look good on displays too). A similar idea can be found online at Iconscrabble: a simple but effective website that might appeal to older pupils.
Now one of the first ideas I ever posted on this blog was about creating pictures using the letters of what you wanted the picture to be of. It was inspired by the website Bembo’s Zoo and I focused on animals because I was trying it out with one of my grandchildren. I still think it’s a fabulous idea that could be used with pupils of all ages: the designs could be as simple or as complex as you wanted. If you want to make the images more interesting download a few cool fonts – there are plenty of free, funky ones available on the internet.
There’s lots of fun to be had with onomatopoeia, calligrams and mnemonics and it might be nice, particularly if you pupils are keeping spelling journals to help them remember words they have difficulty with, to let pupils make their own. Onomatopoeia pictures can easily be made digitally using clip art, or computer generated, art plus text and are especially useful if they are personal as this will help the child remember them. Calligrams, or tactile words as I’ve also heard them described, can be made really easily: you can either use a range of decorative fonts to help support the word meaning, as seen here, or try out the method explained here. I’m sure the children will enjoy it. When it comes to mnemonics I always think these work far better when they’re personal to the child, and they always come up with great ones. Once they’ve come up with their mnemonic they could try and illustrate it in the same way as with onomatopoeia: using clip art or computer generated graphics. After all – why not?
Pivot stick figure is another great tool to have at your disposal when having word fun as it includes all the letters in the alphabet so you can create words. If you click the above link you’ll see what I mean. Download the software and have a go yourself or, better still, ask the children to make some. They don’t have to be as colourful as the example above but it might be nice to load a background with some colour on it, especially if the animations are going to be used by pupils with dyslexia. If you’re feeling really creative you might like to make some more elaborate animations or videos for younger children, like the one below. Not really a spelling activity or anything to do with phonics: just something for when you’re possibly focussing on words starting or ending with a particular letter or sound. The video was created using the PowerPoint animation technique I talked about here. In fact, if you’ve got very young pupils you might also like to check out some of the word games available via Literactive’s Road to Reading section: it’s free to register and you can let them know you’re based in the UK (it will make a difference to certain things). Yes the website has an American voiceover but there are a number of fun activities to keep pupils occupied and I know a number of children (including some with PMLD) who absolutely adore the site.
There a few more literacy based activities you might like to try here and, for a few ideas regarding spelling activities available online, take a look at this. I hope you’ve found something useful in today’s little bunch of ideas. As Barry Gibb so eloquently put it (or not): it’s only words…
Words. Phrases. Vocabulary. Subject specific language. We want children to use it in the correct way. We want them to try things out…take risks…be adventurous. We want pupils to identify and ‘magpie’ good ideas and extend their use of the English language. But it’s not always easy – how can we get them using language in the way we want them too? Maybe we need to get creative…
Word wheels, particularly with pictures or a subject specific background are a lovely way to develop vocabulary based around a topic. The image shown above was created using a setting included in 2Simple’s online creative space, Purple Mash (it’s included in 2Publish Extra): a product that recently won an ERA award and is really worth checking out! You can add up to eight words on this template (just enough in one go for younger ones or those with ALN) and the clip art library (plus other tools) is available for illustrating the wheel or individual words – it’s really easy to use! Also, in my opinion, pupils are far more likely to use a word wheel if they’ve created something themselves that they can be proud of: get them laminated so pupils can keep them in their trays or include them in their spelling journals, if you use them.
Older pupils might like to create their own calligrams for a working wall or display. You can do this in a number of ways with the pupils. This resource was created by downloading a whole load of appropriate free fonts from a website like Dafont but students could try creating their own calligrams using a combination of Word Art, autoshapes and appropriate fonts on a desktop publishing program like Microsoft Publisher. If you prefer, and you have a suitable art or graphics package available, you could use a program like 2Draw or Revelation Natural Art to create a similar effect and, if you haven’t got something like that installed, look online to web based applications like Sumo Paint – it has a text setting and is absolutely free!
Using a word cloud program to create a vocabulary mat is a pretty cool thing to do, especially as there a number of available word cloud generators to use. Wordle is a usable as ever and I have always loved the way you can customise your palette to reflect or enhance the meaning of the words. The fonts are not always as child friendly as they could be though, so it’s a good job that ABCWordYa has a selection of ‘friendlier’ fonts even if the features are not as extensive. Word it out is another worthy addition to this groups of word cloud generators but top of the tree has to be Tagxedo: allowing you to add shape to your word cloud is an act of pure genius.
Of course there are loads of other great things you can do in your classroom to help your pupils build a great vocabulary and not all of them involve technology. Make a word or sentence tree (although I really do like the one shown here for use on an IWB – it can be different every day and pupils can interact with it), create flash cards with picture or super cool word mats (or save time by searching online to find them already made for you), include key vocab on your working wall…just have fun with it. One free download I want to remind you of before signing off is Textorizer (as seen above in the picture of MLK) : free, cool and allows you to use an image as a background to overlay words on. Why not have a play with it (or any of the other ideas presented here)and see what you can create?
I don’t know about the rest of you but there’s a bit of a craze sweeping the nation. Children all seem to be obsessed with creating graffiti – not on walls (thankfully) but by using online graffiti generators like this one. So I thought I’d twist this and suggest an unusual activity
To get things rolling download a whole batch of free graffiti style fonts and install them on the computers. There are loads to choose from – some better than others – and I found five I would recommend: Whoa! (great font but doesn’t like capital letters), Street Soul, Blink Ring, Black Oak (looks amazing but seems to slow computers a bit) and Tourist Trap. Then I downloaded a few wall textured backgrounds and created this activity.
The idea works the same in PowerPoint 2003 and 2007. To get them in the mood show pupils some examples of outstanding graffiti and street art. Then get pupils to open a new PowerPoint and make the slide layout blank. They then choose one of the wall backgrounds and apply it to the slide (don’t apply it to all as they can try more than one texture if they have the chance). Pupils can then use the fonts in conjunction with Word Art – let them create their little slogans and play around with the fill effects, 3D settings and Word Art shapes until they get it just right. It could be quite a fun way to while away a short afternoon session 🙂
There are lots of things we can try and do in the classroom to inspire the use of descriptive language and get the children to think creatively about words. Much has been posted about using web based applications such as Wordle in a number of different ways. There are a number of uses for it listed at the excellent Ideas to Inspire website and the ever wonderful Tim Rylands blogged about using it creatively just recently. it’s a tool you can use in all sorts of ways. Pop it on the IWB and use it as a word bank. Get pupils to create one with all the things they remember about a recent topic (easy way to see how much they remember). Make a word mat. The list goes on.
One of the things I like to do in Wordle is to change the colour scheme by creating a custom pallette – an simple enough thing to do and something that can really make a difference to the way you Wordle appears. An array of greens and browns for writing on a forest theme. A collection of different blues for a watery theme. Check out the image above to find out more. Also, check out WordItOut. Not as many fonts as Wordle but it does look as if it’s aimed at the educational sector. Worth a look at least
But enough of Wordle! There’s so much other great stuff out there that we could be using to. For younger pupils (although older ones like it to) you can make pictures out of Word Art words and letters or import an image into PowerPoint or Publisher and use the word art and interesting fonts to help create a shape poem. For the one example above (created in PowerPoint 2007 but a similar idea can be created using 2003) I downloaded and installed free fonts that I felt would work well – Sweetleaf for the leaves and one called cheap fire for ‘Night fell’. Phrases and words were just rotated and transformed to fit the image.
My final offering for today is Textorizer – there’s a version that runs online or you can download the application to run on your own computer. It works quite simply – you choose your image paste in you text and create. You have options to change the size of font, font used, how faded the image is behind the writing in the menu on the left hand side and the website really helps you get started. I think the results look amazing – fabulous blown up on a display. I envisage using it in a similar way to Tim Ryland’s previously mentioned Wordle idea but I’m sure you can think of other things to do with it – just have a go!
Last night I was messing around on the computer with my three year old granddaughter, playing around with Bembo’s Zoo. We were having a fine old time when Brooke asked if we could make our own animal out of letters! After a little head scratching I opened up Microsoft Publisher and we started to play.
We clicked on the Word Art icon and Brooke carefully typed in each letter from the word ‘elephant’; putting each letter as a separate piece of Word Art. We did this until we had a lower and upper case version of each letter. Then Brooke decided which letters looked most like ears, a trunk etc. and we moved letters around the page accordingly, resized them to fit our needs and used the flip and rotate tools when necessary. When we needed extra letters we just used copy and paste. Eventually the letters looked like this…
Pressing Ctrl and A together, to select all the individual letters, we then grouped all the letters together. Brooke thought it would be a good idea to make them all grey (like an elephant)! To complete the project we just right clicked the grouped items and saved the creation as an image.
We used different fonts to create a few more animal images. The introduction of a different colour for some elements really gives the giraffe (the font used was called Juice ITC) an extra something and on the lion (which, let’s face it, has very few letters to play with) we used a free font called ‘Furry’ to give it an extra dimension. And, just in case you were wondering, the elephant was made using Sassoon font!