Tag Archives: english

Emoji Story

I am starting to wonder how emoji (expressive characters) might affect the way students learn to communicate. As an experiment, I am going to ask my Year 7 students to produce an “Emoji Story”, using the instructions below: Emoji Story I imagine that they will copy and paste emoji into a slideshow, and when they present, they will talk through the slideshow, narrating their story. The slideshow can then be read by others without narration, to see how differently it can be interpreted.

Google Forms Choose Your Own Adventure

Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 80s and 90s? I used to love reading them at school, and recently I have been wondering if students could write their own using a Google Drive Form. This is a proof-of-concept for this idea…sorry if my creative writing is not amazingly griping.

Note: you might find this works better as a stand-alone form, rather than viewing it within this site.

Songs As Poetry

Although song lyrics often seem to be superficial or even nonsensical, there are some artists out there whose work is extremely poetic. I was struck today by the following lyrics in James Blunt’s song Same Mistake:

And so I sent some men to fight, and one came back at dead of night.
Said he’d seen my enemy. Said he looked just like me,

Whilst on the surface this song is about repeated infidelity, and more generally seems to focus on our shortcomings as human beings, these lyrics stand out as having an entirely different meaning. To me, these two lines speak of the futility of war, and the fact that in the end our enemies are much like ourselves. Of course, this could be too simplistic an interpretation: perhaps the lyrics are suggesting that we put our personal energy (“men”) into fighting our shortcomings (“my enemy”), but in the end we realise that they are intrinsic (“looked just like me”), and so cannot be defeated.

Although I think both interpretations are valid, I personally prefer the first one, as it gives a clear message that in waging war we are killing other human beings, who like us have feelings, families and much to lose.

Project Gutenberg


Project Gutenberg is an online repository of books that are out of copyright, and thus freely available for anyone to use. With over 30,000 books currently available, this site provides a great source for gratis reading material. However, more important than this, it provides a massive amount of text that can be mashed and remixed in any way you or your students can dream up. Free from the constraints of copyright, and available in unfettered digital form, why not try some of the following ideas:

  • Use Wordle to create fantastic word clouds, which can be used to pick out themes or learn vocab.
  • Give students part of a text and ask them to write an extension or introduction to it.
  • Take a famous novel and come up with some crazy alternative endings.
  • Use Flickr Storm (free photos) and Storybird (digital storytelling) to create a picturebook version of a text.
  • Work as a class to produce an audio version of a book, publish it with Creative Commons and give it away on the web.
  • Take a novel and remix it into a song, poem, play or game.

I am sure there are at least a hundred other uses for Project Gutenberg’s texts. Let me know if you can think of any, and I will include them in this list.


I love comics, and am often amazed not only by how funny they can be, but also how much can be learned from them. Growing up I was a regular reader of Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Mad Magazine. As I grew older I began to appreciate the intelligence and sophistication of Dilbert and XKCD. From this reading I developed my own sense of humour. More than this, however, I learned to question and reflect on the world around me, to understand that different situations could be understood in different ways and that I was not alone in my feelings and views on the world and its inhabitants.

Whilst many children love comics, too many teachers and parents dismiss them as childish distractions from serious reading and learning. If you are of this opinion, I ask you to read this short strip and see if it changes your perspective on this issue. Whilst reading comics can be beneficial in the ways described above, creating comics provides an even richer opportunity for learning. Consider some of the following ways in which comic creation can be used in the classroom:

  • Discovering the joy and power of remixing and mashing up the work of others.
  • Drafting stories before writing.
  • Encouraging creativity and self expression.
  • Character development to extend understanding of texts.
  • Learning about graphic design and layout.
  • Learning about persuasion.
  • Honing online research skills.
  • Learning computing skills.
  • Developing an understanding of issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright.
  • Digital storytelling.
  • Summarising complex ideas.
  • Putting events into chronological order.
  • Learning about visual literacy, social conventions and suggestion in the media.

Interestingly, these ideas apply to almost all subjects. If you are teacher, stop for a minute and consider the multitude of ways in which this could be applied to the subjects you teach. Certainly within both of my subjects (ICT and ESL) I can see plenty of scope for applying these approaches. In fact, in terms of promoting multiliteracies, I can think of few more powerful tools.

Computer technology provides us with some great tools for quickly and easily creating comics. These technologies afford one great advantage to users: they lower the barrier to creating great work because they do not require traditional artistic abilities, such as drawing. The following are four pieces of software that can be used to empower students:

  • Comic Life is the premier comic creation software in terms of ease-of-use and pure joy. It focuses on arranging existing images and applying effects to them. It is desktop software, and runs on Windows and Mac OS. Unfortunately, payment is required, although it is very reasonable, especially when purchasing in bulk. The 30-day trial is completely free and unrestricted, so this is a great place to start.
  • Comiqs is an online alternative to Comic Life, with comparable functionality: it seems extremely promising, but is in beta and currently seems to have some bugs. Hopefully these will be ironed out in the near future. The service is free, and there is no need to install any software onto your computer.
  • Pixton is an extremely flexible online comic creator. Unlike Comic Life and Comiqs, which are primarily concerned with working on existing images, Pixton allows users to create and edit their own comic characters. This is a great tool that is worth some serious exploration, and whilst it does seem a little tricky to use, it does provide a huge range of flexibility. Pixton is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.
  • BitStrips works along the same lines as Pixton, but is somewhat easier to use. That said, you do not get quite as much flexibility in terms of creating and manipulating your creations, although the results can be just as good. I would recommend this for use with younger students. As with Pixton, it is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.

Having sung the virtues of comic creation, I will end with a cautionary note: as with any tool, it is essential not to overuse this approach. Whilst kids will love the novelty and freedom that these activities can bring, if they do it every year in every subject they will very soon lose interest.

If you adopt any of these ideas in your classroom, please feel free to send over some student work, which I will gladly post on this page.

Library Thing

For all the book lovers our there (of which I am one), I have recently been playing with a great online tool. It is called Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com) and it can be used to catalog the books you own, have read and want to read. You can see my current library at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/rossdotparker, and an example book (given to me by a lovely former colleague) at http://www.librarything.com/work/4986/book/51122473. All the books can be reviewed, commented upon, rated and tagged for others to see your views and for you to track your thoughts on the book.

Where this gets interesting is the ability to link it into other places, such as  embedding a particular set of books into a web page. 

Plus, the site will recommend books you might like based on the books in your catalog.

Example Report Text Type

Example Report Text Type

This model text can be used to introduce ICT students to the report text type. It may be particularly useful to those students for whom English is a second language. Annotations have been kept brief, but colour has been used to link into the text for clarity. It is anticipated that the teacher would guide the students, rather than relying just on the text.