Subscribe to this blog!


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Bitstrips app in the Classroom!

This has been a blog post I have been waiting to write ever since Bitstrips appeared and flooded Facebook around two years ago! The app allows you to turn yourself into a cartoon character and then generate a comic to tell a joke, share your mood or describe your day. The problem was that you needed a facebook account to log in. There is the online resource - Bitstrips for School - however the convenience of having children quickly create a comic on the iPad was something I have been waiting on for two years!

It was when I stumbled across some examples from the brilliant @OhLottie, which you can read here, that I realised that it can still be a really useful teacher tool in class. As a teacher, you can create a comic and use this as a stimulus for a quick literacy starter or morning think activity. The visual image can really help children generate vocabulary to help write a sentence. When you use the app you can design your character, this can be based on the teacher or you could create an imaginary classroom friend. One that suggests ideas, or provides examples of writing that children have to improve, if you have used those tactics before 😉.

You can then place them in a scene and there are thousands to choose from! You can change the facial expression, add a caption or even add speech bubble. There is also the option to add other facebook friends into the scene.

Here are a few examples of how I would use it -

What has happened in this picture? 
What is Mr P drinking? 
Can you think of word to describe how he is feeling? Why? 
Can you use one of our exciting sentences to explain this scene?
______ing his mouth, Mr P ________ly _______ed to the sink.

How does Mr P feel in the picture? Can you think why?
What would be the best way to put this picture into a sentence?
Like a ____________, Mr P's head _____ with frustration.
Mr P was frustrated; his mouth _______; his head _______; his arms _______.

(Thanks to @ICTEvangelist for letting me use his avatar)

What is happening in this scene? How does Mark feel? How do you know? Can we turn this into a 3_ed sentence?
How is Mr P feeling? Why? 
Who do you think is right in this scene? Why?

(Thanks to @BrynGoodman for letting me use his avatar)

Who speaks first? How do you know? 
How would Mr P say this? 
What goes inside the speech bubble? Make sure this goes inside the speech marks. 
Notice when Bryn replies, he speaks on a new line. 
Can you write out this conversation using direct speech and carry the conversation on. 
What do you think Bryn has done that has upset Mr P?

I could go on with endless other examples but I am sure you get the idea here. Using the app to quickly generate a quick visual comic that can be used for some useful inference and deduction questions or challenge the children to write a sentence/s about the picture. Even help children visualise direct speech and encourage more show not tell in their writing. Ideally, the ability for children to use this on their iPads to generate a comic and use it as a storyboard would be fantastic! But for now, this can be a really useful tool for teachers, especially as it is FREE.

I would love to see how others use this app in the classroom. Please share any by tweeting me or sharing it on my facebook page.

You may also want to check out the Bitmoji app, which was shared with me by @dannyeduk that creates stickers and adds a keyboard to your iPad. These little stickers can be a great way to let children know how you feel towards work they have created on a school blog or add them into apps like Seesaw, Class Dojo or Showbie.

You could even print a set of them and use them as stickers or stamps for children's work in their books!

Monday, 26 October 2015

My Golden Rule of Teaching!

Today, this tweet popped up on my timeline -
It really got me thinking about teachers and the approach they take to the topics they teach in class. On all my INSET and training, I try to inspire teachers to find their purpose for using technology. Looking at the why, when and how to use technology to transform learning in the classroom. No matter how much training a teacher receives, unless they truly believe in the purpose of technology it will never have any impact. This was a point raised in @ICTEvangelist's latest blog post. My main purpose is always to try and enhance learning and inspire children with their reading, writing and arithmetic. I use technology when it enhances learning because I see first hand how it enhances my learning as a teacher.

I often discuss my Nana on my training as the perfect example. Up to a couple of years ago, she had never really embraced technology: she had a mobile but never used it. Last Christmas she was given an iPad. Once she was shown that through the iPad she could use facebook and therefore, keep in touch with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren living in Gibraltar, she found her purpose. So without any real help or guidance she self-taught herself how to use the technology. I often say if my 82 year old Nan can do this, every teacher can also learn to use the technology, they just need to find their purpose. Once my Nan was confident, she was quickly involved in our World War 2 topic as we used facetime and interviewed her and my Grandad as they were both evacuated in the war. You can read more about this here. 

This isn't an issue that it strictly linked to technology. We all know the best teachers don't need to use any technology to have a class of children hanging onto their every word. Some of the best teachers will use tech with purpose to enhance learning but all too often teachers can find themselves teaching topics that they have no interest or passion for.

There is a fantastic Ted talk by Andrew Stanton, a director at Pixar, all about the rules of Storytelling. This talk heavily influences the conference I lead with John Murray!
(Please be aware there is some inappropriate language at the beginning)

In the video he states the following Golden Rule of Storytelling -

This has now become my Golden Rule of Teaching - MAKE THEM CARE!

This is where I feel the government get it wrong with things like SPAG. No child will ever care about SPAG on its own or in a test. When children are truly engaged in their writing, that's when they will want to use SPAG correcttly because that is when it matters and they care!

I try as much as possible, especially with writing, to be as heavily led by the children as possible. I find that children tend to write and write well when they are interested in the topic. I was a child once and was exactly the same as my stepson. He isn't a bad writer but only tends to write well when he is interested in the topic. That is why I have developed the Camouflage Learning approach in class. I know it seems a long time until Christmas, but all my own children want to do is read stories about Christmas. Why not then have the class read as 'A Christmas Carol' and start this from next week? If it is something the children are interested in and excited about, surely they will be more willing to write about it!

Everything I write as an adult is based on what I am interested in and care about. I have facebook and what's app groups with my mates where we discuss football, upcoming films and other things we like. My wife is the same with her friends, however the topics are very different. When would we, as adults, ever write about something we don't care about?

What we sometimes fail to realise is just how much our students care and look up to us as teachers and therefore, can be influenced and interested in something we show a passion for. How often, as a teacher, do you use your interests as a focus in class? What stories and books had you gripped when you were young? Do you use these? It may seem silly but I find lots of teachers don't put enough of their personality into the classroom.

Having worked in and with a number of big schools (2+ form entry,) a lot tend to do joint planning - one does English, the other does maths. I can understand and see the logic with this. With certain subjects I think this can work well as there isn't as much freedom with the curriculum (maths and science for example,) however, with English and if your school has a topic approach, this can sometimes be tricky and lead to a disengaged teacher and a disengaged class.

If one teacher picks the English focus, they will probably do that based on their own personal interest. The parallel teacher may have no interest in that focus at all and therefore will probably not teach it with any real belief, passion or enthusiasm. I think teachers should plan the objectives that need covering together, however, look at different ways to apply those objectives in topics the teachers are themselves engaged with. This starts at the top too, SLT trusting the staff to run with topics the teachers are enthused with.

It works! You only have to look at the work someone like Mat Sullivan gets from his class when he uses comics as a stimulus. Why? Because he loves comics! With every lesson he teaches his enthusiasm and passion for comics becomes contagious with the children. Read his blog for examples of this. I once worked with a teacher who just loved Blue Whales. He would use it as a stimulus in class and his love just carried through and the children would always create amazing pieces of writing!

When I think back to the Blackfish project we did in class as an example, when I initially discussed the film the children could sense how passionatly I felt about the issue and this got them hooked and wanting to know more!

Just last week, I was talking to a Year 3 class about Back to the Future and telling them how much I loved the film! Most went home and watched it! This led to use producing some fantastic topic front covers for our Ancient Egypt topic we will be starting next half term.

Every teacher will have strengths in different areas, some will be great with PE; others may be very creative with art. I am not saying we then don't teach the subjects we're not particularly passionate about. What I am saying is, wherever possible, look at ways in which you can use your interests and passions to inspire the children in your class. I can't guarantee every child will be engaged, but the chances are you will have more success if they can feed off your enthusiasm. So during this half term, look at what your topics are in English and consider whether this is something you are engaged with, if not, find something you are, use that instead and hopefully the children will follow suit!

Thanks for reading!

If you feel your staff would benefit from working with Mr P and embedding this approach, please visit this link. 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Using Back to the Future to Start our Next Topic!

Ok, I am a day late! However, I was only able to work with Year 3 today so today was our Back to the Future day. I decided to link this with Year 3's next topic 'Ancient Egypt.' They will be starting this topic next half term so today we created a story where we travelled on the Delorean to Ancient Egypt.

To do this, we used the new comic feature in Book Creator along with Pic Collage! The children loved being able to create such a professional looking comic. These will be printed and stuck at the front of their new topic books!

Here are some of their examples -

In year 1 we used the same tool in Book Creator to retell the class story of Beegu! What I love about the new comic feature in Book Creator is that comics can now have more multimedia attached to it. This is perfect for younger children, who may not be able to type but can still tell their story by adding audio or video to their comic! 

Here is their eBook comic -

For me, the comic feature in Book Creator makes this the go-to app when it comes to storyboarding children's writing. Previously, I had put images together in Pic Collage and then added this into Book Creator as these examples show -

The fact that children can attach audio to each frame of their comic can be such a powerful tool to help when writing the story. In the new curriculum, the following objective is part of every year group up to year 4 -
En4/3.3b    Draft and write by composing and rehearsing sentences orally (including dialogue), progressively building a varied and rich vocabulary and an increasing range of sentence structures
By planning a story through a comic in Book Creator and orally recording what they will write and attaching this to the comic, children have a multimedia storyboard to hand, which will then aid and support the children when putting pen to paper.

For more quality ideas for using comics to help inspire children's writing, check out @InspiredMind5 and his fantastic book -

Monday, 19 October 2015

Developing Emotional Literacy Through Music

Emotional Literacy was a massive focus on the 'Improving Reading and Writing Through Popular Children's Movies and Media' conference I led with John Murray recently. We explored using a variety of materials to help develop this in your classroom. As I was driving down to Cardiff tonight, I found another little gem linked to emotional literacy in the form of a song. In fact, the current UK number one - Wasn't Expecting That by Jamie Lawson.

The lyrics say so little but mean so much and something that could be used to help draw lots of inference and deduction in class. There is one lyric that isn't appropriate for the Primary classroom, in the same way, some scenes from the brilliant music video aren't appropriate. Therefore, I have created an edited lyric video so it can be used as I think the song as a whole is fantastic. Both John and myself have created a series of questions that can be asked with this song. I would aim this at Year 5/6 and make the following links to the curriculum:

"En5/2.2b    understand what they read by
-checking that the book makes sense to them, discussing their understanding and exploring the meaning of words in context
-asking questions to improve their understanding
-drawing inferences such as inferring characters' feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence 
En5/2.2c    discuss and evaluate how authors use language, including figurative language, considering the impact on the reade 
En5/2.2e    retrieve, record and present information from non-fiction 
En5/2.2f    participate in discussions about books that are read to them and those they can read for themselves, building on their own and others’ ideas and challenging views courteously"


Before watching the video, play the song to the children all the way through listening to just the audio. Ask the children -
  • What type of song is it? 
  • Who are the characters in the song? 
  • Who is singing it? 
  • Who is he singing to?
Then play the first 20 seconds -

Lyrics -

It was only a smile
But my heart it went wild
I wasn't expecting that
  • Who smiled? 
  • What type of smile do you think she first gave him? Show your teacher.
  • What effect did it have on the singer? How do you know? (Heart it went wild)
  • Where do you think this has happened? Why?
  • Why wasn't he expecting that? What feeling does this phrase portray?
  • How old are the characters?
Listen to the next part up to 42 seconds -

Lyrics -

Just a delicate kiss
Anyone could've missed 
I wasn't expecting that 

Did I misread the sign?
Your hand slipped into mine 
I wasn't expecting that 
  • What has happened between the two? How do you know?
  • Why do you think the singer uses the adjective 'delicate' to describe the kiss? What does this tell us about the girl?
  • Why do you think the singer is shocked by this?
  • Is the singer confident? Modest? How do you know?
  • Why does the singer use the verb 'slipped' to describe how the couple came to hold hands? Did you like this idea? Why? Why not?
  • Does it surprise you that it is the girl who takes the lead and not the man? Why? Why not?
The next couple of lines have been edited as they are not appropriate.

You spent the night in my bed
You woke up and you said 
"Well, I wasn't expecting that!" 

Then discuss the following lines - 

I thought love wasn't meant to last
I thought you were just passing through 
If I ever get the nerve to ask 
What did I get right to deserve somebody like you? 
I wasn't expecting that 
  • Why did he think love wasn't meant to last? 
  • Do you think the man has been hurt in love before? Why?
  • Why might this help us understand why he keeps on repeating the phrase 'I wasn't expecting that'?
  • What question do you think he wants to 'get the nerve to ask' is? 
  • What do you think her answer will be? Why?
Continue to play the song up to this point -

It was only a word
It was almost misheard 
I wasn't expecting that 
But it came without fear
A month turned into a year 
I wasn't expecting that 

I thought love wasn't meant to last
Honey, I thought you were just passing through 
If I ever get the nerve to ask 
What did I get right to deserve somebody like you? 
I wasn't expecting that 
  • What was the word? If it was an answer what was the question?
  • Why was it almost misheard?
  • Why did it come without fear?
  • What sweet term of affection does they man call the woman? On a scale of 1-5, how warm and loving is this term? 
  • Why is he using this term now but not at the start?
Study the next verse -

Oh and isn't it strange
How a life can be changed
In the flicker of the sweetest smile
We were married in spring
You know I wouldn't change a thing
Without that innocent kiss
What a life I'd have missed
  • Why has his life changed?
  • In which season were they married? Why is this symbolic? What do we associate with spring?
  • What word shows he is fond of her smile?
  • What word shows they were young when they met?
  • How old is he now when he sings this song?
Next verse - 
If you'd not took a chance
On a little romance
When I wasn't expecting that
Time doesn't take long
Three kids up and gone
I wasn't expecting that
  • Who was the decision maker in the relationship?
  • What effect does the line 'time doesn't take long' have?
  • How many children have they had and how old are they now? Why do you think this?
  • How much time has passed?
  • How old is the singer now? Why do you think this? 
Last verse - 
When the nurses they came
Said, "It's come back again"
I wasn't expecting that
Then you closed your eyes
You took my heart by surprise 
I wasn't expecting that
  • What do you think has come back again? Why do you think this?
  • What has happened when she closed her eyes? 
  • How does the singer feel? How do you know?
  • Why has the singer finished talking about his heart? 
  • What does the fact that he wasn't expecting this to happen and his heart has also been taken, tell us about [a] the man and [b] their relationship?
After discussing the lyrics ask the children the following questions -
  • Do you think this is based on a true story? Do you think it is the singer's story?
  • Do you like the fact that this song is written in first person? Why? Why not?
  • What effect does this have on the listener? Why?
  • Why do you think there is so much repetition in this song? Do you think this was a good thing or not? Why?
  • Where do you think he is when he is singing this song? To who is he singing it to? Why is he singing it to her? 
  • Can you think of any other stories or films with a similar message? This can easily be linked to the 'Married Life' Clip from Up, (this is something John discusses on our conference.)
  • What is the message the song is trying to demonstrate?
  • Why do you think this song is so popular?
  • What different emotions and feelings are felt through the song?
  • Do you like it? Why?

Writing activities -

Although the music video linked to the song is brilliant it isn't appropriate for the classroom as certain scenes are rude. However using some screenshots, the children could create a timeline based on the song or even a comic strip to sequence the story. 

Ask the children to imagine that the singer/husband finds a letter from his late wife, what do you think it would say? Could the children write this letter?

If this blog post is something you have enjoyed and would like to see more, please join us on our next conference in York, Peterborough and South Wales -

John Murray can deliver a full training INSET for schools focusing on developing emotional literacy. For more details visit his website -

Remember -

Updated - 30th October -

Thank you so much to Mr Beedie from Kinson Primary School in Bournemouth for sharing an example of the writing created from this lesson. This was Dante's example, a massive well done, it is a fantastic effort! -

Update - 12th February -

Thank you to Miss Marie and her Year 5 class from Caedmon Community Primary School for sharing some of their fantastic writing based on the ideas and song -