Words, Words, Words – The Important role of Vocabulary

My latest passion is vocabulary. It really is the key to improving the quality of our students’ writing and their ability to highlight all they know. Academic English is all about knowing the correct metalanguage, using the technical terms rather than the everyday word. The right vocabulary allows you to show your expertise and increase the power of what you say. This is why it is a key aspect of the NSW K-10 Literacy Continuum but, unfortunately, it is one that many are leaving until later. Teachers are saying that they will get to it after they get a handle on Writing and Comprehension aspects. However, a major key to building their writing and comprehension skills is their vocabulary knowledge!

There are so many great sites and tools around to help students (and teachers) build their love of words and hence build their vocabulary. My recent presentation at the Coffs Harbour Teach Meet highlighted some of them (see below).

Just remember, spelling lists are NOT vocabulary! Kids will learn them for the test then dump them. To become part of their working vocabulary the words need to be taught, and more importantly, used in CONTEXT.  

Research suggests that a word has to be used at least 20 times before it becomes part of our vocabulary – how can you ensure that the key terms are used 20 times???

It has to be meaningful and valued if it is to become part of their vocabulary knowledge so make vocabulary part of all your marking rubrics too!

Please feel free to share how you are building your students’ vocabulary.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/pmadi/words-words-words-24158942&#8243; title=”Words, words, words” target=”_blank”>Words, words, words</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/pmadi&#8221; target=”_blank”>Paula Madigan</a></strong> </div>



iPads and Literacy


As I have been visiting schools it is quickly becoming obvious that many teachers are bringing iPads into the classroom. This great to see but it is really important that teachers think about why and how they are using them. At a recent technology conference Stephen Heppell made the point that having iPads in the classroom is NOT a technology strategy – what you use them for is. This very true and so is his other statement that “a bad lesson is still a bad lesson whether you use technology or not”.

So, what are effective and valid ways to use iPads in a primary classroom? How can they support and extend the good things we already do that challenge, engage and extend students?

I love Ideas to Inspire for all things technology based and they certainly don’t disappoint when it come to ideas on how to use iPads.

The common focus for many of these ideas is active engagement – group work, discussions, hands on activities, student choice etc. All the things we used before iPads etc came on the scene. As I said, the technology itself is not what will impact – it is what you do with them that will lift student outcomes. You need to think Blooms for the Digital Age



So what are some of the apps that teachers are recommending to use with students to develop literacy skills? Here is the list that I have developed so far, thanks to the many teachers on twitter and via exploring the App Store and the web. This is definitely a work in progress and I will add to the list as I find things that work.

1. Writing

Writer's Hat  Writer’s Hat – great for solving that problem of knowing what to write about. Shake or swipe and it comes up with the 5 Ws of story planning and also has a word option to help extend their vocabulary.





Storyrobe Storyrobe is a good app for creating picture books. Easy to upload images and then students add narration before sharing their creation.






Storybird  Storybird – I have mentioned this tool before as a great way for students to create digital books but it is worth mentioning again as it can be used on the iPad.



Max Journal  Max Journal – a great app for recording thoughts, events and reflections.






2. Reading

images-8 Storia: Working in close collaboration with the reading experts at Scholastic, Storia is a FREE teacher-recommended eReading App designed to engage kids of all ages and reading levels. Storia’s exciting digital experience offers fun, age-appropriate learning activities along with a growing collection of the just-right titles kids love, from the award-winning authors they want to read.




images-9 Collins Big Cat: Collins Big Cat apps help to aid language acquisition with an animated book, containing audio and sound effects. They make reading interactive: children can record their own narration and play it back as they read the book. Free.





images-10 Adventure Books: Do you like action – adventure? Do you dream of being stranded on a desert island? Would you like to live in a tree, or experience adventures on the high seas–with pirates, storm, shipwreck, and mysterious creatures? If you dream of adventures, these adventure books of this application feature some of the most memorable legends in literature.





images-11 Sparklefish:SparkleFish is a hilarious audio story completion game that will get you laughing while working out the right word for the sentence.





3. Spelling and Vocabulary

Unknown-6 Word Bingo: Sight Word BINGO featuring the Dolch Word List





images-12 Bluster: This word matching game develops vocabulary and word understanding for students. In single-player mode you learn and practice important word skills. Match rhyming words, prefixes and suffixes, synonyms, homophones, adjectives, and more. They can collaborate with a friend in team mode. The multi-touch iPad screen allows both players to play simultaneously, so you can work together to weather the vocabulary storm.




images-13 Miss Spell’s Class: Miss Spell’s Class is an original word game that lets players test their spelling skills against the most commonly misspelled words on Dictionary.com. Players must quickly decide whether each of 20 words is spelled correctly or incorrectly, as speed and accuracy count to get to the top of the class.

4. Story Telling

images   i tell a story: “i Tell a Story” allows children to narrate and record their stories. But as a complete audio recording and editing tool,   there are countless other uses, such as having adults record stories and messages for the little ones in their lives to listen to. Add funny sounds and music if you want, plus a picture, title, and your name, and send your audio book




images-7 Story Kit: This is an awesome iOS app that allows users to easily create an electronic storybook via illustrations by drawing on the screen, using pictures and text, and recording audio to attach to stories.





Unknown Puppet Pals HD: Create your own unique shows with animation and audio in real time! Simply pick out your actors and backdrops, drag them on to the stage, and tap record. Your movements and audio will be recorded in real time for playback later. This app is as fun as your own creativity. Act out a story of Pirates on the high seas, fight as scary monsters, or play the part of a Wild West bandit on the loose. You can even combine any characters however you want!  Your creations are only limited by your imagination (and voice acting skills in my case).


Unknown-1 Toontastic: Lights, Camera, Play! Toontastic is a Creative Learning tool that empowers kids to draw, animate, and share their own cartoons through imaginative play. Making cartoons with Toontastic is as easy as putting on a puppet show – simply press the record button, move your characters onscreen, and tell your stories through play! You can even create your own characters using the built in drawing tool.



5. Film

Unknown-4 iMovie: Make beautiful HD movies anywhere with iMovie, the fast and fun moviemaking app that puts everything you need to tell your story at your fingertips. Browse and play projects in the Marquee view. Create Hollywood-style trailers or sophisticated home movies in minutes.





images-4iMotion HD:  is an intuitive and powerful time-lapse and stop-motion app for iOS.
Take pictures, edit your movie and export* HD 720p videos to your device or directly to Youtube.





Unknown-2 Videolicious: Instantly combine your videos, photos, music and stories into a stunning movie masterpiece. Just talk and tap to create the perfect video. Super fast and easy movie making — now with incredible cinematic filters!




images-5 Animoto: takes less than five minutes to make an impressive, share-worthy video using photos, video snipits and text. Sign up to Animoto Education (free) to access full features and create longer videos.



6. Collaboration

Unknown-3 Voice Thread: Create and share dynamic conversations around documents, snapshots, diagrams and videos — basically anything there is to talk about. You can talk, type, and draw right on the screen. VoiceThread takes your conversations to the next level, capturing your presence, not just your comments.




7. Audio 

images-6 Smart Recorder: The best audio recorder for the iPhone and iPad. Use it to record meetings, interview, lectures, classes, todo lists, shopping lists or even your kids voices. What ever the task, Smart Recorder is the ideal tool. It produces high quality recordings and supports a variety of features




Unknown-5iTalk Recorder: iTalk Recorder is a full-featured recording app with a streamlined and intuitive user interface. Press the big red button to record; press it again to stop. You can append to existing recordings, choose from three levels of recording quality (11.025, 22.05, or 44.10 kHz sample rates), and manage your recordings, all with just a fingertip.




Want more apps?  Checkout 1000 iPad Apps for Educators , Apps in Education

Need some ideas on lessons using the iPads – Apptivity is a great place to start!

Got Android tablets? Here is a good place to start for apps –Primary Education Apps

Can you help add to the list? Please add a comment and tell me about what you are using in the classroom!

The Power of Social Media and Literacy

If you haven’t already joined twitter then you should! Twitter is not what the media make it out to be. It is not about a lot of celebrities tweeting that they are drinking coffee etc, though you can follow these people if you want to. I prefer to follow teachers, educators, tech experts, university professors, poets, writers and basically anyone that can help me do my job as a teacher. My professional learning has grown exponentially since joining twitter four years ago. My knowledge wasn’t the only thing to grow, so did my enthusiasm for my profession. It is hard not to get excited about your job when you are connected with so many amazing educators who inspire you daily.

So what has all this got to do with Literacy? One of the joys of my current role is how many wonderful teachers I am meeting and working with. All of them are keen to use technology as part of their teaching toolkit to engage and challenge students to improve their literacy skills. The trouble is, who has the time to trawl the web to find all the  fantastic tools out there that can be used in the classroom via the IWB, the computer or tablet? This is where the power of social media, and particularly twitter can save you a heap of time. Together we can discover far more than when we explore solo. It is not just technology that is shared, so are lesson ideas and resources as well as the latest research on education and learning.

So if you join up, who should you follow on twitter? Well, you can follow me – @Madiganda and this will mean you see the people I chat with and to follow any of those people just click on their name and click follow when their profile page pops up. Easy! Some other people I would recommend  @vivimat78 , @thelitladies , @CornStik , @mitchsquires , @sarahjohanna , @johnqgoh as a great place to start for primary school teachers keen to join the twitter family.

Check out some of the recent offerings on twitter if you need proof on what you can get from joining twitter:

    The Literacy Shed – what an amazing find. Created by @redgierob (hint, his twitter name)

This site is full of different sheds linked to genres, concepts etc and each shed is full of resources.






Exploratree – this is a great site for graphic organisers that help with comprehension, summarising and planning.






Primary Eductech – a great site for literacy resources, links to other websites etc  They are on twitter – @primaryedutech



Want to find more great resources? Why not join up and then join in a chat with other teachers via #ozengchat or #ozprimschchat. Need more proof? Checkout this screen shot of the last #ozprimschchat :

All things poetic…

I have to say up front that I LOVE poetry and I LOVE teaching poetry! I also understand that many teachers don’t share my passion and that for some reason even more students would scream “Noooo!” if I asked them if they would like a poetry lesson. I think that reaction is tragic as poetry has the potential to emotionally connect with us in a way that other textual forms cannot. Poetry is also a wonderful help to students in regards to vocabulary building, effective use of punctuation and to help them understand the potential power of literary devices.

One of the first reasons I think many students fear poetry is that they have this very fixed view of what a poem should be. The main element they expect is that the poem must rhyme and in fact can’t be a poem if it doesn’t. One of the main reasons for this expectation, I feel, is their very early exposure to nursery rhymes and the like that all rely on rhyme. Every poem after that is filtered through that early learning. When asked why a poem must rhyme my students have always replied – “It sounds better and it easier to remember”. When asked to write a poem, however, they stumble over the need to rhyme as it is the pursuit of matching words that drives them rather than effectively conveying meaning. This then frustrates them and they will either give up or come up with some very twee rhyme that has no power to evoke emotion.

So, this post will look at ways (hopefully) to make the study of poetry more enjoyable for both teachers and their students. This term is the perfect time to do some poetry study as the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition finishes on the 3oth of June and I would really encourage you to try and get your students to enter a poem or two in the competition. This year’s optional theme is “Wheels and Wings and Marvellous Things” which would work in well with many KLAs not just English.

1. Getting Past the Rhyme. Lots of exposure to different forms of non rhyming poems is recommended to break the fixation with rhyme. Blank or free verse allows students to focus on the emotion and message and actually frees them up to express themselves.

2. Play with Words. (a) Found Poems are a great introduction to writing poems. Choose a page in a novel or textbook and ask students to choose words that sum up the important ideas and events. They then use these words to create a poem version of the page. The discussion that can arise from their choices and construction can be amazing. There are many variations you can use: identify an emotion/character/theme etc for them to focus on and choose the words appropriate to that focus. (b) Brainstorm words for a particular topic and then students can work in pairs or by themselves to choose words to use in a poem exploring that focus. Again compare their choices and the different effects.

3. Field Trip. Kids love heading out of the classroom and poetry offers up lots of excuses to leave their seats. I often get the students to head out and collect an object eg a leaf or a rock. They then have to brainstorm words and phrases that describe their object – what it looks like, its colour, texture, what they could compare it to etc and then organise these into a poem. Or we head out and sit around a tree, a garbage bin, a seat etc and talk about it – as a whole, its separate parts, what it reminds them of, emotions that could link with the object, how would we describe the colour/shape etc. They then have to write about the chosen object and in the last line of the poem they have to make a comment about its place/value to society etc. Works well as a pair activity or individually.

4. Art Work. I find that students “get” various literary devices if they can draw them, after all that is the purpose of the devices – to help us visualise what they want us to see. I start by giving them examples of similes etc to draw and then they have to create their own and draw them as a picture. When we are reading and studying poems I will get them to choose their favourite line/image and draw it for display around the classroom. You can also choose a poem to study and allocate a line per student to illustrate and display.

5. Lets Perform! Poems are meant to be read out aloud and you should take any opportunity to read poems to the students or get them to read poems to you. (a) Why not set up a school or class competition along the lines of the American competition, Poetry Out Loud. Better still,  why not challenge other local schools to join you can have a community competition. (b) Poetry Slams are also a great idea and really connect students (and teachers) with poetry. Check out Australian Poetry Slam or @WebEnglishTeacher for lesson ideas. There are lots of examples of students performing in poetry slams on YouTube if you need inspiration. Again, why not hold class and school Poetry Slam competitions. (c) Acting out poems set for study are a great way to learn the poem and to understand the rhythm and meaning behind the words. Get the class on the floor and slowly teach them your chosen poem line by line with actions attached. As you go, talk about the words, the effects of the different techniques used and how that would look and would it be said/acted slowly, loudly etc and what clues were there in the poem to help them come up with that decision. You will be amazed at the conversations and how well they remember the poem. I got this activity from Phil Beadle’s Masterclass on Island Man and I would highly recommend the video to every teacher who needs inspiration.

6. Make a Video. I regularly get my students to create videos of their favourite poem of the ones we have studied in class or of their own poem. I usually show examples the first time so students get ideas on how they can look and the elements of construction. You will find plenty of suitable examples on YouTube. Using MovieMaker, Animoto, or PhotoStory 3  they are instructed to make a movie of their chosen poem. They must find images and music that match the mood/s, tempo/s and purpose of the poem. Overwhelmingly,  the results are outstanding. When they work as a group the dialogue between the students is impressive as they argue about which image/s best represent that line/word, why the music needs to change on this line as the mood changes etc. The presentations to the class and the accompanying explanations really highlight how much they have “got” out of the poem. I have then presented the videos on the school website and at Education Week.

All these activities can be used multiple times (the kids never tire of them and I certainly don’t) focussing on different themes and focuses such as looking at  poetry about love, the environment, animals, people etc. So, I hope these help you and your classes LOVE poetry as much as I do! Need some more inspiration? Check out the following sites:

@Web English Teacher

Poetry Forge

My Monster

Kristine O’Connell George

Poetry Riddles

Shape Poems

Read Write Think

Teacher Vision


My Education Stuff

Got a great lesson for teaching poetry? Found a great site? Please add a comment and share your finds.

Happy Teaching!

Are you inferring what I’m inferring?

From analysing the NAPLAN data, and before that the ELLA data, it is clear that many students struggle with inferential reading. Time and time again it comes up as an area that needs addressing with our students. What is inference and how do we go about teaching it to our students?

Inference is when you use the clues in the story along with your own experiences to discover meaning that is not directly stated by the composer. We read “between the lines” to strengthen our understanding. The example I like to use with students is: “The sky was blue and there was not a cloud to be seen. Everyone was outside – at the beach, at the park, in the garden.” What was the weather like? Answer – it was warm and sunny, probably summer. How do we know this if it isn’t said specifically? What clues are given? Clues: blue sky, beach, no clouds etc.

We need to explicitly teach students about inference and how they use this when they read to gain maximum understanding of what they are reading. We, as teachers, need to help students be aware of the process of inference if they are going to develop their inferential reading skills.

So how do we do this? Children can start to explore the concept from looking at pictures.

   What season is it?

   How can you infer that from the picture?







    What type of restaurant are they in?

    Is she enjoying her dinner?








I certainly think we should be teaching students the words “infer” and inference” as soon as we start to teach it. Talk about the clues in the picture, in the paragraph and get them to  articulate (orally at first and then in writing) how these are clues. In other words get them to articulate the thought process and of course this means you need to regularly and explicitly model that thought process for them. Even good readers who do this intuitively will benefit from having the actual skill articulated to them so that as the text material gets more complex they too can found ways into the text using the clues available.

Inference Questions:

  • What is my inference?
  • What information clues did I use to make the inference?
  • How good was my thinking?

Inference can help students to understand a new word, work out who a character is and to understand the character’s feelings and connect the material to their own world. It takes comprehension from the literal (here) to the inferential (hidden) which in turns allows students to access the interpretative (head) and apply what they have read.



425px” id=”__ss_3997916″> Teaching inference
View more PowerPoint from Belinda Moore


There are many great PowerPoint resources, like the one above on SlideShare – definitely recommend you take a look!

Need some ready-made resources and some ideas for teaching inference to your students?

I recommend you check these sites out:

Ethemes – University of Missouri site

Brain Pops – lots of great ideas and activities

Into The Book – book suggestions as well as strategies and work sheets

TV411 – Nice on-line interactive activity for learning about inference

Have Fun Teaching – fantastic worksheets for K – 6

Study Zone – interactive activity

Like To Read – Lesson Ideas from an experienced teacher

Busy Teacher Cafe – great site for all aspects of the “Super 6” including inference

Minds in Bloom – great resources, lesson ideas etc

Inference Riddles – help get the students thinking

Effective Teaching of Inference – Research Paper by Anne Kipsal

Continue reading

Spelling Games, Activities and Strategies

Spelling is a key component in any Literacy Program and is, as you know, one of the strands of Literacy tested via NAPLAN. We all have our tried and true methods of teaching spelling in our classrooms – weekly spelling lists, look cover write, etc. But what else is out there? How can I use technology to support and consolidate a student’s skills in spelling? Are there any other spelling strategies I could use that would support what I am already doing?

With that in mind, please have a look at the resources below. Maybe you know of all of these and maybe you already use some of these in your classsroom…but maybe you don’t and it is certainly hard to find time to spend hours to search the internet and other places for inspiration.

KidsSpell.com – free games using their lists or yours. Graded and unblocked by DEC


SpellingCity.com – different levels of membership but the basic, and free, level allows you to create your own lists which are then used for a whole variety of games. Great for all ages and again unblocked by the DEC.



  Spelling Connections – this is another great, free and unblocked site, where teachers can create class accounts  quickly and easily. The thing I like about this site is that the games and activities also involve sentence work and even proof reading. This is well worth checking out.


Woodlands Literacy Zone – an amazing variety of spelling, phonics, and quizzes for all grades and abilities. Many a great to use with an IWB. Again, completed unblocked for student use.

PBS Kids – PBS create some amazing resources for students and this is no exception, especially for lower to middle primary. Again, completely unblocked.



BBC Spellits – If you haven’t checked out the BBC education sites, this is a good place to start. Graded activities and visually appealing. Once again, unblocked.


Study Ladder – an Australian site that has excellent resources in a range of areas, including spelling of course. You need to login but is free to join and again it is unblocked. This site is definitely worth a visit.

Spelling strategies:

21 Interesting Ways to Support Spelling in the Classroom

Tasmanian Dept of Ed

Spelling Ideas

I Love that Teaching Idea

Williamstown PS, Victoria

PLEASE make a comment if you found any of these useful or if you have other sites, ideas and resources that you are having success with in the classroom.

Making your own digital stories

Students (and teachers) love making up and sharing stories especially when technology is involved. There are so many amazing web-based tools out there to use to create your own digital story.

There is a great sense of satisfaction involved when you see the story play on the screen and many of the sites allow you to share what you have created so what a delight for any parent to see an invite to come and read, and watch, their child’s story. Plus, what a great way to encourage students in the class to read when they get to read each other’s stories!

Can’t find a book that support what you are doing in the classroom? Make your own! Or put a poem or ryhme into a story form to share with your students.

I have tried all of the sites I have listed below and really found them easy to use and they are all free! Well, unless you want a hard copy of your masterpiece.

I recommend you have a look at:

  Storybird – lovely art work to use, or upload your own. Lots of stories to share with your students.

  Storyjumper – much like storybird and step by step instructions

  Myths and Legends – British site that has stories based on the many myths and legends from  the British Isles to share as well as a space to create your own.

  Little Bird Tales – currently only approved for teachers but any books you create can be used at school on your IWB

  Zooburst – a fun site that allows you to create amazing 3D books.