Comics for Learning

Great comics are a bit like poetry – poems and haikus can tell rich and emotive stories with just a few words. By carefully crafting words and pictures comics (or their more upmarket name of “Graphic Novels” ) can tell amazing stories. Look at tales  like “Maus” by Art Spiegelman or “When the Wind Blows” by Raymond Briggs,  brilliant examples of how powerful a “graphic novel” can be, how an unforgettable story about a complex issue can be told in a few words and images.

Comics are simple to create  by students of all ages with websites like Comic Master, Toondoo and Strip Generator.

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Using these tools, comics are so simple to create that anyone, regardless of artistic talent can create professional looking comics quickly or in great detail for a huge variety of purposes. Use comics to tell stories or share thoughts and they are a great way for students to reflect on or summarise their learning.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 4.07.37 pmComics have been loved by children for years and are an engaging way to encourage reading but there are many more oportunites  to use comics to develop literacy skills. Summarise books, perhaps The Lorax by Dr Seuss to explain the environmental issues presented in the text. For some great ideas for using comics in English you might like to check out “Teaching English Through Comics”

Comics are an effective way to create a story map to plan writing or to develop vocabulary and practice using speech in narratives. But think outside the “frame” and use comics to explain mathematical or scientific concepts, document experiments or retell historic or political events.-  Imagine the possibilities.

Searching that Fits

As teachers, we want to inspire and enable our students of all ages to be collectors of information and the WWW is an amazing resource…..but we don’t want our students biting off more than they can chew!  For older students a Google search might be appropriate but one size definitely doesn’t fit all in learning and the same is true for the search engines we use with our students. There are many search engines created for young learners. They are safe and provide safe access to student friendly sites. Kidrex Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 2.41.54 pmand Sweet Search are great examples of sites that are safe and appropriate for students. But my favourite is the visual search engine – Not only is it safe – it is perfect for differentiation according to the age and ability of students. By using a simple slider at the top of the screen you can change the complexity of the search responses. Perfect for different year levels or different reading levels within the same class.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 2.54.17 pmI love the mind map approach to sorting the information rather than lists of sites like so many standard search engines and InstaGrok provides access to summarised key facts,related websites, videos, images and students can even take notes and lets students keep a learning journal within the site. This visual search engine and interactive concept map works beautifully.

Formative Assessment – a great site to help

We know that getting quick and accurate data during our teaching is vital to responding to student needs and guiding our practice. Does everyone “get it”? Do I need to revise, extend or move on?

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 2.07.17 pmQUIZ SOCKET is a free web site that is a simple, quick and painless way to get formative data to guide your teaching.

You don’t need to pre-prepare anything which means you can just use this site whenever it suits your needs. Just go to the site (no need to log in), get a unique code for kids to log into. Ask the question either orally or by writing it on the board and your students select A,B,C or D. Student responses come to you instantly in the form of a graph. It couldn’t be simpler and Quiz Socket makes a great exit ticket too.

What did you do on your holidays?

blank pageWhen you were student do you remember the first day of school. The excitement of seeing your friends, meeting your new teachers, the magical smell of books that had never been used and were a blank canvas, just waiting for you. Then disappointment when a teacher would say – write about what you did on your holidays! As teachers we know the importance of those first few days. Learning about our students, letting them know about us, building relationships and setting the scene for the year.  We need something much more exciting, engaging and open ended than the traditional essay about the holidays. As Alan November wrote, we need “to set the tone for powerful, engaging and self-directed learning”.

Here are a few alternatives using free Web 2 tools that you and your students could use to provide opportunities for creativity and for students to share their stories with their classmates and you.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 4.04.04 pmWORD CLOUDS Students could create word clouds about themselves using their own descriptors or gather words from friends and family . Try Wordle,, Tagxedo, or Tagul

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GLOGSTER or MUSEUM BOX – create a multimedia poster to showcase skills, interests and passions

SURVEY students about they interests, skills, goals, hobbies, expertise they could share with classmates or what they would like to learn during the year using Google Docs or Survey Monkey

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 4.41.24 pmCOMIC MASTER or MAKEBELIEFCOMIX are simple tools to make great comics. Perhaps this would be a more exciting way for students to retell one aspect of their holidays?

An iMOVIE Trailer about their hopes or goals for the year

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 4.48.28 pmStudents could use ANIMOTO to make a short movie about the famous thing they will do, or great achievement they will make in the future.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 4.56.23 pmBLABBERIIZE would be a great way for students to share the most amazing moment of their holiday

Photos for the holidays and the classroom

One of the great things about holidays is the photos we take to remind us of our adventures. I took these at the Werribee Open Plain Zoo and enhanced them with PhotoFunia

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Photographs to document learning, reflection or for more creative pursuits  are very powerful. A picture is after all, worth a 1000 words. So here are a couple of sites  that you could try over the break – add to your memories and build your “toolbox” to use with your class this year.


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This is a fantastic site that lets you enhance your photos by adding them into other scenes. A lot of fun and I could see many classroom applications especially in publishing. My favourites are the Billboard and Museum effects.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 1.13.12 pmBeFunky

Another site for editing and enhancing your photos but these effects are more subtle.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 1.15.38 pmCartoonize

Lots of possibilities with this site as it lets you turn your photos into “cartoon” style images with a variety of effects.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 1.18.12 pmCameroid

This site is like a free online “Photo Booth”. You can take pictures with your webcam using a variety of frames and filters.