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Monday, July 27, 2015

The unconventional guide to Writing Prompts

Last year I co-ordinated the Student Write Club at school and I loved putting together interesting writing prompts for students.

You might ask me ... so where do you get your inspiration from?

Here are a few strategies that I used throughout that year.

Reading meaning into random words

You can either take a line from a less than conventional song or use one of the song lyric generators.
I normally look for one or two lines that make sense and then use them as writing prompts.

Similar to the song lyrics, using a line of computer generated poetry as a writing prompt. Poem Generator allows you to choose words that will be used randomly and they have sample lists that you can experiment with.

Using your senses

StereoMood can set the mood in terms of music. Type in what your mood is and it will set up a playlist for you to listen to. Musicovery is another site which performs a similar function.  Another option is to get the students to shut their eyes and allow them to inhale some essential oil. What does it make them think about? Or perhaps touch fur or sandpaper. Prompts don't have to be written!

A picture tells a 1000 words

Flickr Explore is worthwhile taking a look. 20Under20 has some great photo's that could be used as writing prompts or if you want you can use google to find images which represent genre's. You can also generate random images in Flickr using BeesBuzz and BigHugeLabs.

Students can bring their own images from home and swap them with each other for writing inspiration. Take a normal picture and use various filters to make the image say something different.

The art of observation

One of my favourite past times is to wander the city for a day with my camera and just observe. What is down that lane way? What happens at the top of a building? Who is that person sitting and reading?

This article appeared on Junkee and I loved the way that the owner of the garage turned what would have been an annoyance into an opportunity to write something about the backstory of the graffiti and who might have created it.

Part of being a writer is to observe and read meaning into what others might pass over.

How do you find your writing prompts?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Winter Reading Packs

At the end of last term, Kaitlyn (our wonderful Library Tech) and I put together some winter reading packs at the end of last term.

Our goal was to encourage students to borrow a book that they were unfamiliar with. A classic, a brand new book or a book of a lesser known author.

We tried to combine at least two books that related to each other in some way:

  • A classic and the modern day equivalent,
  • A book and movie of that book,
  • A collection of different styled poetry books,
  • Themed books and similar topics, for example: two books about dogs.
  • Books from the same genre.
  • A popular book, such as Hunger Games, and a less popular book of the same genre.

The books were wrapped up with a strip of wrapping paper and string and students liked that after we "processed" the books we wrapped them back up again for them to take home.

By the end of last term we had 24 packs (at least 48 books) borrowed in addition to our normal borrowing patterns.

Many students who borrowed the paired up books returned the first one and re-borrowed the second one so that they could finish it.

We are hoping to survey students who borrowed the Winter Reading packs to see if it would be worthwhile to do it again, perhaps as a Spring Reading Pack.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Using Playfic to write interactive fiction

During my university years, I played MUD's with a number of friends. As we sat in the vax lab at Uni the adventures were rich and satisfying. I was surprised to find out that these interactive text environments are still being used, not for games, but for interactive fiction.

Playfic is a platform using Inform for writing and playing interactive fiction. The program that is created is used to tell a story within an interactive world. The reader can move through the text by giving simple instructions which allow the reader to respond to the text. There shouldn't be any ambiguity in the text, so writers need to be clear on their intentions.

Readers can experience the text adventures or write one of their own. The code for this interface looks straight forward and it would be fun to teach a unit on interactive fiction as part of an English/IT. You could also use Playfic as a story starter tool, getting students to document their adventure and turn it into their own story.

As you can see the Source Code is really easy to understand.

Interactive fiction (aka "text adventures") is a genre of game that uses no graphics or sound, but instead, uses text to tell a story in an interactive world.

This reading environment is the next step in the old "Choose your own adventure" or the new "you choose books" where you have power over the direction that the story takes.

Further Reading:

Monday, June 22, 2015

Winter Reading Display

Looking for a different strategy to encourage students to read more, we paired books up as reading suggestions for the winter break.

Using a tool such as "What should I read next?" and our knowledge of the collection we paired up books that we thought would complement each other. Either within a genre or across genre's. Pairing a popular book with a classic or a book with the movie adaptation.

Since putting the display together this morning, we have "borrowed out" eight packs to students today - woo hoo!

How did we do it?

The sign was made using Canva and the wrapping strip is just the backdrop image from Canva spliced up into strips with some Reject Shop BakersTwine!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Monday Musings

Made me giggle, so I thought I would share ....

I miss the days of the old paper train tickets. I would leave them in books and discover them years later and wonder what I was doing on that day so many years ago ...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Super Awesome Sylvia

On Friday at Northern Beaches Christian School I had the opportunity to take part in a workshop with Gary Stager and Super Awesome Sylvia.

I have heard Gary talk a number of times before and I know him professionally from my days at Methodist Ladies' College. But this was an opportunity to participate in a workshop and chew the fat over a few issues.

Gary is provocative and really challenges the way in which you look at technology in schools. He won't provide the answers neatly wrapped up product in a box for you, but what he will do is get you to think deeply about the philosophy and pedagogy behind your technology program.

So after a presentation from Gary, Sylvia took over the reigns and spoke about the projects she has worked on and the WaterColor Bot that she collaborated on.

This is not her first time speaking in front of a group of educators, Sylvia came to us via Edutech in Brisbane where she keynoted for a room of educators. She has also presented at TED!

Further Links:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#BigRockTrip Reflections on providing Internet Services to remote communities

One of the aspects of our big trip that has been quite obvious has been our reliance on the internet and also the lack of this essential broadband service in the outback.

We found this sign in "the" pub in Maree. The only cold beer that the pub had was in a bottle and they were awaiting their ice delivery for the week.

Granted it would cost the government a fortune to provide fast broadband to everyone in Australia, the reality is that Australia has many remote communities, indigenous and otherwise. Getting them connected to a reliable internet broadband service will change their lives forever. Not just from an education point of view but also from a health, financial and community point of view.

As a country we need to start to think creatively about services to ALL communities, rather than saying that it is all too hard and withdrawing support to these communities. It has been interesting to see how the influence of thinking outside the box has revealed tourism opportunities to facets of the outback that were long forgotten

Increased services brings increased opportunities, and perhaps it is a socialist ideal that every school and community should have access to the same services. As a country we have the resources to do it. We are a rich nation who pays not enough tax for what we actually have. Our GST introduced in 2000 has not risen from 10% although an increase on services has increased. 

Like it or not, the traditional industries that Australia relied such as farming and mining are dying. The knowledge economy is what will make this country strong. Remote schools should have access to more than the School of the Air to prepare their students for life in the 21st Century. Communities shouldn't have to shut up shop and move to the big cities to get these services.

Imagine if indigenous communities had the ability to converse in their native tongue between communities? Or perhaps they had the ability to share their culture nuances online with the world? What windows of opportunity would there be if we looked upon our first people as a blessing rather than a burden?

Monday, March 16, 2015

5 ideas for celebrating St. Patrick's Day in your #learningcommons

Making your library space dynamic and changing displays is important to encouraging interest in the space and collection. St. Patrick's Day is one of those celebrations that can be easily put together and decorating your learning space shouldn't take any longer than an hour at most.

Here are a few ideas for decorating your learning space.

1. Bunting

What would the world be without Bunting? All you need is some string, some colour printouts and a hole punch and voila!

Brother have some lovely Lucky Shamrock Bunting to download for free. The other option is to use green scrapbook paper and cut into triangles or squares and punch away!

You could even use green pom poms or green felt shamrocks to create a point of interest.

2. Shamrocks

Print off and cut out some shamrocks by hand or there are many online stores that sell Shamrocks that have already been cut out in paper and also felt.

Alternatively, invest in a Silhouette Cameo and cut them out yourself. I love what this person has done with the story of St. Patrick.

3. Book display

Goodreads have a list of some popular Irish authors and there are some great articles out there about some must-read Irish authors.

Encourage discussions about some of the more prominent Irish authors such as Oscar Wilde, Yeats and Maeve Binchy. You might even have a lunchtime spoken word event where someone reads out an exert from "The Picture of Dorian Gray".

We were hard pressed to find an adequate amount of authors in our library so we had a combination of stories about Ireland, Irish authors and every green book we could put our hands on ...

Another option is Irish Non-Fiction and links to articles which talk about the successful commercialisation of St. Patrick's Day.

4. Food

We set up a bowl of green lollies for students who are borrowing! We came up with Spearmint Leaves, Green Aeroballs and Green M'n'M's.


There are some lovely free printables out there. I like the bookmarks which acknowledge the foundations of the day and also Irish sayings or blessings.

Some of these bookmarks can be enlarged on the photocopier and become wall decorations.

Enjoy your celebrations!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Flipping Classroom

I had the opportunity of watching Andrew Douche strut his stuff at a Professional Learning session a few weeks aback about the Flipped Classroom.

He was engaging and inspirational presenter who used many of his own classroom examples to engage and carry his audience through the journey of designing curriculum to meet the needs of his students. During the presentation he also demonstrated how some of the newer software tools could be used to present material in an engaging way.

In a former life I worked at Methodist Ladies' College in Melbourne in their (Information Technology Learning Centre) and during that time I team taught with two other wonderful Information Technology teachers. We were doing team teaching, flipping, differentiation, formative assessment. All the good stuff before it had it's own #hashtag.

[source: Wayback machine]

Teaching for 20 years, you notice "good teaching practice" being re-packaged and re-branded again and again.

Flipping the classroom is more than just sending kids home with a video to watch. It is intentionally seeing the "out of class" time as an opportunity to continue learning and comprehension of what is happening in the classroom. A classroom without walls.

But what if your sports commitments are five nights a week or what if you have to go home to take care of your younger siblings? In an ideal world, students can go home and study or continue their learning. But often we don't know what their home life is like. As teachers we don't understand that perhaps the only time they have to engage in structured learning is when they are at school.

Flipped learning can work well for some units of work but not necessarily others. And in that case, isn't it just good teaching practice to integrate opportunities for students to continue to develop their thinking outside your classroom?

Some links to get you thinking ...

Monday, February 23, 2015

How to improve your blogname

I am working with some classes at the moment setting up blogs to document student writing, so that students can create and share their writing with a more global audience.

Rather than using a common nickname, Sheryl123, that you have used with other social media sites, establishing a more "grown up" name might be beneficial for students in the long run as they learn about Digital Citizenship and establishing a responsible online presence.

If you find idea generation a challenge, it might be useful to use some of the random generator web sites out there.

This web page throws out suggested names every 10 seconds. Clicking the option can give you further control over the randomness of the page. Names like CubicStack or FunLunatic might not mean much, but might provide some inspiration for a generic blog that can evolve with you over the years.

Another site that provides you with name suggestions based on

Hipster Business Name Generator
Even though it is generating business names, it might come up with a good name for a blog. Names like "Feather and Grass" might be a generic name to use for a blog name.

Random generators are great to use for names, writing ideas and blog post topics.

How do you generate your name?