Posts Tagged ‘literacy’

5min PPT: #ImmersiveReader (6)

As part of our “5 Minutes for Inclusion” series, here is a short PowerPoint introducing Immersive Reader, a powerful and free tool built into Microsoft products.

It’s effective at increasing the reading fluency and comprehension of your learners, supporting students with learning differences like Dyslexia, and helping emerging readers build their confidence.

Click below to download the PowerPoint:

5min PPT: #ImmersiveReader (6).pptx

The link between touch-typing and spelling

Motor-memory can often be overlooked when we are thinking of helping children and young people to spell accurately. We will work on visual activities directly intended to embed words in their memories – such as ‘look, cover, write, check,’ where pupils memorise a word, cover it up, write it out and then check their spelling – and ask questions such as, “Does it look right?” But we don’t often ask if it ‘feels’ right.

When children are first learning to read we focus on phonics for decoding, isolating the separate sounds that make up a word. We then reverse that approach to build words, often sounding out the segments and asking them how we will express that on the page. The word ‘Church,’ for instance, will become, ‘Chu, er, chu.’

So we have approaches that focus on the visual memory, and others on  the aural memory, but we often neglect to focus on the motor-memory. How a word feels as we inscribe it. It is one of the reasons for encouraging those who are struggling with spelling to use cursive – ‘joined up’ – handwriting. The theory is that instead of the word being a series of separate letters the brain needs to recollect and reproduce, it becomes one, fluent, movement. For instance, ‘heavy,’ is no longer, ‘H, E, A, V, Y’ – five elements to remember how to scribe, but ‘heavy’ one, continuous, sweep along the line.

This theory has been built in to programs that teach touch-typing, so that by employing the frequent repetition necessary to learn to use the keyboard without looking at it, learners begin to put down words on the screen without having to think about the letters in them. They spell by using the memory in their movements.

One of the earliest resources to use this was Touch, Type, Read and Spell (TTRS). Originally it was a standard touch-typing course involving copying from books that differed from offerings such as those from City and Guilds, by using real words in its exercises instead of drills focused on letter groupings on the keyboard.

Then along came personal computers and approaches like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Whilst it took its time, TTRS eventually went online to become . Now available for individuals to use at home, or for whole tranches of pupils to use at school, it still uses as its core vocabulary list the ever influential ‘Alpha to Omega’ spelling course, originally devised to teach dyslexic learners in the 1980s.

It is not the only program to do this. Kaz (  is a system structured i   n a similar way. Although originally targeted at general learners, it has adapted to include more specialist elements, with features such as the ability to change the font and its size, and or to select a colour scheme that a user might find easier to read on screen.

The important element of this approach to spelling, however, is keyboard fluency. As Kaz point out on their website, “Typing with 2 fingers uses the conscious mind but when you touch type with all your fingers and thumbs, the skill is transferred to the subconscious – leaving the conscious mind free for creative writing and the task at hand.”

There are compelling arguments for all children and young people to learn to touch-type. Removing barriers to their creativity, and helping them too become more productive, is just one more.

Wordshark online – an online update of an SEND perennial

What is it?

It’s hard to remember a time before Wordshark was available. If you don’t know it, it is primarily used for practice and reinforcement of spellings, particularly for those struggling with these skills, such as pupils who are dyslexic. Although it could be used by learners of all ages for the acquisition of key vocabulary.

It comes with a database of 10,000 words, all with pre-recorded speech, which can be sorted to be used in several different ways. One is the National Curriculum wordlists that pupils are expected to know as they progress through primary school. Another is Alpha to Omega, a scheme designed for those with dyslexia, and then there is the popular Letters and Sounds, or the subject specific words aimed at secondary students. You can also add your own lists if there are words you can’t find, perhaps for a particular topic.

The lists themselves are broken down into appropriate groups, such as CVC, or magic-e, and to aid learning further, words can be viewed with their phonetic make up marked, or they can be split into user-defined chunks.

Along with the wordlists are around 40 games. Once the words to be practised have been selected a number of games are recommended to use, which  can be worked through, or you can open a tab for one of the specific groups: Blend, Segment, Read, Spell, and Patterns. You can also choose specific games you want pupils to use, and assign work for them for  when they log on.

As it is web-based learners can access it from anywhere there is an internet connection, allowing for home and parent/carer involvement, too. The words can also be printed out for study away from the screen.

The whole system comes with a placement test, if you are not sure where is the best place for the pupils to get started, and a monitoring and tracking facility to see how they are getting on.

Who is it for?

The original conception was for dyslexic pupils, but it could be used by just about anyone, with primary pupils following the National Curriculum, or Letters and Sounds, lists, and secondary working on the subject specific vocabulary. With the capacity to add lists it could even become a learning resource for A Level students doing Classics who want to learn Latin or Ancient Greek.

The various approaches to spelling taken, include seeing it then typing it, finding the correct outline shape, bringing chunks together, and even speaking it aloud, all come with  a range of activities. This means that drill and practice becomes less of a chore, and even a bit of  fun.

How do I use it?

Mainly for reinforcement. To provide a range of activities presented in an interactive, varied, fun, way, that makes over-learning acceptable, rather than a drudge. Whilst it will largely be used by individuals, there is the potential to use it with a small group around the interactive whiteboard.

What else is there?

There are quite a lot of apps, programs and websites that provide different approaches to spelling. Where Wordshark differs is in the variety of approaches available, along with the flexibility to choose which wordlists to work from, or to create your own. All with the ubiquitous access the internet offers.  Flexibility, reliability, and availability, are the keywords here.

LGfL’s Space Adventures – designed for everyone?

In 2018  the London Grid for Learning published online a resource for primary schools created around a sci-fi story of a young woman undertaking a journey to the moon for a mining company. Set not far into the future, the story is told in a series of talking head videos as the mission gets underway, as the astronaut, Taz collects rock samples on the moon, and then as it goes alarmingly wrong on her way back to earth. It is an exciting, engaging story, that comes with a wide range of resources to help with differentiation in the classroom and to make it inclusive for all learners.

The videos themselves were shot using a professional actress, so the various emotional states the astronaut goes through are well-portrayed, helping children to understand how she responds at different points in the story, and her associated feelings.  They are kept reasonably short and will work as engaging lesson starters.

Each video is sub-titled so learners with hearing impairments can enjoy the story, but this may also help those who are learning English as an additional language by linking words to text. And it makes it easier to follow a noisy environment.

They also come with transcripts, either to download for further study or re-enactment in the classroom, or  for use with screen readers for visually impaired learners to follow what is going on. Similarly each episode is also written as a chapter of story, so it can be studied as a book. In order to make sure this is accessible to more pupils in the class the story is also available in an ‘easy read’ format, with shorter sentences and a less demanding language level, but still with the core elements of the story present.

Then there are the audiobooks, designed so pupils can follow each chapter as it is read, or listen to it as a standalone story. Useful for visually impaired learners, but also helpful for those who are dyslexic, new to English, or even those who simply like having stories read to them.

Beyond this the resource comes with ready made worksheets, including some that are simplified and created using Widgit symbols that help with decoding the text.

It’s not just  the printed materials that are symbolised, the website itself has the Widgit Point system activated, so any word on the web-page that the viewer hovers the  mouse pointer over will activate a pop-up glossary with the Widgit symbol for that word, to help with decoding. Other accessibility option include a choice of using the Dyslexie font that is said to make reading easier for those with dyslexia, and a switch to a high contrast  colour scheme – helpful for some visually impaired users.

Of course, travelling into space also supports study in subjects other than literacy, so additional materials include lesson plans, starter presentations, and worksheets for Computing, Maths, and Science, too. Whilst these are not differentiated or adapted for SEND, there are some useful activities, particularly in computing. These latter activities are built around the trip to the moon, with learners creating animations in Scratch. To get them started there are explanatory videos, files of code to work from, and assets such as rockets and re-entry capsules so that they can focus on the code rather than creating the  individual elements of the project.

There is a lot of material here, much of it deliberately created with learners with a broad range of challenges in mind. There content is interesting and engaging, and it can be used as a launchpad for many creative hours in the classroom. The only potential downside is that you need to be a London Grid for Learning (or Trustnet) subscribing school to get access. But that is over 95% of schools in the capital. To find out if you are one go to

Clicker 7 – a properly ‘Inclusive’ resource

What is it?

Clicker 7 is a combination of a word-processor and a range of very adaptable, on-screen, grids, sometimes used separately, sometimes in combination, that is installed on desktop computers and laptops.

For learners struggling with literacy, for whatever reason, there are a number of aids to writing, including text to speech, a word-predictor, images or symbols inserted automatically, voice prompts, and word banks. There is also a built-in on-screen keyboard for those who are using switches or eye-gaze.

Further supports for those with SEND include changing the font, font size and colour, background colour and voice of the text to speech.

The same coding underpinning the word banks is also used separately to create on-screen books – both to read and to write – matching exercises, labelling activities, and even speaking and listening activities.

Clicker 7 also includes the Clicker Board, an integral planning tool that can be used to structure work, which can be used with multi-media as well as text.

Who is it for?

Whilst intended for primary aged children, even older students with a range of challenges to learning can use it, as well as those with none. As a word-processor it operates in a similar way to industry standard applications, such as MSWord, but with many of the superfluous functions – such as the mail-merge and the page styles – stripped out.

Pupils who are beginning to write independently will benefit from word grids to build sentences, or to provide key vocabulary, whilst those who are becoming more independent can use the predictor to help with word-finding and spelling, and the screen-reader to let them know if their writing makes sense.

Those with physical disabilities might also benefit from using the predictor to reduce keystrokes, as well as its switch access resource, or its integrated eye-gaze capability.

It offers as much, or as little, support as is needed.

The grids facility can be used separately to create myriad activities, from matching involving text, images and sound, to labelling diagrams, sorting into groups, finding pairs, and writing books.

There are over 3,000 grids that are provided online covering the whole primary curriculum, and more, at . The software comes with templates to create your own, along with several thousand images, although you can add your own, too.

How do I use it?

You can find uses for it in all aspects of the curriculum, but especially where pupils need to write. Beyond that you might use it to create a matching activity for young learners to find words and images, or maybe a multi-media mindmap on the interactive whiteboard with everyone involved when starting a new topic. It can be used with the whole class, small groups and targeted individuals.

There are a short training videos for you to learn every aspect of the software  at the Crick  online training videos.

What else is there?

There is very little like it. You can find some of its functionality in other programs, but few that combine them. MSWord, for example, has text to speech. Widgitonline will associate images or symbols with text, and WordQSpeakQ can provide an inline predictor. Powerpoint might let you multi-media to make books and demonstrate understanding, but without the supportive features of Clicker.

Older learners could use DocsPlus which works in a very similar way, but with added features that make it eligible for access in exams, as well as several iPad and Chrome apps.