Archive for June, 2008

Northamptonshire ICT Conference

| June 30, 2008 | 3 Comments 

A fun day at the Northamptonshire ICT Conference 2008

Thank you to Rachel Ager and colleagues for a great event.

“I do enjoy looking at old predictions of the future. Eventually, the future arrives and we can compare it with the predictions. Sometimes, the predictions are better than the reality. Sometimes, reality outpaces not only the predictions but even the dreams of the past. And sometimes, the predictions end up being pretty-much spot on.

That’s the case with a piece about the “answer machine” of the future, which appeared in the book Childcraft Volume 6: How Things Change, published by Field Enterprises Educational Corporation in 1964. (Thanks to Paleo-Future for bringing this to our attention.)

Here’s how it starts:


the Google version:


Here’s some more of what “The Answer Machine” do for us:

Continue Reading


| June 24, 2008 | 1 Comment 

The blog and I are going to go a little “see through” for a few days…
See you on the other side for an explanation.
In the meanwhile:

Anyone for tennis?

| June 23, 2008 | 0 Comments 

The start of Wimbledon, the throne of tennis.

Try a few online games of tennis here and here



Or get some good coaching videos for young players HERE

For tea love?

Whatever the weather (!) I like this quote from one of the great men of tennis:


“You’ve got to get to the stage in life when going for it is more important than winning or losing”

Arthur Ashe

Spelling mistakes or Spollings mistocks!

| June 22, 2008 | 0 Comments 

I often encourage children not to worry about their spellings. I explain that that doesn’t mean “Argh! Don’t worry about your spellings e.g. DOG with a spelling of G. Q. W. H. U.G. 32 Zs and a K.

Instead it means “Don’t WORRY about your spellings”, in other words don’t allow a fear of making mistakes stop you from getting a classic idea, or piece of literature, down on to paper.

On that note, I found this remarkable poem recently, by “Author Unknown” It really does illustrate how ridiculous English spellings are.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I!  Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does.  Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Try Dr. Grammar or Spellodrome (the spelling version of Mathletics)

Here is a set of memory aids to help you with 100 of the most often mispelled misspelled words in English.

  • It’s necessary to have 1 Collar and 2 Socks.
  • A piece of pie
  • You hear with your ear.
  • Pull apart to separate.
  • Definite has 2 i’s in it
  • There is a place just like here.
  • Because: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants
  • Cemetery has three e’s – eee! – like a scream.
  • IN NO CENTury is murder an innocent crime.
  • Slaughter is LAUGHTER with an S at the beginning

There are, of course, many differences between English and American spellings!

Try Compact Oxford English Dictionary for Students including their top 10 spelling tips.

There are also the great How to Spell Ridiculous, How to Spell Separate, and

Have phunn!

Cornwall, Head of English (Secondary) Annual Conference

| June 18, 2008 | 8 Comments 
A fun and fascinating day at Lanhydrock golf course with Heads of English from secondary schools, Pupil Referral Units, and Special Schools across Cornwall.
We explored the world of visual literacy and how to motivate students in the areas of speaking, listening and writing.
As well as the amazing “ages” within Myst, there are many other ways to stimulate discussion and creativity.

A group of us also discussed our worst and favourite words. My “least favourite” word is “PAMPHLET”

Here is an interestng list of 223 of “the best” words in English.

Thank you to John Morey, Kim Bishop, Wendy Delf, Sue Pike (and Claire Lamden) from the Cornwall Education Development Service, for a very enjoyable wander through the world of words.

Thank you to all colleagues today, who matched the glorious scenery around us, with their sunny dispositions and humour. Well done to Sam Coleborne, for conducting a glorious soundscape too. (Watch this space for the film!!)

East Barnet School

| June 16, 2008 | 2 Comments 

A super day at East Barnet School north of London, working with staff and pupils from the ICT and English departments on developing visual literacy.

I taught a lesson with some Year 7 students who really rose to the challenges of creativity.

We looked at ways of recording and publishing the results of creativity.

Take a peek at these tutorials, on using Audacity, on the Radio Anywhere site. These are helpful hints to help get closer to a “pro” sound.

Even the pros find some difficulties, as this article from the Guardian shows, though, sometimes a few glitches can add to the charm of a recording.

Or, in the words of Albert (yes, Albert) Hitchcock:

I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the manmade sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.

One of my favourite music quotes, alongside:

There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between.
-Sir Thomas Beecham

I don’t know anything about music. In my line you don’t have to.
-Elvis Presley

I love Beethoven, especially the poems.
-Ringo Starr

The trouble with real life is that there’s no danger music.
-Jim Carrey

…and the understated,

There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-Johann Sebastian Bach

On the subject of quotes, being in a secondary school today, we touched on links with literature, including the works of Shakespeare. How about this gorgeous anagram:

To be or not to be: that is the question,
whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune. =

In one of the Bard’s best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent
hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

Thanks to Suzanne for the nudge towards the art of James C Christiansen.

Thanks to Hugh Seckleman, Janet Christou, their colleagues and pupils at East Barnet School, for a great day.

St Helens ICT Conference, Haydock Racecourse

| June 13, 2008 | 5 Comments 

At today’s St Helens ICT Conference, Haydock Racecourse, I gave an opening presentation and, later, a seminar on the power of blogging. (I will include, in this post, a few of the links and resources I mentioned.)

Apparently, blogging is good for you.

I mentioned the Sandaig blog which is, for me, the best school blog, in that it is updated regularly with a huge range of original material, the majority of it being written by the pupils of the school. In fact, Sandaig have a few blogs on the go.

There is also the excellent Hope School blog with their Rules for Safe Blogging.

Visit, a small site myself, Andy Hutt and Clive McGonigal, set up to accompany an article we wrote for Junior Education Magazine, on blogging.

Blogger (free) (free) Typepad (One month free, paying thereafter) 2. Modern Foreign Languages Environment – uses for blogging in the languages classroom

A really useful tool when recording podcasts or filming films with a large amount of script (e.g. reading out some Myst writings) is Cue Prompter, a free autocue.

Cut and Paste text into the window and it automatically scrools up the screen at the speed and size you find most useful.

Try this nifty little tool: an on screen/ whiteboard friendly way to make your own word magnets. This clever idea transforms your text into ‘magnets’ which can be dragged around the screen, colour coded and re-sized. You can also add new magnets at any time and remove any magnets that you no longer wish to use. Great for writing a shared text or looking at word order in sentences.

Also, come up with your own Thriller Story titles.

A HUGE thank you to Debs Ayerst, from Rainhill CLC, for LOADS of ideas and hints on the blogging process. Some key questions for potential ed-bloggers:

  • How does blogging help you as a writer? As a reader? As a publisher?
  • What are some tips on how to proofread on a blog?
  • When you post, how do you get the ideas to post about your topic?
  • What is your favourite blog, your favourite post, and your favourite comment and please give your reasons for your choices?
  • Has anyone given you tips about blogging? What would be the 3 most important tips you would give?
  • What is your favourite or the most interesting thing you like about blogging?
  • What makes you want to comment to a blog?
  • What is the worst problem you have in blogging?
  • How does blogging help you in school or anywhere?
  • How has your blogging got better since you started?
  • What does blogging mean to you?
  • How have other people’s comments helped you in blogging?
  • What are some verbs you would use to describe blogging? Some adjectives?
  • What inspired you to blog? Do you think you will blog later?
  • How do you feel when you get comments?
  • What have you learned in blogging?
  • How does blogging help you make friends?
  • How did you feel when you first started blogging? Were you nervous, scared, happy? How do you feel now?
  • Does blogging help you learn more in writing and language?
  • What do you think of your blog?
  • Is blogging a part of your life?
  • How do you respond to other blogs (what sequence)?

Thanks to Phil Hackett, for some of the pickies here today.

We were supported today by the Mouchel I.T. Team who provide services into the St. Helens Local Authority. Excellent!

I would like to thank Mouchel and in particular Maxine Morris and her team, Lee Pearson, Gail Booth and Mick Doyle!) (not to mention Steve Knowles!) for the fantastic support throughout the day.

Visit the conference working blog HERE

Liverpool Literacy Conference

| June 11, 2008 | 4 Comments 

A superb day at the Jaguar Partnership for Learning site in Liverpool for the Liverpool Literacy Conference, part of the National Year of Reading 2008.

Over breakfast, at the delightful Marriott South, a conversion of the old Liverpool Airport, I enjoyed a good chat with Michael Rosen, who, like me, presented a keynote at this year’s Liverpool Literacy Conference. Michael opened the conference with a fascinating talk, discussing different ways of stimulating the desire to read.

Michael talked about how reading enables us to think in complex ways and juggle with several ideas at the same time. In order to make sense of a story, you need to harvest important information to help you understand the significant areas of a plot. Extended prose requires you to hold on to salient points to understand, for example, the significance of Goldilocks arriving at Granny’s house only makes sense because you remember that Granny has been replaced by the wolf. (Spot the deliberutt mistake and see the COMMENTS!)

A key point that Michael made was that, to make a book loving school, you need to help create book loving homes. He encouraged folk to visit the Reading Connects site for a whole range of useful material.

I have always enjoyed Michael’s “Word of Mouth” programme on Radio 4. Michael is presently the Children’s Laureate.

Over breakfast, Michael and I talked about palindromes. (A word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward.)

We agreed that life can feel a bit like a palindrome when you are “on the road”:

Coming and going all the time. The secret, though, is enjoying the delight of the journey in whatever direction.

Palindromes have always fascinated me.

Some simple words are palindromic: rotavator, racecar, radar and repaper…

Michael said that, whenever any girl called Hannah asks for her book to be signed, he asks her how she says her name backwards!

There is a LONG list of palindromic words at Wiktionary HERE

There are also some really clever complete sentences, some of which appear to have a complete back story, like the classic “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama”

(This is by Leigh Mercer, published in Notes and Queries, 1948. The “man” may refer to Theodore Roosevelt or Ferdinand Lesseps, both instrumental in the realization of the Panama Canal.

Was it a car or a cat I saw?

Two of my favourites are not really legitimate ones, but they are amusing:

  • Retteb, si flahd noces eht tub, but the second half is better.
  • Doctor Reubenstein was shocked and dismayed when he answered the ringing telephone, only to hear a strange, metallic, alien voice say, “Yasec iovn eilacilla temeg! Nartsa raehoty lnoenoh pelet gnig, nirehtde rewsnaehn ehw. Deya! Msid! Dnadek cohssaw nietsne buerro, tcod?”

Why not visit the great Palindrome City, where you can investigate palindromic foods, cars, games and more.

If you want to encourage teenagers to read, try a visit to the Piczo Read Up site. (To my embarrassment Bill Bailey read a snippet of a book, very loudly, as I was preparing this blog post during Michael’s presentation!) Big Screen encourages students to change the endings of films. The Pitch encourages reading and discussing the best sport books and autobiography.

I love the site ReaditSwapit where you can do just that: read a book and then swap it for another one. I think it really encourages reading (and buying) MORE books as you get to find out lots of ideas for what to read “If you liked that one…”

The Bear Grylls Survival game involves some great text that students might read “without realising it”.

Laughter is officially good for you so try some of the Year of Reading material on the Mustard Comedy Magazine site.

WhichBook enables you to choose a book to suit your mood, a bit like Musicovery does for music.

Thank you to all those numerous folk who organised today’s superb event. I look forward to the opportunity of working with you all again soon.

I am coming up to Liverpool in a few days time so would value any suggestions as to what to do “Touristy-styleee”.

Michael, if you are reading this, don’t pick up on all my missed commas, hyphens, spelling mistocks and structure poor sentences of. 🙂

In the meantime: step on no pets!

Oxfordshire Improving Boys’ Writing Course

| June 5, 2008 | 2 Comments 

A second, and very much enjoyable, training day for schools in Oxfordshire, organised by the Oxfordshire Primary National Strategy Literacy team, this time at Hawkwell House, in Iffley, just outside Oxford.

I often get staff, or pupils, to come up with whacky ideas for why Mr Walker, my walking stick, has holes. For example:

He was hit with loads of fencing swords.

A tube that lets out laughing gas

Secret storage.

Mr Walker is an unknown doorknob in disguise and fits into one and only one special door and the holes are the keys. The top knob is the doorknob.

Mr walker has holes for a hair curler

A multi-storey hotel for woodworm.

Mr walker is a jet pack

It could be a bazooka which fires red ants

A runway for flying bugs.

A spiritual stick for tribes to store ancient message

A spaghetti maker.

A karate wisdom plank.

That’s not a word!!

Well, it is now!

One of my other favourite starters for a bit of wittering , is to get people to suggest definitions of the word “Fligminkle”

Fligminkle is a word invented my daughter Ellie. It has, up until now, been a pseudo Googlewhack (although that should be a two word search) in that there was only one other reference to it on the interweb.

I would like to change that! How many suggestions can you get your students (or colleagues) to come up with for what the TRUE meaning of fligminkle is.

e.g. “It always happens to me at parties, especially after a few pork pies.” (Thanks Tom)

“The real word for the fluff that gathers on the filter in a tumble drier.”

A large game of Call my Bluff across a whole classroom.

Try Amblesides Call My Bluff, made by the children.

I find that being able to argue your case for a convincing definition helps when you are cheating at Scrabble! (try an online, whiteboard game of Scrabble HERE.)

Here are just some of the definitions that the folk from today came up with:

Fligminkle (n)
The name of a newly discovered beetle in the Amazon Rainforest named after the Dutch scientist who discovered it

Fligminkle (n)
When one doesn’t know where one is going, one is a fligminkle.

Fligminkle: (n) The sense of achievement you get when you complete post-course tasks!

Fligminkle (n)
A small insect from the Amazonian Rainforest.

Fligminkle (n)
A furry creature

Fligminkle (n)
A fantasy character

Fligminkle (n)
Getting in a muddle, state of confusion

Fligminkle (n)
Name of a strange small person from the land of Frig

Fligminkle (n)
Character from Lord of the Rings.

Fligminkle (n)
Little people who live at the bottom of the wardrobe and hide your shoes.

Fligminkle (n)
A prehistoric nocturnal land mammal.

Fligminkle (n)
Small nocturnal weasel type creature – now extinct.

Fligminkle (n)
One of Queen Titania’s fairies in Midsummer Nights’ Dream – not  mentioned in Shakespeare’s play due to a mysterious incident.

Fligminkle (n)
A cocktail made from fruit of the flig tree that has been mixed with milk, vodka and lemon juice.

Fligminkle (n)
The name of my first born child (when I have one)!

Thank you to Nilofer Khan, Stephanie Hilder, Amanda King, Emma Stinga, their colleagues and the staff who attended todays explorations of the worlds of words.


Olney Middle School, Milton Keynes

| June 4, 2008 | 8 Comments 

Now THAT was a REALLY fun day of lessons throughout the whole of Key Stage Two. This time, at Olney Middle School, Milton Keynes. We laughed all day and the staff and children rose to so many challenges with total enthusiasm. A real delight.

There were quite a few children who surprised themselves (and their teachers I believe) with the quality of their writing. In addition to this, a select group acted out roles as if they were characters in the fantasy worlds. What remarkable confidence and, at times, wit they showed. Enchanting.

When we talked with the children about metaphor today, I refered to one of my favourite poems, The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyse.

This great descriptive narrative poem includes many superb similes and metaphors. My favourites occur in the first verse:

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor…

The moon, of course, is not a pirate ship, but that image is so evocative and powerful that it has stuck in my mind since Mr Moon, my teacher at primary school, (THE Cliff Moon of “The Cliff Moon Readability List” by the way.) first read it to us.

The “Stand and Deliver” site includes many poems and texts about highwaymen.

The Outlaws and Highwaymen site includes texts, ballads, letters etc illustrating the history of Medieval outlaws and English highwaymen.

The gruesome sounding Murder Files contains information on British murders, executions and executioners over last 300 years. Some of these include highwaymen and women and those that despatched them.

The whole poem is presented in a style that makes it easy to read on a whiteboard HERE at the Teachers First site. This includes some excellent annotation.

However, one of the most effective and well presented resources I have found for many years, is to be found HERE at Britannica Dreams site. It contains a machinima film set to music and the text of the poem, all set to some great audio.

Thank you to Alison Waspe, her colleagues and pupils at Olney Middle School. A great day at a great school. Well done!

“On to Oxford, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his laptop brandished high!”

Alf Red-Noise 1432 (just after half past two!)


Tring School, Hertfordshire

| June 3, 2008 | 3 Comments 

I really enjoy time in secondary schools. Especially when we can work alongside primary colleagues. So, I had great fun today at Tring School, Hertfordshire.

After a presentation to all of the staff, I enjoyed a lesson with some Year 7 students. They responded incredibly enthusiastically. One lass even got into the role of Yeesha, the young girl in Myst IV (who we first encounter as the baby in the opening scenes of Myst III)

The descriptive prose the children used to describe the location we found ourselves in, was quite startling at times.

There was also talk about how Shakespeare can be woven into exploration within the games.

With the interesting development of Sir Derek Jacobi and others questioning the authorship of much, if not all, of William Shakespeare’s works (HERE and HERE) I was reminded of the natty “Shakepseare Insult Kit” or “Taunter

There are many writers, authors, poets, actors and thinkers who have doubted the Bard’s authenticity, including Mark Twain, Henry James, Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Sir John Gielgud

You might want to take a look at the insulter but I don’t reckon you can take it…

You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!

(Henry IV, part I)

If you have not come across the Shakespeare Works crew, their website is well worth a  visit too.


Last night we stayed at the delightful Pendley Manor Hotel, about a mile and a half from Tring School. They have their own Pendley Shakespeare Festival. This festival is held each year during August. This Year sees performances of Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice.

Even the peafowl seem to get in on the act with powerful Shakespearean ennunciation, at all times of the day and night!

It was the first time I had ever seen a white or albino peafowl too.

You can find out a lot about Peacocks and Peahens at the appropriately named There are some fun Peacock activities HERE.

Thank you to Claire Ramsden (head of English) her colleagues and students at Tring School, and visiting staff from neighbouring schools, for another wonderful wander in the world of words.