Responding to the class novel: Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

Wonder wordlist-on cover image

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This term our year 7 students are reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I have been working on different activities that our teachers could use with their classes. This week I have been working with one of the year 7 classes and they been the first to trial the some of the activities.

One of the first activities, for those that had finished reading the book, was to think about the vocabulary used in the novel, creating a list of words that the boys then created their own word searches. We use Word Search Generator that allows you to create your own printable “word find” worksheets. It is very simple and easy to use. There are several options that allow you to tailor the style of word search very easily. Some boys worked in pairs and others preferred to create one on their own. Some have already been shared with boys from other classes. Both groups have been totally engaged in their work and there has been some great discussion.


An example of a word search



These same boys have now gone away to create crosswords using Eclipse crosswords. This is a tool I have used many times to generate crosswords as extension activities. Our student book club boys have created some, based on books they have been reading, recently as well.

These new crosswords will be shared with the class next week. Eclipse offers another very simple tool that allows boys to explore the language used in the novel.

Eclipse crossword 2016-html

Tips for writing a blog post

It is the start of our school year and i have been talking with teachers about some of their class activities. We have had some year 9 students in English classes respond to literature – novels and poetry, in class blog. We are always tinkering with how we present the idea of a blog to the students.

Whilst looking for new ides to add to my collection of information about blogging I came across the following infographic below, “10 Elements Of Style Of Post Writing“. It was on Marko Saric’s  HowToMakeMyBlog  It offers some good advice for bloggers based  on a book about writing recommended by author Stephen King, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. The post and infographic has some rules of grammar and most of it is a good guide for anyone who has an interest in writing in general, not just writing for a blog.  These writing tips could improve writing by making content more coherent and interesting for any readers.

I have added it to me digital folio of useful tips for class blogging and will be using these tips with our students.

10 Elements Of Writing Style [Infographic]
Like this infographic? Get more writing advice at

Graph Words: a simple visual thesaurus

You have to love the social media sites and the sharing that is happening. I collected the tool from a Larry Ferlazzo post  late last year, who got it from a post from Richard Byrne via his Free Technology for Teachers site.

This is nice little tool that might help students – especially if they are visual learners.

I often notice a word that is being used too frequently when students are writing. Using a thesaurus seems to be a bit of a chore for a number of our students and some of these same thesauruses do not look very user friendly, especially for a student who already has an issue with language. This is where Graph Words could be a good alternative resource for students who need of some help in selecting new words to introduce to their writing. It is a very easy-to-use visual thesaurus that could assist students to improve their writing – and language skills as whole.

The visual tool Graph Words can provide webs of related words. For example the word “nice” is often used when there are many other more interesting and perhaps more contextually appropriate words that could be used instead.  Type “nice” into Graph Words and a web of alternative word choices comes up on the screen. The word you are searching for will appear in the center of the display, and with alternative word suggestions around it. Click on any word in that web to generate a new web of more related words. 

The webs you create can be downloaded as a PNG image. You could create some word webs for  words your students use most often in your classroom then download the word web images to display in your classroom or on a digital page.

If you hover over the nubs between the words you can see meanings as to how they relate to each other.

There is also a simple colour code to the words.

Linguee – Web as a dictionary

Linguee  is part dictionary and part translation tool. Created by Germans, Gereon Frahling (who once worked at Google Inc.) and software developer Leonard Fink , the original German / English version of the site went live in May 2010.  Recently it has added Spanish, French and Portuguese comparisons with English and has plans to add Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Italian next year.

The interface is very user-friendly and it searches for common phrases along with individual words. The results are presented in the form of a two-column comparison table with the source language shown on the left, and the target translations displayed on the right.

A very important feature for anyone studying a language is that it offers a contextual translation and also states the source of the translation and a link to the website from which it was taken.  For example it was not only useful for getting the right individual word for the context but also for finding the comparable idiom for something like “a fish out of water”.

When I searched various words it did a very good job assisting me in understanding the context  of that word and also in helping to find the right word for the appropriate occasion.

The relevance and  accuracy is achieved by indexing millions of online translations produced by human expertise. Those at Linguee look for professionally translated texts on the public Internet that exist in two or more languages. The EU and United Nations, for example, publish most of their documents and patents in numerous languages. Linguee also looks for professionally translated texts on company websites and other public resources such as technical journals. This means that the quality of translation is very high.

Other features include:

  • Option to hear a recording of the words being spoken
  • The internet explorer search plugin lets you search Linguee directly and there are others for Macs and Firefox
  • A pie-chart indicator shows how frequently one translation occurs compared to others, helping to narrow down the most appropriate phrase and the frequency of the translation is also provided
  •  there is a ‘comments’ function allowing people to leave feedback

I like what Linguee offers but we don’t teach German or the other languages covered so far at my school but the Italian and the Chinese version will come in very handy when these languages are added.

Forvo: a site for word pronuciations

Looking at tools to assist the Italian language students I came across Forvo.

I found a reference on a post on Social media in education. “It could probably be described as an audio wiki for word pronunciations.”

 At the time of writing there are 533.253 words, 443,313 pronunciations in 234 languages. This will change as it is constantly building up its list of words.

One of the biggest problem for our students trying to learn to speak Italian is trying to figure out how to pronounce the words. There is nothing like immersing yourself in the language. Unlike Europe, where it is very easy to take short trips to hear native speakers, Australian students have to learn to speak the language from listening to recordings.

This is where Forvo can help because it  hosts hundreds of recordings of word pronunciations by native speakers.

To use it from the home page when you want to know how to pronounce a word you:

  • Type the word into the search box and Forvo will come back with that word pronounced by a native speaker.
  • Click on the icon and you can hear it spoken.
  • If you click on the word you can  get more information about it.

Looking up “Grazie” and Italian, I got 4 uses and I clicked on one of them to get this information, including a map of where the speaker is from and an English translation.

So as well as providing a site that offers word pronunciations, Forvo also provides some basic demographic information about each language.

This is a social sharing site. The content is user-supported and user-generated so you can join and add words that you’d like pronounced to the list , or you can provide the pronunciation. New pronunciations are added on a regular basis.