Site founder Steve Bambury breaks down the fantastic range of literacy apps being produced by UK education legend Alan Peat. Applying the anaology of a five course meal, he analyses the different types of apps Alan is producing and how they can be linked together.
It's no secret that I'm a fan of Grammar Guru Alan Peat. I interviewed him last year when he launched his first app, have been contributing to a Flipboard magazine on iPad use with him and reviewed several of his subsequent apps. The problem (if you could call it that) for me now is that Alan and his team are cranking out top notch apps on a monthly basis and if we reviewed all of them, every other app review would be one of his!
That being said, I've been using Alan's apps a whole lot in the last month since I'm back in the classroom full time til June and felt it important to share some of this practice. When I broke down the different types of apps that he's producing, it seemed clear that they group fairly well around the three part lesson structure that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. I always remember being a trainee teacher 14 years ago and having the analogy of a three course meal repeated to me (starter-main activity-plenary) so what I've gone for is something similar... With a couple of little bonus dishes...
APPETIZERS The purpose of the starter course should be to whet your appetite and get you ready for the main course that follows. Alan has begun developing a string of language games that are perfect for warming up the crowd at the start of an English lesson. Both Word Juice and Anyword Xword are great apps for developing vocabulary, reinforcing spelling rules and generally developing a love of the English language.
Anyword has been featured on the site before (read the review here) and is a blank crossword puzzle activity wherein students have to add words to fit the predetermined layout on each level. What starts as a fairly simple task, soon becomes a challenging exercise in language mastery as the number of intersections increases and well-laid plans have to be unpicked to accommodate necessary changes.
Word Juice is an app I actually keep going back to in my brief moments of spare time. I've also used it with students and engagement levels were very high. A word building game, Word Juice provides you with a set of letters around a central vowel. You have three minutes to form as many words as possible but must incorporate the central vowel each time. If you get stuck you can elect to start with a new set of letters but be warned - you lose the score multiplier that accumulates as you string a longer chain together. Longer words and those including more difficult letters like x or z also earn you additional points.
In the 1:1 classroom, both of these games can obviously be accessed individually but you can still harness them if you only have a limited number of devices (or just one.) try hooking the game up to a projector and have students write suggested words down on individual whiteboards. You can then have another student in charge of inputting the words and perhaps a further couple to move around the room and scoop up the best suggestions and feed them to the inputter.
TOP TIP: Set a high score on one of these games and challenge students to beat it. For some extra inspiration, set a beatable score, let them beat it it then set a REALLY good score and watch them strive to catch you. Once they think they can beat you, they'll be hooked.
Alan is probably best known for his seminal work on Exciting Sentences. The ideas in his book and subsequent apps, equip students with some powerful language constructs that help them move away from repetitive, dull sentences. Students love these special effect sentences as they recognise the way that they empower their writing. Teachers looking at APP grids or success criteria will also find them hugely beneficial as they often tick multiple boxes simultaneously - eg sentence openers, repetition for effect and comma usage.
There's a teacher app and a student app available, both with their specific benefits to the target audience. The teacher app provides staff with a quick access reference guide. It even contains a levelled continuum to direct educators as to which sentence types are best suited to which ability of writers they are catering to. An essential app for any English teacher and a worthy winner of the 2014 Edublog Awards for Best Mobile App.
Each of the. 25 sentence types covered is explained fully with examples provided, both general and genre-specific. There's also a handy grammar glossary for further reference. Try introducing just one or two at a time and see what a miraculous effect they can have on children's writing as they begin to amass this set of powerful language effects. With boys, I often draw an analogy to the Avengers character Hawkeye, explaining that each of these powerful sentences is like one of his trick arrows that he can pull out of his quiver when he needs to. They love this as the idea of 'arming themselves' with writing is innately appealing to boys. Works for Batman too.
The student app is similar in many ways but differs in that students can log into the app independently or as a part of a group. Having done this, they can also access each sentence type and the relevant examples but in addition they can access a section where they can note down their own examples, be these ones found in their reading books or ones of their own creation. The app also contains a more in depth bank of sample sentences, grouped by writing genre which makes an excellent learning aid during specific units of study.
A main meal should always have a good side order and Alan has you covered through his expanding line of genre specific apps, linked to the exciting sentences concept. Science fiction, ghost stories and more are currently available and all contain a wealth of genre archetypes as well as suggestions for incorporating exciting sentences within them. A worthy accompaniment to the main apps.
TOP TIP: Both Exciting Sentences apps have the ability to export content via Dropbox.
Ah, dessert - the sweet victory after the main job is done. What better way to reflect and share success around the room than by using the iVisualiser app. This unique offering from the Sentence Samurai allows you to use your iPad as both a visualiser and live annotator. It's incredibly easy to use and you can take screenshots with the annotations for future reference. It pairs particularly well with the PadVue stand but if you don't have one, just prop the student's book up on a book display stand.
Hooked up to a projected screen via Air Server, Apple TV etc, this can provide a powerful way to share and highlight work samples. This facilitates the sharing of best practice and student successes as well as discussion and peer assessment. Been focusing on figurative language, for example? Have a student share their piece and let the class spot the metaphors.
TOP TIP: Don't forget that you can use the snowflake icon to freeze the current screen. This is invaluable if you want to annotate something and then move position.
BONUS COURSE 1: THE AFTER DINNER COFFEE
So your meal is over, time to sit back and enjoy a coffee and a chat. The great thing about the connected world we now teach in is that Alan can be a part of that conversation! Whether you post samples of writing to a blogging site or just tweet him directly @alanpeat, you can share examples of how he has inspired your students with the man himself.
Having done this and seen the reaction it got from a class of kids who understood that they were using his ideas and his apps, I can tell you that this can be truly inspirational. Giving writing purpose and a real world audience is essential in the modern classroom so why not go to the source for feedback. It also means that word will spread about these great teaching tools and ensure Alan is in a position to create more!
Want a little something sweet to round off the meal? Alan has you covered with help from UK EdTech maestro Lee Parkinson. Check out their superb book 50 iPad Lessons for Exciting Sentences. Lee has generated 50 distinct lesson concepts around Alan's sentence work, using a wide variety of apps from iMovie to Foldify to Tellagami. Highly recommended. You can order a copy from Amazon here.
TOP TIP: Lee's a font of amazing ideas himself. Follow him on Twitter @ICT_MrP or on Facebook here.
And that concludes our meal ladies and gents. I hope you found it satisfying. One last thing - a selection of these apps are available as a part of an app bundle. Check it out here on iTunes for more details.