Monday, 30 April 2012

Secondary English - Combating comma-splicitis in the classroom!

Comma-splicitis: (comma-splice-i-tis) A severe punctuation disorder which leads to a total inability to discriminate between the entirely separate functions of the comma and the full stop.

Now that the flu season has finally retreated, English teachers can renew their assault on that other perfidious plague which remorselessly infects classrooms right across the land, comma-splicitis. Its symptoms are well known to all experienced practitioners, whether their students be children or adult returnees alike:

  • an overwhelming terror of using the full stop;
  • the consequent rationing of full stop usage to one or two, at most, per paragraph;
  • a clear preference for desperately attempting to block the blatantly pregnant full stop pause (which, despite the condition, the sufferer still intermittently recognises) with a painfully inadequate comma.

This intractable complaint has certain severely life-diminishing outcomes:

  • a chronic difficulty in obtaining a grade C in the all-important English Language GCSE;
  • an acute inability to gain a university place as a direct consequence;
  • a gut-wrenching incapacity to pursue an alternatively lucrative career path.

So what does this markedly disfiguring ailment look like? To the afflicted themselves, it is utterly invisible. When looking into the mirror of their own writing, the page will appear to be unblemished and, often, the sufferer will perceive an unwarranted healthy glow arising from his or her own creative outpouring. However, to the practised eye, it is an abhorrent disfigurement which blights any piece of prose regardless of its intrinsic literary merit… and which often leaves the hapless comma-splicer feeling crushed when their otherwise creditable effort receives a more than generous share of red ink as well as a disappointingly low grade to boot.

So, how to deal with the problem?

One method of redress is to approach full stop placement as a ‘musical’ rather than purely grammatical phenomenon. Simply to explain that a sentence always ends with a full stop (question mark or exclamation mark) does not appear to do the trick. However, encouraging students to read their own, and their peers’, work aloud and then to listen carefully for the ‘one second full stop pauses’ may help. Of course, this means discouraging them from dramatically loitering around commas. But then, those few star-struck prima donnas with serious acting ambition can always pursue fame and fortune once they have managed to put this seemingly elusive fundamental in place.

A second strategy is to make students aware of what their personal default sentence length looks like by initially focusing only on missing full stops when marking their written work. Three such corrected pieces should be sufficient for the purpose… but, of course, students would continually need to refer back to these diagnostic assessments when setting out on each new writing venture.

Finally, you might choose to project a suitably interesting narrative text consisting of an on-going series of full stop exercises onto your classroom screen at some point in every lesson for the foreseeable future (see downloads below). This will only take five minutes per period (pardon the pun),will involve no additional marking workload on your part, and could well be used for starter activities or to provide a welcome change of pace mid-lesson, thus re-engaging students whose concentration often wanders should any task be so bold as to progress uninterrupted for more than twenty minutes at a time. Needless to say, once started, students should complete the entire course!

Hopefully, if we beleaguered English teachers all pull together, we can severely limit the spread of comma-splicitis and, who knows, with a concerted national effort, we may even be able to bring this severely debilitating disorder to… yes, you guessed it… a complete and total full stop.

Peter Morrisson,
English Teacher and author

* The downloads which follow contain the kind of material which could be projected over a series of lessons and used as outlined above.  The content should prove to be both interesting and educational for teenagers.  It consists of one teenager’s dramatic account of how she was overtaken by the genuinely horrifying psychological illness, anorexia nervosa.  This material has been used with the kind permission of the owner's of the website:  The website owners are fully aware of its intended use within the classroom and are pleased that such usage will simultaneously enhance student awareness of the insidious nature of this terrible illness.  They would also like to reassure both teachers and students that Helen, the teenager who wrote the account, made a complete recovery.

The ‘Finding the full stop pauses – Exercises’ download consist of thirty-five sections with missing full stops, question marks or exclamation marks but, so as not to confuse students by including both correct and incorrect comma usage, there are no comma splices – just an absence of appropriate end of sentence punctuation. The ‘Finding the full stop pauses - Answers’ download contains the same thirty-five sections, but with the correct punctuation in place.

Primary - The Olympics

The Olympics are nearly upon us so time to limber up, stretch those imaginations, aim to beat personal bests and become champion learners.

In planning meetings in school there have often been quite heated discussions over whether we should ‘follow the curriculum’ or respond to the world around us. To me the answer is quite simple. Even if it wasn’t good teaching practice to have an awareness of current affairs, the children we teach are aware of what’s happening around them and will want to find out more. It’s the basic tenet of all learning. If your teaching doesn’t give at least a nod towards what is happening in the world then certainly older children are going to wonder why their education is so restricted to a defined curriculum.

Arguments against it are weak; some say it’s like the Victorian ‘object teaching’ where a teacher would bring in an object and then teach a week’s work based around it. Others worry about squeezing in the curriculum they have to cover before the end of the year not realising that with careful planning, the elements of the topic can be integrated with the year’s curriculum.

And so we come to this year’s big event… the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The games have a great philosophy behind them. Thousands of years ago the ancient Greeks gave men from the different city states the opportunity to compete against each other fairly and in an atmosphere of celebration and peace. After a gap of nearly two thousand years, the traditions were revived in 1896 and the games have been held every four years since, apart from during the two world wars.

This year the Olympics are extra special as, for the first time in a generation or more, they’re being held in Britain. Since the decision was made granting London the right to host ‘2012’, the country has been gripped by Olympic fever and already schools have been involved in helping to make 2012 the best Olympics ever.
Now it’s time to get the Olympics into the classroom or onto the sports field and use role models such as Beth Tweddle, Usain Bolt and Rebecca Adlington to inspire children to be the best in their field.

The topic of the Olympics can give us plenty of ideas for teaching across most subjects and pupils will love learning about the event as the big day arrives when the games begin.

We’ve put together some fun activities that use aspects of the Olympics to inspire learning from finding out who would win the Olympics of the natural world to understanding the maths of the games.

Dave Lewis
Primary teacher

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Secondary Business News Quiz - 26/04/2012

Test your students knowledge of what is happening in the business world with this week's news quiz.

Download the Word version (with answers and weblinks) here

  1. Banking giant HSBC is set to announce today how many job losses in the UK, as part of its global cost-cutting plans?
    3,000 ( )
    2,000 ( )
    500 ( )
    200 ( )

  2. Apple has reported its profits almost doubled in the first three months of the year, to what level?
    $11.6bn ( )
    $12.6bn ( )
    $5.7m ( )
    $7.8m ( )

  3. Which oil company's earnings were up 11% on the $6.93bn the firm made a year ago?
    Exxonmobil ( )  
    Murphy oil ( )
    Shell ( )
    BP ( )

  4. Which mobile network has launched a smartphone app that allows users to transfer up to £500 via text message?
    T mobile ( )
    Tesco mobile ( )
    02 ( )
    Orange ( )

  5. Apple's boss has dismissed the idea of mixing laptops and tablets into a hybrid product, who is the CEO of Apple?
    Steve Tyler ( )
    Tim Cook ( )
    Tom Cook ( )
    Steve Wozniak ( )

  6. Which global companies’shares fell 4.6% after the New York Times said officials had paid millions in bribes to expand in Mexico and covered it up?
    McDonalds ( )
    Carrefour ( )
    Wal-Mart ( )
    Coca-cola ( )

  7. Rupert Murdoch will be questioned about how he dealt with allegations of criminal behaviour at his UK newspapers when he returns to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics later. Which company is he the boss of?
    Talk Talk ( )
    ITV ( )
    Trump Entertainment Resorts ( )
    News Corp ( )

  8. Hyundai Motors has said profit rose …. in the first quarter as strong sales in the US and Europe helped to offset lower demand in its domestic market?
    31% ( )
    35% ( )
    39% ( )
    41% ( )

  9. The UK economy has returned to recession, after shrinking by 0.2% in the first three months of 2012, what is the definition of a recession?
    A general slowdown in economic activity 2 quarters of negative GDP ( )
    A sudden surge of growth in economic activity ( )
    A long period of growth ( )
    A general slowdown in economic activity 1 quarter of negative GDP ( )

  10. Unemployment in the UK currently stands at what level?
    2.2 m ( )
    1.8 m ( )
    2 m ( )
    2.65 m ( )
Donna Jestin
Teacher of Business Studies Notre Dame College & Senior Examiner for AQA

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Secondary ICT - Waiting for the writing on the wall

A pressing need, following Michael Gove’s speech to BETT in January, has been the need for defining a new direction for the ICT curriculum.

In the purest sense, the speech does require a complete rethink of the curriculum: blank paper, sharpened pencil and all. I suspect the outcome of these exercises, both nationally and in school-based conversations, will not be a wholesale scuttling of the existing provisions and instead focus on retaining what is serviceable from what we are using at present as a part of the new intentions. A recent glance at the soon to be withdrawn Programme of Study reminds me of how I once saw the document as woolly; however, perhaps a more charitable way of looking at it is to see how much flexibility it gives for delivery of learning opportunities and assessment methods. Perhaps the sobriquet of “Ahead of its time” is going a little too far!

Whatever is drawn up is certain to involve some forms of programing experience and awareness of hardware and its functionality.  With the rise and rise of the Raspberry Pi project, it seems inclusion of it in the curriculum is inevitable, if you haven’t seen the videos from Beeb@30, then follow the link:

It may be the effect of nostalgia always being preferable to the hard historical facts in that much of the intro is a shared history, but I feel Eben Upton does make a compelling case for using the device in the classroom; in reality things get better, the Pi doesn’t have to be programed by code, it is shipped with a distribution of “Scratch” which should allow departments to start introducing programing to younger children or to incorporate some aspects of programing in a curriculum devised for the less academic student.

Waiting for the writing on the wall...
What support is there?  Not much at present it seems, the commission’s report is not due to be published until Spring next year and publishing houses are unlikely to commit themselves until there is clear evidence of at least some indication of direction of travel. With waning powers of LEA control and release from the Programme of Study this could be a time to savour; an ideal moment to open a decent bottle and consider what would curricular content would benefit the student, an occasion to put the real purpose of our profession centre stage.

John Giles
John has taught in various secondary schools for over 30 years, including roles as ICT coordinator and Head of ICT. He is also an established author and has worked as an examiner and moderator for a number of exam boards.

Secondary English - Obeying the Command Words

The phrasing of exam questions can mystify teachers, let alone panicking year 11s in the exam hall, and to add to it all the command words used often seem to mean different things in different subjects.

As part of my research into improving extended writing in my school, I sifted through the many (oh so many!) command words used across the curriculum.  I found that there were four key words that seem to be used across the significant range of subjects: describe, explain, compare and evaluate. And most amazingly, they didn’t actually mean different things in different subjects.

The Heads of Department in my school were really pleased to know which command words were being used where (e.g. Explain: English, History, Geography, R.E, Science, P.E; Describe: English, History, Geography, R.E, Science, P.E; Compare: English, Geography, Science; Evaluate: Science, P.E). As we all know, it is so much more meaningful for students, when they know how their knowledge and skills link across their subjects.

The next thing to work out was what to do with them. I found lots of good practice across my school, with students highlighting command words and then creating success criteria based on their understanding of them. I also produced the attached sorting activity, which asks students to sort the definitions for these four commonly used command words. Anything that gets students interacting with the exam questions and trying to unpack them has to be good. The trick now is to get them so used to doing it that they remember, in their panic, to do the same in the exam hall!

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher, Steyning Grammar School

Monday, 16 April 2012

A 'Never Too Late' Approach to the Summer Exams

With the countdown to the summer exams well under way I take the view that while there is time there is hope and it is always very helpful to keep a positive mind about the exams that lie ahead; in the final analysis, all we can do is to do our best and ask our students to do their best too.

A colleague recently gave me the essence of a Tony Campello assembly he gave last year in which a daughter is writing home to her parents after her first few weeks at University. She writes “Dear Mum and Dad, now that I have settled into University life I thought I would write and let you know how I was getting on. I crashed my car recently but I am OK. However the house I was staying in caught fire and I was rescued by a boy in the nearby room. I am now pregnant by him…..none of this is true but I did get a grade D in my latest assignment. I just wanted you to have a sense of perspective about the situation I am in”.

In the run up to the June exams, the ‘never too late’ approach is often vital to help as many students as possible to achieve their target grade. The following strategies have been especially helpful in the run in to the final maths module exam:

(1) Giving students a sheet of A3 paper divided down the middle. The left hand side lists the exact formulae given on the inside cover. The right hand side is completed in an exam revision lesson with the heading ‘Lightbulb Formulae and facts’ – these are formulae that are not given in the exam are essential to memorise and to have at your fingertips throughout the exam as key pieces of armoury. The area of a circle and circumference of a circle are first on this list. Other key formula include the sum of the angles in any polygon = 180 times (n – 2) where n is the number of sides and the formula used to find the exterior and interior angles in a regular polygon (exterior angle = 360 degrees divided by the number of sides interior angle = 180 degrees subtract the exterior angle). Lightbulb formulae and facts will also include the important links between metric and imperial measures such as 8 km is approximately 5 miles and that 1 litre is approximately 1.75 pints.

(2) Giving out a small A5 size revision booklet six weeks before the exam for students to write down key facts in the lessons leading up to the module exam. This has proved very useful in terms of having all the revision cards together in a concise booklet.

(3) Running a “just one topic just ten minutes” series of quick tests on key topics such as Bearings, Polygons, Pythagoras, Area and Volume.

(4) Requesting students work in small groups with a goal to achieve 100% on a past exam paper working backwards from the last question to the first. This has been especially successful in helping students to tackle target grade questions from the outset.

Keeping lessons fun in the last few weeks with regular revisits of algebraic topics is a key ingredient for success in mathematics exams. Above all my last message for my two year 11 groups just before their June module is already in my mind “Just do your best – nobody can ask for more” and “Never forget how far you have come already”.

Chris Curtis, Head of Mathematics

Art Activities for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Activity One – Installation Art
EYFS to Year 6

The schools I have worked at have all had some installation art for significant events in the school’s history or for national events and I think that the queen’s diamond jubilee warrants a piece of art that will remain on display in the school grounds for many years afterwards. There are several ways of doing this each needing different levels of input to begin with.

Carefully designed by an artistic member of staff or a parent, a mural on any plain wall inside the school buildings or out is a great and simple idea. Divided by black lines into sections, each class can have a go at painting a part and adding their names to the bit they’ve done. Don’t forget to choose the paint type to suit indoors or outdoors.

A variation on the mural approach is to get the children to paint small tiles in different colours and textures which can then be used to make a mosaic picture, again indoors or outside. You’ll have to plan the overall design and get a rough idea of how many coloured tiles you’ll need. Again, the children can put their names on the tiles they produce.

One school I worked at asked the children to design pebbles with a picture of them on it and built a concrete backed rockery into which they stuck their pebbles. It made a fabulous picture of the school members, a little like the tea towel idea, and after being sprayed with exterior varnish, remained in place for years afterwards.

Activity Two – Community Project
Year 3 to Year 6

Many local authorities are working on community based projects for installation art for the queen’s jubilee celebrations as part of a plan to smarten up areas of towns and cities. Find out from your local authority if they have any plans and if not, suggest some for them. Years ago there was a geography topic on improving our local area and as long as it was tastefully done, our council had no objections to us completing a piece of art in our local park on a building that had been continually covered in graffiti.

Activity Three – Design Costume
Year 2 to Year 6

The queen is famous (or to some, infamous!) for her fashion and it seems to many that her favourite colour is yellow. She loves hats too so for this activity you’re going to get the children to design an outfit for the queen to wear on the weekend of the celebrations.

Take a look at what she usually wears in photographs and try to be creative whilst still designing something she might wear. You can even design a hat for her.

Choose patriotic colours or designs, different materials and think about the possible weather for the day.

You may want to think of what she’ll be doing whilst wearing the clothes you designed. Is she dancing, going to dinner, at the gym or simply walking through crowds of well-wishers.

Go on, get creative!

Activity Four – Changing Faces of the Queen
Year 3 to Year 6

The queen’s portrait has been pictured in many ways over the time of her reign. In this activity the children will look at the different representations of the queen over the years and try to order them chronologically.

You need to get pictures from throughout her life and reign but try to be creative in using coins, stamps, pictures on mugs and plates, newspapers, official painted portraits and photographs. Try some unusual ones like Rolf Harris’ portrait of her and some of the ones she didn’t like!

As a group activity it promotes a lot of discussion and interest, not only in what she looked like but also how her fashion and style have changed over the years.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Friday, 13 April 2012

Superstuffs - Polyethene

Bits of coloured plastic caught in hedgerows and pictures of plastic debris accumulating in the Pacific Ocean have given polyethene a bad name. The supermarket carrier bag is now a problem rather than the free, throwaway, item it once was. Can we still call polyethene a superstuff?

Polyethene was discovered in 1898. German chemist, Hans von Pechmann was doing an experiment with highly dangerous diazomethane and accidentally made a white compound. Friends found it to be a hydrocarbon with a high molecular mass. Nothing seems to have come of Pechmann’s discovery, possibly because he died shortly after.

In 1933 another accidental discovery occurred at the ICI research laboratories at Northwich in Cheshire. There, Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett were carrying out reactions at high pressure. They obtained the strange white substance after heating a mixture containing ethene. They tried to repeat the experiment but failed to make the polymer. Eventually they realised that the original apparatus had leaked. Oxygen was needed to catalyse the reaction. ICI decided to manufacture polyethene but at the start of the Second World War, the work became top secret. Polyethene was used to insulate the cables in the new radar devices fitted to aircraft.

High pressure polyethene was soft and had a low melting point. Earl Tupper an American chemist realised that, nevertheless, it would be suitable for making containers for storing food in fridges. They became a hit when sold directly to housewives in home “Tupperware parties”.

There are in fact many types of polyethene although all are simple compounds with a chain of carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms attached. High pressure polyethene had relatively short chains of a few thousand carbon atoms with many branches of different lengths.

In 1951 Robert Banks and Paul Hogan, working for Phillips Petroleum, found a new way of making polyethene using a lower pressure and a catalyst. They produced High Density Polyethene (HDPE). In 1953 Carl Ziegler discovered a different catalyst to produce the same material. HDPE has long chains without branches and forms a denser, crystalline material that is tougher and has a higher melting point.

It was thought that HDPE would be ideal for making water pipes. Factories were built and manufacture began but it was found that after a few months the material became brittle. Suddenly there were tonnes of useless HDPE. Someone had the bright idea of turning the pipes into hoops and the 1958 craze of the Hula Hoop was born – and no-one was bothered when the hopes wore out after a few months of hula-ing. The problems were solved and HDPE began to be used in pipes, packaging and the many other uses that made the 1960s the start of the Age of Plastics

In 1976, German chemists Walter Kaminsky and Hansjorg Sinn found another group of catalysts which allow better control of the polymerisation process. Now the length of the polymer chain and the size and number of branches can be planned to provide types of polyethene with a wide variety of properties.

• The carrier bag that causes so much problem is made from low density polyethene (LDPE). With a number of short branches it is quite strong and will stretch without breaking.

• HDPE, as well as being used for pipes, is found in the harder, more rigid containers used for milk and spreads, and for “crinkly” bags.

• Medium density polyethene (MDPE) has similar uses to LDPE and HDPE with properties in between.

• Very low density polyethene (VLDPE) is used for freezer bags.

• Linear low density polyethene (LLDPE) is a tougher type used for lids.

• The toughest of the lot, and the longest name, is ultra high molecular weight polyethene (UHMWPE) which has a molecular mass of up to 5 million. It is extremely tough and is used for hip joints, machine bearings and chopping boards.

• There is even an elastic polyethene called cross linked polyethene (XLPE or PEX).

Probably one of the commonest uses of polyethene today is for the polytunnels which cover acres of the countryside allowing fruit and vegetables to be grown out of season. This is made from MDPE with extra coatings to filter out uv light, stop condensation and prevent growth of algae.

With its variety of properties, polyethene is very useful but there are two problems. The first is that petroleum has been the raw material for manufacturing polyethene but it is becoming scarce. Polyethene can however be made from sugars.

The second problem is more serious. As it is nonbiodegradeable, polyethene persists in the environment becoming broken up into smaller and smaller bits that suffocate animals. In the oceans it is eaten in mistake for plankton but has no food value and blocks the guts of animals. Polyethene can be recycled far more easily than most polymers so it should never be simply thrown away. Perhaps we need to appreciate this superstuff rather more and not let it turn into waste.


1 Carry out a survey of the uses of different types of polyethene (Objects should be stamped with the recycling code – 2 for HDPE and 4 for LDPE)

2 Compare the properties of HDPE and LDPE. Collect samples of each and test them for ease of stretching(toughness), ease of scratching and cutting (hardness). Put samples in boiling water and note what happens (melting point). Find out why the different types of polyethene have different properties.

3 Investigate the availability of plastic recycling in your area. Find out if all types of polyethene are accepted and recycled.

4 Investigate the amount of plastic waste in your neighbourhood. Collect waste plastics (wear gloves and avoid handling waste). See if you can identify what the waste plastic was used for and try to identify if the polymer is polyethene.
Plan a campaign to alert people to the dangers of plastic waste.

5 Find out more about the people mentioned in this article.

6 Discuss whether the benefits of polyethene outweigh the problems.

Science and Maths students in Sofia

To Sofia for EU study visit on developing competencies in science and maths, working with colleagues from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey. Bulgaria has a very good record of students winning medals at international Olympiads and those we met and spoke to certainly did great credit to themselves and their teachers. They were confident, self-assured, well-informed and utterly dedicated to science. The 11th graders (aged 16-17) could have been put into any Western European sixth form and would have been indistinguishable from other high achieving students (apart from the Balkan accent) and the 4th graders (aged 9-10) were some of the most enthusiastic young mathematicians I’ve ever seen: engaged, willing and creative.
However, the wider picture tells a different story. Svetla Petrova at the Centre for the Control and Assessment of the Quality in School Education explained to us that Bulgaria’s performance in the 2009 PISA tests was not good; the overall score for Science was 439 (PISA scores are referenced against a mean of 500). In other words, the medal winners are not typical products of the system (and were quite clear themselves that it was the supplementary provision from dedicated teachers and university lecturers that was making the difference).

Drilling down further revealed more of the story. Bulgarian students overall scored 444 for ‘explaining scientific phenomena’, but it dropped to 427 for ‘identifying scientific issues’ and to 417 for ‘using scientific evidence’. Full credit to the authorities who have accepted the significance of the issues; it’s difficult for students to use scientific evidence if they don’t do much practical work so new laboratory facilities are to be installed and practical work initiated in the curriculum.

What was also interesting about the study visit was the large degree of unanimity between professionals from different countries about how we can encourage students to study science and maths at a higher level. We shouldn’t imagine that able students dropping STEM subjects at 16 is purely a UK phenomenon. There was a lot of talk about making problems authentic so that students could see why they were important and also about ways of getting students to devise and evaluate solutions themselves. One of the projects I learned about was the Primas Project ( and a good one for mathematicians was GeoGebra (

Actually some of the activities we learned about that were devised for students in Bulgaria were pretty good; “What is the influence of solar radiation on the greenness of plants?” as a basis for an investigation I thought had real potential. At the moment these are only used with a minority of students at competition level but if they get their curriculum, resources and teaching methods sorted so that such enquiry based learning becomes part of the mainstream provision ……..

Incidentally the visit was funded through the EU’s Transversal programme ( which offers a wide range of opportunities. A full report of the outcomes of this visit will be published on their website.

Ed Walsh
Cornwall Advisor for Learning

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Geography Activities for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Activity One – Queen of Where?
Year 4 to Year 6

We all know that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II is queen of our country but she’s also the queen or head of state of many other countries, a consequence of the British Empire. In this activity the children will find out which countries she’s constitutional head of and which others she is the head of as part of the collective known as the Commonwealth.

Give younger children an A3 copy of a map of the world with the main countries and other smaller Commonwealth countries annotated on it. Ask them to use a list of the countries the queen is head of state in to find and colour them and to use a second list of Commonwealth countries to find and colour those. A fun extension to this is to tell the children that once there were many more countries that the queen would have been head of and that there was a saying that ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’ meaning that wherever the sun shone, at least one of the countries where it was shining was part of the empire.

By giving them a strip of paper the width of the band of night time, ask them to pass it over their map and see if that statement is still true.

Older children can find the countries using an atlas and mark them in on a blank map to improve their use of atlases and knowledge of where the countries of the world are located.

Activity Two – The Queen’s Year
Year 4 to Year 6

Each year the queen makes state visits to different countries, either as part of a tour or as a standalone visit. Choose a year from her reign and find out which countries she visited together with the purpose for visiting them. For example, the Queen visited Australia in 1988 to mark the bicentenary of the founding of Australia through the city of Sydney. She opened the new parliament buildings in Canberra during her stay.

Construct an itinerary for one of the years of her reign including the dates and places she visited. Find out how many miles away the countries were and how she got there. Sometimes she travelled on the royal yacht, HMS Britannia, other times she flew. Try to find out why she visited the countries and what she did whilst she was there. Often her visits coincided with a charity project.

By investigating her travels, the children find out more about some of the countries she visited and may be able to identify the reasoning over the modes of transport. Sometimes HMS Britannia sailed to the destination whilst the queen flew. Can the children think why she didn’t go with the boat?

Activity Three – Celebrating Around the World
Year 4 to Year 6

This year it won’t just be the UK that celebrates the queen’s diamond jubilee. Many other countries of the Commonwealth are also celebrating with parties, concerts, new buildings and the issue of stamps and coins to mark the anniversary.

Find out which countries have planned celebrations and use to contact children in schools in those countries to find out how they’re celebrating. What differences are there in the way people are marking the occasion? You can list the differences under what food they might eat at parties and where the parties will be held? What entertainment there is for the celebration? It’s also interesting to find out what they think of being ruled by an absent queen, especially in the light of republican demonstrations over the years.

If you’re doing this part of the topic in the run up to the celebrations, it would be good to do a wall display of all the information you collect plus a world map that can indicate the location of the countries you’ve made contact with. The display will be a great talking point that can be seen by any parents that join your celebrations. After the event, you can also share photographs with the schools you’ve made contact with.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

History Activities for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Activity One – Through The Years
Year 4 to Year 6

There’s a lot of free software which is easy for children to work with and which can produce really worthwhile outcomes. One of my favourite is Windows Live Movie Maker which comes as part of the Windows 7 operating system although versions of it appear with earlier operating systems. We use the software primarily for simple editing of videos that the children take on school trips or of drama activities but it can also be used for putting together a slick photo montage which can be run as a narrated slide show or with a soundtrack. It really is easy to use and it’s only the fine tuning that would need the patience and skills of older children.

Depending on how detailed you want to do this you can either use a timeline of the decades of the queen’s reign such as found on: or

or get a grandparent in to talk about many of the events that have happened over the course of the queen’s reign.

Now, armed with a list of the main events, talk with the children about the significance of events such as the first colour television or the first female prime minister in order to give them a bit more information on them. They should be more aware of events that have happened in the last decade.

Ask them to look for pictures of two events from each decade and to find pictures of them. Save them into a folder for easy access after they’ve completed this part of the work.

Now find some music from each of the decades. It won’t cost much to download from iTunes and save them where the children can access them from their workstation.

Ask the children to open Windows Live Movie Maker and click the icon to ‘Add Videos and Photos’ They can extend or shorten the length of time the pictures are visible by repeating the process then shortening the time for the playback in ‘Edit’. Each frame is in place for a second so shortening by a second removes one frame. Once the pictures are in place you can overlay a narration by recording in Sound Recorder for the duration of each photo or use a piece of music from iTunes and clicking ‘Add Music’. You can add music at any point and cut it where required. You can fade music in and out too for a more professional feel.

Activity Two – I Was There
Year 2 to Year 6

To begin this activity let the children look at the video of the Queen’s coronation from 1953. This is available on YouTube in handy little chunks. The most important parts for this activity are part 2 and part 7 which can be found at

Ask the children to watch the video carefully noting what happens to the queen during the ceremony and in the second video, what the crowd is doing.

Once they’ve watched the video, discuss with them what they’ve seen and ask them to imagine being there and how they would describe the day. They should write their story under the title ‘I Was There’.

Activity Three – Royal History
Year 3 to Year 6

We are all focused on the history of what happened around the world and in the UK during the sixty years of the queen’s reign but few stop to consider the family history of the queen. We think of her so much in her public persona that we lose sight of her role as part of a family.  To redress this it’s a nice idea to ask the children to research the history of the royal family over that sixty year period beginning with the moment the queen was told that her father, George VI had died and that she was now queen. You could even step it back a few years to the marriage of the queen to Prince Philip and begin there. We’ve found that the completed task gives a sensitive insight to a woman whose family role has had to fight against her national and international responsibilities.

The task can be completed at a number of levels. From the simplest as a diary style piece for family events such as the birth, marriage and deaths of members of the royal family, to the long trips abroad and how the public have perceived her and other royals over the decades. Older children might want to add what they think the queen might have thought about events such as the divorce of two of her children. Read the best out upon completion and a moving account of the queen as a person, rather than a head of state, emerges.

Activity Four – Where is She From?
Year 3 to Year 6

Children love investigating and this activity allows them to investigate one of their favourite topics, family trees. The queen’s family tree is available in plenty of places online and using it helps us to understand the alliances forged across Europe in the last two centuries or more. Many think of the queen as English through and through but an investigation of her ancestry shows a different story.

For this activity you can begin with a simplified family tree going back four or more generations. On it you’ll have the queen’s parents, grandparents etc. but also cousins who in the past have married people from other countries. On a simple scale, identify which countries the queen’s ancestors have come from and work out what ‘blood’ she has in her. The older children love the competitiveness of trying to find the fraction that is German, French, etc.

Older children can research the family tree themselves looking for her sister, her parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great aunts and uncles and so on. They can construct a family tree before finding out ‘where is the queen really from?’

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Literacy Activities for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Activity One – Letter to the Queen
EYFS to Year 6

This activity allows the children to practise the style and format of letter writing.

The queen will receive many letters of congratulations this year and the Jubilee website has a section where the public can add their messages of congratulation. Word count is limited on the site so why not do things the old fashioned way and write a proper letter to Her Majesty. The youngest children could have a template prepared for them and have the teacher go through a list of things they might want to say, writing down some ideas for the less able.

Older children could be asked for suggestions on what might be included in a letter congratulating a monarch for ruling the country for sixty years whilst an extension could be to look back at the school’s history and tell the queen some of the things that have happened to the school during her reign. Ideas might include; being built, being extended, moving site, famous pupils etc. She might also be interested in hearing about what the school did for her silver and golden jubilees and the plans you have for her diamond jubilee.

Try to follow the tenets of letter writing so the children get practice in what is becoming a dying art with the advance of email, SMS and social networking.

Activity Two – Present for the Queen
EYFS to Year 6

This activity offers the opportunity for some creative writing. On her wedding day the queen received over 6,500 wedding gifts and over the years of her reign has received many more gifts.

Take a look at
for an idea of the weird and wonderful gifts she has received over the years including the grasshopper wine cooler cum wine table!

Now ask the children to think what they might want to give the queen as a gift to mark her jubilee. It can be anything they want as long as they can justify it. They can write their story in the form of a letter e.g.

Dear Queen Elizabeth

I have enclosed a ……. as a present for your diamond jubilee. I thought it would be perfect for you because…

Or you can compose it as a piece of writing beginning:

I would send the queen …. because… and then they can continue to explain the reasoning behind their gift.

Activity Three – Queen’s Speech
Year 4 to Year 6

Each year at Christmas the queen gives a short speech to the nation as previous monarchs have since the introduction of mass communications. In this activity you are going to write a speech including what you think the queen might say in her speech to the country.

Get the children to watch one of the queen’s Christmas speeches and discuss its format and what it includes. Talk about things that the queen may want to include in a fresh speech to mark her diamond jubilee and ask the children to write a speech lasting a minute or two and using some or all of the ideas.

If you want to extend the activity you can get the children to read the speeches out to the class or to assembly and even video them. Some may like to dress up as a king or queen to read the speech for added fun.

Activity Four – Debate: Monarchy or Republic?
Year 4 to Year 6

Over the years in this country and around the Commonwealth there has been a lot of debate on the value of the monarchy with some saying they are an institutional icon and representative of the country whilst others say they live off the population’s taxes.

For this activity, split the class into two and ask one to think of their own reasons why we should retain the monarchy whilst the other group thinks of ideas why we should have an elected head of state.

Next ask them to research reasons why members of the public think the monarchy is good or bad together with information on the times and events that have affected public opinion. You could even organise a survey.

Once they have their notes ready, set up a debate between the opposing sides. If numbers are too big to be manageable, you can set up two debates with one set of debaters watching whilst the other debates, swapping over halfway through the session. You can then ask the observers which side had the most convincing arguments and talk about the skills used in debate.

You’ll need to have a process by which only one person speaks at a time. Wearing a crown is a topical variation on holding the pencil or teddy bear and could add more fun to the proceedings.

At the end of the debates, ask the children to list the main points for and against and come up with a decision of their own backed up by reference to the arguments.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

This year Her Majesty the Queen reached the diamond jubilee of her accession to the throne of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, marking sixty years from the 6th February 1952 when she was given the news of the death of her father, King George VI and a long weekend for celebrating the jubilee has been planned for June 2nd to June 5th. For the country as well as her and her family, it will be a time of great celebration as only one monarch before her has reached this milestone. A public holiday has been declared and hundreds of major events as well as thousands of smaller ones have been planned to mark the occasion. The event comes just before the other big celebration this year, the 2012 London Olympics and with 2012 also marking the bicentennial of Charles Dickens’ birth; it marks a year of pride for the UK.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth, and indeed, her life has seen greater changes than in the lives of any monarch before including many sad events such as wars, famine and acts of terrorism but over the weekend of celebration, only the happy times will be in people’s minds.

Many schools are planning events to mark the occasion including parties whilst elsewhere whole communities, including schools, are coming together to organise street parties just as happened sixty years ago.

In the lead up to the weekend, most schools will be learning about the queen and her reign and to help you plan for that time, we’ve put together some activities across the topics of history, geography, English and art. If you’ve got a scheme of work in place already, you may be able to slot one or two into the timetable but if you haven’t got down to planning the topic yet, they’ll give you a foundation to build a scheme of work around.

You’ll be able to find out more about her as a person, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. We’ll help you discover that she’s not just queen of England as many children and adults think and you’ll also be able to find out what children from around the world think of their queen who lives in another country and what they’re doing to celebrate.

In the art activities you can produce a permanent reminder of the occasion together and look at how the queen has changed over the years in terms of her fashion.

In history we’ll help you put together a visual and audio record of the six decades she has been on the throne whilst in English you’ll get a chance to put yourself in her shoes and say what you think being a world leader for sixty years feels like.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Monday, 2 April 2012

Collins FREE online dictionary

Bringing an authoritative, free online dictionary into your classroom

It goes without saying that at Collins, we believe that print dictionaries remain indispensable tools for teaching and supporting homework. It’s crucial for pupils to know how to use a dictionary effectively to perform, and to improve their performance, in all subjects, not just English. Owning a dictionary helps students to work independently; at Collins, we believe that it’s a necessary investment for students’ learning growth and success in exams as well as in later life. We encourage parents to buy dictionaries for children and help schools to invest in sets of school dictionaries. This will not change. We simply wish to show how print and online dictionaries can work in tandem to make interesting learning, and ultimately, life easier for teachers.
In a recent report from the Bookseller, it was reported that schools were crying out for more and more ebooks. A sign indeed that in today’s world the need for ‘digital’ is growing rapidly. Faster internet access and online learning mean that ‘digital’ can make young people’s education and learning easier. You just have to look at the increased usage of the word 'online' over the last ten years in the word trends graph to realise how the need to embrace ‘digital’ is necessary.
May we introduce you to a new, free dictionary site which is both the perfect companion to online learning and guaranteed to get your students engaged in discussions about words, vocabulary and language trends. By opening in a new tab, your students have instant access to comprehensive dictionaries in English, Spanish, French and German plus a thesaurus with audio pronunciation for every word, and much more*. The option of audio help allows your pupils to listen and learn the pronunciation of any word with which they are not familiar, or that they may need to double-check whilst completing their assignments.
This is why we designed a game to practise using print and online dictionaries – spot the difference with your students. If you need any additional resources simply use our printable worksheets, verb tables and audio files for French and Spanish to support your teaching.
Let’s just type in the word in the search box and get the meanings of words within seconds!

1. Let’s look up of the meaning of the word ‘jour’ in Collins Easy Learning French Dictionary. First of all make sure that you look in the right side of the dictionary, so French-English. To find a word more quickly, use the alphabet tabs down the side of the page. Does it indicate the form of the noun? How do you know that is masculine not feminine? Can you find the related verb and how do you know which verb table to use? For more help use our guide on how to use the dictionary.
If you forget how to pronounce this word simply type ‘jour’ into the French-English search box on If you’re learning German and Spanish, it will give you the word meaning in these languages below. If you would like to see this word in use, scroll down and see the usage examples. Was this word used more often in 1912 or 2008?

2. Read the article from Le Figaro ‘La cérémonie des Oscars en images’, find the meaning of underlined words and learn their pronunciation. Imagine that you’re TV presenter reporting on the Oscars. Write a few Oscar highlights for Twitter, so use just 140 characters!

* Want to know more about Features Collins believe will make life easier for teachers and students:
  • Easy access for every student - Collins comprehensive dictionaries in English, French, German and Spanish are available free online 
  • Improve your students pronunciation - over 350,000 translations for the most frequently used words in English are available in 35 other languages with audio pronunciation 
  • Increase vocabulary - Each page gives a comprehensive entry including alternative meanings, synonyms, word histories and etymologies in less than one-second page load time 
  • Help students use the language correctly in context - full-sentence usage examples covering words and phrases in English, French, German and Spanish extracted from newspapers, fiction and non-fiction books from HarperCollins
  • Words are easier to remember if students can relate it to others or a story - engaging and interesting articles and blogs with historical word usage trends in all languages dating back over the last 400 years and word frequency graphs to show how often words occur in common usage 
  • Help spelling words - predictive search in all languages helps find ‘near-misses’ with a “did you mean?” function
  • Help remember words by association - images from Flickr to support all definitions aid language students to grasp word-meanings more easily