Sunday, 1 November 2015

Creating Infographics

I'm really "in" to infographics at the moment.

This all came about because I wanted to create a Halloween resource based on an infographic. I looked everywhere for articles on UK spending at Halloween and couldn't find a thing. All the ones on the web were based on US data.

Finally I found an interesting article in the Guardian on October 30th. No infographic though - just a simple bar chart - so I decided to have a go at creating my own.

It's not perfect - I've got a lot to learn - but I had a lot of fun making it! The free version of Venngage is restricted - but not too badly. I would have gladly paid for just one month's trial for $15 - but it was one of those schemes where they keep taking a monthly payment until you cancel. I didn't want to mess around so stuck with the free version. The free version doesn't allow you too save as a jpg or other image but it does allow you to embed the code in a blog (as here) or post it to the Venngage Community Page

I've also used a screen grab in order to insert it into a new Skillsworkshop Functional Maths resource Spooky Spending E3-L2 Functional Maths

There are lots of other infographic application out there and I intend to try a few more when I have time. If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations please leave a comment or contact me through skillsworkshop.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

A very functional royal wedding

I'd forgotten how much I love Wordle.

Had a lovely 2 hour Entry Level (E1 through to E3) Functional Maths and English lesson earlier this week, based on the royal wedding. Objectives were to encourage the use of accurate positional vocabulary and to improve the use of clear (written and spoken) directions.

I hadn't met the group before (but they all knew each other well) so came up with the following starter to help me to remember all their names and help them improve their use of positional vocabulary.

I asked one student to introduce himself clearly and to then tell me where he was sitting in relation to another student. (I modelled this to the group first, using the rather advanced example of diagonally opposite which provoked quite a lot of discussion.)

So, for example, the student might say: "I'm Kamil."
Then, I would say: "Hello Kamil. Tell me where you are in relation to another person in the group."
Kamil might then say: "I'm sitting next to Mona."
Mona would then introduce herself (the repetition of her name helping me to remember it) and then describe her position in relation to to another student in the room.
...and so on round the entire group.

Wordle 1. Individual positional words used by students.
Interestingly, some students spontaneously offered to then reverse what they had said and describe the other student's position in relation to themselves. E.g. Molly is on my right. I am on Molly's left.

Whilst this was going on my LSA was typing all the positional words each student used into Wordle (he also copied and pasted them into a Word document for future use). When everyone had introduced themselves the create button was clicked and Wordle 1 appeared. 

At that time I couldn't remember how to keep words together as phrases so Wordle 1 shows you all the individual positional words the students used.

Later, I remembered that to keep words together in Wordle you use a tilde ~ between related words. I edited the saved Word document accordingly and the resulting Wordle 2 shows the exact phrases students used.

Sounds simple but the students were enthralled with the Wordle. I've told them that I plan to repeat this activity several sessions later to check their learning and see if they are using a greater range of positional vocabulary. I particularly want to improve the accurate use of left and right in written and spoken directions.

I also successfully recited all their names (they insisted on testing me!) - no mean feat as my memory is terrible at the moment.

Wordle 2. Using tilde symbols to keep words together in phrases.
The nice thing is that the activity can be differentiated (by outcome) for all levels. Higher level students can use more advanced vocabulary such as adjacent or use angles and rotations in their descriptions. You could also ask students to estimate the distance they are sitting from another person. 

If you like our Wordle design, we used: League Gothic font, a mostly horizontal layout with straighter edges and the organic carrot colour scheme! 

In case you're wondering what all this has to do with the royal wedding: I used it as a lead in to watching two videos about the wedding route. Whilst watching these, students were asked to look out for and list famous London landmarks and we discussed how you can use landmarks to help clarify written or spoken directions. 
Video 1: Royal wedding route in 40 seconds
Video 2: Google maps Royal wedding procession route in 3D  

Landmarks spotted included Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and the Cenotaph (interesting spelling discussion on that one!).

I embedded the videos into the end of a very good Royal Wedding PPT I obtained from TES resources. At the start of the PPT all students were asked to write one correctly punctuated sentence about the royal wedding (on individual whiteboards). As a learning check, at the close of the PPT, they were asked to write two sentences about something new they had found out about the upcoming wedding. (More interesting discussion about Kate's head-ware in slide 2! I just couldn't remember the word "fascinator" but a savvy student put me right!)

Adapted from a TES resource - see main text for details.
We also took a short but successful diversion into family trees (yet another chance to use positional vocabulary) using a drag and drop Royal one (again from TES) on the Smartboard as an introduction. Students then had a quick go at drawing their own family trees on individual whiteboards.

This was followed by paired work: drawing routes to various destinations (canteen, library, reception, etc.) on a college map and then following their planned route around the college and writing accompanying directions. The writing frame we used was adapted from this one on

I also embedded a Google satellite map of the college into the PPT. This was a huge hit and great for students to annotate on the Smartboard. I will be making future use of this map when we do work on 2D and 3D shapes

In my next session - before I embark on my still unplanned simulation of the AV voting system - I will hand out anonymous typed-up-by-me copies of the directions written by the students (with the name of the destination omitted) to different pairs of students to test. 

Functional Skills coverage and range statements covered in the session included:
Describe position (E1)
Extract, use & compare information from lists, tables, simple charts /graphs (E3)
Recognise and use 2D representations of 3D objects (L2)
Speaking, listening and communication
Communicate information so that the meaning is clear (E2)
Identify the main points of short explanations and instructions (E2)
Read and understand simple instructions and directions (E2)
Use organisational features to locate information (E3)
Use written words and phrases to present (and record) information. E1 (E2)
Construct simple (compound) sentences using full stops (correct upper/lower case). E1 (E2)
Sequence writing logically and clearly. (E3)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Easy read referendum resources

Not sure exactly when it appeared but the easy read version of the Local Elections and Referendum booklet (see previous post) is now on the About my vote site. I didn't think they could improve on the original non-easy-read version yet they have!

There are additional pictures, diagrams and explanations and a very useful glossary for the 'difficult' words (marked in red in the text).

Separate easy read booklets for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be found here along with standard / large print / audio / BSL versions.

There's also a great series of Victor the Vote Counter videos which I am definitely going to use in my class on May 4th.

For further ideas please see the comments under my earlier post


Friday, 8 April 2011

Referendum resources

It's almost a year since a site contributor brought my attention to the easy-read guide to voting from the Electoral Commission.

Another new booklet has just been released on About my vote (an Electoral Commission sub-site). Local Elections and Referendum is a beautifully clear document that explains the AV (alternative vote) and the 'first past the post' systems.

Separate booklets for England, NI, Scotland and Wales can be downloaded from this page which also has links to large print and audio versions.

I like the way diagrams have been used to explain AV and it's got me thinking: "How can I simulate an AV voting system in my Foundation Functional maths/English class of 12 students?" 

I haven't come up with anything concrete yet - not even sure what we would vote for (maybe something to do with changes students would like around college?).

Anyhow - the booklet looks useful as stimulus in both literacy, numeracy and life-skills classes.

There's also a note on this page that states "BSL and Easy Read formats will be available shortly". How they'll improve on the already-very-clear standard version will be interesting to see.

If you have any ideas on simulating an AV system in the classroom with Entry level learners, please share them by leaving a comment. Likewise if you use the booklet successfully for any other literacy or numeracy activity. 

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Hung parliament Venn diagram

Just like buses the numeracy election resources now seem to be coming along in clusters. There's a great Venn diagram in the centre of today's IoS entitled 'Your guide to a hung parliament'. It even provides a guidance box which explains how to interpret the overlapping areas - and stipulates that 'you don't need a maths degree to understand the circles, triangles and bar charts on these pages'.

Sadly it's not available electronically (unless you're prepared to pay a subscription to pressdisplay) but, just like the resource in today's earlier post, it has great possibilities for mixed ability groups. Anything really, from recognising various 2D shapes through to interpreting the bar charts and the Venn diagram itself. Not to mention the literacy aspects such as prompting discussion, scanning a text to locate information, or reading and responding to a text.

How little vote do you need to become a PM?

My earlier election-related posts focus on literacy resources. Ever since I have been on the look out for election resources that could be used in numeracy or functional maths lessons.

After much fruitless searching, and no time to make my own resources, I was about to give up until an email alert from the wonderful NCETM (National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics) community discussion board saved the day. A regular poster, Chris1974, has shared his presentation 'on how little vote do you need to become PM'. He goes on to say that 'It's really a maths modelling activity, but it throws up some interesting questions'.

It certainly does: I love it! Just wish I could try it out myself on some learners but I'm not teaching any Level 1-2 Maths at the moment. Actually, I think the presentation could be used at Entry level too. It's so clearly presented that Entry level learners could, for example, be given the task of counting the number of pink, green or orange votes on each of the ten constituency screens (perhaps designing and then using a suitable tally chart to do this) whilst higher level learners could focus on the modelling and percentage / fraction aspects of the presentation.
However you choose to use the presentation it is bound to create much discussion.

Chris1974 has shared his presentation through Google documents (I'm not sure how this is done but it's very generous of him). If you click on the menu button at the bottom of the embedded screen above and then follow the blue 'election2010proportion' link next to the orange arrow you can view the presentation from the original source (rather than embedded in this blog post). You will then be able to access an 'action' button which allows you to download the resource as either a PDF or a PPT.

I occasionally participate on several of the NCETM discussion boards and I highly recommend that you take a look. It's a great place for stimulating discussion and sharing ideas. You will have to register with NCETM if you want to participate but anyone can view the threads on open discussion boards such as the Secondary Forum (where Chris1974's original post appeared) or the Maths Cafe (which is a great place to start).

I'll finish this post with a similar comment to the one I made in my post of April 18th: this resource is surely ideal for Functional Maths - as what can be more functional than understanding and participating in an election?

If you use this resource in your classes please share your ideas or observations by leaving a comment (or you can email me via Likewise if you have created or discovered other maths election resources.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Polling station walk-through

Since yesterday's post I have discovered another useful resource from the Electoral Commission - on a sub-site called 'About my vote'.

This time it's an animated visit to a polling station. Every step of the voting process is clearly explained and it takes account of differences in Scotland (where, for example, polling stations are called polling places) and Northern Ireland (where you are asked to show ID when you vote). My only criticism is that, because it was written in 2008, a circled date - Thu May 1st - on a calendar in one of the screens might cause some confusion.

The walk-through is bound to prompt discussion and would make a great introduction to any lesson about the 2010 election. If you use this resource in your classes please share your ideas or observations by leaving a comment (or you can email me via

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Easy-read guide to voting

Many thanks to site contributor Kathy Crockford for drawing my attention to a really marvellous booklet available from The Electoral Commission. The 20 page 'simple guide to voting was designed specifically for people with disabilities or low literacy, but has proved very popular with many audiences'.

As Kathy says: 'It is really excellent – full of graphics, large print and simple language. Perfect – saves me having to re-invent the wheel!'

The booklet clearly explains how to vote, how to use postal and proxy votes, where you vote, and what happens afterwards. Three versions are available for England and Wales (available in English and Welsh), Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

In addition to the downloadable PDF, free hard copies can also be ordered. It really is a lovely document and I just wish I had time to come up with some specific ideas for using it in class. One thing's for sure: it makes a perfect text for Entry 2 and 3 Functional English. After all, what could be more functional than learning how to vote?
If you use this resource in your classes please share your teaching ideas by leaving a comment (or you can email me at

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Texting and spelling

An article on page 16 of yesterday's Independent caught my eye.

Richard Garner reported that a study by the British Academy found that children who texted regularly were better spellers and had higher scores in verbal reasoning tests.

I found this news strangely uplifting and not really surprising. Although I did note, when following up details of the research on the Coventry University site, that the study involved only 63 children between the ages of 4 and 7. The Coventry University page also includes an interesting list of 'textisms' (I'd never come across this term before) that breaks the different forms of text message abbreviations into ten distinct categories. Fascinating stuff!

Further details about the research carried out by Dr Clare Wood can be found at

Friday, 27 November 2009

LSIS Star Awards - thanks to all

Wow! I am in complete shock and have had very little sleep. No official photographs yet but here's two taken before the awards ceremony last night at Old Billingsgate, London (a most amazing venue).

I'm pictured with my nominator and manager, Anne Haig Smith, and my 'personal guest' (my husband!).

All I can say at the moment is a big thank you to all of my site users - especially those of you that have contributed resources and made the site so successful. I couldn't have done it without you.

I'd also like to thank everyone at Abingdon and Witney College for their support, and, of course, the students whose individual learning needs inspired me to create many of the original site resources.

Thanks also to LSIS for putting on such a magnificent event and many congratulations to all the nominees who attended last night.

Postscript 03/12/09
The offical photos are now on the Star Awards site
Here's one of them!

I am over the moon and the prize money will mean that, in time, you will notice some changes (for the better) on

Friday, 14 August 2009

Literacy help needed: reading comprehension progression from Entry 1 to Entry 2

I have received the following request from a site user. If you can help please post a comment or, if you prefer, email and I will forward any messages to Sarah.

Dear Maggie

I wondered if you could post this query on your blog. I would really value any advice or help that any of your blog readers could give me.

I am a literacy tutor for a fifteen year old boy. He had a serious head injury as a baby and has experienced learning difficulties. He is also partially sighted.

When I started working with him at age thirteen, he still really could not read (he could synthesise cvc words very slowly) but, following a strong synthetic phonics approach, he has made significant progress since.

He now has word decoding skills equivalent to approximately age 10 but his reading comprehension is less that this (maybe age 7-8 equivalence). I have been trying to do a lot of reading comprehension work with him using adult literacy resources (as obviously this is more akin to his interest levels and I am hoping that he will be able to slot into the adult literacy programme at his sixth form college next year).

He copes really well with comprehension at Entry Level 1 but struggles with Entry Level 2. There seems to be a big increase in the amount of text to be read at EL2 compared with EL1. He does have some memory problems and so finds it difficult to remember information from several
paragraphs at a time. (He can usually find the answer if I tell him which paragraph/sentence it is in.) He also finds scanning text really hard (not sure if this is because of his partial sight) and is reluctant to re-read entire texts to find answers, preferring to guess instead!

I'm wondering if anyone had any thoughts or ideas as to how I could help him to progress towards Entry 2 comprehension levels?

Thank you so much