Monday, 30 January 2012

How to send emails using Microsoft Word and Mail Merge

There are times when I need to send out the same emails to a whole lot of people, and after trying one method after another I decided it was time to teach myself Mail Merge.  I took screenshots of my journey which I will now share with you in case you want to do something similar. What a timesaver it has proved to be! Now why didn't I think of this a whole lot earlier!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Create a blogging culture in your English classroom

Recently I created a Slideshare called ‘Your blog can be a fantastic teaching tool’ and I wrote from the standpoint of the teacher using a blog to teach.  I posted this in an earlier blog post. Here it is just as a reminder.

Today’s post examines how a blog can be very beneficial to the students in a classroom, and in this case, an English classroom. 

Create a blog for yourself and for your students

One of the best ways to start transforming your classroom is to first create your own blog and then let the students create theirs. Link their blogs to yours by using a blog rollLook at the example from Mrs Albanese's class.
Here is the perfect example of the students blogs listed down the side. This is very important because often you want the students to comment on each other’s postings and this way is easy because they simply visit your blog and easily find the rest of the students' blogs.


Which blogging platform?

Naturally you want to use  platform that is safe, economical, spacious and attractive.There are many options but I will just mention four. 

Now that Edublogs no longer has advertising on it it is a much better proposition to use. Edublogs provides a very small amount of storage space, so I pay for extra space yearly. You can then create student blogs yourself using something called the gmail hack, so that you have access to passwords. (The Edublogger is a great site with plenty of tips and tricks on how to do things like that) The only problem is that Edublogs doesn’t allow much space on their free blogs for the learners. But it would probably do for a year of work.

I particularly love using Blogger for myself because it gives loads of free space and has a nice feel and touch. The templates are also very attractive. However, it is often felt to be unsuitable for students because of “the next blog” icon at the top.


Some people rave about using Posterous blogs for collaborative projects. The reason for this is that you can send an email from anywhere to your posterous blog. It then becomes a draft ready for you to edit and publish. To get details for this look at: (I have since discovered that you can also post to your blog using Blogger.) Here is an example of a posterous blog used for a global collaborative project.

There has been a lot of talk about Kidblogs being a safe and simple platform. The Kidblog ‘About page’ says “Kidblog allows teachers to monitor and control all publishing activity within the classroom blogging community.”
I haven’t personally used Kidblog, but it is supposedly really easy for creating a class blog and blogs for your students. Here is a post that tells more about the pros and cons of using Kidblog:
Here is an example of a kidlog

Well, whatever platform you use, just do it! 

Can a blog really benefit an English class?

A blog can benefit any class...any subject. But today I am going to focus on English. I was quite inspired by a post I read recently on an English Teacher's blog ( - and this caused me to think about writing this post.

Well, I am sure you have plenty of ideas of what you can do with a blog in an English class. I will add ideas to these further along in this post.  It is certainly a fantastic way to get your students writing. To start off take a look at Mr Miller’s blog and see how he uses his blog for his English lessons. I like the way he also has a wiki to support the blog. In my thinking the two go together…

Notice how the teachers in these blogs give regular detailed instructions to their students.  (her Grade 9 class)
(Her Grade 12 class)


This teacher directs her students to using web tools.

What activities can you do on a blog in an English class?

As you know English has four main strands – reading, writing, language and listening and speaking.  These can be beautifully incorporated into blogging. 

1. Let your learners answer questions and respond to prompts online. You could set a question on your blog and the learners can answer the question in your comment box. Notice how The Hawks Talk does this. They can then extend the conversation by answering your next question or prompt and then post comments on each others blogs.

2. For literature lessons, invite an author to post on your blog and let the learners comment on this post.  This is a great way to have book discussions online. You could even try and organise a Skype interview with the author and let the slearners summarise this afterwards. There must be plenty of examples of Skype chats with authors, but here is a post about one with  Scientist. 

3. The learners identify and discuss the major points of a book, article, speech etc. 

4. The learners write good book summaries and assess others summaries using a rubric.


5. Let the learners post reviews of movies, books, concerts, games etc regularly.
6. Use a blog to archive daily class notes. You (or someone in the class) could post summaries on to your class blog. This will be helpful to students who may be absent.
7. For listening and speaking activities learners could use a MP3 player, read into it and then post it on the blog. They could concentrate on voice modulation, inflection, and tempo. The learners could then listen to each others’ speaking activities. You can virtually put anything on a blog. There’s a programme called which gives anything the necessary HTML code which is necessary if you wish to include it on a blog or wiki
8. The learners could make presentations on different things and then embed their presentations on webpages. My Slideshare above mentions how useful is for this. 

9. They could learn about language conventions and then practise using the example on your blog.  You could post weekly exercises for them to do. The following is an old blog but it gives some ideas like this.
You could take this further and ask them to make podcasts and even slideshows of difficult conventions.


10. As they read a novel prescribe blog prompts for them to respond to. 

11. They could paraphrase sections that you post on the blog.
12. You could teach the learners the structure of workplace documents and let them analyse them in terms of heading, font, pictures and readability etc. They could make suggestions on how to improve them. 
13. When starting a new theme create a “KWL chart” on your blog. Have students blog about what they know, what they want to know, and eventually what they have learned. Students will be able to see other posts and scaffold their learning off the responses of others. As the educator, you can quickly assess, focus, and possibly redirect your unit to meet the specific needs of your students.
14. You could link documents to a folder in (also a free programme). Notice how Mrs Lesniak does this.

15. On your blog you could communicate with parents about classroom news, policies and events. You could publish commendable student work, writing, photos, video etc.


16. You could use your blog as a place to reflect as well.

17. Your blog could be a blog of ideas for English teaching.


18. The learners can write journal entries, essays and poems in their blogs. They could also write book reviews

Further down in the same blog – he relates his book review.

Here are another two posts that give a lot of ideas about book reviews.

19. Illustrate to the students how they can use technology on their blogs. You can do this by using screencasts on your blog or just be blog posts.
20. Post homework in your blog.

21. I love the way this teacher posts lesson ideas in his English blog

22. One teacher I know of got her class to write a novel on a blog. This was eventually published.

23. They could create book trailers for their blogs.


24. Don’t forget about using a fake facebook page (template in Google Docs) which could be then embeeded into the blog. This teacher created a fantastic template last year in Google docs that he is willing to share.


 Other useful links

A great source of ideas for English teachers

And to end off this post here is a fantastic Ning for English teachers which will undoubtedly have plenty of resources and ideas.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A recap. of our South African teachers' involvement in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Forum in 2011

Since the Partners in Learning Forum (formerly known as the Innovative Teachers’ Forum) has opened its 2012 competition and we at SchoolNet are encouraging all teachers to participate in our free online support group (so that we can support you with your entry), I thought I would write and tell you something about our participants last year. 

Face-to-face Courses in 2011 and 2012

SchoolNet hosted a number of free face-to-face courses for this competition around the country in 2011 so that teachers could find out more about the requirements of the competition. We are doing the same this year and if you want to be included in one and you have heard nothing about them to date please contact to find out more.  
New this year – an Innovative Online Support Course!

This year we are also including a free online support course with daily posts which you can follow at at your own pace. It will include two (optional) webinars a week where you can find out about past finalists and winners and hear what they did. If you miss the webinars they will be recorded and you will get access to the link to listen at leisure. "Where will this link be posted?" I can hear you asking. Well, the course will be run from a wiki and if you sign up we will take an extra special interest in you all the way to the final date for entries! The place to sign up is:

Last year’s entrants

So let me tell you about last year’s entrants. Quite a number uploaded their PowerPoint entries (don’t worry, we’ll guide you through all this) by the required date and 22 were chosen because they offered something that was considered innovative for their schools. Those 22 people were elated when they heard of their success especially as they were to be whisked off to Johannesburg to the South African Finals to present their projects to the judges. They stayed in excellent five star accommodation, and for once in their lives teachers were treated like royalty! They also experienced some really innovative workshops and were sponsored to attend the ICT in the Classroom Conference which SchoolNet hosted last year. The winners received their accolades on the last night of the Conference amidst the cheering of the large crowd of educators from around the country.

They had a ball! Did you think that innovative teacher finalists could be so crazy? Look at this!


In the next video (created by Lisa Gair who was a finalist), you can see them riding trolleys down the ramp at the Oliver Thambo Airport in Johannesburg on the way home, excited and happy after an AMAZING week!

The South African winners

The winners were:

§ Louise Clarke and Kim Jackson of St Cyprians College in Cape Town for their class project “Tollbooth Movie Maker”;
§ Natalie Meerholz of Holy Rosary School in Edenvale for her class project “E-Waste Away”;
§ Lyneth Crighton of Brescia House in Bryanston for her class project “DigiGirlz puzzle IT out”;
§ Wessel Theron of Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town for his class project “School of Rock”;
§ Ryan Galvin of St Nicholas Diocesan School in Pietermaritzburg for his class project “R and J in R and B”.

Unfortunately we don’t have a photo of the five winners all together, but here is Louise Clarke the overall winner (along with Kim her Grade 4 colleague who was in England at the time) receiving her award and prize.


The Jordan finals

The next round of the competition for the five winners was to attend the Middle East and Africa Finals in Jordan in September 2011. I have written a blog post about this if you would like to find out more. Once again it was loads of fun and Microsoft provided the most stunning accommodation.

image  image

The South African and Lesotho winners at this event were:

§Louise Clarke and Kim Jackson from St Cyprians College in Cape Town won the 'Collaboration' category for their Grade 4 class project 'Tollbooth Movie Maker'.
§Lyneth Crighton from Brescia House in Bryanston won the 'Cutting Edge' award for her class project 'DigiGirlz puzzle IT out'.
§Natalie Meerholz of Holy Rosary School in Edenvale came 3rd in the ‘Beyond the Classroom’ award  for her class project 'E-Waste Away'.
§Malatela  Monaheng from Lesotho came 2nd in the 'Challenging Contexts' category. §Wessel Theron from Bishops and Thejani Malakane from Lesotho were part of the group that won the 'group project' award in Jordan, which meant the whole group could compete in Washington.

Malatela  Monaheng and Wessel Theron (Thejane is seen below)

The World Finals in Washington in November

The winners from this event went on to the World Finals in Washington in November. Here they are in Washington:

Some of the group with the Whitehouse in the background
Natalie at her project stand

Kim and Louise at their project stand
Wessel and Thejane with their winning group from Jordan
Lyneth at her project stand

Lyneth Crighton was also interveiwed by the Global Forum team and found herself being featured on YouTube

This is what Natalie Meerholtz said about the event in Facebook, “Awesome closing gala dinner in Washington DC. No SA awards. The Yanks cleaned up on innovative gaming projects! There should have been a category for most spirited country - no doubt South Africa!”
The final Gala dinner when the Awards were announced

What this means for you!

Please consider entering a project this year. You just never know what can happen!
Projects have to be uploaded by March 15th and the Awards will be handed out at the Basic Education conference in Durban in April. The winners will go on the Middle East and Africa forum in Morocco, and the winners from that occasion will participate in the Global Forum in Athens,  Greece. All expenses are paid by Microsoft each step of the way.

Don’t know where to start? Sign up for our  free online support course so that we can take you through the steps and encourage you during the next 8 weeks.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Look at this interactive heart!

The internet is full of amazing animations and infographics that can really aid our visual learners. I love this explanation of how the heart works which is found at

Explore the embedded infographic below

This interactive infographic explains the anatomy and function of the human heart. Follow the instructions on the inforgraphic and use it to see how the blood flows through the different chambers and valves. Visualize the blood flow inside the heart using using the scroll bar provided on the infographic. 

The Human Heart - Explania

Classroom application

This could be a very useful supplement resource for a Life Sciences teacher. More examples of animations and videos can be found at:

Friday, 13 January 2012

Microsoft announces the Partners in Learning South African Forum 2012

Calling all South African teachers who are using technology in engaging ways. Entries are now open for the Microsoft Partners in Learning South African Forum 2012.

Share your innovative lesson or project that uses ICT and you could win a trip to Morocco to attend the Middle East Africa Forum and from there, possibly the Global Forum in Athens, Greece.

What do teachers need to do to enter the Microsoft Partners in Learning Forum?

Teachers need to have run a project or lesson that uses ICT in a creative and engaging way. Teachers then need to complete the PowerPoint entry template describing their project or lesson. This entry then needs to be uploaded to the Partners in Learning Network by Monday 12 March: . To download the entry template please visit

Face to face workshops

To find out about face to face Microsoft Innovation Workshops that will be taking place in February 2012 call Almah at SchoolNet on 011 403 5777 or email

Sign up for the online course

To find out about the Online Innovation Course which will be run by Fiona Beal from 16 January 2012 email or sign up on the wiki

Summary of important links
Read more about the forum

Read more about the Partners in Learning Forum, last years's winners, and the fantastic prizes on offer in this flipbook below (just click on the writing to enlarge the pages):

Partners in Learning Global forum brochure

12 more places to find reading material for Foundation Phase learners

The Internet is a goldmine for reading materials. Earlier this week I wrote a post highlighting 12 websites that provide great reading material for young learners. ( These sites could be very useful to link to with the new CAPS curriculum being implemented in South Africa for Grades 1 – 3 this year since there is a big emphasis on reading. 

In this post I list ANOTHER 12 sites that can be used to encourage reading in our young learners.

1. Pinky Dinky Doo podcasts
This site is presented by Sesameworkshop. It consists of downloadable podcasts.


2. Nursery rhymes


3. Free kids books

Here you will find loads and loads of PDFs to download.


4. Storytime for Me

This site has plenty of free online stories anda large selection of talking kids stories. The only problem is that the site is overloaded with adverts, so watch where you click.


5. Mighty Books

This site provides plenty of animated storybooks and songs.


6. Steve Barracks Best Children’s Books

There is plenty of reading material available at this site.

7. Little Squirts Books for free

These are books written and illustrated by Mark Griffin


8. Storynory books

These are free audio stories for kids.


9. The International Children’s Digital Library

The ICDL Foundation's goal is to build a collection of books that represents outstanding historical and contemporary books from throughout the world.


10. Kids’ English

This is a collection of free printable books with matching audio.


11. Light up your brain

This is a selection of free audio stories for children.


12. We Read for Kids

Many of the links above are mentioned on this site. It is an incredible site that not only gives links to a number of places where you can find free children's books, but also also provides a multitude of good reading tips for teaching reading to children…plus all sorts of information about reading.


Application for the classroom
This last site in particular is worth dipping into. It gives some great tips for reading sessions and also had a page of reading games that one can play to stimulate an interest in words.

We have just reached our 2000 mark. Yay!

sparkle -