Making a Difference in Primary English with Technology

Making a Difference in Primary English with Technology – By NAACE Junior Vice Chair, Dr Carol Porter

Some schools are fortunate enough to have lots of computing equipment, but many agonise over deciding what tech gadgets to spend their limited budgets on. It’s good to have a plan. Decide what you want to achieve with technology that you just couldn’t do without. Don’t settle for filling your lovely new tablets with apps for practice and drill activities, important though these are. Think big. Then have a look around and take advice on what devices will do the job you have identified.

Take English for example. Every primary schools teaches it every day. I can’t think of a school that doesn’t have an element of English identified on its school improvement plan. How can technology help?

Speaking and Listening

Simple devices like Easi-speaks can be used to gather recordings of children speaking. They could be reading aloud, describing real settings during a sensory walk, doing a ‘radio’ interview, or anything else that involves talking. The recordings can be played back immediately or downloaded to a PC for editing using free software such as Audacity.

PhotoStory3 is free software that allows children to construct a timeline of images, and narrate over the top. These could be narrative, persuasive, discursive, instructional, you name it. MovieMaker is free video editing software that behaves a bit like PhotoStory3 – upload your video, do any editing required, and record a narration directly into the software.

iCan Present cleverly combines an app for a tablet with PC based software, with or without green screen, so that children can ‘anchor’ a news bulletin from the ‘studio’ interspersed with video from a number of ‘outside broadcasts’.

iCan Animate is a stop-motion animation app. If exported to iMovie, children can record their characters’ voice directly into their iPad.

Of course, none of these speaking and listening activities rests in isolation from the rest of the English curriculum. Some are about reading, many involve plenty of writing: your pupils will find it much easier to narrate a PhotoStory or video in Moviemaker if they have first thought about and written notes to speak around. Note that I am not advocating reading from scripts here – speaking from notes is a valuable skill, and the recordings will sound far more natural.


It’s difficult to be innovative about SPAG. There are plenty of interactive whiteboard resources in Promethean Planet, and in the various app stores.


As mentioned previously, allow your pupils to record themselves reading aloud. This will really help them to get to grips with abstract concepts like ‘fluency’ and ‘reading with expression’. StoryPhones, EasiEars and some eReaders will enable children to listen to stories being read by professional actors, possibly whilst also listening to the texts in real books.

Serial Mash is part of Purple Mash, and delivers books to children in serial format, one chapter per week. Books are published into Serial Mash in libraries for KS1, LKS2 and UKS2, and subscribing schools get to keep them all. There are also activities which the children could work through in independent guided reading time. Elsewhere in Purple Mash you can find Talking Stories, Stories 2 Tell and the Literacy Collection, all of which have stories with optional text reading and a range of activities – both digital and paper-based.


Have you discovered Mr Thorne Does Phonics? There is a plethora of engaging instructional videos on You Tube, now supported by a suite of apps in the App Store. Speaking of apps, consider Pocket Phonics, Twinkl and Zapp2Learn. There are also plenty of phonics activities in Promethean Planet for use at your interactive whiteboard. Also check out the Phonics modules in Purple Mash. They are premium add-ons, but the feedback I’ve heard from schools that use them is very positive.


Is there a primary school that hasn’t yet heard of Purple Mash? Within this online suite of software there is plenty to help develop all areas of writing, at all stages of the primary age-range. For example, there are countless cross-curricular writing frames, all with appropriate support built in; 2Publish and 2Publish Extra are for desktop publishing; 2Write allows a group of children to collaborate on writing the same text at the same time; 2Create a Story encourages younger writers to add captions to their pictures and animations; 2Type develops speed and accuracy using both hands on a standard qwerty keyboard.

Your interactive whiteboard software, whether it’s Smart or ActivInspire, will allow your pupils to combine text, audio and video in creative multi-modal presentations using software that they see in use every day at school.

Get your class blogging. It’s fantastic.

Many of the Speaking and Listening uses of technology above also involve much writing: it is hard to record a play without first writing a script!


Whether you use technology to support speaking and listening, reading or writing, publish the children’s finished work. Whether the learning artefact is audio, video, or text-based, publish it to your school website, learning platform or class blog. Get it out there to a real audience, for genuine feedback.

Want to know more? Details of Naace 1-day courses in ‘Impacting on Standards in English with Technology’ are here

Dr Carol Porter is Technology Curriculum Support Centre Manager, supporting schools in Bury LA with the Computing Curriculum and Technology-Enabled Learning. She is also a Naace Fellow, Naace Lead for Professional Development, Naace Lead for Standards in Computing, and Junior Vice Chair of Naace Board of Management.