Monday, February 9, 2009


I've added links for the newly enhanced BBC RAW site. The current content is not particularly about literacy or numeracy; rather it is about basic computing and financial literacy. However, these are two topics that are never very far away from the literacy and numeracy classroom, even if they do not feature high on the Skills for Life curriculum. There is certainly some direct literacy and numeracy in there - I've noticed a module on percentages. I can see many Skills for Life learners being motivated by these activities.

What I think is really stunning is the look of the site. It has a very clean and simple interface for a start, and the learning is nicely chunked. But it is the use of the presenters on the periphery of the screen with video or activity in the centre which seems innovative to me. I haven't looked at every BBC site, but this does seem to be a departure. It gives me an inkling of how TV and web content might come together some time in the future.

More content is promised over the next three years. I hope there will be something soon that is more directly "reading and writing." Mean time enjoy what is there now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Online Dictionaries

I've come across a number of visual dictionaries recently, so I thought it was a good time to review the dictionaries section on the Skills for Life website. It's not a section I've changed much over the years, and it's been eight years now that the website has been around. It's not surprising that new applications are coming along as a result of developing web technologies.

Dictionaries now can have speech or synthesised speech rather the traditional phonetic equivalent which is difficult for learners, especially literacy learners. Look at the site which aggregates different dictionaries' definitions. But now people are thinking of different ways of introducing a visual element. Examples include Picture That which uses pictures and sounds and uses a phonic approach designed for dyslexic learners - the site needs registration. Merriam-Webster's visual dictionary takes an encyclopedia-like approach with graphics and labels. Visuwords uses mind maps to make links between words. The site I have come across most recently, Shahi, links a wordbank and definitions with pictures tagged that way in Flickr. It's a beautifully simple "mashup", still at quite an early stage, but crying out to be used in literacy or ESOL classes by teachers with ideas.

It's a while since I taught much literacy to classes. The Wordsmyth dictionary was around then and I designed learning activities using it. I wonder how much online dictionaries are used now. We still need to teach our learners alphabetical order and how to find words in book dictionaries. We still need to teach our learners to use spell checks effectively. These new multi-sensory tools give us a number of interesting new options.