Engaging children with reading and writing through Minecraft

Parents and teachers alike often worry that children spend too much time on their computers playing video games rather than focusing on key skills like reading and writing.

However, Reay Primary School in Lambeth discovered that using a platform that children were already familiar with – Minecraft – could bring the curriculum to life and transform the experience of even the most reluctant writer.

In this blog post Reay Primary School’s year 5 teacher Lucy Coates explains how she was able to engage students through play-based learning.

 

Making learning fun

My students are really energetic with a diverse range of interests and skills, but some were finding reading and writing particularly difficult. I wanted to show them that these activities can be fun and not just based on text books or working in isolation. I think teaching children about the environment and community around them is really important too, so I made the entire half term topic about architecture in the local community.

I even imagined a scenario for the children where a local business was planning to build a new, multi-storey store in the middle of Kennington Park. This is where they go for sports day every year and our running club uses this green space too, so naturally it caused outrage! Even though this wasn’t a real situation, my students really engaged and wanted to write letters to our MP to lobby against this decision. I wrote back as the MP to say due to their wonderful campaign, the decision had been reversed.

Open City and Minecraft

The children developed skills in persuasive writing, and I saw this as an opportunity to approach Open City, the architecture education organisation, inviting them to deliver its Open City Neighbourhood workshop to also show them the different elements needed to build a neighbourhood, such as transport, renewable energy, building materials, pollution control, and leisure and tourism.

To take the lessons learned here even further, I contacted London Connected Learning Centre (part of the Education Development Trust) to help us conceptualise and visualise the building designs the children had made during the Open City workshop. Rowan Roberts, one of the computing tutors at London CLC, worked with the pupils to encourage collaborative working in building their neighbourhoods using Minecraft. This went down really well, because Minecraft was already familiar to a large portion of the class, so they were already confident in using the platform.

I had hoped that using this approach and opening the ‘chat room’ function on Minecraft would encourage the students to read and write without even realising. In fact, the great result was that as well as writing feedback on each other’s’ designs, the standard of writing improved a lot too.

Personalised learning

Technology gives teachers the chance to adapt and personalise learning, giving every student the chance to become passionate readers and writers. Since the sessions, I’ve continued to use computer games and programmes in the classroom to inspire reading and writing across the curriculum, for example, I used Minecraft and Kodu to design and make computer games which depict the use of white blood cells, getting students to write about how white blood cells battle against germs and infections.

I think as teachers, we are always in danger of fearing time will run out and that the ‘extras’ are just that; superfluous add-ons. As a result of working with London CLC on the Minecraft project, I was reminded that if we put the effort and time in to really help children engage, and use their imagination when working with a topic, the end results are not only of a higher quality, they are also a lot quicker and easier to get to.”

 

London CLC’s Julia Lawrence says:

Lucy’s approach worked so well, because she gave the children the creative control to use their own ideas and inspire students, even the ones that don’t typically engage with reading or writing. She particularly emphasises the need to invest in children’s interests and be patient, focusing more on reading and writing skills in a context that makes sense to them. For example, as a way to start a conversation, engage in problem solving or as part of a computer game. They are more likely to engage with this than large amounts of text during individual study.

We thoroughly enjoyed working with Lucy and her students and can see she works tirelessly to bring the curriculum to life, showing the children how what they learn at school can be applied to reality. She even created a ‘campaign wall’ in her classroom, inspired by the students’ opinions on political events such as Donald Trump’s rise to power and the Women’s March. Embedding the use of technology into the classroom with creative approaches to teaching can have fantastic results, engaging students with not only reading and writing, but their local community and the world around them too.

 

 

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Upcoming CPD

New to subject leadership in primary school computing session 1, 2 and 3
New to subject leadership in primary school computing session 1, 2 and 3

This programme is designed for primary teachers who have recently taken on responsibilities and leadership for technology and computing. It will cover curriculum planning, tools and resources, methods for supporting colleagues and progression and assessment. Colleagues will be expected to attend all three sessions. The third session will be held in a school and will include classroom visits.

Further details for sessions 2 and 3 to follow:

Session 2: 9.30-11.30am Thursday 27 January (virtual)

Session 3: TBC (in person)

23/11/21,
15:45
- 17:15
KS1, KS2
Computing subject leaders, Headteachers...
Computing and Online safety conference for primary schools
Computing and Online safety conference for primary schools

Diving deep into all things computing, this conference will consist of two sessions. Participants can choose to join us for the full day, or book for just the morning or afternoon separately.

Online Safety & Data Security (am)
This session is for computing subject leaders, senior leaders, safeguarding leads and other relevant school staff. Falling in the lead up to Safer Internet Day 2022 (Tuesday 8 February), the morning of the conference will have a particular focus on online safety, bringing together a variety of external resources with expertise from within the CLC team to help schools get to grips with the complexities of online safety and data security.

Leading Computing in the Classroom (pm)
This portion of the day is for computing subject leaders and teachers interested in the use of technologies across the curriculum. It will include policy and curriculum updates as well as practical workshops and opportunities to hear from colleagues in other schools.

01/02/22,
09:15
- 15:30
EYFS, KS1, KS2
Business leaders, Computing subject leaders...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
25/11/21,
09:30
- 14:25
KS2

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum
21/02/22,
-
KS1

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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