International Left-handers’ Day

Monday 13th August is International Left-handers’ Day.

Only 10% of people are left-handed. This means that in general the world is geared up for right-handed people, and it means that sometimes left-handed people can feel inadequate through no fault of their own. For years my mum thought she couldn’t slice bread properly. It was always obvious when she’d been the last one to cut a slice off because the remaining loaf would look like it’d been attacked by a wild animal. Then one day we found a shop that sold left-handed knives… It turned out she could slice bread properly after all when she had the right tools for the job. After that we bought her a left-handed cake fork and she carried it everywhere with her because the one she was given in tea rooms always had the cutting bit on the wrong side.

Life isn’t just about bread and cake though. Our writing system is also more favourable to right-handers, and left-handed people often feel clumsy and awkward when they drag their hands through what they’ve just written, smudging it. To avoid this they often adopt a hook position when writing ie they place their hand above the line they are writing on and curve it round. Not only does this make it more difficult to control the pen resulting in writing just as messy as if they’ve smudged it, but it’s also uncomfortable and difficult to maintain for a long period. What’s the solution? First of all make sure they have plenty of space. Never put a left-handed person on the right hand side of the table or they’ll keep bumping into their neighbour. Then get them to adopt a ‘twist the paper not yourself” position. Get them to sit square onto the table. Then twist the book or paper clockwise to about a 45° angle. This way they can keep their wrists straight, as a right-handed person, would and they can see what they have written.

Other equipment that can be difficult for a lefty are scissors and rulers. Most people know that you can get left-handed scissors, but not many know that you can also get left-handed rulers where the numbers start at the other end for all those people who will automatically try to measure lines from the left.

There’s a brilliant online shop I found called . Why not celebrate International Left-handers Day by buying a left-handed gift for the leftie in your life?

Learning braille

As regular readers of my blog know, I love learning new things. As a teacher, I think it’s important to continually put myself in the position of a learner so that I never forget what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table.

I recently set myself the challenge of learning braille. A friend of mine and her mum are braille teachers and I asked them to teach me As I don’t see them often I said I would teach myself some of the basics first so that they could then teach me the more complex parts, and I promised to write my friend a letter in braille when I had managed to learn some. I’m really glad I decided to do this, as I have learn so much more than just a new way of writing the alphabet.

First of all I downloaded a fantastic app called Braille Tutor and started learning the alphabet and numbers. I also used these lovely resources from Twinkl, and these (also from Twinkl), some of which were great from practising the alphabet in context, rather than just a letter at a time. The first thing I realised was that when I first started I was confusing some of the letters for each other.

Take a look at these two letters and you’ll notice that they are very similar. The i and the e are mirror images of each other.


Now look at these and you’ll notice they are like two sides of a square being rotated anti-clockwise by 90° each time.

This gave me a much better understanding of what it must be like to be dyslexic because I mixed up the i with e, and d, f, h and j in a similar way to how people with dyslexia confuse m with w, and b, d, p and q. Even though I knew that these were different letters and that the orientation was important, somehow my brain just kept flipping them over and turning them round.

Learning to read braille has reminded me of how much understanding you lose when you have to decode every word instead of reading fluently – I had to keep taking breaks to mentally recap what I had just read. I always encourage weaker readers to pause and consolidate what they have read before moving on, but my experience reading braille has shown me that I actually need to make them do this much more often with smaller chunks of text.

Once I was confident with the alphabet and numbers I decided it was time to try writing a letter to my friend. I quickly decided that a braille printer was waaaay outside my budget, and so I bought a slate and stylus from Amazon instead.

This was my second lightbulb moment.  Anyone who works in education will know the frustration of marking work and finding that there are no capital letters and very few full stops.  I wrote a post some time ago about this (Why do they do that?) but I now have some new ideas to explain this….

I knew exactly what I wanted to write, and I sat down to compose my letter. Half-an-hour later and my first three attempts were languishing in the recycling bin. I mentally crossed out most of what I had planned to say, and sat down again to write a very basic note. It took me an hour to write 5 lines, and when I read back over what I had written, I noticed that I had missed quite a few capital letters and some punctuation. Obviously I know how to use capital letters and full stops, so what on earth had gone wrong?

The problem was that it’s hard to write braille. You have to remember what the pattern of dots for the letter you want to write is and then you have to reverse it (because with a slate and stylus you work from right to left and mirror write, so that when you turn the paper over the embossed dots are the right way round) – and remember some of those letters are hard to tell apart anyway! You have to make sure that you have placed the stylus in the correct part of the cell and you have to use just the right amount of force – too much and you just poke a hole in the paper; not enough and the indent doesn’t show through clearly enough on the other side. I found I was concentrating so hard on all of this that there was no brain power left for anything else, such as remembering to add in the symbol that means “capitalise the next letter”, and so on a couple of occasions it just slipped my mind.

I’m sure it must be like this for many children in our classrooms, and this experience has helped me to understand exactly how much effort goes into writing a simple sentence. Hopefully, it will also help me to think of new ways to help them so that they become able to express what they want to say, instead of limiting themselves to what they feel able to say, and so that their punctuation is accurate more consistently.

There’s still so much more I need to learn for braille. I still have the contracted form to tackle- I haven’t even mastered double letters yet so that may take a while. I’m glad I’ve made a start though. It means I can send my friend Nicki letters from time to time instead of only ever communicating by text/email and I’ve improved my teaching practice at the same time.

Inspiring Reluctant Writers

I teach a lot of boys who are reluctant to write. As the tutor, it’s my job to be flexible and adapt the way I work to suit them. After all, they will write much better if they’re feeling inspired and motivated.

So that’s where I was at recently. One of my pupils hates English – both reading and writing – so I was struggling to come up with something you he might enjoy when he suddenly suggested he might like to try writing an article for a car magazine.

My heart sank. I’d never read a car magazine in my life and it’s not something I’d ever planned to do in the future. I asked my husband what sort of style car magazines are written in. His reply, that if I’d ever heard Jeremy Clarkson speak I’d know what the style was like, made my heart sink further.

And so, with my heart trying to escape through the bottom of my shoes, I flipped over the first page of Car magazine. Sighing deeply I scanned through the first few pages, really not expecting to be inspired. However, within a couple of minutes I was scribbling away in a notebook, and within 10 minutes I had enough ideas to last most of the year, assuming we spend 1-3 weeks on each one.

My plan is to write a complete magazine using as many different writing styles as possible. First of all we’ll have a look together at the editorial and write one of our own in an over-the-top, over-enthusiastic, chatty style. Then we’ll get to work on writing various articles.

Obviously we will need to include a review of a car (opinion piece) and an advert or two (persuasive writing) but we can also include an article about a F1 or rally driver (biography) and one on how to stay safe on the roads (explanation). We can write a comparative text (comparing three cars by the same manufacturer) and a factual piece about a famous or classic car such as the Aston Martin or E-type Jaguar. And of course an article about stunt drivers covers non chronological reports nicely!

We can include some light-hearted styles too: we can do some good descriptions by writing lonely hearts ads for different types of car; we can match cars to celebrities, explaining why they would be suited; write a piece about cars in the movies; write a top 10 fastest/ugliest/whatever of cars and an awards page for the most overpriced, best value for money, car you’d be most embarrassed for your friends to see you driving…. and of course the “letters to the editor” page takes ticks the letter writing box.

If there is still time to spare after fitting all that in, we can write a speech to persuade the Dragons to invest in publishing the magazine.

These are just the ideas I came up with in the first 10 minutes of opening the magazine. I’m sure there are many more to be found so if you think of more ideas I would love you to share them in the comments below.

K is also for… Killers

K is for...By “killers” I mean phrases that kill your writing.
NEVER start your story with “One bright, sunny day”, because about half your class will have started in the same way and your teacher will think, “Oh no! Not another one!” Instead of “One bright, sunny day I went to the park with my friend Ali.” try, “Last Saturday was so sunny it was too hot for football, so Ali and I sat in the shade of the tallest tree in the park and chatted.”

NEVER start your story with “One dark and gloomy night”, because the other half of your class will have done that. Instead, how about, “Not even a glimmer of moonlight broke through the clouds”.

It doesn’t matter how exciting your story has been – if you end it with, “It was all a dream!” your teacher will be bored. After a couple of pages of being chased by vampires, instead of writing:
“Wake up! It’s time for breakfast,” said mom. Thank goodness – it had all been a dream.

How about
“Wake up! It’s time for breakfast,” said mom, smiling to reveal blood-stained fangs.

Dare to be different and your writing will benefit.

Related posts: J is also for…   L is also for….

I is also for… Inspiration

I is for...You never have it when you need it. You know how it is… your teacher says, “Describe it!” You think for a moment, before proudly saying, “Yellow!” and your teacher replies, “How yellow?”

You look around the classroom for something yellow and then in desperation say, “As yellow as this pencil.”

Hmmm. It’s not the best description is it? How about making an inspiration book to help? Find a notebook and write one adjective on each page, then have a look through magazines and cut out pictures for them. Try for 4 or 5 pictures for each one – but remember to ask for permission before cutting up other people’s magazines!
On my “yellow” page I have a daffodil, a canary, a newly-hatched chick, the sun, a buttercup and a banana. Now if someone asks me “how yellow?” I can tell them “buttercup yellow” or “as yellow as the sun.”

Your teacher won’t mind you using your inspirations book in the classroom as long as it is improving the quality of your writing.

Related posts: H is also for ….   J is also for ….