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Julia Skinner on how to get children reading and writing – and loving it! PP136


Ollie and Kevin managed to speak to former headteacher and creator of the 100 Word Challenge, Julia Skinner, this week.

Julia ‘rediscovered’ herself via social media and blogging after retiring from teaching. She believes young people can be engaged with reading and writing through the power of blogging and that teachers can benefit hugely from the use of social media.

How valuable is social media to teachers?

“Twitter saved me!”

Julia Skinner
Julia Skinner

Julia describes the first 6 months of her retirement as ‘hell’. Via Twitter, she discovered that there was a whole world of ‘mummy bloggers’ out there and so she decided to set up a blog called ‘What Will Julia Do Next?’ to fill up her days as she thought that maybe she wanted to be a writer. This first blog included what she called ‘Tales from the Head’s Room’ were she told comic stories about teaching. After a suggestion, she made this a professional blog – ‘The Head’s Office’ which also had its own Twitter account. This opened up a new world of professional conversation.

So Julia believes that all teachers can benefit from Twitter. She is also just getting involved in Facebook but prefers the immediacy of Tweeting and calls it ‘a hugely beneficial source of CPD’. She says that there are so many generous people out there that you can just put out a question and you will get a response pretty quickly – particularly if it’s a call for help.

“If I was still a headteacher, I would encourage all my teachers to have Twitter accounts.”

Julia points out that schools themselves have a role to play in encouraging participation amongst staff but they are usually more nervous than the teachers so there should be training available for SLTs and Governors. Northern Ireland are particularly active – teachers and their classes.

How would you encourage teachers to get started themselves professionally on Twitter?

  • Sign up with Twitter as normal
  • Make sure your profile includes what you do and a general area of the country
  • Find accounts like Julia’s and David Mitchell’s by Googling ‘educators who tweet’ and follow those
  • Contact these teachers and tell them you are new to Twitter – they will send out a tweet to their followers to welcome you
  • You will get followers this way and you must then follow it up – get involved in the conversations which are happening

How can we engage learners better in reading and writing?

Julia has developed the 100 Word Challenge which involves a weekly prompt from Julia which can be:

  1. 5 individual words
  2. Part of a sentence
  3. A picture

Young people look at the prompt, discuss it with their friends or work on their own to produce a creative piece of writing as near as possible to being 100 words long.

“The 100 Word Challenge only has one rule – that there are no rules.”

The learners can write about anything. The writing is always published on a blog and linked back to the 100 Word Challenge site. Anyone can click the links on the site to read any of the submitted writing and hopefully comment on it. Julia has a team of about 300 volunteers across the world who read and comment on the writing every week. Most of the time, children only have one member of their audience – their teacher. Taking part in 100 Word Challenge increases this audience to a global level.

Julia loves visiting schools to encourage teachers to ‘set their children free’ from the current constrictions of a lot of school-based writing.

The writing can be connected with class work, of course – in one week a concept can be taught and then it can be used in 100 Word Challenge the next week. The teacher then looks for the teaching points but the children get to present their work to the world – to a real audience.

Julia explains a lot more about her experiences of how to get the best out of the website in the episode.

“A sense of purpose is crucial.”

‘Reading’ and ‘writing’ are bad words for children – that’s why Julia talks about blogging and commenting when children are taking part in 100 Word Challenge.

What are the essential ingredients for teachers to establish a positive environment for learning?

  • Children need a sense of respect for themselves, for the teacher and for their learning
  • A variety of stimuli around the classroom
  • Opportunities to share their work
  • Corners in classrooms which have all sorts of things in them
  • Write often
  • Lots of opportunities for writing

Read the rest of the show notes on the Pivotal Education site

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Join in with the positive reinforcement for one or two of your learners who have gone over and above each week. Use the hashtag #hotchocfri to share your pictures with us on twitter.

Send in your suggestions for guests!

We already have a brilliant line-up of guests arranged for the podcast but if there’s anyone you are dying to hear from, let us know by leaving a voicemail (bottom left of the page), sending an email to or tweeting @PivotalPodcast.

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

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