Computational LLC

Word Boxes: Programming for language and literacy

These programming projects are intended to be accessible to novice programmers (teacher or student) with a particular interest in the language arts (so broadly this would fit under the AoLE for Language, Literacy and Communication)

The aim is to exemplify the potential of small-scale programming for insightful learning in the language curriculum (with potential value for many other curriculum domains).

In these projects programming (or coding, or scripting) is used as a tool for the exploration of simple forms of poetry (e.g. syllabic poetry like haiku), or syllabic prose (e.g. such as a Tweet), through to simple conversational models (e.g Eliza), and interactive fiction (e.g. the Lost Frog). As well as creating and analysing spoken and written language (which does not have to be restricted to English) the projects also build facility with practical aspects of computational thinking, particularly procedural logic.

These are not intended simply to be walkthroughs by which a teacher can learn some Python coding. They are also, hopefully, self-contained activities that can be taken into the classroom and there, with the teacher guiding their language work, students can use these ready-made but extensible programs to explore Python's tools for work with strings, texts, lists, genres, meanings and expressions.

Key questions do remain open about how programming for language and literacy might or might not enhance the wya that language is taught and experienced in the curriculum. (There is a useful research background on the topic and a reading list will be posted when available). One result is that many opportunities for classroom-based projects might present themselves (some of which CAS might support).  We think 'learning through programming' can bring benefits but these always require observation and verification, especially in the context of a curriculum wide approach to computing.

The projects do not require a mathematical foundation on the part of either the teacher or the student although there is some straightforward arithmetic and logic. The arithmetic is simple but important and mostly involves counting and indexing - a kind of 'librarian's arithmetic'. There are no equations. As for logic, there too the concepts are straightforward involving little more than picking and comparing items, replacing and organising items, much like the kind of skills that are needed to read books and organise notes about them!

Pitched at the novice level, the word 'programming' should not be daunting. Much can be achieved with programs of twenty lines (and good data)  while providing entertaining and relevant classroom activities about language. Down the road there are more sophisticated, advanced techniques waiting where the study of language and texts can become much more linguistically analytical and statistically technical  (e.g. see NTLK

For now: the programming projects that are becoming available are: 

  • Python Word Boxes
  • Syllable Poetry with Snap!
  • Logo Word Boxes (FMSLogo)
  • Interactive Fiction with Python: The Lost Frog

For work-in-progress:    Goto: Word Boxes Website 

In addition we can also offer:

  • General introduction to Snap!
  • General introduction to Scratch
  • (i) Logo from Tot to Teen
  • (ii) Further Logo: Beyond the Turtle
  • Introduction to the Natural Language Toolkit (Python) (Summer Term 2019)
  • Reading enhancement for KS2 - KS4 with ebook readers and devices [(i) collect and organise a personal library; (ii) make and use annotation notebooks.]
  • Create ebooks from source files such as HTML, Word, Sigil (Summer Term 2019)

If any of this sounds interesting then drop a line to David Longman for more detail.