Creating Visuals with Canva

Creating Visuals with Canva

Our Classroom Expectations Poster; Created in Canva

Canva’s infographic template (see how many there are to get you started on the left). We used this template as a model for our own Science Unit on Climate Change.

Canva is a brilliant online graphics program that has both free and paid elements available. It has significantly changed the way my 5th graders create and design visuals. It’s also great for the classroom teacher to use as well from eye-catching posters to labels for baskets to informative (& not boring) notices for parents! This tool has become our number 1 go to tool for visuals now as it’s ease of use allows students to spend more time on the creative process and less time on “learning” or “mastering” the tool and all it’s effects.

How Does it Work in the Classroom?

Each student can create a student account. (I’m lucky that my students have their own school email accounts). Alternative solutions: Canva offers the option of using your google account to log in – so if you’re school is using google docs (but doesn’t have the gmail “switched” on for students – this is the perfect alternative!  No google accounts? Consider asking parents at the beginning of the year if all students can create a gmail account or have an email account – I’d do this at a back to school night or create some sort of informative presentation for parents to watch that explains how useful having an email account will be for the year and how we plan to use it and how you’ll be teaching students to use their email account responsibly and respectfully. I’ve done this before, and parents have been very receptive to the idea especially after having the “why” explained to them. Having an email account to sign up for online accounts has been invaluable for my students each year.

Once students are logged in, they can decide on the type of layout and/or size of the layout before beginning the design process. Canva makes this very easy by providing standard templates for brochures, posters, book covers, logos and so much more!  There’s even the ability to create a custom size for the occasional odd-sized project. Next students select a template to use or simply create a new image from scratch.  Some templates, icons and photos cost money, but there are plenty of amazing FREE elements to create dynamic visuals without the need to spend any extra $$!

Canva makes the next step of adding photos, texts, and graphics very simple. It’s a drag and drop method. (I’m thinking this would be super easy for Grade 2-3 students – so please leave a comment if you have tried it with them!) It’s also quite easy to add photos from your own computer or from Canva’s own database (again— not all are free), text, borders, shapes, and other graphics to create the perfect visual for a project.

What’s great for students is that Canva automatically saves creations so that you can go back to them at any time to revise or re-download as needed. When students have finished a project, they can select “download” and this saves the image to use in whatever context needed. This feature was exceptional for our student blogs! Thanks to Canva, my students are able to create professional images super easy!


Handy Graphic Design Learning

Canva has a Graphic Design Tutorials section (the link is at the bottom left after you sign in). From Getting Started with Canva Essentials to Backgrounds, Fonts and Colours – there’s even a section on Branding!  You can also speed up your design process with Advanced Tips – Canva Shortcuts Part 1 and Part 2 as well as Canva Tips and Tricks. As a class we made our way through the mini-challenges – learning through doing – it was a perfect way to learn together and from each other.  I grouped the students in fours and set them a tutorial to watch together. It was their job to “master” the learning in the tutorial so that they could “teach” another group of 4 what they learned. During this time, I assessed my students on their collaboration skills and kept an eye out for my techxperts for Canva. I chose tutorials that taught students about design and layouts rather than the “how to use” Canva tutorials. Canva is so user-friendly that 5th graders easily worked out how to drag and drop, change fonts, colours etc so we didn’t need to teach each other these skills.

Ways We’ve Used Canva in the Classroom


Books, blogs, projects, or portfolios (in print or electronic).  Using the optional templates provided by Canva shows students (and teachers) how to most effectively display key information in order to communicate the topic while also grabbing attention.



I’m a huge fan of infographics because they have the ability (when done well) to present visually appealing key concepts and information on various topics. I’ve starting to use Infographics as a way to assess student understanding of key concepts and facts in various subjects or at least having it as an option of a way that students can present their key ideas, learning and/or understandings on a topic. Canva provides templates that are very user-friendly in order to do this.  I love having a different & creative way to assess student learning.

Charts and Graphs

Do your students need to make any graphs and charts in order to measure, synthesize, analyze, or showcase information?  Mine do all the time – especially in Maths. Canva has several options that are visually appealing and at the same time provide effective visuals of measurable information.  After using the chart feature in Excel and Google’s Sheets, Canva’s charts are graphs were super EASY!

Photo Collages

By far one of the most popular uses in our classroom! Photo collages have been part of presentations to blogs to portfolios to projects.  There are several photo collage templates that make it easy to create stunning photo collections that really make an impact.  5th Graders loved these templates because they were all drag-and-drop style, so arranging and organizing information visually is very easy for them.

Our #thankful for project was a fun favourite – many students uploaded their own images, to make stunning, thought-provoking #thankful for collages. We didn’t print them out – just displayed them on screens and did a gallery walk when we were ready to present.  This project was also a writing unit – before the students used Canva to create their #thankful for collage, they had to explain in writing why they were thankful for the things that made it into the collage. Limiting the collage to 3 images only help produce some amazing collages and even more amazing writing.

Google Search Magic

Google Search Magic

I don’t think I’ll ever escape the wonderment and awe of using google to help create, fix or do something that you have absolutely no idea how to AND having it work! It’s a real sense of achievement that you figured it out – but it wouldn’t be possible without some good ol’ google search magic!

I’ve been manually updating my CV for quite some time now – a rather laborious but necessary task in my line of work! I knew that I could embed my google doc (where I have my CV for easy updating). When I first tried the obvious embed of going to the google doc, click publish to the web, copy embed code, paste code in Text editor on blog. Well, yes, that worked BUT it was too small and of course there’s no way to edit iframe code! (Apparently you can but this chick doesn’t know how to do that and it looked way complicated with javascript blah, blah, blah!)

Enter (Insert saviour music) Google Search to the rescue! You totally hummed dah, dahdah, dah, dah, dah dah dahhh didn’t you?? In less than 3 seconds I had a recommended plug in (well two actually), Google Apps Login & Google Drive Embedder.

Although I wasn’t really after the Google Apps Login bit, I quickly discovered that without it, the Google Drive Embedder (which I really wanted) wouldn’t work!  After installing the plugins & activating them in my wordpress blog, I got a nifty little message pointing me to instructions to set everything up.  (Love that!)

Google Embedder Plugin

Those instructions included a video option if preferred but I just followed the written instructions. Less than 10 minutes later, wa-lah, CV embedded beautifully!  (Note Jan 2018: I have since updated my website and no longer use the embedded google doc for my CV)

Thanks Google! Thanks WordPress Plugins Installer!  Nicely done! (Insert little fist pump to myself!)


Google Search Image: Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons

Search Engines for Kids

Over the past few days I’ve been working with Grade 4 students who are either creating Top Ten Lists (and requiring more research information to justify their top ten) or are researching topics for their Non-Fiction Feature Articles in Writers Workshop.  In order to find (and evaluate – that’s next week’s focus) information on the web, we looked a few different Search Engines for Kids.

Before we even got started with Search Engines, I needed to make sure that the students  understood a little more about how search engines work. We watched the video below from the very good Common Craft Plain English series on Web Search – Strategies in Plain English

Next, I introduced four different Search Engines especially designed for Kids.  Each one offers something different from the other, so we talked about how there is never a search engine that’s perfect for every search we will ever do in our learning!

Librarians, teachers and parents have told us how hard it is for students to understand web searching. Boolify helps students bridge that gap by visualizing the process and letting students interact with the abstract concept behind the search process in a tangible and hands-on way.

SquirrelNet is a kids only search engine that has Google SafeSearch activated. From the homepage itself, you can also access the Google directory of websites relevant for children.

Dib Dab Doo & Dilly Too!
The search engine is again based on Google Custom Search and it tries to keep the content as children friendly as possible.

Kids Click!
A web search site designed for kids by librarians – with kid-friendly results!

For the classroom teacher, I left these resources also for them to introduce to their students over the next few days.

Search Engines for Kids
– and what they search –

No Search Engine is entirely 100% safe. Custom search helps to keep out a lot of unsavory links, but it is definitely not foolproof. Most of the search engines for kids also display ads with some undesirable ones sneaking in. Parental control software in combination with these search engines can help to keep children shielded from the bad side of the web. It is a tough battle but at least with these sites, parents and teachers can worry a little less.

As with any use of technology, our lesson included strategies for what to do when the “undesirables” sneak in.  Although I “modelled” good and bad examples of what to do when faced with something “icky” (for the sake of time as I only had a 45 minute slot) – if I was to do it differently – I’d have the students work in pairs and come up with little demos of what not to do (scream at the top of your lungs) and what to do (lower your lid and raise your hand).  Kids seem to love it when I model the “what-not-to-do” examples!

Information also adapted from: Make Use Of: 10 Search Engines for Kids with Safe Browsing

Using Cooliris Express

Today I’ve been playing around with Cooliris Express trying to create a 3-D photo wall to embed in my blog.  The cool thing about this photowall is that it will update as pictures are added to my flickr photostream. For the photowall below, I’m using the 366 2012 set to pull photos for the Cooliris Express. I think for another wall, I will use “cooliris” as a tag for the photos I want to be picked up by the feed.

It is possible to pull content, not only from flickr, but from picassa, facebook, YouTube and Media RSS.  You can customize a few things in your 3-D photo wall such as colour, how many rows of photos (1-5) and there’s a choice of 6 themes for your photo wall.

It’s relatively simple to set up (log into Cooliris Express using your facebook or google account) and you can save your wall.  Filtering is easy too as you can name a particular set or tag of photos you want displayed on your blog.   As I write this, I’m just wondering if you can embed the 3-D wall in the sidebar – I guess you can but it would be pretty small, and I kinda like the flickr app I already have in my sidebar.


Since we’ve just returned from a fabulous first ever trip to the South Island, what better subject with stunning photos to try out PhotoPeach.  And I’m impressed.


It’s FREE, and super easy to use. (Grade 5’s will find this a breeze).  You have the option of choosing from the generous list of free audio for background sound or you can upload your own music.  You can’t record voice audio each photo but you could record your voice using GarageBand (macs) or Audacity (PCs) as you have your PhotoPeach story playing (so you get the timing right).  You would have to forfeit the background music option though.  The sharing options include Facebook, Twitter (url), html code (for embedding in blogs) MySpace, email or Copy Link.  Images can be added from your computer, Picasa, Facebook or Flickr.

I really like the editing feature – you can edit captions, add photos, swap the order of photos etc even after you’ve published it – when you’re working with students I think this option is a must – since it provides an opportunity for students to evaluate, reflect and then make improvements (if necessary) to their work without having to start again.

Use in the Classroom
I will introduce PhotoPeach to my class at the beginning of the year (August 2009) using it as a way for them to introduce themselves to me and the rest of class.  I’d have them take photos to represent themselves, (no identifying photos, since we will be sharing the stories on our blogs).

It’s a presentation tool to be added to our classroom “toolbox” for digital storytelling.

Steps to Setting Up a Story
PhotoPeach - Home - Updates

At moment due to a problem with permissions, flickr is not available (not sure if that’s a problem with me or with PhotoPeach).  I used the photos in my facebook album first.

PhotoPeach - Create New Slideshow

PhotoPeach - Create New Slideshow

I found the adding the captions easy at first, but when I wanted no caption I wasn’t sure if missing a line would result in no caption. (Someone else can try this). It was much easier to add/edit captions after I was finished.

First South Island Visit on PhotoPeach - free photo slideshows with music

Using the editing option I was able to add in more photos (from my computer this time) adjust the speed (slower) and edit the captions.

First South Island Visit on PhotoPeach - free photo slideshows with music

VoiceThread as a Digital Portfolio

I have written about the possibilities with VoiceThread before. More recently, I have been tweeting about using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio for our Student-Led Conferences this semester.

In the past, my students have used Photostory3 to show and talk about their learning as a starting point for their Student Led Conference with their parents.  I’m now teaching in a mac school so Photostory3 was not an option.  After considering iMovie (and all of it’s amazing features) I felt that it had too many features that might be distracting for what I wanted.  The ease at which a mac allows you to record your voice, and video using the inbuilt webcam and mic was still going to be the foundation of recording our learning but I still needed to find a suitable platform.  A wiki was a consideration and then the brainwave of a VoiceThread Digital Portfolio appeared in my head late one night!

The more I considered VoiceThread, the more it’s interactive features appealed to me.  Using Photostory3 meant a final product. Nothing more added, no room for comment by parents and unless you sent the exported movie file, or embedded it on a wiki, no way for other family members in different parts of the country or in other parts of world, to see it.

Using VoiceThread was easy!  We’ve already used it several times this year, so the “tool” and how to use it was already established.  Here is the step by step organisation we used to complete a digital portfolio for each student in Room202.

Step 1: Sign up students for an individual account each in VoiceThread.

(We used an email that did not technically exist – but not gmail with + because that won’t work – The email address isn’t required to gain the password – which means the email does not have to exist – BUT you must remember it to be able to sign in)

Step 2: Brainstorm with students what they think needs to go into their portfolios.

Guiding questions:  What will my parents want to see?  What will my parents want to know about?

With very little guidance from me, students listed subject areas (Reading, Math, etc) along with how I’m doing socially, what my work habits are like, what I need to improve, what I can do well, PLUS some things that I’d really like to share with my parents because I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

Step 3: Take the required photos. Upload to VoiceThread.  Take picture of self (using photobooth) and change avatar. Add teacher’s email address to contacts and share VoiceThread with teacher.  (This is how I could keep track of who was getting behind in their time management)

The only rule about photos was that ALL images had to be taken by Room202.  No google images allowed, no images from creative commons – but students could use any of the photos from our flickr account that had been taken during class activities during the year.  We talked about parents wanting to see their child (not someone else in the class) and own work captured (not someone elses) and how the image should relate to what you were talking about.  A checklist was introduced so that tracking what images were still required was easier.

Step 4: Write the script.

A prompt booklet with sentence starters in it was handed to each student – to encourage students to talk about their learning rather than what they were doing.  This was by far the area that required the most amount of modeling and took the most amount of time for students and the teacher!  I did set one script on a topic per night as homework to get things moving along.

Most students, in their first draft just talked about things like what they had read, or how a reading workshop session might go, or the celery experiment we did in class, rather than what they were actually learning to do and how well they thought they had done it, or what they might do better next time.

A second column was added to the checklist so that students knew which scripts had been written and checked off by me, ready for recording.

Step 5: Record Script

After gaining a check off from me, students were then able to record their script on the appropriate page.  I’m amazed at how considerate the class was – we did most of the recording in class, with a handful going to the teamroom next door if they had many scripts to record at once.  A simple “Quiet please, recording” and a “thank you” when finished – ensured that no-one had background chatter in their voicethread.  Everyone was respectful and quiet during a recording time (the only odd interuption was, of course, the bell!!)  Of course, using the inbuilt features of our macs meant that we needed no extra equipment other than our laptops!

Step 6: Reflect and Revise.
Listen to full VoiceThread, redo any pages where voice level was too quiet or too loud.  Hand in completed Checklist to teacher.  Using publishing options and playback options make changes to allow parents to see finished portfolio.

Now that Student-Led Conferences are finished, I can share with you all the resounding success of using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio.  Parental feedback so far has been how impressed they were with the effort from their children and how enjoyable it was to hear their own child speak about their learning in a clear and confident manner.  Being an International School, the majority of parents were thrilled to hear how easy it was going to be to share the VoiceThread with family and friends in different parts of the world.  Most agreed that being able to share with grandparents was a highlight.  Some dads weren’t able to make the actual conference due to work commitments so it was great that those students were able to go home and share this portfolio online with them.  One dad was actually in another country and was going to be watching the portfolio in his hotel room that night.

ESL students were most successful with their portfolios too and were encouraged to communicate with their parents in English and their native tongue.  This was much appreciated by parents and meant that family members around the world could understand what was being said.

I am incredibly proud of ALL my students and the effort that they put into their portfolios.

My Reflection: What would I do differently next time?

  • Swap Step 3 & 4 around.  To help students avoid talking about the image (therefore only talking about the “doing” rather than the “learning”, write the script first then take an image that fits what you’re talking about.  This process of preparing portfolios made me realise that we need to have more conversations as we are learning, about what it is that we are learning, why we are learning it and how we know if we have learned it.  We have our learning intentions and success criteria plastered around the room, plus we write them in our books but I realised after doing these VoiceThreads – it’s not enough.  Some students still aren’t making the connections between the things we do in class and the learning that we want to occur.  I’m really bothered by that and this is something that I really want address over the rest of the semester and the years to come.
  • Keep one or two of these VoiceThreads as a model for next years class.  The need to provide modelling and good models has really made itself powerfully known to me over this past year.  Modelling is the key to great learning and success.
  • Have students create their Digital Portfolio VoiceThread at the beginning of the year.  Add to it from the beginning of 5th Grade.  Perhaps set a target of 5 pages per semester.  This would avoid students talking only about the latest things they have learnt or struggled with.