The first post in a series on using ICT to teach English. I will look at features we find in word and excel which can be used to help students explore literary texts.

Great for :



AF5 – explain and comment on writers’ use of language, including grammatical and literary features at word and sentence level

AF3 – deduce, infer or interpret information, events or ideas from texts



Evaluative vocabulary – Strength of feelings, opinions and judgments can be adjusted

through choice of vocabulary (including adjectives and adverbs) and images (E7LNG2)

Vocabulary expansion – How vocabulary choices enable greater precision, technicality and interest (E7LNG5)

Engaging with texts – Use evidence from literary texts to develop arguments that support or refute opinions on aspects of literary texts (E6LTR3)

In this post, I’m going to show you how the use of drop down fields can help students explore descriptive verbs and how the author’s choice of vocabulary is key to developing the themes or moods in a piece of writing[1]. Of course, I will also walk you through, step by step, the process required to create the drop down fields in the first place! 🙂

Start your lesson by giving your students a hard copy of the text with all of the options on show.  Ask them to circle the word which they feel is most effective.  (In the past I have given students the same text but, in groups, have given them a different effect to create – this affects their choice and can initiate some excellent conversations about the power of word choice). It is important to discuss with the students what kind of atmosphere or mood you want them to create.

Next, I’d provide the students with an interactive version.  This version is a word document which contains drop down fields.  I would invite each group of students to come to the front and manipulate the text to show the words that they have chosen.  As a whole class we can then discuss the choices they have made, discuss their effectiveness etc.  (AF5 – level 5 – Comments show some awareness of the effect of writer’s language choices, e.g. ‘“inked up” is a good way of describing how the blackberries go a bluey black colour as they ripen’)

Now give them the text that you want them to identify mood in.  Ask them to identify the writer’s view point, now, invite them to identify how the writer is creating that view through word choice.  I bet they won’t need much more help.  The results are usually fantastic – you’ve already got them warmed up!

so.. how do we create our own drop down fields?

(I am using Office 2007 – for instructions for an earlier version of office please click here)

Type in the text that you would like to use with your class; in this example I am using a chapter from the novel Skellig by David Almond.

His joints creaked as he slowly rose from the floor.  He whimpered in pain.  He leaned against us.  He tottered and wobbled as he rose.  He was taller than us, tall than Dad.  We felt how thin he was, how extraordinarily light he was.  We had our arms around him.  Our fingers touched behind his back.

In order to create drop down fields (In Office 2007 onwards) you will need to have access to the “Developers” ribbon.  You can make this appear by following the instructions below from Microsoft:

Set up Word for creating forms

  • Click the Microsoft Office Button  and then click Word Options.
  • Click Popular.
  • Select the Show Developer tab in the Ribbon check box, and then click OK.
  • Note The Ribbon is a component of the Microsoft Office Fluent user interface.

The developer toolbar which appears should then look like this:

The "Developer" ribbon in Office 2007

The purple circle indicates the area on the toolbar where you will find the fields options. We will use these icons to create the drop down fields for our exercise.

Highlight the word that you want to create a drop down field on (do this by going to the end of the word, left clicking and holding down that mouse button whilst you drag your cursor over the word) To replace that word with a drop down field simply press the briefcase with the spanner and hammer on and select the drop down field menu from the panel that appears. (See image below)

The result will be that the word you highlighted will be replaced with a blank, grey box.  Double left click on this box. A menu will appear in which you can add the options that will appear in your drop down box.  Type a word that you’d like to use in the box on the top left and then press “Add” to add it to the list.  Continue this process until you have all of the words you wish to use in your list.

Add your words to the Drop Down menu

Repeat this process every time you want to insert a drop down list over a word.

You will notice that at the moment none of the field boxes are allowing you drop down anything.  This is because you have to tell the document that you have finished adding your fields and then lock them in place. Follow these instructions to complete the process and make your document ready for use:

Prepare a form to be filled out

  • On the Developer tab, in the Protect group, click Protect Document icon,  and then click Restrict Formatting and Editing.
  • In the Protect Document task pane, under Editing restrictions, select the Allow only this type of editing in the document check box.
  • In the list of editing restrictions, select Filling in forms.
  • Under Start enforcement, click Yes, Start Enforcing Protection.
  • To assign a password to the document so that only reviewers who know the password can remove the protection, type a password in the Enter new password (optional) box, and then confirm the password. Leave the boxes blank if you don’t want a password protected document.

Now that it’s all locked, when you click on the grey box you will see a small arrow appear prompting you to drop down the menu and choose. When you select one the option will replace what was there before.  Allowing you to see what the sentence might look like with that choice and to discuss and change in effect.

This is an excellent way to draw pupils’ attention to the effects that carefully chosen vocabulary can have on a narrative.

My top tips when using this in class:

  1. Always give student ‘think time’ before using the interactive version you have created.  It is important that they have had time to work out which would they would use and why.  The discussion in this lesson will become the main point of learning.
  2. Change the options by selecting one in the drop down list and discuss its effects.  Encourage students to think about the words as paints on a canvas; what picture are the words painting in the readers mind.  I.e. If we choose limped or tiptoed how much information is that giving us than the word “walked”
  3. Get the students to demonstrate.  I often ask on student to walk across the room and pretend to get agitated telling them “not like that – you know walk…” then as they get annoyed with me I ask them what information they need and they always tell me “well how do you want me to walk?” at which point we can change the word to tiptoe, creep etc.

There are lots of different ways you can use this method too:

  • A Simple close exercises with multiple choice
  • Try changing the Mood of a standard piece of writing by changing some options then look at a piece of writing and ask the students to identify how the author creates mood and atmosphere with language
  • To explore word level language features of any kind.

Experiment and be creative !

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Teacher Technologies. Teacher Technologies said: Just written a new post on using drop down fields in word to teach literature. Full instructions included! […]

  2. Micaela 2 weeks ago

    Wow! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a totally different subject
    but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Great choice of colors!

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