Alternatives to Sparklebox

Remove Sparklebox Toolbar, how and why 3

Are you worried about how to remove the Sparklebox tool bar?

Remove Sparklebox toolbar – via @mikemcsharry

Do you have the Sparklebox toolbar on your school laptop? I know lots of teachers still do despite all the warnings about the site. I also know that removing toolbars can be a bit daunting. I found a resource via  a Twitter conversation the other day that makes it much easier and explains just why you should.

You can download this pdf file (sparklebox notes march2011) mentioned in this tweet and use it to help you (or your technician) remove it. Mike includes quotes from several LEAs who are blocking the site in his blog post Sparklebox Removal

I hope most teachers now understand just why the site is banned by so many local authorities but if you are not sure then have a look at this from the BBC. There seems to be no evidence that the ownership of the site has changed recently, despite several rumours to that effect.

Of course we all get tempted to install things we probably shouldn’t, especially when they offer us incentives. It is worth remembering that if something seems to be free then access to your information is often the hidden price. That is why I think it is important to use trustworthy sites for free resources. This PDF will help you, or your technician if you are lucky enough to have one, to fully remove the toolbar.

As for where to find good quality free resources from trustworthy CRB checked sites have a look at the rest of the articles in this series Alternatives to Sparklebox and if there are some you’d like to add just leave them in the comments and I’ll link to them here:

Alternatives to Sparklebox wiki page


Display Resources for Role Play Areas 1

Display resources for role play

In my series Alternatives to Sparklebox I’ve mainly concentrated on downloadable resource suppliers but sometimes the best plan can be to buy high quality pre-printed resources and these can be very hard to find.

UPDATE: Sadly this site is no longer active. What a shame!

Recently I was lucky enough to be contacted by Lucy from She said:

easypeasyclassroom was established 2 years ago by myself, and my partner julie. Julie has been a primary school teacher for 15 years. She told me it was really hard to find good, inspirational classroom resources that didn’t take a huge amount of time to prepare. As I had married into the printing business we set about setting up a company, with our main aim being ” to reduce preparation time for teachers” .

One of our products is role play sets, in a coated card for indoor use, and on plastic for outdoor use, all products we produce have a classroom life of at least 4 years so that teachers don’t have to re-print, re-laminate etc every year and it helps them to reduce paper and card waste. (the outdoor sets can be left outside in any weather)

Our sets include Fire Station, Building site, Garden Centre, Post office etc.  Please have a look at our website at

Of course I was delighted when Lucy went on to offer me a set of their banners to review for the Classroom Displays blog. The banners and word card sets arrived beautifully packaged just a day or two later. A parcel arrived

The kind of resources that is simply is not worth trying to make yourself

These banners and vocabulary word sets are really splendid. These are a  perfect example of the kind of resources that is simply is not worth trying to make yourself. Something like the building site set, which is very strong and robust is going to last for years. Even with the best will in the world you would be unable to make anything to this standard with normal school equipment.

Reasonably priced ready to use resources for indoor or out

The sets are very reasonably priced too. The can be ordered in an indoor or outdoor version, making them perfect for outdoor learning areas.

The indoor sets are lovely and are printed onto strong yet flexible card. Easypeasyclassroom say that their resources have an average classroom life of at least 4 years.

The Builder’s Set is only £7 for the indoor version but I’d really go for the outdoor plastic version at £20. (All prices + p&p). The set comes with 10 word cards and one large banner. The outdoor banners and word cards are printed on to a weatherproof, wipe clean, plastic. They are extremely durable yet still thin enough to staple or hole punch so that you can attach to fences with staples, string or wire. A low melt glue gun can be used to attach banners to a dry brick wall.
The banners all have an intensity of colour and there has been a real attention to detail. The Post Office set is much more realistic than others I have seen. Using exactly the right colour and font might seem like an insignificant detail but it can really help to create just the right atmosphere in a role play area. post office role play area

The site sells other display and visual timetable resources. (Those are so good they are going to get another post all of their own!)

One more thing. I found some shocking stats on their site about the amount of printing and paper waste that goes on is schools. Just look at this:

In 2007 WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program) commissioned a ‘WastesWork’ report to analyse the waste produced in our primary schools. They found that our primary schools produced approximately 186,500 tons in England. That’s 45kg/pupil/year. More than 30% of this is paper and card.

It doesn’t even try to address how much is spent on coloured ink for displays. It might be worth thinking about that before you print off another set of fancy letters for your next display.

Alternatives to Sparklebox – part 3 6

Alternatives to Sparklebox – Part 3. Click through to read Part 1 and Part 2.  In Part 4  I’ll cover some of the smaller sites you might find useful. I am also preparing an ebook of all these posts which will be available as a free download to subscribers to my new Classroom Displays newsletter (coming soon!).

“Do you know of any alternatives to Sparklebox ?”- this subject still keeps coming up in my email, in direct messages on twitter and in face to face INSET days.

This series of posts has been one of the most popular I have ever run on this blog so here are three more alternatives to Sparklebox.

Just a word of advice first. Please remember the best  alternative for learning is usually to produce your own resources with the children. Save these ready made resources for when times are hard and you really need the help.

First up is Early Learning HQ and Poster Play, two projects from Peter Samuel. Peter is keen to provide resources that are different and perhaps a little less ‘kitsch’ than some commonly in use. Although his background is not in education he’s guided by his Mum, an experienced early years teacher. Peter says:

My name is Peter Samuel. After finishing a masters degree in law a couple of years ago I decided that rather than pursue a career in the legal profession I would start a printing and design business (a bit of a departure I know). In order to expand this business I have created two websites aimed at the early years sector and Both sites were created with the input of my mother who is an experienced early years teacher, but the design work is all mine. Poster-play was created in order to provide a solution for early years practitioners who need a cost effective way of providing large, laminated banners for inside and outside the classroom. There is a particular focus on creating educational and inspiring role-play backdrops. This site complements ELHQ which offers hundreds of free foundation stage and key stage one resources. These resources are completely free, however if visitors require any of them printed and laminated in a larger size they can arrange this through poster-play for a very reasonable price.

ELHQ was created following the demise of Sparklebox. I felt that following the appalling actions of its creator, there would be a need for an alternative. I also felt that  despite its popularity there were many problems with the site, both in terms of its design and the quality of some of its resources. In particular I felt that many of the resources are purely decorative and lack educational value. I have tried to avoid this by concentrating on quality rather than quantity. I have also tried to give the site a fun yet professional and grown up feel. When putting together the design I wanted it to be clean, easy to navigate and free from gimmicks.

Whilst I want my site to be used as extensively as possible, I am aware that there is a danger that all classrooms end up looking the same. As such I encourage visitors to create their own unique resources using the pictures that I have drawn and the many photographs I have accumulated (all of which are contained in the photos and illustrations section of my site). Moreover, I have also tried to create many editable Microsoft Word resources as well as PDFs. Finally, it might be worth noting that I intend to translate many of my resources in to several different languages (although this is a long term project).

Next up is Pencil Street. I’m really glad to be able to feature them as their resources are quite special. They use lots of high quality stock photos in the resources and this attention to realism makes their resources shine out. They have an active Facebook presence as well as their website and they do seem very keen to talk to their customers.

pencil st

Karl Jenkins, the Managing Director says:

Pencil Street is not one person but a team of dedicated people who all work extremely hard to make the product work. I may be Pencil Street’s Managing Director and the person who set up the company, but without the team there is no company.

I formerly managed an aviation software company until six years ago – when I realised I had missed my true vocation and I became a teaching assistant at my daughter’s school. Currently I am midway through a degree to become a teacher, with several qualifications in primary support, focusing on children with special educational needs. In June 2009 I secured a BIS Enterprise Loan to establish Pencil Street, which launched in December 2009. Nine months on and we have 14,000 members in 124 countries, who have performed some 80,000 downloads. There are currently 8 members of staff plus a dog called Merlin.

I’m often asked what makes Pencil Street the company it is and I believe it comes down to three main principles.
The first is that all our resource designers work in schools or nurseries and have many years of teaching experience. We are lucky that one of our staff is a former head teacher.
Secondly, I have always insisted that the resources at Pencil Street must be of a very high quality. They are relevant, varied, engaging, beautifully produced and all go through a triple check process.  Relevant means following the curriculum and expanding upon it.
Thirdly, I believe in the use of ‘real life images’ where applicable, these are bought under licence from photographic agencies. Whilst this is highly expensive practice, it adds another dimension to the resources, benefiting the children using them.  (Note: We do use Pencil Street cartoon characters for some early years resources)

Our wealth of expertise, across Early Years, KS1, KS2, modern teacher training and business acumen, provides the professionalism teachers expect and most importantly the classroom displays, worksheets and activities they need. Obviously all our teaching staff have CRB checks through their current schools.

The site is always going to be work in progress. We started with the basics and have expanded outward. Currently we are working on Geography, SEN, R.E., Citizenship and a new Role Play category; plus some very popular requests from our members. In truth we are always working on every section, as our work is never finished.

Finally in this section I’d like to introduce I was a huge fan of this site when I was a TA (cough – that’s quite a long time ago!) and the resources are still excellent. Lots of the resources are suitable for use in mainstream classes so don’t be put off by the SEN tag.

Simon Evans who runs the site says:

I have a popular and all-free teaching resources site @
It targets Special Needs teachers but gets a lot of use from the Primary Sector also – the most popular resources are user-editable templates to produce worksheets, certificates and manipulatives but I also have several resources for display and classroom organisation purposes. The site also has a bit of free educational software, some search tools and a SEN links collection – all focused on stuff which is free, creative commons etc
The site has been going since 2000 – I was a Special Needs Teacher until 2001, but now work as a research developer. I’m freelance but have been retained at 50% for the past 8 years by the Rix Centre @ University of East London who will act as referee – I work mostly on research projects around Web, software and multimedia with adults who have intellectual and cognitive disabilities and am therefore regularly CRB Checked under Enhanced Disclosure [my homepage for this work is]. Since leaving teaching I have kept SEN Teacher running with my other half who is still a specialist language/autism teacher.

Watch out for Part 4 in November.

Sparklebox Alternatives – part 2 8

Sparklebox Alternatives is Part 2 in an ongoing series on the blog. Read Part 1

“Do you know of any alternatives to Sparklebox ?”- this subject still keeps coming up in my email, in direct messages on twitter and in face to face INSET days.

Here are 3 more useful sites for classroom display resources:

Mrs Pancake

Wonderful, creative, useful and very helpful the team at Mrs Pancake are a great source of interesting and innovative display materials. I have written about their resources before and they just keep getting better! They ask for a donation of between £0:50 and £1:50 for their downloads and use an honour system. There is no need to sign up or sign in. The site uses some advertising.

Mrs Pancake was created in a small design studio in Belfast, founded by a husband and wife team. Until recently we also worked as volunteer youth workers so we have full POCVA (Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults) checks. There are now three of us working as professional illustrators, designers, webby types, animators, consultants… we’re multi-taskers here.
We call ourselves a Responsible Design partnership which means we think and design for businesses and non-profits who share our passion for creativity, design thinking, transparency, responsibility in business and creating organisations with a positive net effect. We love what we do and it shows.
We have a passion for creating great educational experiences for tiny people and many of the projects we work on have an education slant. For example we helped BBC Northern Ireland and Sesame Workshop create an online world for Sesame Tree – the Northern Irish Sesame Street spin-off. This has been hailed as a huge success and schools across Northern Ireland use the resource as part of the curriculum.
We have also developed A wonderful Story – a children’s book and animation that teaches the benefit of seeing good in others and passing on encouragement. This is also being used throughout classrooms in  Northern Ireland as part of the Personal Development curriculum.
Mrs Pancake was born out of the frustration of lack of good quality classroom resources. We have a lot of teacher friends and enjoyed helping them make their classrooms more enjoyable places for their pupils. When we kept getting more and more requests we thought that it was finally time to put our resources online for any teacher to download freely and Mrs Pancake was created.
It has been a real labour of love, we run a busy studio so Mrs Pancake gets tended to during lunchtimes and spare moments. We love hearing the feedback though and we get to illustrate elves and monkeys and test out our craft ideas so we love our Mrs P times!
Heather, Pete and Karys

Primary School Teaching

Update – no longer available. This was a rather different sort of site. Primary School Teaching was based on resource sharing. Teachers contribute resources and earn a share in the advertising revenue based on the number of times their resource page is viewed. It’s early days for the site but there is some promising sharing going on. John and Lydia are young, energetic and committed.

John and I run the site together. John does all the technical work and I market the site and provide resources for it. I am a trainee primary teacher currently studying at York St John University.
Primary School Teaching is a free service for teachers to share their lesson plans and resources. Not only can you access resources easily but you can edit other people’s resources to improve them and keep them up to date.

Primary Technology is a young, energetic company with a range of skills covering almost all areas of ICT in primary education. Since 2004, we have provided onsite ICT services to primary schools in Yorkshire which has helped us to develop a company-wide expertise in the primary education sector.

We use our expertise to develop new and innovative hosted services for education, with a focus on web 2.0 and collaborative learning.

Primary School Teaching is a social networking and resource sharing site made exclusively for Primary School Teachers.

We also welcome other members of staff working in Primary Schools who may also find Primary School Teaching a valuable resource.

Primary School Teaching is a platform for sharing and ranking teaching resources and ideas. It allows teachers to communicate effectively in a collaborative environment, working to create exciting and engaging teaching.


Teachable is another teacher resource sharing site. This time it is not free but charges a small fee, half of which is paid to the teacher responsible for the resource.  The resources are mostly worksheets and lesson plans at the moment but it’s worth keeping a look out for displays stuff, or even contributing your own! All the resources are checked and vetted before they are approved but I’ll let Edward explain more:

‘Heroic’ is a word that applies to many of our teachers, and often their efforts go unsung and unsupported. Providing access to cost-effective top-quality resources is Teachable’s mission is to enhance education quality and to empower teachers who in turn empower our children.Teachers can browse and search for relevant resources matched to a subject, topic, age group and ability level.  By encouraging teacher feedback, and providing easy previews, makes it as quick as possible to find the best material.  A continuing flow of new resources is sourced from contributing teachers (over 500 so far) earning a half share of all revenue we make from their files.  We now have over 200 files for KS1 and nearly 1000 for KS2.

Teachable Ltd is a social enterprise, funded by private capital but with a specific commitment to use funds to improve teachers working lives, and reinvest a share of revenue in the teaching community.  It does not receive government grants or charitable handouts, but instead exists by charging schools and end-users for the content they use.  The founders believe in a fair, efficient and sustainable way to deliver educational materials in the Internet age.

Edward Upton founded Teachable at the age of 27, with a passion to improve the way the internet is helps teachers’ teach.  Edward wrote his first educational software aged 12, and has first-hand experience of using self-service educational materials when he taught himself GCSEs from home.  He is a scientist by nature, and youth winner of the Royal Society Gold Award for Biology.  Edward is happily married and CRB checked!

So there you are 3 more great alternatives to Sparklebox for you to check out. Watch out for another post in this series soon!

Alternatives to Sparklebox-part 1 17

Alternatives to Sparklebox

“Do you know of any alternatives to Sparklebox ?”– this subject keeps coming up in my email, in direct messages on twitter and in face to face INSET days. Teachers and teaching assistants are determined to find other sites to meet the need for pre-prepared classroom displays resources. Although they want to have free to use, high quality resources, they are wary this time. Many of us, including me, took Sparklebox’s creator at face value and a salutary lesson about internet safety has been learned. I’ve written about this need for trusted sites for resource sharing in more depth for Sharing Good Practice but my intention on the blog is to explore in a weekly series of posts some of the Sparklebox alternatives that are springing up.

This week I’m going to look at 2 very new sites and an old favourite that deserves to be better known. The first 2 are Twinkl and Teacher’s Pet. The resources they provide look excellent and certainly more stylish than anything in Sparklebox.  The final site is Teaching Ideas, which is more of a hub for contributions from many teachers rather than a set of resources with a single graphic vision. In the interests of transparency I’ve asked each of the site owners to explain a bit about themselves and their reasons for setting up their sites. Perhaps if we know who people are and a little more about them we can start to re-build trust.



My full name is Jonathan Seaton. I’m heavily involved in youth work too, so have a full CRBs and everyone who works with us has at least one too.

We’d love to share our story so far and vision moving forward – we’re very excited!

Twinkl is a team made up of both primary teachers and those with a passion for ICT and technology in education. We know through our own experience what a demanding and intensive profession teaching is. Like many others, we were appalled at the Sparklebox situation and wanted to make a difference for all those who could not access the resources they needed. We believe that it is one thing to complain about it, but quite another to get up and do something. So, that’s what we decided to do!

We have got a great many ideas for the future, but are always lead by those who support us and provide us with ideas. For the moment, we are 100% focused on producing a range of high quality resources for the early years and KS1. Our concept was, and always will be, to produce high quality resources with sound educational value.

Hope this is ok – thought we’d speak from the heart 🙂


The site looks good so far but it is obviously early days. There are not many classroom displays resources on the site yet but indications are good and what is there is high quality. Jonathan and his team do seem to be committed to answering requests for resources so why not give them a try?

Twinkl Bright Resources for Bright Teachers.

Teachers Pet

My names Christina Mountford. I’ve been both a Teacher, Teaching assistant and ASD behaviour specialist for over 8 years now. I’m currently still teaching full time in Newcastle-under-lyme and am somehow managing to squeeze it all in. I have a reception class who keep me on my toes and everyday inspire me with new resource ideas.
Jason Loftus AKA Flashjunkie as he is known in cyber space, my partner in crime has been building flash websites for around 4 years, not only is he a flash coding genius he’s a comical genius too, without his sense of humour I think I would have given up on this project not long after it got going.

After the Sparklebox disaster I came home from school and said to my partner (the guy responsible for building me the fantastic site) “wouldn’t it be great to build our own resource website, you could make the site and I could make the resources”. That was just over 2 and half months ago and now here we are. We launched April 14th, surprisingly without any glitches and since then its been go go go.

The Teachers Pet name was born from our own pooch Benji (a 1 year old German shepherd). He’s been our logo inspiration. Now named “Dexter”-a name given to us by one of our fans from a “name the pooch” competition we ran via facebook prior to launch.

I taught myself to use illustrator during this time (this is an ongoing thing, I learn something new everyday). From illustrator I then create PDFs which teachers can then come along and download.Jason is working alongside me to help create Interactive whiteboard resources that teachers again will be able to use for free.
It was a struggle to launch in time and our blood, sweat and tears have certainly gone into it, but looking at it now we feel proud to have accomplished something (not half bad) in such a short space of time. This is by far the most complex site Jay has built to date and he has lots of plans for expansion in the near future, including a members area where people can bookmark resources, free music for the classroom and a few other surprises.

I’ve always been very creative, enjoying making/building things so being able to do that now within my passion for teaching is great! I’m just here to try and make life a little easier for teachers and their assistants, originally aiming at the UK (teachers), however its seems people from all over the globe are finding our site really useful, even parents which is great news!

Teacher’s Pet looks slightly more established but was only officially launched on April 14th. The site has some excellent resources with currently 171 free PDFs. The resources I looked at were bright, colourful and very practical. At the moment most of the resources are for KS1. Save yourself time when browsing if a category has a picture of the dog then there is nothing in it yet. However they are keen to expand their range and are actively seeking to respond to requests.

The site does have one problem. Their chosen name is also being used by another, older site that provides software for teachers. The one you need is :

Teacher’s Pet

Teaching Ideas

Teaching Ideas  offers free ideas, activities and resources for teachers to use in their classrooms. It was first set up in 1998 and originally became popular with primary teachers, but there are now increasing numbers of resources for secondary teachers too. The site was created by Mark Warner, a primary teacher in Kent, and has grown into a collection of thousands of resources, which have been contributed by teachers from around the world. All of the ideas and resources are labeled with age ranges, and are organised according to their subject and topic. A new ‘Themes’ area is currently being developed, offering cross-curricular ideas and resources based around particular themes. Teaching Ideas has a number of sister sites:

* Teaching Photos – A gallery of photographs, offering teachers inspiration for their own displays.
* Teaching News – Find out about the latest education news, links and resources with this blog, which is updated daily.
* Teaching Videos – Discover educational videos to use in your lessons, all organised by subject / topic and age range.

Compared to the first 2 sites Teaching Ideas is a massive resource collection. As the site has been in existence for 12 years I am always amazed when people don’t know about it. Just recently Mark allowed me to add some excellent Romans resources to a CD I produced for Classroom Displays INSET days. Although the site is huge it is easy to search with google and it is always worth browsing the latest uploads. These are teacher created and shared resources so they are always practical. However, artistic quality can vary and you need to decide what will look good in your classroom.

Teaching Ideas

More Alternatives to Sparklebox Next Week

This is just the first part of a weekly series of posts reviewing the alternatives to Sparklebox that are springing up and reminding you of some older sites you might have missed.

Are there any sites you would like me to look into? Leave a note in the comments and I’ll see what I can do