I have talked about this many times before – films are some of the most powerful resources you can use to engage children. They are amazingly effective with those often harder to reach groups….boys, EAL, SEN. I like to make collections of the films I have used that have worked across age ranges and I will share some of the best here.
I find film really useful at the start of an English unit of work to activate schema, encouraging children to bring their own experience to the text or genre that I will eventually share. Sometimes I use clips of full length films, but often it is short animations that work best.
I use the snipping tool or my smartnotebook camera to capture still images and create tick sheets of key words and corresponding pictures for those with little English so they are beginning to understand and focus upon the essential vocabulary. These pictures are also great to use to support the creative writing of those who have literacy difficulties, giving them prompts and structure for their work.
A brilliant film for assembly or a PHSCE session is ‘For the birds’, where a strange looking new bird tries to make friends with a a rather unkind flock with hilarious outcomes…
‘Defective Detective’ is great for inference. The detective’s overactive imagination leads him to believe terrible crimes are being committed in the flat above him…
‘Dangle’ is a great film for discussing ‘What would you do?’ and for using prediction…’What is at the end of the red rope?’
‘La Luna’ is a beautiful animation from Pixar that introduces the idea of mythology and how early man believed the world worked. This works well with Oliver Jeffers’ books ‘How to catch a star’ and ‘The way back home’ – ideal for a topic on stars or night time in KS1.
My absolute favourite (which I have done an entire blog post on already!) is ‘Francis’. A dark and spooky tale only suitable for the oldest KS2 children, but is fabulous at looking for the signs an author gives you to build up tension, anticipation and dread….
Following the spooky theme is ‘Alma’, which is more suitable for the rest of KS2, where spooky dolls have eyes that seem to follow you…..
‘Home Sweet Home’ is the bittersweet story of a house that longs to be elsewhere and his journey with friends across beautiful, yet rugged and host landscapes. This lends itself to creative writing and stories of epic journeys…
I will finish this post on a non-fiction note…’Dragons – a fantasy made real’ is an amazing stimulus for information texts on dragons and links beautifully to the talk for writing work of Pie Corbett…
Looking for inspiration for this year?? Teaching needs to be fun, for both teachers and pupils. An excited teacher excites the children and it makes the job so much more enjoyable. Looking for inspiration? Here are some of the most exciting and successful themes, topics and hooks I have used….
Space – it really is endless…!!
Aliens are endlessly fascinating from a friendly ‘Alien’s Love Underpants’ to the beautiful and thought-provoking video on the planet Pandora (taken from ‘Avatar’).
There are opportunities for journalistic writing with UFO sightings in newspapers and hundreds of documentaries on YouTube…
A word of caution when setting up a UFO crash sight in the playground…my previous school’s Year 6 staff were so believable a pupil (male) cried.
In an effort to try to prepare my Year 6 pupils for the high level text in the Reading SAT I have used H.G. Wells extracts from ‘The War of the Worlds’ and ‘The First Men in the Moon’ in guided reading time. Surprisingly, both were thoroughly enjoyed (I will be explaining more about the mastery approach to reading in a blog coming soon!)!
Cryptids and other mysteries….
And if you are not sure what a cryptid is think Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot…Children love monsters and mysteries. It is possible to write information texts on these weird and wonderful creatures, a bit like Pie Corbett’s Talk for Writing ‘dragons’, simply substitute one for the other.
My absolute favourite book of all time is ‘The Graveyard Book’ by Neil Gaiman.
‘When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing the entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him – after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod’s life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?’
My older pupils have always loved ghosts and vampires, witches and wizards. This book contains them all plus skillful storytelling that hooks the reader from the very first line. I generally use this with ‘The Night of the Gargoyles’ black and white picture book and give the children chance to make their own clay gargoyles.
The picture is great to use for activating schema before introducing spine-chilling books. It reminds me of the Stephen King book ‘It’ where the clown lures the children into the drains with balloons….I detest clowns!
A spooky, creepy animation which can inspire stories is ‘Alma’…
This topic also gives great opportunities for using the brilliantly tense and shadowy ‘Francis’…
If you are looking for a class novel for Year 4 or 5 and you are just about to go on residential the look no further than ‘Room 13’ by Robert Swindells….this is fabulous for ensuring that the children stay in bed at night…mwah ha ha!!
Any of this author / illustrator’s books will whisk you away to another world and inspire you to create wonderful things…
We all want somewhere to escape to where anything is possible. My favourite world to inhabit is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, but for younger pupils Narnia is a great place to start, followed by Hogworts and Middle Earth…
The Legend of King Arthur…
I have always been fascinated by the legend of King Arthur and love the Kevin Crossley-Holland books based on the life of the young king…
My son and I also enjoyed the recent BBC series ‘Merlin’ where John Hurt is the voice of the enslaved dragon. Merlin is a fascinating character who is the inspiration for many famous literary wizards e.g. Dumbledore, Gandalf and can inspire pupils to create powerful magical characters of their own.
Some of the best books to share with children ….
Hopefully there are some ideas to light your fire and keep you on your toes!!
Last week was fantastic. Why? I remembered that I have the best job ever.
I was in the midst of being smothered by the political gubbins that is being shoved in our faces… There was lot of gnashing of teeth (mine included and with good reason) and I was forgetting that I like what I do…that I love what I do. I forgot that I like to take risks when I teach, that I turn left when everyone else goes right…until I spent the day with the very special Shonette Bason-Wood. She gave me permission to be happy – it is what she does.
She told us that these constant political changes don’t mean that you can’t be exciting. It is true. I work in a school where we work really hard to just get to age related expectations, but when I enjoy it so do the children and their work reflects this.
These are the things I enjoy the most:
Play it to set the scene. I like to have a picture on the whiteboard with music to heighten mood so that when the children enter the classroom they immediately engage in learning. In school we believe every second counts. I often use ‘Pobble 365’ or some of the images on ‘The Literacy Shed’. The bonus with both of these sites is the high level questioning and writing stimulus, plus SPaG ideas that are already prepared and totally free to use. I also compulsively collect stuff to write about:
All of the ideas above take a few minutes to download. Win.
I love using the soundtrack to ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘Jurassic Park’ or ‘Harry Potter’. Each of these can be used as a stimulus for creative writing and are brilliant for changes in mood and tension building.
At the other end of the scale I use giddy music to energise – choose something that you enjoy listening to when you are getting ready to go out. Due to my age these are mainly songs from the 80s where the lyrics tend to be safe. I love Kylie – you can’t beat the old Stock, Aitken and Waterman classics!
Try a little ‘Dough Disco’ to get fingers warmed up ready for writing…
And yes I have done this with Year 6. Sometimes just wearing my Professor McGonagall hat cheers me and them right up. It also gives me permission to be someone else and tell stories that somehow seem more believable. Many times I have gone into Nursery dressed up which has led to mark-making opportunities (and a little bit of screaming!) including notes to the naughty witch and instructions on what to feed a crocodile.
Follow the children’s interests:
And yes I have done this with Year 6. Because I am a teacher I can tell a good story and given a captive audience I am in heaven! It also helps if you involve a member of staff with your fabrication (my poor Principal has seen the Loch Ness Monster, strange lights in the night sky and found a trap door that leads to an abandoned Victorian cellars beneath school).
I love teaching non-fiction texts because I use Pie Corbett’s principles of using fantasy. I have trapped dragons, persuaded Brian Cox that aliens do exist, written information texts about Bigfoot and created a travel brochure for the planet Pandora (see the brilliant video clip from Avatar).
The day your Year 6 class gets a tweet from a Bigfoot hunter in America is the best day ever! We asked various Sasquatch experts (yes they do exist!), via Twitter, what they could tell us about Bigfoot. This is what we got back…
My football-playing boys stayed in at playtime, blogging and tweeting about the potential existence of Sasquatch. It was the best two weeks of writing I have ever experienced…
We used ‘Google Earth’ to visit Ohio and imaged what it would be like to walk through the woods that Bigfoot is supposed to stalk.
I use film for teaching reading as well as writing. My first port of call is ‘The Literacy Shed’ because the collection there is vast. Again lots of the work has been done for you, questions, writing ideas, top links, age appropriateness…
I love the focus and engagement film brings, especially for my EAL pupils or those with literacy difficulties. It is a brilliant way into a text, comparing film to the written version or to activate schema before starting a new story. We discuss how to recreate the tension seen in a film on the page, how playing with the order of the sentence changes the focus of the reader and how varying sentence lengths controls the pace and rhythm of a story.
Be brave and enjoy your job.
As Shonette would say don’t let the lemon-suckers suck out your happy juice!
I am very lucky to teach a small group of lower KS2 children a few times a week for an hour. We have an absolute ball!! These children really struggle to access the curriculum in class as they have a variety of issues that means literacy is a huge struggle. They are working way below their age related expectations and sometimes find focusing on tasks for an extended period challenging.
I say I am lucky because these children are full of joy, enthusiasm and awe. They make me smile, they make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry….
I have learned so much from them in the brief time I have spent with them. I have had to be creative in ways I was not familiar. I have spent more time harassing my EYFS leader for resources and ideas than she is comfortable with….and I am now a playdough queen. For someone who was firmly rooted in Year 6 this has been a glorious revelation!
The key problems they all have are letter formation, pencil grip, spelling and stamina. This means that I do lots and lots of fine motor development activities. I set my room up with focused areas of provision. When I first watched these children use playdough I realised some could not roll it or ball it and did not have strength or dexterity in their fingers. I now challenge them daily with doughs of different textures and watch them carefully to see the precise movements they struggle with adapting my planning accordingly.
My current favourite finger gym activity is using water beads and tweezers…the frog spawn needs putting back in the pond. I have to use EYFS activites with a KS2 slant…really challenging!
As a result of my discoveries working with this group we have now developed finger gym activities throughout KS1 and lower KS2 – we keep them in special boxes and they can be taken out and used as a challenge at any time. Handwriting has always been a big issue in school but we had not worked out an effective way to tackle it – I think we had taken the approach of do more writing to get better at it (this never worked for some), but we hadn’t realised the extent of their fine motor issues, even into upper KS2.
I have also built in purposeful cutting and colouring activities. We made card jungle creatures before we labelled them, we cut out paper plate frogs before we drew their life cycle….I found that they really struggle with using scissors so we use them as often as possible, talking about they best way to hold them. We draw things or make models (Lego is good and fiddly) before we write about them. Practise makes perfect.
I teach spelling through multi-sensory approaches – glitter trays with fine paint brushes, pipe-cleaners, dough, silver foil….We learn key words and vocabulary that will help with topic work back in class. Through assessments I realised that the children did not know all the letter sounds or names and were not clear which was which. We use alphabet arcs daily for ten minutes to teach the alphabetic order and letter names and sounds. Doing these kinds of challenges against the clock seems to really motivate.
Crossbow education have lots of lovely resources to support literacy difficulties.
Here is a brief explanation of the basic activity – this can be built on and challenge added.
I have also focused on whole word recognition and knowledge of high frequency words – phonics often does not work for these children. They can’t blend as they struggle to remember or hear beyond initial and final sounds. We are working on ‘crashing’ sounds together.
Talk for Writing works beautifully as it gives these children the internal structures of stories and various non-fiction text types. They tend to take longer to learn a text, but once they have they love to retell it, playing and over emphasising their favourite words and phrases.
Our latest text was ‘The Tadpole’s Promise’.
Brilliant for life cycles and explanations. The ending made them laugh and was their favourite bit to retell. We did the whole story in a very dramatic fashion, pretending to sob when the tadpole breaks the caterpillar’s heart, with hilarious results….but they did not forget the story!!!
We don’t have a written outcome everyday. It is too difficult. We work up to writing with talking, oral retelling, learning key words, organising texts, labelling, writing sentence strips and finally using graphic organisers to support their final piece of writing. I always display their work. Their pride at seeing it on the wall is tangible.
The graphic organiser will contain images and key words plus explicit instructions and objectives. I always give them lines to write on in the organiser too. You can see lots of examples on pinterest but it does not take long to create one and you can then adapt them very easily each time you use it.
Finally, I have learned to be as precise with my language as possible..and to never assume! Whilst revising the key information about an elephant’s diet I reminded them about eating the outside part of tree branches (bark) ‘Remember, it is like the noise a dog makes,’ to which the response was resoundingly ‘Woof!’….I have lots to learn!
My first ever blog post, years ago, was all about dragons. Since then I have stumbled across endless magnificent examples of dragons and dreamed up new ways to use them in my teaching. Dragons are the most perfect topic to use across the whole of primary school – last week, in nursery, I introduced the children to George the friendly dragon and we flew around the classroom, zooming, soaring and breathing flames. They made Chinese dragons and learned about New Year celebration. Whereas in Year 6 we watched video footage of the awakening of Smaug and played with words and sentence structures in an attempt to build the palpable tension Bilbo feels as he begins to stir from his deep slumber.
Dragons go well with Vikings…
The beautiful scene above invites children to draw and make their own particular breed of dragon. The whole classroom could become a giant dragon’s nest of baby dragons. I have pinned lots of art ideas as I think it works well as a stimulus for writing, giving children a real sense of ownership of their dragon.
If you need a non-fiction dragon book to model some information text writing then look no further than the ‘Ology’ collection of books…
I tend to use these as a model for my Talk 4 Writing ‘washing-line’ about the Beeston Bull Dragon. If you search for Pie Corbett and dragons you will get a link that will explain the processes he uses to teach non-fiction texts through fantasy. I bought ‘Talk for Writing Across the Curriculum’ which beautifully explains how to use these interactive and very physical approaches to teaching writing. It has had a really positive impact on engagement with writing throughout my school…
I often use this very funny book about dragon ownership as a starting point for instructions on how to keep a dragon as a pet. Other instructional writing can be ‘How to trap a dragon’. Again Pie Corbett does a really good explanation of this in his book (see above).
Dragon’s egg make for a beautiful descriptive writing stimulus as there are lots of textures involved as well as shades of colour. I use paper mache with the children to create enormous eggs which look stunning all together on a giant nest…or you can leave one lying in the playground and see where the children think it came from and what will hatch out of it…
My absolute favourite documentary to use for information text writing is ‘Dragons – a fantasy made real’. In this programme, which can be watched in 10 minute or so sections on YouTube, (my secret crush) Patrick Stuart, in a highly dramatic style, narrates the finding of a body (dragon) and how scientist can now explain how it flew, breathed fire etc. It is spellbinding.
I detest the film version of ‘Eragon’, but love and devoured the books. A good read for Upper Key Stage 2 pupils. I do use clips from the film and still images to model descriptive writing of Saphira.
A greatly under-used narrative poem is ‘The Lambton Worm’. It has origins in the North East and is best listened to in an appropriate accent.
This tells the story of a young squire returning from wars abroad to slay the ‘worm’ that was killing people in his home village.
This can link well with the story of ‘St George and the dragon’. Sometimes I feel we don’t look at the origin of patron saints enough…I am pretty sure my children in Year 6 will be hazy as to who the patron saint of England is let alone the story of how he became so famous!
Above is a clear, easy to understand version from Woodlands Junior School. I have made a mental note to show this to Key Stage 2 in an assembly next half term.
Here is my pinterest board with hundreds of ideas, links and images to help you plan an exciting dragon topic…
I recently delivered some SPaG training (Spelling, punctuation and grammar) for both NQTs and experienced staff, which was all too necessary due to the fact that in the UK the KS2 SPaG test has changed AGAIN to include far more complex objectives. In fact, as a child of the 70s grammar was something of a mystery to me…I seem to remember school was somewhere I enjoyed going to play, sing and make things. Recently I find myself constantly have to ‘up-skill’ just so I can keep teachers updated.
I am becoming more concerned that instead of us teaching grammar and punctuation to allow children to write more effectively we are simply preparing them for tests. This is really rather unavoidable when the subjunctive is on the list of things to learn….!!!!! So instead of delighting in the beauty of the language and playing and experimenting with words and phrases grammar can become dull, dry and time to turn off.
Some of the ideas I shared in my training sessions are, hopefully, a way to shake things up and embed and excite.
Would you pass your SATs in 2016?
Go on, try it. The staff were shocked. Especially those who do not teach the top end of KS2.
When it comes to spelling make it multi-sensory. I have a box full of pipe-cleaners, glitter trays, play-dough, silver foil…anything that can be used to make or feel words. Repetition is also key.
- Create a rainbow (use a different colour for each letter)
- Drill across the page
- Fill the page
- Beat the clock
Always make the children say the letter name or sound as they write it out. Find words in words, emphasise it Wed -nes – day…use magnetic letters. The more active the more effective.
Alan Peat’s Word Games is really useful.
Try ‘Teachers pay Teachers’ for some fantastic word investigation mats. They are free and created by Jen Bengel.
What about creating a display were children can place their spellings in the box that reflects their knowledge of the words….over the week they should gradually all move into the green zone!
I always find that the Babcock Consultants’ website has really good ideas for what spellings to teach, when to teach them and how. They also have links to old National Strategy resources such as Spelling Bank, that are really useful.
As a school we use Alan Peat’s ‘Exciting Sentences’ app and books. They are fantastically simple sentence types to introduce throughout school. It ensures that year after year there is consistency in language used to describe sentence types and that there is progress across the key stages. If you ever get chance to attend any of Alan’s training grab it with both hands. The man is hugely relevant and is a brilliant presenter.
There are Alan Peat sentence type posters on TES and videos on Youtube. His punctuation app is brilliant too.
I love using film extracts as a stimulus to model sentences. I always use The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to support teaching quest myths. I have used this clip for fronted adverbial sentences…’Gently cradling the ring, Bilbo wept.’
Again, I highly recommend using The Literacy Shed for hundreds of fantastic film clips.
Pobble is another fantastic resource that has daily grammar activities to go with exciting pictures. The story ideas are brilliant for writing too.
Grammar Puss for Parents has lovely explanations to support home learning, with some super activities.
The one above addresses the past progressive verb form.
I like to use music wherever possible…
This is a fun figurative language song.
Lots of songs have figurative language in them the fun is getting the children to listen and spot it! The one above contains hyperbole.
I also enjoy using TESSpag. This resource costs £9.99 for a year and has loads of interactive quizzes (great for up-skilling adults as it goes right up to Secondary level), plus explanatory powerpoints.
On the theme of tough concepts this is the best way I have found to explain the subjunctive. Basically, Skee-Lo got it wrong but Beyonce got it right…it should be ‘If I were…’ not ‘If I was…’!!!
The most important points I want to make are that grammar should be embedded and it should be exciting and playful…Enjoy!!
Put Thursday 4th February in your diary because it is Harry Potter Night and in our school it is HARRY POTTER DAY!!!
We are ridiculously giddy about it.
Every member of staff has chosen a character to dress as / become for the day, golden snitches are being cunningly crafted, wands ordered and wigs tried on. Each child will have their house selected by the sorting hat and will stay in their house for the day. However, the most fantastic thing is we have owls!!!!!! Real owls!!! Hagrid (a specially selected bearded TA) will run ‘Care of Magical Creatures’ sessions with a falconry centre….I CAN’T WAIT!!!
If you are interested in having a special Harry Potter day then take a look at Bloomsbury’s website..
There will be potions lessons, quiditch sessions (using foil covered hoola-hoops), golden snitch hunts, Petrified Potters (musical statues), wizard duels and quizzes.
Each classroom will be decorated as one of the four Hogwarts’ houses and each house will be led by one teacher. I am Professor McGonagall. I have practised the arched eyebrow and accent, ’10 points to Gryfindor!’.
At the end of the day we will have a feast. Most of the goodies will be made throughout the day. I have spent hours researching recipes for Butterbeer (think I might try making Butterbeer fudge..), pumpkin pasties and Mandrake cakes. I will insist that all teachers take part in the Bertie Botts Every Flavour Bean challenge…!
Children and staff will have their photo taken as a prisoner from Azkaban using a cardboard cut-out frame..
School will become Hogwarts. We will have signs and banners and pictures and ghosts and dementors and spell books and potions….phew….we have lots to do, but it will be totally worth it!
I have started to collect together ideas on pinterest:
Just attended some fantastic training from Therese O’Sullivan (EMA consultant for Leeds – she is fab) where she shared some super ideas which got me thinking about stretching and challenging more able writers in manageable ways.
Here are some ideas I have used and some I have still to try…
*Numerical challenges – how many connectives can you find in this text etc…
*Time challenges – how many connectives can you find in 3 minutes…
*Lipograms – where a chosen letter is banned (don’t choose ‘e’ if you ever want them to finish!). I have asked children to re-write the last paragraph without a specific letter – vowels are obviously the toughest.
*Syllabic poetry – tanka (5/7/5/7/7 syllables) and hendecasyllabic (11 syllables in each line) give a challenging framework for the children to express an idea in.
*Ways to start or end a story – I have asked them to start with questions (using ‘The Iron Man’ as an example)
*Ensure you use challenging texts as a model for ‘reading as writers’ – one of my favourites is ‘Skellig’ which has the brilliant example of an effective start to a story.
*Use guided writing groups to model more technical aspects of writing.
*Get your most able to type directly into the class computer / iboard. This means that other children can see their writing and magpie ideas and processes – it also gives the writer an immediate audience.
*Use film – this can provide complex story telling structures. Ask the children how an author would represent that on paper in words. My favourite short film is ‘Francis’ which I have blogged about before. How would you create the tension seen in the film on the page? Use the music from films too as a creative writing stimulus.
*Use challenging ‘slow writing’ sentence challenges (see my previous blog on’Slow writing’).
*Use the most able as editors for others, buddy them up with those in need of some support (they seem to listen to the suggestions of their peers over the teacher!)
*Play with words. Get them to investigate the history and origins of words (use etymological dictionaries). Explore new words or phrases added to the English dictionary. Collect homographs / homophones.
*Just found this ‘write a story in two sentences idea’ – brilliant challenge!
*Create a writing challenge box. Pictures and ideas from Pobble 365 could be printed off and laminated as could ideas from my pinterest board ‘Stuff to Write About’ – there are some fantastic prompts on there from ‘writingprompts.tumblr.com’
The new school term is about to start and how many of us are panicking about Monday? I am going to share with you some of my literacy ideas that I have collected over the past few years. They are suitable for various year groups and some need very little preparation. All of them are exciting, interesting and fun…well at least I think so!! Have a look and try one – let me know how you get on.