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!!
Inspired by the creative potential of the new BFG film (I will let you in to a secret…I could not stand the animated version, his voice grated…!) I have put together a Key Stage 2 topic ‘Fi Fi Fo Fum’ ready to use when we return to school for a new term.
I have used some of these stories already in a ‘Heroes and Monsters’ topic in Year 5/6 and it went down a storm. I have even used some texts with KS1 and EYFS because there are giants everywhere in literature – ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, ‘The Selfish Giant’ and ‘Harry Potter’ – and across all cultures so they are a concept all children very easily relate to no matter what their age or background.
These are just some of the books that I used. My absolute favourite has to be ‘The Giant book of Giants’ which is a beautiful collection of giant stories from around the world, but the very, very best bit is the enormous 3D poster of a giant that comes with it.
The children love interacting with it…particularly looking up his kilt!!! I have him as a stimulus for writing character descriptions in Year 2 and as a story stimulus for KS2. Children have drawn and labelled their own giant and created stories for the strange objects he carries.
I have used picture like these above, which have led to fantastic discussions on the existence of giants. This can be the stimulus needed for a newspaper article or a persuasive argument.
It also reminded me of an old unit of work from the original Literacy Strategy based around the story ‘The Giant’s Necklace’. It had some super ideas for teaching a full unit of work, which over time I had forgotten about. I discovered the originals on-line the other day…well worth taking a look at!
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!
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…
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.
I am collecting together resources for my Year 5 and 6 Space topic – To infinity and beyond! It is a topic I always get ridiculously excited about…obsessive in fact! I love every element of it and I could probably fill a full year with all my ideas and excitement.
I have used Pinterest to organise my thoughts over time.
Above is the absolute best video of the wonders, horrors, dangers and realities of space. It is the most vivid representation of the vastness of space and the clearest explanation of time travel – the deeper we travel through space the further back in time we go and if we could look back at Earth through a hugely powerful telescope we would see dinosaurs….wow!
My children were transfixed. I forgot I was teaching…
The International Space Station produces lots of videos about life in space and children are always keen to know how astronauts go to the loo!!! Commander Chris Hadfield was particularly informative and entertaining.
Commander Sunny Williams gives a fascinating tour of the ISS including an explanation of how they sleep and how they go to the toilet! I like to show this video as it proves to my sometimes passive Year 6 girls that women can and should have the same aspirations as men.
Recently, we watched with anticipation the journey to the ISS of British astronaut Tim Peak…We will be following his time in space very closely through Facebook and Twitter – a great audience and purpose for children to write.
For those who enjoy researching and collecting facts there is the creation of planet fact files or top trumps (there are various free apps that can be used on iPads).
There is also more of the science stuff – a day on Earth. What is night and day? Does the Sun move?
Then there is the historic elements of man’s journey through space, culminating in the infamous Moon landings…
There are lots beautiful books about space…
I love the endless possibilities that space provides…
I will be blogging about the fantasy elements of space over the next few days…releasing my inner geek. Live long and prosper.
New York Zoo have a brilliant activity on their website called ‘Build Your Wild Self’. A super-fun and interactive way for children to create a wild creature made up of lots of parts of real animals.
This would be a great starting point for information text writing or for creating a fact file. If you use Talk 4 Writing approaches this would work well at the third stage of invention or as a wacky way of introducing the features of information texts before you apply them to a real animal.
The finished animal is given a very technical name based on all its parts and the final picture can be printed off or emailed. These images could even be turned into trading cards or top trumps by using various free websites or apps.
Are you looking for a new and effective way to teach children how to tell and write interesting, well structured stories? I came across this idea by Alan Peat many years ago, but recently discovered this really clear video of him explaining the concept. The best thing is it costs nothing (well a handful of gift bags, but you could use leftover Christmas ones) and can be used as on oral approach for children as young as Early Years.
I realised recently what an amazing programme Dr Who is when my seven year old son came sobbing from his room after watching a clip on Youtube where Matt Smith regenerates into Peter Capaldi.
‘It was the bit when Amy Pond said ‘Raggedy man goodnight’, that made me feel sad,’ he cried. I had to admit that I too had become a snivelling wreck and I was already sobbing when Matt Smith delivered the deadly line ‘I will never forget when the Doctor was me’.
Something that moves a seven year old boy to such an extent is powerful stuff! I had to use it in the classroom.
There are hundreds and hundreds of ways Dr Who can be used effectively in the classroom…the geek in me got a bit giddy.
The BBC ran a competition to write a script a few years ago but the resources are still there on-line. They have brilliant video clips and ideas to create aliens, develop characters, settings and scripts with lesson notes and printable resources.
This fits in brilliantly with my Year 5/6 topic on Space this term – hurray!
What about teaching art and art history through the really moving episode that features Van Gogh, his paintings and tragic life. Another one that I blubbed at!! There is also the episode where they visit Pompeii in time for the towns volcanic destruction – great for a Roman topic.
What about an explanation or instructions on how a Dalek works? Or a balanced discussion on whether the Doctor should wipe out the Daleks??
What about creating aliens and planets to feature in a new story…?
The children could write a travel brochure for their newly created planet or a fact file on their alien or monster.
Now that Clara Oswald is no more the Doctor is in need of a companion – get the children to create one. Look at past companions and list the key skills needed to travel through space and time.
Amy Pond was my favourite…
And what if the Doctor regenerated again…what would he look like…who is your favourite Doctor so far? I struggle with that one…I am caught between David Tennant and Matt Smith (for died-hard Whovians I am sure that that is some form of blasphemy and that I should really appreciate the older, darker models!).
The BBC has a beautiful Doctor Who section on their website with fantastic info on characters and monsters – a brilliant resource for story writing.
There are lots of Doctor Who books that could be used as a model text for Sci-Fi story writing. They can be picked up on Amazon second hand for a couple of pounds.
And finally, totally indulgently, when the Doctor says goodbye to Donna and wipes her memories…also makes me cry (it seems there is a common theme here!!)…
Just found this Youtube channel absolutely bursting full of fabulous animations. I plan to use them for literacy inspiration and guided reading developing comprehension questions. Some are more suitable for secondary school pupils and others are perfect for primary children.
Or you could follow them on Pinterest