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!
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.
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!!)…
I have started to collect together lots of different ideas for warming up words. My children have very limited vocabulary so it essential that new words are introduced and played with on a regular basis. Pie Corbett suggests 5 new words are introduced weekly. Even though my children mainly speak English as a second language I never set a ceiling on the words used as I want my children to become familiar with the nuances of the language.
See the Picture
This is an imaging game, designed to help children use the images in their own minds and attach words to them.
Ask all children to create an image in their heads. This might be a setting in a story they are writing, something that they are writing a poem about or an experience that the whole class have had on a trip. Ask them to hold the image in their head and then ask:
- What can you see?
- What colours stand out most?
- How does it feel?
- Walk around your image. What other things do you see?
Children then share with a partner their image and things that they noticed. Finally jot down a list of words and phrases form their image.
When children start this keep the walk around the image short and build up what they do over time.
How does it go together?
With the children generate a list of nouns and then a separate list of verbs and to put a noun and verb together in an unusual way. Looking out of my window I can see tree, grasses, street light, road sign and a randomly selected list of verbs rushed, slithered, dreamed, sat, wheeled…
Now I can start to put them together:
the streetlight dreamed, the grasses rushed etc.
The children can then go on to create sentences choosing the ones that most appeal to them. The sentences could be collected and made into poems.
You could play the same game with adjectives and nouns.
This game is based around vocabulary generation and using the vocabulary. It is a game that I first read about in What Rhymes with Secret by Sandy Brownjohn printed in 1982.. Start the children off with a statement such as:
The birds swooping in the clear blue sky.
Sky like an azure gem.
Gem of an idea in the air
Here, the children must take the last word and start off the next line/statement with it. It demands that children think and use words flexibly.
Using paint colour samples (just ask nicely at your local DIY store) children can write shades of meaning below a key word.
Clines is another activity where shades of meaning can be discussed and then ordered from least to most e.g. sad, morbid, gloomy, depressed…
A really handy list of feeling words can be downloaded from the Primary Resources website:
Choose a book. Ask for a number – this gives you a page to turn to. Now ask for a number – this gives you the line. Then ask for a small number – this will select a word. The children then have 15 seconds to write a sentence using the selected word. Then use the same sort of process to randomly select two or three words – can they make a sentence using the words… Be ruthless on capital letter, sense and full stop.
Use the animal list to create alliterative sentences – one per animal, e.g. the tiny tiger tickled the terrified terrapin’s two toes with torn tinsel.
To warm up the brain and get into a creative mood – give the children a topic and ask them to write as much as they can in say, one minute. Time them and ask them to count the number of words then try again with another topic. They should write as rapidly as possible. This limbers up and frees up the mind.
Poems and reading poetry is one of the best ways to play with words. Lots of ideas for playing with poems in the next blog!
It is nearly Halloween…my favourite time of the year!!!
I love the mythology of witches – strong, powerful women, manipulating nature and human beings in equal measure. Some of my favourite stories of all time have witches as the central character. Even as an adult Terry Pratchett’s novels featuring Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have been thumbed through several times. More recently I became hooked on his Tiffany Aching books, including the last one he wrote before his untimely death, ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’ (which made me cry).
As a child I loved ‘Winnie the Witch’ and all her adventure, written by Valerie Thomas and drawn by Korky Paul. The illustrations are so detailed I used to lose myself in them for an age…As a teacher there are lots of fabulous questions you can ask children based on the pictures alone which can help develop their comprehension without the added complexity of decoding.
‘What is significant about Friday 13th and why do you think it might be ringed on the calendar?’
‘What do you think lives in her cupboard under the sink?’
‘What is sticking out of her cutlery drawer?’
‘What do you think she might keep in the bottles and jars on the floor?’
In fact, the first story I ever remember being read to me at school was ‘Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat’ by Ursula Williams. I still remember my excitement at Halloween as I was desperate to see a witch and I figured the probability of seeing them whilst trick-or-treating would be much greater. I think my desire to see one was so strong that I imagined I did…
This was swiftly followed by ‘Meg and Mog’ and ‘The Worst Witch’. I have used ‘The Worst Witch’ with Year 3 children to huge success. The outcome was to create their own witch story – the book contains some lovely character descriptions and settings that are really useful for modelling theses different elements of the text. We then designed and made magical potions – some very messy play ensued…As there are more than one in this series others can be read and compared.
I also loved the film ‘The Witches’ based on the book of the same title by Roald Dahl. Both film and book can be used for inspiration in lower KS2. Children can:
- design ‘Missing Person’ posters for those children who have gone missing,
- write a description for a witch,
- write instructions to help people to recognise a real witch,
- make a listing of disgusting words to describe The Grand High Witch,
- design a machine to catch witches,
- create a potion,
- create a motto,
- write a diary entry as Grandma on the day she lost her thumb
And then we move on to the most famous witch-tale of all ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and the other books that followed. I remember the exact moment when a child in Year 6 introduced me to Harry Potter. I devoured every book till the last two…they were too long and slow for me…I read them but struggled to finish them. Like everyone else I wanted to attend Hogwarts, nowadays I want to be Professor McGonagall.
I love giving children the challenge of creating another character who is a teacher at Hogwarts – they begin by drawing their professor and then using the ‘show not tell’ approach, they write an introductory paragraph about them, giving others in the class a chance to guess if they support Voldemort or not through the clues they give in their writing.
As a teenager I began to find the true story of witchcraft fascinating and horrifying – the Salem Witch Trials being the most compelling.
And this led to an interest in an historical event closer to home – the trial of the Pendle Witches and the brilliant story for grown-ups ‘Mist Over Pendle’.
If you ever get chance to visit Pendle Hill make sure you visit a tiny shop called ‘Witches Galore’ which sells a fantastic array of historical information on the witch trial and lots of lovely Halloween stuff for your home / classroom.