Dragon Tales – a compendium.

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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.

Paper plate dragons -super easy and fun art and craft project to make with the kids!:

Upcycle: Milk Jug Wizardry! DIY 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…

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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…

Instructions!:

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…

All this gorgeous dragon’s egg takes to make is a plastic egg, a hot glue gun and some paint! Dragon loves, Game of Thrones fans and those who like fantasy in general will LOVE this! It’s sure to be a conversation piece if displayed anywhere in your home.: MUST DO THIS! Accio Lacquer: What Does One Name An Egg Such As This: Make your own Dragon Eggs. An easy alternative craft for Easter/Eostre/Ostara.:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/stgeorge2.html

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…

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Doctor Who?? Raggedy Man, goodnight.

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.

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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.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/teachers/doctorwhocompetition/resources.shtml

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.

Anatomy of a Dalek Now, what would be an awesome idea is if we could develop an "Operation" styled board game with a Dalek instead of a human that screams "exterminate" whenever you screw up.:

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.

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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.

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Amy Pond was my favourite…

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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.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4tDN85fyxYXTtVPrCql8jB/monsters

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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!!)…

 

 

 

Friendship is a sheltering tree.

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Friendship is a sheltering tree.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Autumn is on its way – a perfect time for looking at trees at the height of their beauty.  I love trees.  They are grounding and central to life itself.  There are so many shades of colour in autumn and endless art activities that can be undertaken in the classroom.  Some of my favourite stories have trees at their heart – ‘The Giving Tree’, ‘The Minpins’, ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’.

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A classic is the story of ‘The Giving Tree’ a heart-warming story that follows the life of a boy and a tree.  In spite of receiving nothing in return the simple act of giving to the one that he loves makes the tree happy. It is great to read at Autumn time, particularly if you are celebrating ‘Thanks Giving’  as it leads you beautifully into the discussion of how we can be more giving.

Here is a link to a beautiful retelling of the story on YouTube –

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I saw some lovely ideas for Giving trees or just trees in general on Pinterest.

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http://www.uniqueteachingresources.com/Giving-Tree-Lesson-Plans.html

There are more ideas on the website above, including the fact that the teacher in the first photo takes all the leaves of the tree as they enter winter and sprays the branches with fake snow! A display for all seasons!

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Trees are fantastic for evoking mysterious, magical and moody atmospheres.  Use them at the centre of a mind-map for groups of children to collect words and phrases that describe the picture and create a mood.  Those words can be saved for story writing and stuck on working walls.

Trees are fabulous for inspiring poetry.  The words collected above can be used in poems too.

Tree, gather up my thoughts
like the clouds in your branches.
Draw up my soul
like the waters in your root.

In the arteries of your trunk
bring me together.
Through your leaves
breathe out the sky.

by J. Daniel Beaudry

I have always felt the living presence
of trees

the forest that calls to me as deeply
as I breathe,

as though the woods were marrow of my bone
as though

I myself were tree, a breathing, reaching
arc of the larger canopy

beside a brook bubbling to foam
like the one

deep in these woods,
that calls

that whispers home

by Michael S. Glaser

There are hundreds of myths and legends about trees.  The Celts used the image of ‘The Tree of Life’ in their carefully constructed knot work and folk tales talk of The Green Man, the spirit of the woods and forest.

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I found a super website that contains hundreds of trees myths and legends from around the world, poems and teaching types for science.  I would love to learn some of the tree stories from the site and the retell them orally in the true spirit of storytelling.

http://spiritoftrees.org/

It also reminds me again of a film I discussed previously ‘Avatar’.  The Na’vi talk about ‘The Tree of Souls’ which links them all together and holds memories for them. Still images from the film are simply beautiful and lend themselves beautifully to fantasy story writing.

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Woods can be terrifying places, think Blair Witch or the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter.  I always use woods or forest as a chapter in a quest story based on the idea of The Hobbit.  Short clips from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit films forest scenes are great for stimulating ideas and engaging children…obviously don’t use clips from the Blair Witch!!

Woods can also be whimsical and magical places too.  Think of the Magical Faraway tree…fairies, pixies, elves…fairy rings and toadstools.  It is where Hansel and Gretel got lost and where witches live in tumbled down cottages…

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Alone with myself

The trees bend

to caress me

The shade hugs

my heart

by Candy Polgar

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Wild, Wild West.

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My newest challenge today has been inspired by the amazing artwork of Saija Lehtonen above.  It is called ‘By the Light of the Moon’. Stunning. And by a message from an old student of mine – Ash.

I have never taught a Wild West topic before so wasn’t sure where to begin.  The dramatic scenery is awe inspiring,,,and perfect for stimulating descriptive language which I would collect together and produce a word-wall for the topic.

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After a lengthy, but enjoyable search on Pinterest I discovered some fascinating images…

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The storytelling possibilities are endless and the stories that go with these images are just as interesting.  They totally break the stereotype of cowboys!

I also stumbled across some brilliant cowboy information books, some of them light-hearted and fun, that would be great for a Talk 4 Writing style ‘How to become a cowboy’ instructional writing unit.

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Some of my favourite books were Native American myths and legends with stunning illustrations.  There are also lots of videos on Youtube with beautiful retellings of these tales.

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These stories would be good for the children to learn through use of story maps and then retell, perhaps for an audience or recorded on an IPad.  They could then use the story structures and language to write their own legends.

I would love to transform my classroom into a wild west town…

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It would not be complete without lots of ‘Wanted’ posters for various villains that could be characters made up by the children based on some of the famous outlaws of the past…

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Really wish I was teaching this topic now!

Spooky September.

Going back to school in September can be made a little less painful if you are teaching a fantastic topic.  As the nights begin to draw in and Halloween looms do something spooky! My  all time favourite children’s book is ‘The Graveyard Book’ by Neil Gaimen which lends itself beautiful to Autumn. Gaimen creates a hypnotic, enveloping world in the graveyard that is inhabited by a myriad of ghosts who become friends to orphaned Bod. The book is suitable for Years 5 and 6 in primary as the story begins with a gruesome murder, but other than that is mildly spooky at times.  It really is a fabulous read that I can’t recommend highly enough.

I have put together some images and ideas that make for fantastic stimulus for creative writing, particularly in the creation of an eerie atmosphere –

Alongside that I have also used Gaimen’s ‘Coraline’ which has a very creepy film version too.  I used both versions of these, comparing the differences / similarities in the two and discussing which elements we preferred.

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There are some great character descriptions and atmospheric scene settings that are useful as model texts.  The children particularly love this story and have enjoyed creating their own world beyond the door.

Getting in the mood for something spooky always brings me back to the classic horror of ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker.  I obviously would not use this in primary school, but I have used an extract of the captain’s log to model the building of tension in writing as the children try to guess what is on the ship as it steers perilously towards the cost of Whitby.  This is also a brilliant excuse for a trip to the seaside (luckily Whitby isn’t far for us!) and a reading of the book ‘Room 13’ by Robert Swindells which really puts the fear of god into the children before a residential!!!

I have mentioned The Literacy Shed website before, but they have some fantastic spooky short animations.  Again a word of caution…know your children well before deciding to use any of the films.  I used a really spooky film which is fantastic for the creation of tension called ‘Francis’ with some very mature Year 6 and they loved it!

I WON’T BE GOING BACK TO QUETICO PARK ANYTIME SOON. NOT AFTER WHAT HAPPENED TO A GIRL NAMED FRANCIS BRANDYWINE.

Those opening lines were enough to hook them…

A short picture book which works really well in guided reading is ‘The Night of the Gargoyles’.

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It has beautiful, dark illustrations and magical, poetic descriptions that can be borrowed and played with.  We always make clay gargoyles after reading this and watch a fabulous video of a sculptor known as ‘The Gargoyle Guy’, which you can find on Youtube.

Below are some images and ideas I have used to teach a ‘Shadows’ topic.

I have even included some poetry in the form of ‘The Highwayman’ as this is dark and haunting and suits the mood of the topic brilliantly.

Wee beasties.

I love. love, love frogs.  This might be the reason I always enjoy teaching mini beasts / life cycles topics in Key Stage 1.  Don’t get me wrong I am not a fan of creepy-crawlies (particularly ones with 8 legs), but I am a big fan of some of the story books I have used to teach this topic.

My ultimate favourite (I love reading this aloud to grown-ups too) is ‘The Tadpoles Promise’.

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A tragic love story the children find funny, but it often leads to gasps of disbelief from adults!  The books illustrations lend themselves beautifully to a timeline and therefore the life cycle of butterflies and caterpillars (fantastic if you are keeping tadpoles – remember to boil the lettuce before you feed it to them!).

My next favourite is ‘Tuesday’.

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This is an almost wordless book which can be used from Key Stage 1 to upper Key Stage 2.  The illustrations tell the story of one magical Tuesday night when the frogs begin to fly on their lilly pads and the adventures that unfold.  The pictures are fabulous and tell a variety of stories – I have used them as a basis for story writing in Year 6 where they provided the text for the book.  The last picture is great as you see which farmyard creature begins to fly the following Tuesday,  which again provides opportunity for story writing.

The next book is based on a joke that I remember from my childhood and I always feel compelled to read aloud in a voice like Dame Edna..,

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This is a funny book, but is also good for looking at animals from another country (Australia) and discussing food chains.

Although I am really, really not a fan of the creature central to this book, it is a fantastic read with Key Stage 1.

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My Key Stage 1 teachers set up their classrooms with a tangle and maze of string to create a spider’s web before they read the book to the children – although it looked like a death-trap it hooked (!!) the children from day 1.  The spider kept leaving messages in the web for the children to read every day.  The children were then desperate to leave messages for the spider to respond to.  Fantastic writing for a purpose!

Another froggy book that makes me laugh (the expressions on the frog’s faces are priceless) is ‘Two Frogs’.

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A short story about how useful sticks are to fend off dogs!!!  The book centres around the frogs fighting off predators in a very funny way and lends itself a discussion about food chains and diets of animals.  Grown-ups will enjoy this book too.

Then there are all the Eric Carle books – never overlook ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ for young children it has endless possibilities for fantastic activities…art, maths, science…

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There are lots more of his books that are lovely too.  I like ‘The Grouchy Ladybird’ mainly because it reminds me of some of the people I work with!!

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I have linked my mini beast Pinterest board which contains lots of ideas –

Colin Thompson

Sometimes you come across an author that you feel you must share with everyone and Colin Thompson is just that.  An author illustrator his pictures are so so detailed that you could lose yourself in them for days…There are many ways in which you can use his books in the classroom, although I would say firstly just enjoy them.

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My favourite book of his is ‘How to live forever’.  It is fabulous for getting children to engage and look closely at a book.  I have used it at Guided Reading time to focus on inference and deduction as the words really take a back-seat to the illustrations.  A page can last a whole session if used well – it allows for deep questioning for children who might be EAL or who struggle with the technical aspects of reading.

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My son and I love looking carefully for Max (the silhouetted large-eared dog) who appears on nearly every page and Cafe Max, a gingham curtained bistro that is a recurring theme.  We have even discussed what we think might be on the menu at Cafe Max – we went down the French route here!

The pictures lend themselves beautifully to creative writing opportunities – diaries, stories, newspapers, instructions…My most recent planning was centre around the book ‘Looking for Atlantis’.

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The children did some beautifully intricate artwork using a small photocopied square of one of the pages which they continued in a similar detailed fashion.  I was amazed by how focused some of the children were during the art sessions.

The stories behind these illustrations are often quite deep and thought provoking which means the level of questioning you can use with these books can be challenging.  What is Atlantis?  What is the message that his Grandfather is trying to communicate?  Where would you find Atlantis?

Below is my Pinterest board of ideas for an Atlantis topic –

Another gem is ‘Castles’.  This book is all about the stories in each picture.  Children can design their own castle based on a story they know or write stories.  I have had success using photocopies of castles that the children have created labels for using post-it notes of varying detail and humour!

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His books are fantasy lands waiting to be lost in.