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!!
I think reading is really difficult to assess and I have been doing it for years! I decided to put together a quick guide to help out other teachers who are struggling to get to grips with making a judgement for reading. I don’t think anything is new or particularly revolutionary….just useful (I hope!). I have tried to consider a few ways in which you can demonstrate progress too.
I also want to draw your attention to the work of MrsPteach and her brilliant blogs on reading. She has created lots of lovely resources too for using R. I. C. (Retrieve, Interpret, Choice) to help focus teaching on particular question types…
Here is my list…
- Look at the level/ stage of the reading book they can comfortably read (90% accuracy – a running record can be used to check this). Use the reading scheme guide (often a poster) which explains the reading age of each level.
- What is their phonic level (if they are not beyond phase 5)? Does their reading book reflect their phonic level?
- The Salford reading test will give a reading age and is therefore really useful to evidence the impact of interventions. It does not measure understanding. Again, check that their reading book reflects their reading age!
- YARC comprehension and reading test will give you specific feedback on areas of weakness and on-line will produce a useful report. The initial YARC phonic assessment can be used to ascertain if they can access the test and will give you a clear picture of phonic gaps.
- GL assessment will give an age related standardised score – this assesses comprehension. This may not be directly comparable with the newest SAT tests (2016) in Y1 and Y6, but is still a useful tool to target those who are struggling at the beginning of the year and may be used to evidence progress if repeated at the end of the year.
- Reading exemplification (for the interim framework) on YouTube, produced by the government, is useful for moderation of teacher assessment and assessment for learning approaches that can be useful in the classroom.
- Learning and Progression Steps (Lancashire County Council) break down statements from the National Curriculum to show smaller steps of progression throughout the year. This can inform planning, help in making age related teacher assessment judgements and, if the grids are filled in, show evidence of progress over the year.
Assessment for Learning – useful reading assessment activities in the classroom.
- Orally re-tell using a text map
- Wanted posters
- Acting out with small world play
- Hot seating
- Freeze framing
- Role play
- Retelling in story board / comic book frames
- Write a letter to or from a character
- Use information books to research a famous person
- What does the character – ‘think’, ‘feel’, ‘say’?
- What can you sense in a setting? What can a character see, hear, smell, and feel?
- Choose a sentence from your book that you like, tell someone or write down why you chose it.
- Write a character description
- Summarise a chapter or the plot
- Thought bubbles
- Sequencing and sorting jumbled pictures, lines, sentences or paragraphs from a text
- Text marking with a focus e.g. the impact of punctuation or cohesive devices.
- Collaborative group discussions
- Suggesting alternative words, phrases or sentences
- Book reviews (can shadow on-line book awards and join Leeds Book Awards)
Useful question stems for inference, deduction and interpreting events / ideas.
- What does this tell you about what….was thinking?
- What words give you that impression?
- Can you explain why?
- What makes you think that?
- Do you agree with this opinion?
- Predict what you think might happen next.
- Who would you most like to meet from the story?
- If it were you what would you be thinking?
- Would you want to visit this place? Why?
- How did……change through the story?
- Which is your favourite part? Why?
- If your book had a sequel how do you think it would end?
- Did the book end the way you thought it would? What clues did the author give you that made you predict the ending?
- What do you think is the author’s main message? Why do you think that?
- What character did you interpret as ‘bad’? What did the author do to give you that impression?
- What are the two emotions that….has felt. Why do you think….felt that way?
Having spent a few hours trawling through the reading exemplification that the government has published to support teacher assessment using the interim framework I decided to create some positive action points from what I watched and read. Okay it may have involved a couple of medicinal gins to get my creative juices flowing, but I managed to make a brief list of key points that, as a literacy leader in school, I need to ensure we consider in our teaching of reading.
I initially felt rather disheartened when I listen to the children on the videos read with lovely expressive voices and confidently discuss their clearly thought out views in well-trained groups. I could not see any links between those children and mine. However, I don’t stay down for long and really, when I looked closer, I realised that we do lots of the good stuff.
So key points are as follows….
- Prior knowledge is vital – for understanding of language expression and for the ability to empathise. We teach through our creative curriculum so all texts are experienced in a context as our pupils lack life experiences. It helps EAL and new to English pupils to make sense of what they read as well as focused teaching of idioms.
- Phonic skills – they need to be confident in applying their skills to read unfamiliar words. This means it is essential to have really good tracking and monitoring of those who begin to fall behind in Year 1. We have found that Dandelion Phonics worked well as an intervention for some children as well as using alphabet arc. I have blogged some of my approaches to teaching those who experience learning difficulties. https://theliteracyleader.com/2016/02/21/literacy-difficulties/
- Fluency and expression – this is something that my pupils struggle with as they are mainly EAL or new to English. I have decided that we need a greater focus on drama and reading and performing playscripts and poetry. Our assemblies need to showcase fantastic reading and performance rather than mumbling into a tatty piece of paper!!!
- Vocabulary – a wide breadth of vocabulary is needed to help the children understand what they are reading. I have blogged some useful approaches to playing with words. https://theliteracyleader.com/2015/12/02/playing-with-words/
- Modelling answers – it is vital for teachers to model their thought processes when they answer questions. Google Pie Corbett and ‘book talk’ – there are lots of really interesting ideas on developing your questioning.
- The importance of talk – talk helps children develop their understanding of a text so group discussion is vital.
I am no longer afraid of the exemplification materials!! Hurray!!
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:
One of the most effective strategies we have taken on as a school is to have the most amazingly fantastic book corners ever! In fact our book corners are so brilliant we run a yearly competition with a panel of esteemed judges from a variety of educational establishments. The winning class receives book vouchers to keep their shelves stocked up.
There are lots of reasons we create these masterpieces…one of the most important is that school is an oasis, a beautiful, awe-inspiring, exciting and stimulating place to be. We also want he children to have as many experiences of reading real books (not scheme) as possible, we want them to have views on authors and genres. Our children love to curl up in the corners and read or share books.
We keep the areas stocked up by using our SLS (School Library Services) and changing the books on a termly basis – it is a lot cheaper and easier than using huge amounts of budget, plus the books look like new and are age-appropriate.
The corners are normally changed termly and develop throughout a topic – it is really important that there is pupil’s work in there and that they feel a sense of ownership.
Some of our classrooms are really small so we use baskets filled with material and labelled (‘Books of the week’ ‘Do you dare read a spooky story?’ etc..). Lack of space isn’t a good enough reason to not make whatever books you have look beautiful and tempting. I hate walking into classrooms to see shelves piled haphazardly with tatty covers…it feels like the children are being cheated (many of our children live in homes without books) where else are they going to experience those stories that live within us forever?
I was lucky enough to attend Pie Corbett training recently and he talked at length about how important it is for children to have a cosy nook to curl up and read in, somewhere safe and quiet and comfortable. In fact he felt that there needed to be lots of different spaces around the classroom for children to withdraw into, especially in Early Years.
They don’t need to be beautifully decorated corners, they can be boxes, washing baskets, underneath tables or blankets with torches…
It has been a ridiculously long time since I put my thoughts and ideas down on here. So much water has passed under the bridge…but my passion for learning has not wavered and with renewed energy and focus I will continue!
In many respects the title of the blog is apt…
Being a control freak I have rather enjoyed this newly discovered approach to crafting amazing writing with my Year 5 and 6 pupils. Browsing through blogs and Pinterest one day, I came across the idea of ‘slow writing’ where the writing process is controlled sentence by sentence to making vivid the impact of using a variety of sentence structures.
Using a photo or film clip as a stimulus I guide the children in creating a descriptive paragraph by creating a list of what each sentence structure must be…
1. Start the sentence with an -ly opener.
2. End with an exclamation mark.
3. Use a simile.
4. Use an emotion.
5. End with a question mark.
6. Use an ‘if, if, if, then’ sentence.
I linked this to Alan Peat sentence types that we had learned. I can’t recommend his resources highly enough, both his ‘Exciting Sentences’ books and apps are easy to use and effective.
I continued in this way for six or seven sentences. I taught this whole class, although the children worked individually and we shared and discussed good examples as we went (lots of opportunity for ‘magpieing’). The children really enjoyed the process as no one got stuck for ideas and they were really pleased with the resulting paragraph. The pace of writing was slow, but the learning was tangible. Children of all abilities discussed the impact of sentence types and experimented with words, no one was afraid of getting it wrong.
The impact was instant, children continued their writing specifically choosing sentences for effect! Try it…I will use it again soon and might challenge children to follow lists independently…my NQTs used it and loved it too.
Ok here I go, my very first blog…
The purpose of this blog is to continue my consultant role in a virtual way. Also it gives me a place to keep all my ideas and thoughts and experiences together.
My story so far is…
I taught for 10 years (mainly in Year 6 – very hard to escape!) becoming a Literacy Advanced Skills Teacher for the last 3. For a change of pace and the opportunity to develop my subject knowledge further I became a Literacy and ICT consultant for the National Strategies popping back into school as a Deputy for a while. After 4 brilliant years in post I have made a decision to develop my senior management experience and am heading back to school for good!! However I still get a big kick from sharing ideas and supporting other colleagues, so this is why I have created this blog…