In a hole in the ground: An approach to whole class guided reading.


I love to use classic and challenging texts in guided reading sessions ( even more so if there is a film or graphic novel version of the text to really help to contextualise for my EAL students ).  One of my absolute favourites is ‘The Hobbit’ which I have used with Year 5 and 6 pupils over the past 20 years (wincing slightly at the size of that number because in my head I am 27). Anything with a dragon in it is a winner in my book…

If you feel inspired to use a classic text then I advise you read the Bob Cox books on ‘Opening Doors’ which given practical approaches when using them to teach whole classes.


I always believe in starting a new text with activating schema, where I will encourage children to bring their prior knowledge to the text and make connections.  For The Hobbit I set the scene by playing music from the sound track and sharing a variety of magical images from my collection…

After initial schema activation I like to do a bit of prediction and drip in inferential questioning throughout the teaching sequence.  Inference is such a difficult concept and yet is very much favoured on the SATs papers so it needs to be explicitly taught, modeled and used frequently.

In a hole in the ground…


In a perfect world the full text should be available in class for reading by those children who are really switched on by the guided reading sessions, but free text extracts can be found online in a variety of places…

I always make sure that fluency is part of the daily session and will share extracts of the start of the story, using fluency strategies such as cloze, choral and echo reading.

There lived a hobbit...

I would need to discuss the meaning of some of the vocabulary in context, but would plan to spend a least one guided reading lesson on investigating key words in more depth. In doing so I would look at etymology and morphology as well as multiple meanings in different contexts.

I believe fluency and vocabulary are still key teaching elements in a reading  lesson – even in year 6 – and then, and only then, can you really hope that the children can infer….then work on exam rubric, which is the cherry on the icing on the cake!

What does the sentence ‘No going upstairs…’ tell you about hobbits?  This is the ideal time to model thought processes, not expecting children to simply guess what is in your head.  My explanation starts with ‘ Well maybe hobbits don’t like going upstairs so it could mean that they are a bit lazy or they avoid physical exertion, but it might also mean that hobbits find it difficult to get up and downstairs due to some physical constraint.’

Children can draw what they see in their minds eye – it is a great skill to get them to play ‘movies’ in their heads and acknowledge this by get them to visually represent what they are seeing there.

I tend to end a Year 6 session with a bit of exam rubric by formulating a SAT style question based on the text.  It is important that they get to experience the kind of language and layout that they will come across in the test.

My children really struggle with the word ‘impression’ so my second session might end with the question ‘What impression do you get of the hobbit?’ – this would lead to either a written or an oral response that could be discussed.

This trailer is a lovely way of introducing the children to the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, at the start of the next session (always watch videos first as you will know then whether it is suitable for your pupils to view)…

For exam rubric questions I like to use the question stems from Primary English Educational Consultants.

An interesting comparison can be made between the text and the opening of the 1977 animation…(I think I have a vague memory of this as a very young child!)

Which do the children prefer and why?  What similarities are there?  Why do they think the creators of the animation changed things?

What is a hobbit_ (1)

I would continue reading, looking at the explanation of what a hobbit is, again using echo or choral reading to develop fluency for all. I would then discuss the explanation.  For example the phrase ‘there is little or no magic about them’ indicates what?  There is an expectation that magic is to be expected…so this cannot be our world…or at least as we know it today. Is there anything in the text that might make one think that this is our world in a time long gone?

I would discuss the meaning of the word blundering, asking children to see if there is information in the text to help understanding or if the suffix can help us know what type of word it is.

My session would end with an exam rubric question:

Circle one word below that best describes the character of a hobbit:

small            frightened               resentful                 respectable

There are endless activities and approaches which can be used with this wonderful book.  The key elements to remember with any guided reading approach is that without fluency and understanding of key vocabulary there is no comprehension and that exam rubric needs to be built on strong foundation.



The CGBros.

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


The Night of the Gargoyles.

As promised on my Facebook page I wanted to share with you some teaching ideas for using the fantastic picture book ‘The Night of the Gargoyles’ written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Weisner.  It is a real favourite of mine and my best teaching buddy Fiona.  As it is quite dark and brooding in places it is only suitable for use with KS2 pupils, but it is packed full of imagery and figurative language that can be played with.



Isn’t he handsome?! Our children really enjoyed making clay gargoyles too – based on the work of The Gargoyle Guy (see Youtube).  I have selected below some snippets of notebook files that we used over a few weeks…enjoy!






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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.

How to Catch a Star…


One of the best author / illustrators ever is Oliver Jeffers.  He is probably best know for ‘Lost and Found’ a beautiful book and animation about the blossoming friendship between a boy and his penguin.


However, my favourite is ‘How to Catch a Star’ a story of childhood whimsy and imagination. A boy wants a star and then spends days trying to work out the best way to acquire one in a variety of madcap ways.  I love using this book as part of a ‘Space’ topic in a Key Stage 1 as it has endless fabulous activities that it inspires and compliments.

I set the scene using this beautiful Kate Rusby song (the Barnsley nightingale!) and video. Turning the lights off adds to the drama…and I enjoy being dramatic (as anyone who knows me can testify!).

If you want to be less ethereal then Perry Como’s ‘Catch a Falling Star’ creates a more upbeat feel…


I have found that a Talk 4 Writing approach works really well with this story as it has a simple and repetitive structure that is easy to learn orally through use of a simple story map.  It lends itself to fun actions too.

The simple illustrations can be used as a sequencing activity on a time line or a washing line as the children retell it independently.

I then like to change things a little by creating an instructional text ‘How to Catch a Star’.  The children learn this text map and then innovate it, choosing their own way to catch one.  This can be written up in a simple format following the key features of writing instructions.


I like to use ‘Marking Ladders’ to provide steps to success to support children’s learning – they can be easily found if you Google them.

Role-play and drama is a great way to get the children to innovate their own ideas for how to catch a star and the wackier the better!


I also love the story ‘Katie and the Starry Night’ which works beautifully with the Oliver Jeffers book and can lead to art activities based on the Van Gough painting.


The Literacy Shed website has a short film called ‘La Luna’ with ideas and inspiration for activities to follow.  This is fantastic for children who have little or no English and still images from the animation can be used to scaffold or stimulate writing.

In areas of provision stars can be hidden in foam or gooey gloop, caught and threaded onto string or wool.  They can be made in salt dough or play dough, star shapes can be used for printing, glittery stars can be made from card and beads threaded onto string to make tails…

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Oliver Jeffers’ book ‘The Way Back Home’ can be used in tandem.  There are so many ways you can travel to the Moon..



Give me shelter.

In this short blog post I am going to list beautiful, amazing, moving and brave books that tackle the ever-present issue of being a refugee.  I was moved to do this very late at night having read an article on the far-right anti-foreigner movement in Germany and their attacks on refugee camps, which follows on from the crisis in Calais and the shameful British press response.

Many schools find themselves with new pupils who have suffered the trauma of having to leave behind all they know in order to find a safe place to live. As educators it is our role to tackle these meaty issues head-on and what better way than through story.

‘Four feet, Two Sandals’ K. Williams – honours the experiences of refugee children around the world.51YAiPChTTL._SY372_BO1,204,203,200_

‘The Librarian of Basra’ J. Winter – a true story from Iraq

Here is the video link from Youtube –


‘Give Me Shelter: Stories About Children Who Seek Asylum’  T. Bradman – human physical and emotional suffering, but also about the humanity of some.

‘Christophe’s Story’ N. Cornwell – about a young refugee who struggles to share his experiences with others

‘Malalal Yousafai: Warrior with Words’ – child friendly biography


‘Malala a Brave Girl from Pakistan / Iqbal a Brave Boy from Pakistan’ J. Winter – a seriously moving tale.  Tragically Iqbal did not survive so the story needs to be sensitively used.

‘I have the right to be a child’ A.Serres – the Convention on the rights of the Child drawn up by the United Nations.


‘The Hundred Dresses’ E. Esten – a Polish girl is mocked for her stories. A valuable lesson for all.

‘The Matchbox Diary’ P. Fleischman – a story of immigration across the genarations


‘A Child’s Garden : A Story of Hope’ M. Foreman – a boy’s world is in ruins.  Can a tiny green shoot give him hope in a bleak landscape?

‘The Silence Seeker’ B. Morley – a family of asylum seekers move in next door.


‘The Island’ A. Greder – Picture book about a man on a tattered raft discovered on a beach. A powerful picture book about refugees and xenophobia and human rights.

‘The Arrival’ S.Tan – What drives someone to leave all they know behind.  A wordless book – the story of every migrant.


These are just a small sample of the powerful books you need to share with your children.

How to make children better readers.

A simple objective? The children need to be better at reading…However, the complexities of meeting this challenge can have you reaching for a large glass of gin (or is that just me?).


There are endless numbers of beautiful books out there that our children would devour… One of the greatest joys of being a teacher, for me anyway, is sharing a book I am really excited about with my class.  I love seeing and hearing their responses to a story. I love the gasp of sadness at the end of ‘War Games’ by M. Foreman, the intrigue and puzzlement after the first page of ‘Skellig’ by D. Almond…


…the laughter and tears of ‘Gangster Granny’ by D. Walliams and the change of opinion and challenging stereotype of ‘Friend or Foe’ by M. Morpurgo…


So how can we help children to access these amazing stories and get the most out of them.  I tried to simplify and clarify the strategies I would use to teach reading so I knew specifically what experiences to plan for when introducing a text.

Activating schema:

Before we even open a book we need to encourage the children to think about what they are going to read.  What prior experiences can they bring to the story? They need to make text-to-self connections, text-to-text connections and text-to-world connections.  You can tackle this by simply looking at the book cover and talking about it, you can show pictures that might be from the text or linked to the genre or, with a little more effort, provide a bag of objects e.g. for Harry Potter – a wand, glasses, toy dragon… Model questions like ‘This reminds me of..’, ‘I know another…’, ‘I’ve read another…’, ‘I remember when…’.

I used this picture to introduce the genre of ‘The Graveyard Book’…


Making Predictions:

This is also about prior knowledge.  Encourage children to make predictions and educated guesses about what might happen next.  The important point to make clear though is that it is okay to constantly monitor and modify your views as you experience the story.  There are some lovely ideas for recording this in reading journals.  I used the one below…



The children need to create a bank of images in their head.  When they close their eyes what can they see?  Ask the children to listen to part of the text and draw what they see in their mind’s eye. Character portraits are also a good idea to get them to engage and potentially empathise.


The more words you know the easier it is to learn more words.  Pre-teaching is a key strategy here so that you are not always breaking the flow of a story to explain and so that EAL / new to English pupils can access the text with ease. Chose key words and teach them in a context before the reading – sometimes this only needs to be done with a small group of children.  Never, ever chose to ‘dumb down’ your word choices, let them children play and explore language.  I often use word warm-ups at the beginning of a literacy session which encourages children to take risks with words.



Questions need to be as open-ended as possible.  I often focus on a particular question type and use some brilliant, time saving resources from ‘Teachers pay Teachers’…



This is a brief summary of the main strategies I plan for (summarising being another one!).  I have collected together my thoughts and ideas on my Pinterest board below..