I have talked about this many times before – films are some of the most powerful resources you can use to engage children. They are amazingly effective with those often harder to reach groups….boys, EAL, SEN. I like to make collections of the films I have used that have worked across age ranges and I will share some of the best here.
I find film really useful at the start of an English unit of work to activate schema, encouraging children to bring their own experience to the text or genre that I will eventually share. Sometimes I use clips of full length films, but often it is short animations that work best.
I use the snipping tool or my smartnotebook camera to capture still images and create tick sheets of key words and corresponding pictures for those with little English so they are beginning to understand and focus upon the essential vocabulary. These pictures are also great to use to support the creative writing of those who have literacy difficulties, giving them prompts and structure for their work.
A brilliant film for assembly or a PHSCE session is ‘For the birds’, where a strange looking new bird tries to make friends with a a rather unkind flock with hilarious outcomes…
‘Defective Detective’ is great for inference. The detective’s overactive imagination leads him to believe terrible crimes are being committed in the flat above him…
‘Dangle’ is a great film for discussing ‘What would you do?’ and for using prediction…’What is at the end of the red rope?’
‘La Luna’ is a beautiful animation from Pixar that introduces the idea of mythology and how early man believed the world worked. This works well with Oliver Jeffers’ books ‘How to catch a star’ and ‘The way back home’ – ideal for a topic on stars or night time in KS1.
My absolute favourite (which I have done an entire blog post on already!) is ‘Francis’. A dark and spooky tale only suitable for the oldest KS2 children, but is fabulous at looking for the signs an author gives you to build up tension, anticipation and dread….
Following the spooky theme is ‘Alma’, which is more suitable for the rest of KS2, where spooky dolls have eyes that seem to follow you…..
‘Home Sweet Home’ is the bittersweet story of a house that longs to be elsewhere and his journey with friends across beautiful, yet rugged and host landscapes. This lends itself to creative writing and stories of epic journeys…
I will finish this post on a non-fiction note…’Dragons – a fantasy made real’ is an amazing stimulus for information texts on dragons and links beautifully to the talk for writing work of Pie Corbett…
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!!
Friendship is a sheltering tree.
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’.
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 –
I saw some lovely ideas for Giving trees or just trees in general on Pinterest.
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!
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
the forest that calls to me as deeply
as I breathe,
as though the woods were marrow of my bone
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 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.
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.
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.
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…
Alone with myself
The trees bend
to caress me
The shade hugs
by Candy Polgar
Yes it is true…I am an addict. I love Pinterest! Whenever I get a moment I can be found avidly searching and pinning. I have lots of followers so I guess I’m not the only one!
To be honest it helps me to collect all my thoughts and ideas in one place so that at any point I can go back and be inspired, use the idea, read the article, watch the video, make the recipe….it is endless. My most recent pinning has revolved around developing my ‘Guided Reading’ CPD for the staff at school and a group of NQTs. The ideas I came across were often brilliantly practical and shared by teacher who had had success with these approaches.
I love the positivity of American teacher-bloggers and was particularly inspired by many of their ideas….there are hundreds and thousands of blogs to read!!
However my biggest addiction is my ‘Stuff to write about’ board. I have collected thousands of ideas which I use in a variety of ways….mainly for ‘Morning work’ to focus my children’s thinking and get the creative juices flowing for ten or fifteen minutes every morning when they first enter the classroom. It also means they come in ready to learn and relatively fuss-free.
I enjoy secret pinning when bored…and that can happen during meetings, CPD, waiting rooms, insomnia…!