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!!
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…
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
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.
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’…
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..
I loathe guided reading…dull. dull, dull. Or at least I did until I decided it really was time to change things.
The first thing was the name. No more ‘Guided Reading’ instead it became ‘Book Club’. If we are focusing on reading for pleasure then it had to sound like it might possibly be about enjoying books.
And that led to the all important decision to throw away all our guided reading scheme books. A brave decision, but one we really believed would make reading come alive for our children. They have such limited experience of books that it was only right that we shared as many real books with them as possible so they could begin to develop views and opinions about favourite authors and genres. This meant a massive investment from the school budget which is still ongoing as we don’t keep tatty or damaged books, we try to teach the children to look after what they read. I have the joyful job of choosing most of the books we buy (kiddie in sweet shop!!) , but we encourage the classes to choose too and use book vouchers as rewards for competitions like ‘Best Reading Corner’.
It is vital that the children have a special place to read, where they choose to spend time relaxing and reading.
Book Club sessions were still not really working. Most of the children were not learning about reading in a time designated on the timetable for reading. There were lots of low level ‘holding’ activities. The only children who were making progress in the lesson were those reading with the teacher.
I did lots of reading around – Pinterest is a great place to start – and came to the conclusion that, for us, the carousel style of teaching was not working.
There are some really interesting blogs that discuss the merits of using whole class teaching and explain why all the children should have a reading learning objective during the session.
We took this on board across the school. It is easier to plan for to be honest and the children’s learning is evident. We use films and pictures as well as books as it is easier to access for those children who are new to English or EAL or who struggle with the technical aspects of reading. High level questioning is still possible so lots of inference and deduction can be tackled. There are some lovely questions that I enjoy using with KS1 and KS2 which can be found on ‘Teachers Pay Teachers’ called ‘Bloom’s Buttons’. A lovely interactive resource that children can use independently.
Here are some of the films we use…
Reading through some of the blogs from the United States I discovered the idea of a ‘Book Club Basket’. A simple idea – the teacher has a collection of resources that can be used to support the teaching of reading in one box or basket. I bought the staff some resources that were cheap, cheerful and sometimes silly – the sort of thing that can be found in pound shops. The aim was to make the organisation of the session easier, but also to encourage the teachers to make the session more interactive and fun. There are loads of ideas on Pinterest again!
Another simple idea was to give the teachers a ‘Book Club Folder’ with all the key documents in it they need to plan, teach and assess reading. The resources meant that staff would find planning easier and the assessment of the children could easily be handed over and understood by all teachers. Consistency throughout school means transition is easier too.
Here are some of the ideas I collected during my research. I will keep adding to them.
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…!