Tag Archives: reading

Fabulous books to inspire…

I have started collecting together some of my absolutely favourite books for children and young adults.  I admit I am obsessed and so I imagine this collection will continue to grow and grow…

I have found that most of these books are brilliant at inspiring creative writing, but also (and more importantly in my opinion) as an introduction to damn good stories and fabulous authors.

Feel free to add to the padlet page as I am always looking for new books to add to my overflowing bookshelf!

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Assessing reading…a quick guide.

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
  • Role-on-the-wall
  • 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?



Don’t fear exemplification!!

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!!

Harry Potter Day!

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!!!

"Not Slytherin, not Slytherin." #harrypotter #harrypotterquotes #danielradcliffe:

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.

Welcome to Hogwarts. #harrypotter #harrypotterquotes:

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!’.

Harry Potter | 25 Snapchats From Hogwarts Professors:

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…!

Harry Potter themed wedding (so well done!) BertieBottsEveryFlavourBeans for our harry potter table 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:





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.


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.


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.


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.


Amy Pond was my favourite…


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.


Borrowed TimeThe Dust of Ages

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!!)…




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..

Guided Reading?


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.

Wild, Wild West.


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.


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.


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…


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…


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.


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!


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’.


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.