Monday 26th June 2017 marks twenty years since the first publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In this blog, Michelle Nicholson celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the release of JK Rowling’s fabulous book, with some ideas for bringing the story to life in the classroom.
It was twenty years ago, in June, that The Philosopher’s Stone first hit the bookshelves. One sleepless night, I found myself unexpectedly struggling to put down a children’s book about a young wizard. I was enthralled. From that moment -and for the next two decades- JK Rowling’s monumental series of Harry Potter novels became inextricably linked to the life of my family. My children waited anxiously for the release of the final installments, my husband became one of the many adults purchasing copies with ‘grown up’ covers to read on the Tube, and even my mum decided to see what all the fuss was. I remember we ordered three copies of the Deathly Hallows to avoid squabbles! It is fair to assume that we were not alone in our fandom. Harry Potter fever gripped the nation and vindicated the efforts of a determined writer who had fought to find a publisher prepared to take on her unique project.
The joy of the series is that it transcends real life and takes you into another realm, where a maltreated orphan can become a hero, and where problems can be sorted with the flick of a wand. The traditional theme of ‘good vanquishing evil’ is central, whilst death, friendship, hope and acceptance are all there in good measure. Despite the outlandish premise of a young boy plucked from an ordinary home and thrust into a word of witches, giants, flying broomsticks and dragons, there appears to be something about Harry to which many of us can relate.
Twenty years on, children who were originally too young to witness the anticipation of book and film releases, are still caught up with the excitement of this fantasy realm. They queue up to visit the Studios in Elstree, dress up as wizards for World Book Day and dream of a chance to visit the theme park in America. Although Harry Potter is a household name, I am noticing that the latest generation of fans tend to go straight to the films without always picking up the books. Is the eponymous hero merely Daniel Radcliffe in a cloud of special effects to them? If so, the time has come to take a magical train ride on the Hogwarts Express from platform 9 ¾ onto the pages of The Philosopher’s stone…
Just how well do you know the books? Why not indulge in a bit of fun and take this Harry Potter quiz, created by The Book Trust:
This book lends itself beautifully to a whole host of exciting classroom activities in KS2. However, it is a lengthy novel so do make sure you have allowed plenty of time to read it to (or with) your class before you intend to use it. I have tried to assemble some ideas that could be used in classrooms over the summer, utilising the Take One Book approach and linking to the National Curriculum requirements.
Let’s talk about reading skills:
The National Curriculum states that children should be able to “check that the text makes sense to them, discussing their understanding and explaining the meaning of words in context”. The following activities could address this:
- Explore new vocabulary- can children use the context of the sentence to develop their understanding? Support them to find synonyms of words that they could use in their own writing.
- Use full range of reading strategies to monitor for sense; re-read sections to build up fluency and comprehension.
- Analyse the language used to set scenes, build tension or create suspense
- Consider figurative language and words and phrases chosen to create the magical genre
In addition, children need to work on identifying and discussing themes and conventions in and across a wide range of writing:
The National Curriculum states that, “Pupils should be taught to recognise themes in what they read, such as the triumph of good over evil or the use of magical devices in fairy stories and folk tales.”
- Can the children identify the main themes in the book?
- How is this book like others they have read such as fantasy books or books about children?
- Does this book appeal to its the intended audience?
“Pupils should be taught to recognise themes in what they read, such as loss or heroism. They should have opportunities to compare characters, consider different accounts of the same event and discuss viewpoints (both of authors and of fictional characters), within a text and across more than one text.”
- Can children provide evidence to explain how themes emerge and discuss the sorts of conventions that apply to this book? For example, we have an orphaned child living with unpleasant guardians or heroes discovering the identity of the ‘baddie’ right at the end.
- How do Ron, Hermione and Harry each view their induction into life at Hogwarts, given their different backgrounds and knowledge of the Wizarding World?
Inferential skills are essential and the National Curriculum tells us that children need to be able to draw inferences across a text including “inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence.”
Support Y3/4 children to:
- identify evidence of relationship between characters based on dialogue and behaviour
- explain how words/phrases in the description are linked to create an overall and consistent impression on the reader, for example, ‘what other words/phrases in this passage tell us that he is a sinister character?
- explore techniques used by the author to persuade the reader to feel sympathy or dislike for a character; justify their own opinions of particular characters and/ or settings and distinguish between fact and opinion
Extend Y5/6 children to:
- recognise that characters may have different perspectives in the story- compare attitudes of Mr and Mrs Dursley to Dumbledore’s in terms of what would be right for baby Harry
- analyse characters’ appearance, actions and relationships and make deductions about differences in patterns of relationships and attitudes
- identify examples of dialogue that show different degrees of formality and considers what this implies about the relationships and context. Analyse shifts in formality or tone. Study, for example Professor McGonagall’s formal syntax:
“Well, thank you for that assessment, Mr Weasley. Perhaps it would be more useful if I were to transfigure Mr Potter and yourself into a pocket watch. That way, one of you might be on time.”
Compare with informal structures and use of dialect eg Hagrid:
“I’m a what?” gasped Harry.
“A wizard, o’ course,” said Hagrid…”an’ a thumpin’ good’un I’d say, once yeh’ve been trained up a bit. With a mum an’ dad like yours, what else would yeh be?”
- identify stock characters for this genre (eg the school bully, the gentle giant, the strict school mistress, the cruel aunt, the class ‘swat’, the unlikely hero) and look for evidence of characters that challenge stereotypes and surprise the reader. For example, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr Neville Longbottom.” (from Dumbledore’s speech at the end of the book)
- explain how a personal response has altered at various points across a text as the narrative viewpoint changes e.g. “I didn’t like this character at the beginning because … but now I understand why …”
Let’s talk about …writing
I have tried to suggest a range of exciting activities that would support children’s composition skills and help them to be aware of their readers. But first, let’s talk about grammar and spelling. Far from being forced add-ons or dampening children’s creativity, grammar and punctuation should enhance your children’s writing. Choose a grammar focus that fits your children’s needs and best suits the genre. Likewise, look for opportunities to embed spellings from the statutory requirements- not only will they support children to see words in context, but will increase the range vocabulary choices and make the children’s writing sound more sophisticated. I have included a couple of suggestions, but the exact choice will depend on your class situation and they are certainly not exhaustive examples. Within these suggestions, there are plenty of opportunities to develop oral language skills through discussion, presenting and performing. Finally, give children plenty of time to edit and improve their work, as well as the chance to publish their favourite pieces of writing.
Here are a few ideas for writing activities that might whet your appetite:
- Set the scene. There are myriad different locations in The Philosopher’s Stone- from Privet Drive to the desolate hut that the Dursleys escape to; from Gryffindor common room to the famous and fabulous Diagon Alley where, “Harry wished he had about eight more eyes. He turned his head in every direction as they walked up the street, trying to look at everything at once: the shops, the things outside them, the people doing their shopping.” Any one of these would provide the backdrop for a detailed setting description. Grammar suggestion: create vivid descriptions by focusing on expanded noun phrases, prepositional phrases and relative clauses. Spelling suggestion: homophones eg main street, great hall, mist in the sky, scene of beauty, dreadful weather.
- Hogwarts is the best wizarding school in the magical world. What is the history of the place and what other information would be useful to new students? A report detailing rules and regulations, information about lessons children will study, uniform descriptions, staff (and resident ghost information) could all be included in a handy brochure or booklet. Grammar suggestion: use of headings and sub-headings to aid presentation. A focus on formal language structures and cohesive devices that will link sentences and paragraphs. Spelling suggestion: ant/ ent > ance/ence eg observant, hesitance, tolerant, confidence, independence, decency, frequent
- Prospective witches and wizards are lucky to be at Hogwarts and, once they arrive, they need to be selected for one of four historical houses. It seems that the magical sorting hat does take into account student wishes as well as their inner qualities. Perhaps a persuasive speech or letter would help to sway the decision as to why they should be selected for one house over another…
Gryffindor values bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry
Hufflepuff values hard work, dedication, patience, loyalty, and fair play
Ravenclaw values intelligence, knowledge, and wit
Slytherin house values ambition, cunning and resourcefulness, but be warned- as Hagrid says, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.”
Grammar suggestion: modal verbs for persuasion. Spelling suggestion: prefixes eg disappoint, misbehave, irresponsible, anti-social, impatient, immature, disobey, interact.
- Character description: these could all go into a class book: a Who’s Who of Harry Potter characters. Alternatively, children could write biographies of Albus Dumbledore or one of the other Hogwarts teachers. Grammar suggestion: relative clauses and conjunctions to help structure and link information; use of pronouns to provide cohesion and avoid repetition. Spelling suggestion: suffix –cious/ -tious eg vicious, malicious, suspicious, cautious, ambitious.
- When you enter the wizarding world so much is new and unfamiliar. A lot of explanation is required in order to make a success of everyday school life. Perhaps children could write a clear explanation of how to ride a broomstick, a guide to caring for a magical creature even how to play Quidditch or Wizard Chess. Grammar suggestion: passive voices to show how a creature could be cared for or how a broomstick should be ridden. Spelling suggestion: suffix –ous eg poisonous, adventurous, enormous, tremendous, curious, famous, dangerous.
- The magical world is full of magical creatures, from dragons, unicorns and hippogriffs to lesser known creatures such as knarls or bowtruckles. Students could eventually go on to have career as magizoologists. Perhaps an information leaflet, detailing appearance and characteristics of some of these creatures is needed, or even an entry for a class encyclopaedia on magical creatures. It would be a shame not to link work on mythical creatures with mythological writing: children could research stories linked to creatures and write their own myths. J K Rowling based most of her creatures firmly in famous mythology- even Fluffy, the three-headed dog who guards the trap door and can be charmed by music. Apparently, Hagrid bought him from a “Greek chappie”…. Grammar suggestion: use of brackets, dashes or commas to indicate parenthesis (to include extra information, for example); use of varied verb forms eg used to be found> nowadays lives. Spelling suggestion: The /I/ sound spelt y in the middle of words eg myth, mystery, pyramid,
- Magical methodology- instructions: Hermione, Ron and Harry are stuck in one of the final challenges of the book. Ask children to write instructions to help them escape from Devil’s Snare, a plant with the ability to strangle anything it meets. Alternatively, write instructions for a wondrous potion such as liquid luck (Felix Felicis). What could you do with some “bottled good fortune”? Grammar suggestion: use of adverbs to order steps and provide detail. Spelling suggestion suffix –ly/ ily/ ally eg gently, carefully, thoroughly, completely, finally.
- Why not introduce your class to debating skills? “This house believes that all classes should have a pet dragon” or “Magic should never be used back in the Muggle World.” There are so many opportunities for rich discussion in Harry Potter- children could develop their spoken language skills as well as practising writing a balanced argument on a topic. Grammar focus: develop formal use of language structures such as “In my opinion/ Some people might argue that..” and rehearse orally. Spelling suggestion: suffix- ibly/ably eg possibly, suitably, sensibly, considerably, noticeably, remarkably.
- The sky is the limit when it comes to spinning a magical yarn, but how about retelling the visit to Gringotts bank or imagining an exhilarating broomstick ride? A shorter piece could be written as a recount- a diary entry of the first day at Hogwarts or a ‘day in the life of a pet rat’. Grammar suggestion: embedding dialogue to show characterisation.
- Poetry- again so much to choose from but here are a few suggestions: turn a spell or charm into a rhyming poem; create a riddle for Hermione to solve (see Goblet of Fire for some examples eg
“Come seek us where our voices sound/ We cannot sing above the ground/ An hour long you’ll have to look, To recover what we took.”) ; compose a school song in the style of the Hogwarts Anthem; kennings to describe broomsticks, cauldrons or the Mirror of Erised.
I used to love creating a class magazine or newspaper on a theme or around a class topic. This could fit nicely: Hogwarts Herald or Wizarding Weekly. Alongside reports from the life of beyond the realm of Muggles, you could arrange little adverts for wizarding world items. Articles could include: recipes for potions; a letters or problem page; notices of items ‘for sale’ and obituaries; Quidditch match reports and features such as stories or historical reports. Try these ideas:
- Report: newspaper report about sighting of strange happenings at Kings Cross Station or the return of Voldemort
- Design a whole page advert for various student supplies eg wand, cloaks and uniform, magical creature plus any others such as potions/ magical pens etc
- Advice page for future students on how to survive your first year at Hogwarts
I do hope that these ideas will inspire you to integrate a bit of Potter-mania into your classroom. One final thing to consider at this time is this exciting competition. Bloomsbury –the publishers of the Harry Potter series- have a fabulous website dedicated to all things Potter-esque and are running a competition for schools to celebrate the twenty-year anniversary. There is a chance to win a makeover for your class library, but hurry- entries must be received by 14th July 2017.
Good luck, have fun and remember:
“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” – J.K. Rowling