Herts Primary English teaching & learning resources for KS1 & KS2: weekly digest, vol 1

    Published: 22 April 2020


    We’ve always enjoyed sharing our particular take on the full range of matters that relate to Primary English practice and pedagogy.  Once upon a time, we would gather up our latest thoughts and put them into a newsletter, sometimes themed, designed to provide you with a rich seam of information and ideas that might enhance your practice or that of your colleagues.  These newsletters were always very popular, but over time we moved to the more tightly focused immediacy of blogging.  Well, we felt that the time was right to revisit the spirit of those newsletters of old, but at the same time combine this with the more immediate pleasures of our blogs, so we came up with this, our weekly primary English digest. We have tried to provide a comprehensive range of suggestions and recommendations to support you in keeping your English offer box-fresh. Wherever possible we have aimed to make suggestions for learning as low tech as possible in order to support access for all.  While we blog and share with a teacher/subject leader audience in mind, all of the included activities are designed so that they can be adapted to form a part of your home learning offer.

    Please do get in touch if you have any suggestions or requests for future inclusion. Your feedback is invaluable to us.  Happy reading!


    Love that Book Light Bites


    This week’s whole school book recommendation is:

    The Tear Thief

    By Carol Ann Duffy

    Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli


    The Tear Thief is a modern classic offering up a winning combination of sparkling, poetic prose, and stunning illustrations.  Be warned: this book has led to real life tears when we have read it aloud during training sessions. The title gives a very good clue as to the nature of the story, but what kinds of tears, exactly, are most precious to our scavenging Tear Thief?



    In future editions of this weekly digest, we will offer up a number of whole school reading and writing opportunities for you to use with the children currently at school, or to pass on for exploration at home. To celebrate the launch of the digest, we hope you will find this resource based on The Tear Thief helpful.  It is packed with ideas that can be delivered in class or adapted for use in the home setting. Enjoy!


    Keeping Creative


    We have been busy conjuring up and collating a pool of creative ideas with which to support teachers and parents whilst many children are at home, or in mixed-age classes at school during, this difficult time. Here are some suggestions for engaging activities that children can enjoy, with some opportunities for speaking, reading and writing to be part of children’s imaginative play.

    Toy Diary

    Provide each child with a toy e.g. a vehicle or figure, and invite them to take it on an adventure using the environment that they have at their disposal.

    The toy might:

    • dive for sunken treasure in the sink,
    • get buried in a mountain of pencil shavings,
    • take a wild ride on a skateboard,
    • find themselves buried in mud!

    Invite the children to create a diary of the toy’s escapades.

    Younger children might record simple sentences written in the third person e.g. ‘The dolly got stuck in the mud’, whilst older children might enjoy the challenge of writing from the perspective of the toy: can you imagine how anxious the toy might feel about being stuck at home with their tormentor for weeks on end! Aaargh!


    Toy Diary


    For further inspiration, you may want to re-visit this older blog looking at Mini Grey’s dazzlingly inventive Traction man, a firm favourite in many of the schools that we support.  You’ll find further suggestions for writing a winning diary there.





    Cooking up a Spell

    Provide each child with a bucket or bowl filled with some water – this will become their cauldron! Invite the child/children to seek out 6 or more ingredients from the natural environment that could be added to the cauldron to make a spell. Before adding each ingredient to the pot, challenge the children to consider how the ingredient could be prepared e.g.

    • Could it be sliced into tiny pieces, or crushed into a powder (using a stone or stick maybe)?
    • Do you need to say anything special as it is added (special magical words, perhaps), or should it simply be dropped from a great height?

    When all the ingredients are ready, invite the children to get mixing! When their concoction is ready, ask them to explain the purpose of their mix e.g. is it designed to turn frogs into princesses, or is it an invisibility potion?




    After mixing, the potions could be bottled and the children could make labels. Finally, the children might enjoy recording their ingredients list and methods so that other wannabe magicians can recreate the magic.


    Really Saying Something


    Each week we will celebrate and support the power of the spoken word through carefully chosen prompts to support children’s language development through discussion – offering opportunities for listening, contemplation, turn-taking, forming thoughts and putting these into words, or simply having fun with language.

    • Memory jar: Family discussions of any kind fuel children’s language development but this one will give children a positive glow inside. Jot down short prompts for happy or funny memories on strips of paper and every day pull one out of the jar to read. These could be memories of each other, things you did when you were little, events that happened recently at school or just something that someone often does that makes you smile. The listener has to fill in the details that relate to the prompt. Here is an example from my family from a prompt saying, Hide and Seek: “Once, when we were playing hide and seek, you hid in the under stair cupboard and no one found you. You fell asleep amongst the coats and ….”




    Try this variation on “Granny’s Basket” for vocabulary development. Players take turns to describe an agreed item, adding adjectives in strict alphabetical order. Each person adds a new adjective to the list whilst remembering everyone else’s contribution. For example:

    “I went to the shops and bought an appetising apple”

    “I went to the shops and bought an appetising, bitter apple…”

    “I went to the shops and bought an appetising, bitter, crunchy apple…” and so on.


    Whats in a Word


    Define in 6, 4, 2

    Use any one of the words below or think of some of your own.   Work with somebody else, without them seeing the list, and define the word for them.  Can they say which word you are defining?  First of all you could define it using up to 6 words, then if that is too easy, pick another word and define it in 4 words, then define in 2 words.  Of course, you cannot use the word or any parts of the word you are defining.

    Challenge level 1

    Carrot, teddy bear, lamp, tree, gorilla, bus, book, road, wall, firefighter, tissue, moon,

    Challenge level 2

    Silence, truth, memory, kindness, inspiration, eruption, laughter, science, fun, anger, happiness

    Squirming your way out of it

    Below are a list of things you could be asked to help with around the house.  Using as many different conjunctions and adverbials as possible, politely excuse yourself.

    Please could you:

    Lay the table for dinner.

    Make the beds.

    Help me with the weeding.

    Wash up.

    Water the plants.

    Dust your bedroom.

    Help prepare the dinner.

    Play with your baby sister/brother.

    Tidy your things from the living room.

    Unfortunately, because, if, while, as a result, even though, regrettably, although, unless, after that, as, but

    e.g. I am unable to lay the table as I have to finish drawing you a picture although I will help clear the table after dinner.

    Even though the plants need water, I have to save the world and fight off the dinosaurs.

    Building pyramids

    Add more and more detail to a word, building a triangular shape e.g.


    ash tree

    ash tree swaying

    elegant ash tree swaying

    elegant ash tree swaying in the wind

    majestic and elegant ash tree swaying in the wind

    majestic and elegant ash tree swaying in the wind and standing guard

    Our majestic and elegant ash tree swaying in the wind and standing guard.


    Food for Thought


    Each week, we recommend our favourite books, podcasts and blogs for continuous professional development. Most of our recommendations focus on developing subject knowledge for English but we will recommend material that relates to teaching and learning on a wider basis as and when appropriate.  This week, we focus on reading comprehension.  By reading comprehension, we mean the product of the complex set of processes that lead to a sense of a text, new understanding, impressions and more besides.  We are not referring to comprehension in terms of more conventional practice relating to answering questions related to a text.  This distinction is sometimes muddied, often unhelpfully, in discussions of reading instruction.

    This week’s book recommendation:




    This book draws upon extensive research to provide a range of fascinating insights into reading comprehension. As much as this book focuses on the science behind reading comprehension, it is also geared towards the practical and is a very useful read for the time-pressed class teacher. Carefully chosen illustrative examples shine a light on the processes that support children in understanding what they read, and the authors take care to account for how these processes can break down or lead to incomplete understanding.  Practical advice is given in a way that can support you in developing reading provision for all learners.  Written by leading figures in the field, this comes highly recommended as an in depth insight into the interior world of reading comprehension.

    This week’s recommended blogs/podcasts:

    Keeping with the reading theme, we enjoy reading Timothy Shanahan’s blog. Never one to hold back, some of his views are, shall we say, to the point and direct. Nevertheless, his blogs carry great insight, drawing upon years in the field and an extensive knowledge of the field of reading research. You can follow Timothy on Twitter with the following tag @ReadingShanahan and find his blog here: https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/.  You might wish to have a read of Timothy’s recent blog on the Simple View of reading: https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/why-following-the-simple-view-may-not-be-such-a-good-idea This has already sparked plenty of debate.  We would love to hear your views! For further thoughts on this influential model, that underpins the current curriculum, you might wish to read this blog of ours from last year: https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/what-do-we-mean-when-we-talk-about-reading-and-writing-fluency


    Other News


    Up until Friday of last week, the news we were expecting to share was made up of a small collection of various articles and announcements from across the week, but this has all been trumped by the launch of two large scale – as in national – resources designed to support schools and parents as they find their way in delivering home learning of one kind or another.   Both are offering ambitious programmes of lessons stretching across the summer term. Perhaps better known, or at least telegraphed earlier  is BBC Bitesize (www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize, see also Twitter @bbcbitesize).   We say ‘telegraphed earlier’ but we must keep in mind that this has only been around four weeks in the offing.  Here you will find “daily lessons for home schooling in Maths and English for every year group, as well as regular lessons in Science, History, Geography and more.”

    For those of us who are very regular in keeping up to date with education news on Twitter or other similar platforms, the explosion of talk around the Oak National Academy (www.thenational.academy, see also @OakNational on Twitter) seemed to come out of nowhere and went on to dominate the weekend’s chat for all kinds of reasons. The Oak website plans to offer “a sequenced plan of video lessons and curricular resources” across a range of subjects.  The launch of Oak has certainly made a big splash. 

    We look forward to exploring the content of both over the coming weeks.

    On a final note, in case you missed it, the DfE have gathered together a list of online education resources for home education.  This listing covers a range of subjects and extends to cover resources designed to provide pastoral support.  You can find the list here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-online-education-resources/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-online-education-resources-for-home-education#english-primary  

    That’s all for our first weekly digest.  We hope that by providing a range of items, we’ve provided something of interest.  Don’t forget that we have an extensive body of blogs on this site.  Plenty of reading there if you are looking for further CPD.  We will also continue to blog in the more conventional sense on areas of interest to our fellow Primary English devotees.  If you do happen to make use of some of our ideas, we would love to see the outcomes.  Please share them with us, via our Twitter account @HertsEnglish.

    Thank you for reading. Keep safe; stay well & well read.

    Primary English

    Herts for Learning Primary English team


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