Herts Primary English teaching & learning resources for KS1 & KS2: weekly digest, vol 10

    Published: 24 June 2020
    Reading Family


    And so we reach double figures, with the 10th edition of our weekly roundup of primary English teaching and learning suggestions. It’s been quite a ride and we are almost at the end of term. We have at least one more regular issue to share and then we hope to have something of a summer fete special. There will be no Pimms tent or Whack-the-Rat stand, but we’ll do our best to compensate.


    Love that Book


    Across this series, we aim to 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. These ideas can be delivered in class or adapted for use in the home setting. Enjoy!

    This week’s whole school recommendation comes from a prolific writer who has done much to raise awareness of the importance and value of the natural world. Nicola Davies has written extensively on wildlife – plants and animals – in both collaborations and in her solo work. Her novellas are well worth your time; her First Book of Nature is almost a curriculum strand in its own right; and her writing in picture books is second-to-none. Today we look at one of her most popular texts, the modern fable The Promise.


    The Promise


    The Promise

    Nicola Davies

    Illustrated by Laura Carlin

    Walker Books, 2013

    Nicola Davies discusses the book here and provides rich insights into its creation and its messages.

    Laura Carlin discusses her work here. We hadn’t realised this was Laura’s first picture book. That really is quite something. In this video there are some wonderful insights.

    Laura is asked about physical space: ‘Did you have a landscapes in mind when you illustrated the book?’

    She responds with the following:

    ‘Mmm, I don’t think so, I think… what’s important is …it’s about looking, and I think when I show the expanse of the dark cold city… I am looking at London, and I’m thinking of New York, I’m thinking of other cities, but also I think one of the things I notice about living in a city, it can be quite depressing, unless you look at the small bits of love and interest that goes on in what seems like a big, cold and hard city…and so I tried to remember those small incidents  either on the tube…or with a neighbour where you do communicate and you do correspond and I tried to put those in the book. So I was looking at the city both as a whole and in its small pockets.’

    For some of us, this really strikes a chord, the facility to appreciate beauty and goodness in areas often characterised in somewhat harsh tones. The Promise strikes a careful balance – acknowledging hard edges and then, bit by bit, shifting expectations as vibrant colours and soft-edged shapes disrupt the narrative. Essentially the book becomes a tale of change – both personal and in the environment. An early tussle leads to valuable lessons, transformed lives, transformed environments, and a cycle of regeneration.

    The following ideas represent just a small selection of some of the follow up activities that you might use to explore the book in greater depth:

    • The Promise is a highly rhythmic book. Select key pages and rehearse reading aloud, bringing to bear your most effective “performance” voice. Experiment with different points of emphasis. What does this add to meaning? What do your listeners think sounds best/most appropriate? What really adds to the meaning? Does this depend on what is being emphasised?
    • Compare and contrast the endpapers – the early image of concrete set against the later image of plants. What do your young readers think lies between these?  What do they predict will happen in the course of the story of The Promise?
    • Use drama to role play the struggle between the main protagonist and the elderly lady. Freeze frame and ask the participating children to speculate as to what is going through each characters’ heads? Does one have the upper hand? Who, and how do you know? Which character is withholding information or keeping secrets?
    • Provide eyewitness accounts. Explore bias in how this might be reported – how might we fairly report this?  How might we respect the obvious strength of the older woman? How might we leave space for the future direction that our protagonist takes? There is plenty of mystery surrounding this event, and in the way that is represented. Consider why Laura Carlin presented the struggle as shadows. Is it to spare us an ugly truth? Is it so that we do not take a simplistic view of the scene, and rush to make judgements? Is it to add menace? There may be other questions for you to generate and then consider. Recording these questions and then attempting speculative answers will deepen the insights gained and provide valuable sentence level practice.
    • Research the life cycle of an oak tree. Use drawing and labelling to bring this to life.
    • Research and report on efforts to rejuvenate urban environments by exploring urban greening
    • The Promise is a cyclical fable – explore what this means? Will this story ever end? Should it? Can your young readers sketch out, or outline pan their own cyclical tale in which an act, or deed, or duty is passed on from one character to another? Can they think of any other stories in which this happens?

    If you would like to  explore the potential of this book in greater depth, and read some more detailed planning ideas, you may wish to read this blog, by one of our team members.

    To repeat ourselves from last week (forgive us, but we have a theme emerging), if you would like to explore the thematic element of the seed and the growth of plants as a means of either making an environment more apparently welcoming, or as a symbol for hope or new life, you may wish to explore some of these additional titles:

    • Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen
    • Balcony by Melissa Castrillon
    • Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith


    Plant Pot


    You may also wish to revisit last week’s blog in which we shared Here I am, a book that has thematic overlaps   and that similarly explores the potential for joy that the simple act of growing plants brings.


    Keeping Creative


    The following suggestions for engaging activities that children can enjoy, with some opportunities for speaking, reading and writing to be part of children’s imaginative play. Our intention is for these ideas to support teachers and parents whilst many children are at home or in mixed-age classes at school during this difficult time. We hope that these activities provide some much needed fun, as well as opportunities for speaking, reading and writing to be developed through children’s imaginative play.

    Sports day reports

    As the summer days draw on, we enter the school season traditionally associated with District Sports, Sports Day and rounders on the field! Although the majority of these events may be cancelled this year, along with many of the national and international sporting fixtures such as Wimbledon and the Olympics, many exciting activities are still possible. Whether children are doing star jumps in their lounge or racing around the track at school, everyone can benefit from a burst of socially distanced exercise.

    Why not encourage children to practise their spoken language or writing skills by responding to a sporting event. Ask them to consider how they will record these activities in a lively and engaging way in order to capture the action.


    Sports Day


    They could be encouraged to:

    • Provide a running commentary to accompany a short video clip of a famous sporting event or indeed of their own endeavours in the sporting arena.
    • Don a reporter’s outfit and hold an improvised microphone, then film themselves delivering a summary report of an event- where and when it took place, who was involved and how it turned out.
    • Write an official report of a sporting event they have held at home or in school, adding photos and quotes from star players.

    Alternatively, children could:

    • Research their favourite sport and create an entry for a class sport encyclopaedia.
    • Write a short biography of their sporting hero, explaining a little about his/ her life and sporting achievements, as well as why they admire this personality so much. 
    • Create a cartoon strip, with captions to explain the rules or skills of a game or sport.


    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.


    Speech Bubble


    What if the world were different? Why not try these prompts to think about the scenarios below?

    What would be positive about it? What would you wonder about it? What would be bad about it?


    The Earth


    • What if the sun didn’t come out for the next 10 years?
    • What if books were illegal?
    • What if our teeth were as valuable as gold?
    • What if we couldn’t understand each others’ languages around the world?
    • What if animals were in charge of humans?

    Can you think of more topics to discuss this way?


    Whats in a Word




    Secret Code


    This activity can be played in small groups, pairs or whole class. It involves creating a ‘code’ and then a ‘message’ which must be cracked using the code. Players can invent their own code by creating a symbol to represent each letter and then write coded messages to each other. You can add a layer of challenge by asking participants to include words from the statutory word lists, or common exception words, or a key spelling / phonics rule in their messages. Can you spot some words from the 3 /4 list in the message below?

    For older children, you can omit some symbols and letters altogether from the key. They then have to use their knowledge of our spelling system to solve the clues. For example, ‘there are two symbols together there in the middle of a word so they might represent e or o’.

    We have provided one for you here, but encourage children to invent their own too!

    Building the syllables

    Challenge the children to name an animal with a one syllable name e.g. cat.  Then name one with two syllables – donkey.  Now three syllables, elephant. Keep going. What is the animal with the most syllables? You could play this game with other categories as well e.g. cities of the world; rivers of the world; famous people, as well as more. The possibilities are endless; the range of syllables perhaps more limited.


    Food for Thought


    Ordinarily, this section focuses on books, podcasts, blogs, articles and more that we feel are especially helpful in enhancing subject knowledge and pedagogy. This week we are breaking with the (short term) traditions of this digest, and want to take the liberty of flagging one of our own resources. We haven’t looked at spelling here, as yet. We looked at words in the context of word study/vocabulary development when we recommended Kelly Ashely’s Word Power. But what of spelling? Well, given that we launch ESSENTIALspelling in July, we felt we had to share.


    This Herts for Learning resource is a whole class approach to teaching spelling that enables all children to succeed, and gives teachers the unique tools to make that happen. ESSENTIALspelling can be used as a scheme for spelling on its own, or in conjunction with the school’s existing scheme to give supplementary teaching guidance. The complete resource features a year’s worth of teaching sequences for each year group; all inter-related and all following on in logical progression.




    This spelling resource is very different to other spelling schemes. It focuses more on the teaching of spelling so that children understand how to apply patterns, strategies and knowledge to all words. It also provides links to prior knowledge and tracks back to related objectives so that teachers can give targeted support to children who are not yet able to spell words from their year group programme of study. In short, ESSENTIALspelling enables children to become spellers for life, rather than remember spellings for a week.

    Michelle Nicholson, our ESSENTIALspelling lead, will be sharing more very soon in a separate blog dedicated to this innovative resource. ESSENTIALspelling goes on general sale towards the end of the Summer Term. Each year group booklet costs £60 (or £200 for the set of all four year groups).

    In the meantime We are also offering training for specific year groups in July and participants will receive the ESSENTIALspelling materials for their year group.

    You can find out more, and book onto the course here:

    Year 3    ENG/20/719/P Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 8th morning

    Year 4    ENG/20/720/P  Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 8th  afternoon

    Year 5    ENG/20/721/P Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 13th morning

    Year 6    ENG/20/722/P Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 13th afternoon

    Cost of each course is £90 which includes a copy of the associated year group materials.


    In other news


    Great Teaching Toolkit  - evidence review

    As providers of CPD for English, we are constantly looking beyond subject specific material and researching and refining our understanding of what makes for best practice in developing the knowledge and skills necessary to maximise impact in the classroom. 

    This new report from Evidence Based Education provides a comprehensive review of the evidence base for optimising the conditions for teacher learning. The foreword alone gladdens our heart:

    ‘…the Great Teaching Toolkit is a breath of fresh air – treating teachers like the professionals they are. It provides both a synthesis of evidence from authoritative studies, and the findings of this evidence, that teachers can relate to their own experience. What makes it so valuable is its clear focus on areas of practice that have the potential to improve student learning and outcomes.’

    Dr Tristian Stobie

    We have always aimed to keep the class teacher/subject leader at the centre of our work, working alongside in planning, strategizing, and team-teaching to develop confidence and increased agency in the classroom.  If you have a role in developing the teaching and learning in your school, or have a direct influence on CPD, this is an essential read.  

    CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020 and Kate Greenaway Medal 2020

    This year’s prize-winners have been announced.




    The CILIP Carnegie medal is awarded to ‘a book that creates an outstanding reading experience through writing’ and this year that honour fell to Anthony McGowan for his book Lark. You can read his acceptance speech here.

    It would be a shame not to share the wider shortlists for these medals as there are a range of truly great books featured that you will likely want to explore. The Carnegie shortlist can be found here.




    The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Shortlist 2020, for  ‘a book that creates an outstanding reading experience through illustration’ can be found here.

    Shaun Tan, a firm favourite of ours, was this year’s recipient for the strange, beautiful, and in places pretty grown up, Tales from the Inner City. If you haven’t read it, do try to get a copy. It is visually ravishing and offers food for thought on every page. Much like the beloved Tales of Outer Suburbia, but perhaps more obviously ‘mature’ in tone, content, and style, it demonstrates once more just how great a writer Tan is, as well as a peerless illustrator.

    That’s all for this week. 

    Thank you for reading.  

    Keep safe; stay well and widely read.

    Primary English

    Herts for Learning Primary English team


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