Here we are then. We took some time, when things got all lockdowny and strange, to think about what we might offer up as a team to perhaps lessen the burden in schools. We wanted to listen for a bit and avoid prescription; we felt that was taken care of elsewhere. Instead we wanted to offer up light touch suggestions that could easily be adapted in the most appropriate hands: the class teacher. We committed to covering as much of the term as possible and we’re now somewhat sad to say that this is the last of our weekly digests. However, in the best tradition of the comics that we grew up on, we will be offering something of a bumper special edition. That takes us up to the last week of the academic year. Thereafter, we will return to our more usual blogging regime, a range of subject specific CPD and research sharing. But who knows, we may find time for the occasional digest, when the mood and timing is right… Thank you so much for sticking with us this far. We hope that you enjoy this edition.
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!
How to be a Butterfly
by Laura Knowles and Catell Ronca Nicola Davies
Frances Lincoln Childrens’ Books, 2019
You can read more about this beautifully crafted book here.
Maybe it’s been because of spending more time exploring local green spaces, or perhaps it’s because of being more observant of the nature around us when taking daily exercise, or it could be because the quality of the air is conducive to their survival, Whatever the cause, are you, like us, noticing more butterflies than ever before?
Never one to miss an opportunity to champion a spot of well-timed reading, now would be a perfect time to get your hands on a copy of this, relatively new offering, How to be a Butterfly by Laura Knowles and Catell Ronca. This book is a vibrant celebration of this diverse species.
It is a non-fiction text of sorts, but doesn’t adhere to the standard format of this genre. There are no headings, sub-headings, topic sentences, and yet it is informative, and most importantly, a delight to read. The text follows a repeating pattern throughout, with most pages beginning with the line:
‘To be a butterfly, you need…’.
Then follows a list of requirements that fit the description of this insect, for example:
‘To be a butterfly you need to have a long, curly proboscis.’
On occasion, the author slips from their formal register, acknowledging when they have to modify their description, for example:
’To be a butterfly, you need to be BIG!...or you could be small, I suppose’.
This slip in formality adds an amusing intimacy to the relationship between narrator and reader. The light humour continues when the narrator informs the reader that there is a fine line separating similar insects:
‘To be a butterfly, you must have two thin antennae, each with a club on the end. A butterfly uses its antennae to smell and to help with balance. If your antennae look fuzzy, then you are not a butterfly: you’re a moth!’
Imagine what a blow that revelation would be to a wannabe butterfly!
Beyond the cleverly scripted text, the illustrations are stunning. Each page is adorned with butterflies of all shapes, sizes, colours and patterns. This book is simply delightful, and whether you are sharing it with pupils in the classroom, or remotely with your home-learners, it is sure to spark a fire of interest for many and perhaps a life-long fascination for some.
Download a PDF packed with a range of suggested learning opportunities inspired by this week’s book.
However you choose to enjoy this text, we hope that it encourages your children to pay closer attention to this beautiful insect when they are enjoying the natural world this summer.
Ordinarily, we make suggestions for engaging activities that children can enjoy, with some opportunities for speaking, reading and writing to be part of children’s imaginative play. However, as summer really takes hold (it is piping hot as we type), our thoughts once again turn towards the outdoors and the natural world around us. We have already thoroughly covered the topics of butterflies above. How about spending some time, or sharing, the National Trust’s very precisely delineated ’50 things to do before you’re 11¾ ‘
There are a bevy of excellent ideas – 50 to be precise - here that will build knowledge of the world, language skills, and just pure pleasure in noticing, observing, and sometimes interacting with the wonders of the natural world. Not all activities require you to have access to the countryside or the coast so activities can be selected according to location.
You can find out more where activities are described and resources are provided.
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.
Call my Bluff
Provide a word with 3 or 4 possible definitions.
These could be made up words – perhaps some created by Roald Dahl.
- The word – lixivate
- The act of building a nest
- Being squashed and turned into liquid at the same time
- Eating snakes
- The act of a group of people getting into a line
Each child needs to choose one definition, then convince their team - using the language of explanation - that their definition is the correct one.
Roald Dahl created hundreds of words which could provide some fun for this activity and you could use the Oxford Roald Dahl dictionary to help you.
In the meantime, here are some words to start with:
- bogglebox – a school for young boys
- frothbungling – stupid
- crabcruncher – creature living high on cliffs by the sea. Extremely rare.
- gloriumptious – gloriously wonderful
- jumpsquiffling – something absolutely huge
- muggled – to be a bit confused (did Ms. Rowling find inspiration for her muggles here?)
- quogwinkle – an alien from outerspace
- lixivate – being squashed and turned into liquid at the same time.
- snozzcumber – the BFG eats these – they are the only vegetable growing in giant country – knobbly, with black and white stripes, and tastes horrible.
- trogglehumper – a nightmare
Have you played Madlibs?
This is a game where you have to fill in the blanks of sentences using words from specific word classes and you want to try to make the sentences as funny as possible. Children could play this in teams, each team trying to create the funniest sentences and gaining points.
Look at: www.madlibs.com
In this example you can discuss with the children what a noun is. If your child is in KS2, you could discuss different types of nouns: collective nouns, abstract nouns, concrete nouns etc. Then the children could have some fun trying to find the funniest noun they could think of to complete this sentence. The adult would then need to choose which is funniest and that team could get a point.
You can then repeat the activity. Other examples ask children to think about verbs, adjectives, and body parts.
This week we offer up a bumper summer selection of suggestions to extend learning to the home, inviting families to participate in activities that will extend children’s repertoire of words in their own setting.
Grab a pack of sticky notes and start labelling! Adults could support children to label familiar household objects with synonyms. They could compete with each other to supply alternative names such as: ‘looking glass’ for mirror; ‘basin’ for sink, ‘bedspread’ for blanket or ‘lavatory’ for toilet! Parents with English as an additional language could add their home language onto the sticky notes. Are there any similarities in any of the words?
i-SPY Home Edition
This idea is based on the old (but still available) series of ‘i-SPY’ books. It develops a consciousness of the subcategories of common nouns. Simply provide a theme such as ‘out of my window’ or ‘in the garden’ and set the challenge of spotting items on the list. Sightings of relatively familiar objects such vans or street lamps would earn 1 point, whilst refuse collectors could earn 5 and emergency vehicles 10. Frequently spotted garden birds such as pigeons would score a measly single point whereas robins or magpies are awarded more and a colourful woodpecker or elusive bullfinch could merit double figures. You may need images of the items that children need to spot for reference.
A-Z of the World Around Me
The following activity also encourages young children to pay closer attention to the world around them. Simply called the A-Z of the world around me, the idea is to build an alphabetical list of objects outside and then indoors. Children could compete with each other to collect the rarest sightings from acorns to zebra crossing and alarm clock to zip. How inventive can they be? Descriptive additions could expand opportunities for older children: blade of grass, yellow van, comfortable sofa.
Get Moving/Mobile/In motion
Write synonyms for common words on bit sheets of paper or card and place on the floor. Call out a word and children rush to find its synonym and stand on it. Do set out some basic safety rules to ensure no one is knocked over in the scramble! Here are some examples to get you started: red/ crimson; happy/ joyful; hot/ scorching; old/ ancient; obvious/ evident. Alter the level of difficulty depending on the age of the children. Variants of this game could include: words on lily pads- children hop like frogs onto the appropriate leaf; words on pictures of flies- given them a plastic fly swat to hit the target word; summertime fun with water pistols- children shoot at the word that they are aiming to match.
Washing Line of Feelings
Young children will always tell you they are hungry, cold, cross or bored. Challenge them to generate synonyms for these overused words and create a ‘washing line’ of feelings, pegging them up in order of magnitude. Words could range from peckish, through ravenous to famished, or from mildly irked to absolutely furious! This activity will generate lots of discussion as to where words should be placed. How cold is chilly compared to frosty, for instance? No room to hang words up? Place words on sticky notes and move them along the scale as you decide where they belong. Children could even draw a thermometer and add words to the scale. What about a thermometer of happiness, for example? Where would they place jubilant or ecstatic compared to contented?
Across this series of blogs, we have recommended some of our very favourite books, podcasts, journals, and websites, each of them devoted to some specific aspects of literacy or primary English teaching and learning. We’ve looked at fluency, reading comprehension, diversity and representation in books, vocabulary, oracy and more. It seems only right to turn to some more generalised texts that provide subject overviews, subject knowledge, pedagogic strategies and more in order to support the effective teaching of English in our phase. With summer upon us, now might be the time to turn to a well-chosen book that refreshes or reinvigorates practice holistically.
Teaching English by the Book
James Clements’ Teaching English by the book is an accessible guide to English, framed by the use of great books. This, obviously speaks to our hearts and nods to our biases. The book has four sections: Teaching by the book; Teaching Reading by the book; Teaching writing by the book; and Teaching English by the book. Each takes a comprehensive look at its respective focus area, and filters this through the lens of a literature rich classroom/school. Appendices offer hugely practical suggestions that will likely strengthen your reading offer. This is an ideal read for anyone embarking on teacher training this autumn or entering their NQT year, as well as more experienced teachers. We have enjoyed both the pleasure and privilege of working with James – as well as being influenced by him in some of our own classrooms - and can assure you that you are in the very safest hands.
Teaching Primary English
Eve Bearne and David Reedy’s Teaching Primary English is a weightier tome, but hey, it is summer. Now may well be the right time – so long as it is interspersed with plenty of relaxation and some reading for pure pleasure. Across its 400-odd pages it covers every aspect of English that we can think of. Not only that, it gives generous space to those aspects that all too often are side-lined or treated as tangential. The book starts with Spoken Language and devotes a quarter of its pages to that subject. This is a very good thing. We have long been advocating that spoken language is at the heart of all that we hold dear. To see it handled in such depth, with such clarity, and in such practical terms is enough of a recommendation for us. But of course there is more. An extensively referenced and in-depth section on reading covers pre-reading development (hurrah), early reading concepts, phonics, comprehension, assessment…the list goes on. Writing, similarly, is covered in great depth – both theory and application. Examples of class work help to illustrate the concepts and approaches discussed. Alongside Teaching English by the Book, a highly recommended read – and essential for subject leads.
500 words: Black Lives Matter
We’ve previously shared the petition to save the 500 Words writing competition as we’ve long admired the range and quality of the submissions in our own choices of reading for pleasure.This year’s contest aims to ‘bring children’s voices onto the themes and issues emerging from the Black Lives Matter movement. We want children to lead on the process of writing their story’. The window for entry is short and closes at 11.59pm (no less), this Friday, 3rd July. Time to get writing.
You can find out more here: www.500words.me
Alligator’s Mouth Award 2020
Book recommendations for the 6 – 8 year old audience stand as one of our more frequent requests. As such, we are delighted to share the details of this year’s Alligator’s Mouth award, dedicated to just this age range. Adam Stower’s vibrant King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold has clinched this honour and we highly recommend that you treat you and your readers to this witty and clever title. You can find out more here, and see videos of the prize giving, as well as hear Adam talk about the book.
Well that’s that for now. Thank you so much for reading. We hope that some of the recommendations and suggestions have proved useful and enjoyable for your children. We’ll have our summer special next week, with some recommended reads, and then we’ll sail off into the summer.
Keep safe; stay well and widely read.