Welcome to the second volume of our current weekly English digest series of blogs. We hope that these low maintenance resources and shared materials offer some of the flexibility consistent with our day-to-day practice. That is to say, with the class teacher or subject lead at the heart of the matter, so that a shared sense of professional collaboration supports working that is properly attuned to the specific needs of each setting and its children.
We would love to hear any feedback that might help us to reshape, develop or adapt our own output here. Robust critique is central to the means by which we develop our materials. Please do feel free to send in your comments or suggestions – you can use the email at the bottom of this blog or via Twitter (@HertsEnglish).
As last week, we have looked 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.
This week’s whole school book recommendation is a classic that takes us on a real journey of emotions:
By Mick Inkpen
Very often much of the talk on social media is on the latest must-have book or publishing sensation. We want to vary the dynamics at play here, particularly in this section with its focus on taking a much-loved book, or a book teeming with possibilities for learning, thought, and talk, and then teasing out some ways by which we can meaningfully explore them and extend the language skills and literacy of our young learners. Nothing by Mick Inkpen fits the bill perfectly. You only have to google this title/author to find many heartfelt testimonies. We have provided a core range of suggestions here, and have tentatively suggested some writing opportunities that draw from the narrative aspects of the book. It is nonetheless rich with other possibilities to explore and consider with your students. We hope you have a great time making something out of Nothing. We would be delighted if you wind up in a position of being able to share some of your creations with us.
Across this series, we 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. We hope that you will find this this resource based on ‘Nothing’ inspirational. Let the suggestions for talk take you in all kinds of emotional directions. These ideas can be delivered in class or adapted for use in the home setting. Enjoy!
Now for this week’s suggestions for engaging activities that children can enjoy, with some opportunities for speaking, reading and writing to be part of children’s imaginative play.
Building a fort
Now might be a good time to resurrect or redeploy the time-honoured art of building a fort (It could be something as simple as a blanket draped over a table which the children can get underneath). The children could make shields and swords – designing their own crest of course – and role play defending their fort from adult invaders! Children could create warning signs to keep the adults out – explaining what the adults should be scared of!
This could even be ongoing (for small periods of time) over a number of days. The children could write diary entries being trapped in the fort, or perhaps the adults being captured could write diary entries whilst in prison! These could be very short, or could even be recorded – a bit like the big brother diary room!
Alice’s Tea Party
Organise a tea party with the children. Guests could be members of the household, and perhaps some favourite toys – you could make it a teddy bear’s picnic if you prefer. With the children, you could design a menu which the children could then write up for the guests and together you could make the tea. How does the menu take account of the invited characters?
This could be adapted in a myriad of different ways – how about preparing a menu just in case a tiger comes to tea? Incidental writing opportunities might include invitations, thank you notes, and possibly even letters of apology for bad manners, small accidents and other indiscretions.
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.
This week we want to celebrate the power of a well-chosen picture to promote empathetic responses, the exploration of possibilities, and the scope to travel beyond the confines of our day-to-day experience. Be sure to take time to have a very good look at picture. Discuss what is seen and any first thoughts. Following an initial discussion, be ready to extend thoughts and talk using some of the suggested prompts below.
Activities could include:
- Freeze-framing: invite children to take on the role of either / both characters and freeze in the same position, creating a tableau. They should pay careful attention to their body language and facial expression.
- Thought-tracking: invite children to take on the thoughts of one of the characters and think aloud, in role as the chosen character. This can be done looking at the image, or done in conjunction with the freeze-framing activity.
- Paired improvisation: invite children to take on the role of either / both characters and to begin a dialogue in role, improvisation the conversation that might be taking place between the two characters. Other children can join the improvisation, inventing new roles to enter the scene.
This week’s word challenges to keep you and your children puzzling.
- How many Words can you make using the letters from the grid? You may only use each letter once. Can you find the 9 letter word that can be made from these letters? You might want to play this as a competitive game with a partner/in a group and set a time limit. Be warned: do not play against a seasoned Scrabble player, or be ready to introduce a requirement that all words must have 3 letters or more.
- The activity below can be used in class with KS2 children or sent home. The grid contains anagrams of words from the Y3/4 and Y5/6 Statutory Word List for children to unscramble. Each of these words has an unusual spelling pattern, making these words trickier to learn than some other words. The answers are given at the bottom of the grid, but should be kept from the children in the first instance. Once the word puzzle has been solved, children could underline the ‘tricky’ part or write it in different colours. Could they invent a mnemonic to help them remember any of the spellings? For example, U+E stood in pairs in the queue or rhythm has your two hips moving.
This activity has been taken from the forthcoming HFL spelling Resource ESSENTIALspelling.
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 vocabulary development. Vocabulary instruction has certainly received plenty of attention over the past few years, particularly on social media, and particularly since the infamous 2016 KS2 Reading Paper. Back in 2015, we had covered vocabulary at length in one of our former newsletters. There is plenty more advice and scope for CPD there. Running throughout is the influence of Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s seminal Bringing Words to Life. One of the strengths of this highly influential text is its carefully pragmatic approach for bridging research and practice. It’s a book that really does keep in mind the critical question: does this work in the classroom? Does this work in the classroom in a way that does not place any kind of unhelpful burden on the teachers within it? This week’s choice offers further in-depth, pragmatic advice for school leaders, subject leaders, and teachers seeking to develop more effective approaches to vocabulary instruction and development.
This week’s book recommendation:
Rather than offer a prescriptive scheme of instruction, Kelly Ashley’s Word Power rests on a desire to recognise and support professionalism and teacher agency. These key themes are writ large across the book. It is this aspect that underpins our recommendation, given how it chimes with our own principles.
So does this mean that our recommendation for the book is simply down to it preaching to the converted? Not at all. The recommendation comes from the book’s careful integration of research and classroom practice, together with exemplification of concepts and potential outcomes. Not only this, but there is explicit reference to some of our very favourite books. Beck et al’s work was clear on the importance of contextualised approaches so that meaningful encounters were guaranteed and were genuinely grounded in meaning-making and exploration, and this is reflected in Word Power’s use of high quality literature. The book’s organisation supports the development of knowledge of words and word-parts with clear references, where appropriate, to associated statutory requirements.
This week’s recommended blogs/podcasts:
James Clements has long been a trusted font of knowledge for all things English across the primary phase. Some of us have had the pleasure of drawing from his work and materials in our roles as classroom teachers – you can see for yourselves here. Some of us have had the pleasure of reading his very helpful book, Teaching English by the Book, a comprehensive account of essential primary English theory and practice. Most of us have even been able to enjoy working alongside James at one of our annual conferences. James has been blogging on recent challenges in primary English for Oxford University Press. You can find out more here. He is also offering a series of weekly webinars. Take a look at his Twitter profile for details (@MrJCLements). Be warned, you need to register for a place and then you need to be prompt in joining the event. Last week’s webinar proved popular enough for us not to be able to join the live feed. Registration is well worthwhile nonetheless as registered guests are sent a video of the webinar after the event. Happy watching!
We’ll tread carefully with this week’s news and gracefully sidestep the more provocative efforts of some journalists/columnists/provocateurs who have offered up some less than helpful commentary on the subject of school closures. We’ll say no more.
Let’s focus on the more immediately helpful. Without wishing to look as though we might be passing an end-of-blog buck, we cannot help but draw your attention to this relatively new blog series from Anne Thompson who tweets as @Alibrarylady. Anne is a genuinely lovely person who happens to know a lot about books and recognises a good one when she sees it. We know this because she is a librarian (hurrah!) and because of her generosity in sharing her knowledge, and finds, on Twitter and through her blog. We want our news to focus on English in the primary phase and Anne has done a fantastic job of gathering together just this, on a week-by-week basis. You can see the latest entry here. You only have to look at the range of other news and CPD listed here to know that this is a blog worth following if you have more than a passing relationship with children’s reading. We are looking forward to the next edition.
That’s all for now. 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 read.