Another week; another Primary English digest. This series of weekly blogs is made up of contributions from across our team in an effort to share a selection of ideas and resources that have a degree of looseness, allowing for adaptation for the classroom or for use in home learning. We are keen to respect and acknowledge the critical - and never more obviously irreplaceable - role of the teacher in selecting and shaping the content that is best placed to meet the particular needs of their children. We would love to hear any feedback that might help us to develop or adapt our own output here. 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). Happy reading!
This week’s whole school book recommendation is Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins).
This book will have universal appeal. We have read and re-read Stuck countless times with children of all ages. Not only do the writing opportunities seem to jump off the page, it also delights with surprise and comedy in spades.
Essentially, a boy named Floyd gets a kite stuck up a tree. He then throws a growing number of ever-more-ridiculous items up the tree to try and knock the kite down. We’ve all been there. After each unsuccessful attempt, the objects get bigger and more ludicrous. You get the picture.
The comedy lies in the way that Jeffers plays with the reader’s expectations. For instance, when Floyd takes an axe to the tree … he chucks that up there too. When a fire engine passes by … up that goes in to the tree, followed by the fireman, one by one. The ending is satisfyingly unsatisfying.
In support of any work in relation to this book, there is a lovely, animated YouTube video of the author reading this modern classic.
There are plenty more titles by the same author to delight in and he has offered up a regular schedule of performances of his books. If you like this particular title, and have read, enjoyed, thought, talked, and explored it, indulge yourself. Read it again. Just for the fun of it. Just for the joy. Then, and only then, you might want to consider some learning opportunities that spring from the words and pictures and the world they have created. Some of these may be opportunities to develop writing, others might be more practical in the form of art or D&T.
Suggested activities include:
- Add speech bubbles to the characters and objects stuck up the tree. What might they be saying to each other? What might they be thinking? Consider different possibilities. Draw upon your own experiences of frustrating problems that have led to repeated – and failed – attempts at a solution. Can you bring that level of frustration and/or determination to bear on what is said and how it is said?
- Retell the story, with Floyd throwing different objects up into the tree. How can you make it progressively sillier or ever more improbable? What can you bring to throw that will be especially satisfying? What do you think might ultimately save the day?
- Use magazines or newspapers to collage a tree, stuck with bizarre people, objects and animals. Feel free to embellish your creation with suitable words, phrases and labels that capture the moment.
- Make a kite, like the one in the book. How will it decorated? Will you make use of symbols that echo the book or will they be more emblematic of your own lives and experiences? Mind that your kite does not get stuck. Write some humorous instructions: How to Unstick a Kite from a Tree. Don’t forget to add helpful tips, words of warning. Can you think of helpful tips or design features that will help in this regard. (Editor’s note: if you come up with a watertight design, do let us know. We can split the profits. It’s only fair). Don’t forget to include precise verbs and adverbs so that the kite will be made exactly to your specification. Precise noun choices will help too, but try to avoid too much detail. Simple is often better in communicating a process.
- Create a list poem using the objects that are stuck up the tree. To get you started, you could organise your ideas using the alphabet – first to list objects, then to generate descriptive detail. Play with order and word choice and consider the effect – not just in terms of the thoughts that your images conjure up but also in terms of how satisfying they are to read aloud. Poems are born to be read out loud – keep reading back to help you shape your Stuck poem.
Happy unsticking! Please do share with us any work that you produce based on these ideas. We’d love to see it.
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. These ideas can be delivered in class or adapted for use in the home setting. Enjoy!
The aim here is to offer creative ideas with which to support teachers and parents whilst many children are at home, or are in mixed-age classes at school during this difficult time. The intention is to offer low tech, engaging activities that children can enjoy, with some opportunities for speaking, reading and writing to be part of children’s imaginative play activities.
Provide each child with a selection of boxes, bottles, and anything else that might be lying around, wanting to be recycled!
Decide together on the stimulus for the build. This could be a robot, a mythical creature or a character from a book that has been read together. Discuss how the build might be decorated or embellished with any craft materials which may be available.
Children may then want to write some instructions for the model. Instructions could contain headings such as ‘Materials needed’ or ‘How to make the robot as scary as possible’. Children could then follow each other’s instructions to make additional builds.
Additionally, children may wish to use their junk models to innovate stories, using them as puppets to tell and retell their stories. They could then write story journeys for their tales, or create story books for their fictional tales.
Make a board game
Many children are finding that lockdown is providing an opportunity to return to some old board games and to discover some new ones. Board games are often a fantastic way to practise a huge variety of skills – reading, speaking and listening, subitising, counting, strategising and more. Children will enjoy being given free rein to create their own board games.
They could base them on a game that they know well and enjoy, such as snakes and ladders, or they could get creative and produce whole worlds to explore with cards, characters and different scenarios. Not only will they be lost in the worlds that they create, they will also enjoy learning to play each other’s games too.
You may wish to provide them with a range of materials to choose from including: dice, card, paper, pens, and pictures for cutting. Counters can be made, or repurposed from other objects. Children of all key stages will enjoy this activity and the games that they produce will challenge and entertain them for hours on end.
Creative café menus
Whether at home or at school, children love their mealtimes together. Consider bringing some drama and role-play into lunchtime by turning the meal into a café experience. Either, if possible, get the children involved in planning and preparing the meal, or let them know what the choices will be for that day. Invite the children to then turn the area into a café by preparing menus, decorating the area and role-playing chef and waiter. There is great opportunity for reading and writing as they write the menu options and then make a note of what each ‘customer’ would like to eat and drink.
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.
To support playful use of language, here is one exemplar prompt to get talk going, unfettered by notions of a correct answer. You might want to draw upon reading if appropriate (for example M. G. Leonard’s Beetle Boy or E. B. Whites’ Charlotte’s Web. Alternatively, for children of all ages you could draw upon Carson Ellis’s Du Iz Tak?
If it’s hard to develop ideas, try asking questions with alternative answers to choose from:
- Is the spider hairy or smooth? Does it have pincers that snap or claws that scrape?
- Are you going to fight the beetle with a sword or a sling shot?
- Will you make friends by offering the insect some food or by learning its language?
Then build on the answers with this valuable, open-ended encouragement: ‘tell me a bit more about that’. This will provide greater scope for exploratory talk, much more so than a conventional closed question or even many seemingly open-ended questions. Don’t be afraid to reframe or redirect the conversation, but don’t be too quick to do so. You may be surprised where some apparent tangents end up.
This week we want to redirect you to another source of wordly challenges. Tim Rasinski is a researcher and writer that has been a significant influence in our exploration of reading fluency. His work informed the writing of the fluency chapter of our KS2 Guided Reading toolkit and our subsequent reading fluency project. Alongside this work, Tim has been producing a series of Word Ladders designed to support the development of reading, vocabulary, spelling, and phonics skills. Each day, Tim has shared a Word Ladder on his twitter feed, both a ladder for students to complete, and a set of answers. As you can see form the example below, the Word Ladders function almost like a precursor to crosswords.
Words need to be found by working through a series of clues. However, each word builds upon the last, promoting attention to the constituent letters (and sounds/GPCs) that make up each word. You can find the daily ladders on Tim’s account: @TimRasinski1.
We have made a last minute change to our chosen CPD focus this week. That chosen focus can certainly wait. We were saddened to read of the death of Margaret Meek on Tuesday evening of this week. We have been very grateful for the very particular and thought-provoking ways in which she explored the webs of relationships between readers (in many senses, literally between readers) and texts.
Meek’s work has been very influential for a number of us and has certainly helped shape, and very certainly challenged our thinking about the ways in which we, and the children we teach, interact with texts. We want to take this opportunity to highlight two books in particular that sit on our own CPD shelves and have been well-thumbed over the years.
How Texts Teach What Readers Learn is an almost perfect recommendation for the current period. It is a light read in terms of volume of content. And it is deceptively light in its own way of speaking to you as a reader. As such it is both an enjoyable read that encourages you to think well beyond its slender spine, as well as a read that will make you reflect on your own journey as a reader and a teacher of reading.
Over the past couple of years, there have been occasional blogs (and studies) on the importance of story in learning. Very often these can seem like fresh insights, but of course, they build on so much good work across the years. Meek was truly good on the universal importance of story. As a second recommendation here, in addition to How Texts Teach… may we draw your attention to the fourth section of On Being Literate: Why are Stories Special. If you have had your interest piqued by recent blogs on the power of story, why not take some time to explore this masterclass in just why stories are so very, very important. Twenty-nine years old and not much else holds a candle to it in this regard.
We are very grateful for her thoughts and words.
The Book of Hope
In addition to the wonderful reads already shared in this blog, we were delighted to see that some of our favourite authors have been galvanised by (another favourite author) Katharine Rundell to contribute short stories of hope to a collection called The Book of Hope. The book has been made free and it can be downloaded here, where you can read more about this very generous project.
We’ve already made the point that stories are important. Perhaps now more than ever is the time to snuggle up and share a good yarn with a dash of hope.
Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI)
Early language development – as well as all aspects of early literacy – is a critical area of interest for us in so much of our work. This week, the EEF has reported on the outcomes of a ‘catch-up programme to improve the language skills of 4-5 year-olds who are falling behind’. You can read more on the current findings here.
So much to read, so little time
With thanks to Rachel Clarke of @PrimaryEnglish, a long-time Twitter friend, we enjoyed exploring some of the free reading materials from across the Atlantic. You can find out more from this ‘ultimate parents’ guide to education and activity resources’.
That’s another week done. More next week.
Now if someone could just remind us what day it is…
Thank you for reading. Keep safe; stay well read.