Welcome to the 5th (how did that happen?) edition of our weekly round up of primary English teaching and learning suggestions. 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 , 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!
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 book recommendation is a visually stunning picturebook that offers an infinite set of possibilities for stimulating rich thought, talk, writing, and drawing:
The Tin Forest
by Helen Ward
Illustrated by Wayne Anderson,
Published 2013 by Templar Publishing. www.templarco.co.uk/the-tin-forest
This is a charming and beautifully told story of hard work, dreams and hope, and is suitable for all ages. In a grey, forgotten world of junk, an old man dreams of a vibrant forest full of exotic birds and animals. With a lot determination and a moonlit wish, his dreams become reality. Take time to explore its rich illustrations. Then take some more time.There is almost too much to notice. Having explored and enjoyed the book, you may wish to consider some of the following writing suggestions:
- Report: Children could research some of the creatures that live in the forest at the end of the book, including toucans, tigers and tree frogs. They could then record some sections of key information about creatures of their choice. This writing could take the form of a vibrantly illustrated folding leaflet or a bright poster with boxed information nestled within the illustrated scene. Help children to refine their language to ensure it is precise and scientific in tone.
- Setting descriptions: Children could compare the landscape before and afterwards and write two contrasting paragraphs. Support children to use rich language that paints a picture in the mind of the reader. Consider the language structures that children of different year groups will have studied (such as similes and metaphors, expanded noun phrases, use of prepositions, relative clauses and conjunction) and encourage them to use a range of these features to add detail and help bring this writing alive. If working at home, do not worry about these curriculum elements and simply encourage the children to bring their scenes to life as vividly as they can for their readers. Remind them that they have seen these wonderful sights, but their reader may not have. Can they build a sufficiently clear, and enticing vision for their audience?
- Instructions/ explanations: Children could give clear, sequenced instructions of how to sow seeds and successfully grow plants. This could be done in conjunction with a practical experience of this and accompanied by step-by-step photos of the procedure that the child/ children have taken. Alternatively, children could explain to their readers how to look after the planet or transform an unloved, unkempt area into a haven for wildlife. What about a project to sow wildflowers and attract bees and butterflies, for example?
- Letters: After considering the nature and character of the story’s protagonist, the children could write a letter from the old man to the outside world explaining what has happened and telling people about his wonderful forest. Can they lay out the letter logically and convey some of the hero’s personality within the correspondence?
- Poetry: This book is brimming over with poetic language- children could explore the power of repetition, word pairings and lists as well as the imagery that bursts from each page to construct a narrative poem version of this tale. Alternatively, they could be supported to generate haikus that encapsulate the images of dreams and regeneration or shape poems that portray an animal or plant.
- Other stories: Perhaps the children could compare the story told in this book to the author’s other book of conservation and regeneration: Varmints. They might even like to watch scenes from the Pixar animation Wall-E, which tells the story of a lonely robot whose task is to clean up the rubbish on a deserted and uninhabitable planet Earth. Support children to discuss common themes and values. With a growing appreciation of tales that explore this message, children might be inspired to record their own modern fable that captures the essence of these heart-warming tales.
In this section, we aim to offer a range of 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. This week, a dash of poetry to liven up the seemingly mundane.
What’s in a name? Acrostic poems
Writing poetry is so much easier when it doesn’t have to rhyme and with acrostic poems, we even have a limited number of lines to write. Once you begin finding objects to write your poems about both around the home and outside, it can become quite addictive. In the true Blue Peter style, here are two I made earlier:
Lighting the way to read my book
Angle it up – down – left - and just right
Making the darkness unwelcome
Pool of light shining just for me
In order to write this poem, I needed to build the ideas. Firstly, I looked at the lamp and wrote down the thoughts that came into my mind. Then I highlighted the ones that begin with the letters from my word ‘lamp’.
I couldn’t think of a word that was lamp related beginning with ‘m’ (I’ll bet you’re shouting some at me right now). So I took another word from my list and incorporated it into a line with a word beginning with the letter m – ‘Making the darkness unwelcome’.
After writing the lines, I often found I had been too wordy and would cut some out but still keeping the meaning e.g.
Lighting the way for me to read my book
Lighting the way
for me to read my book
Here’s another example:
Keeping the family watered
Each to their own – baby’s bottle, hot chocolate, tea or coffee
Take a break
Time for a hot drink
Let’s get our cups
Everything stops for tea
We’d love to see how you bring the world around you to life using this form. Our second activity is also grounded in the home, but with a distinct dash of fantasy brought into the mix…
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.
Reciting poems, chanting rhymes and singing songs can offer young children an immediate way to participate, feel included and gain a quick sense of success. Providing plenty of opportunities to perform can heighten self-esteem and help to build or even re-build a greater sense of community. It also enables children to develop the following skills seamlessly:
- join in with repetitive refrains
- recite poetry by heart
- orally rehearse in preparation for writing
- read aloud so that it is audible for the listener
HFL Spoken Language Progression – Year 1
- speak with clarity and uses intonation when reading and reciting texts
- speak clearly and audibly to a group
- sometimes use voice, gesture or movement, in role play and improvisation
HFL Spoken Language Progression – Year 2
‘High Low Dolly Pepper’ by Veronica Clark is a timeless classic which focuses on developing children’s sense of musicality by exploring pitch, volume and intonation in a lively and engaging way. Get the instruments ready, if you can, and be prepared to have plenty of fun whilst developing early reading fluency skills.
This week’s suggestions to power up our ways with words.
Work up a word search
Create a word search on the grid below. Include at least 8 words of your choice. Remember that you need to spell the words correctly but they can be arranged horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Write out the words you put in then give the word search to a family member to see if they can find your words.
How many prefixes and suffixes can you add to the words ‘cut’?
Use this example – with the root word ‘act’ - to help you:
Experiment with other root words. Which root word leads to the largest word list for you?
Poor old grammar. We had originally intended to share some CPD suggestions related to this aspect of English provision two weeks back. Circumstances, as they tend to do more than ever now, got in the way. So why grammar? Why now? It may not seem to be one of our highest priorties, though of course that depends on what you have in mind when we talk about grammar. If we are thinking in terms of the sort of grammar exemplified in the GPs test, well it might well be hard to make a case. If we are thinking more in terms of its place as a fascinating aspect of language learning that runs through all other strands of English provision, then arguably it demands its turn in the CPD limelight.
There has been a wonderful collective effort to share helpful content in response to the challenges in schools, and for learning, during lockdown. The sort of sharing, and the commitment to collegial working that stands as one of the very best characteristics of the teaching profession. Grammar is one area of learning where there has been occasion to query some messages that have been shared in amongst the many great resources avaialble online. That has always been the case. Despite the right/wrong framing of the GPS test, grammar is a far more slippery beast than is often given credit. Occasionally, misconceptions creep in. As a rule of thumb, the shorter and neater the definition of grammar term, the more caution needed. Definitions of phrases and clauses, and the difference between them are notorious in this respect.
As we consider the various complexities around addressing gaps in learning, and preserving what has already been learned, its important to reduce the risk presented by some of those pesky misconceptions that have perhaps increased in frequency, in line with the explosion of resource sharing in recent weeks. This week’s CPD recommendation consists of some titles and websites that we feel can be helpful if you ever feel the need to check the messages we intend to share with our learners.
CyberGrammar offers a range of accessible – and reliable – guides to apsects of grammar. Produced by the University of Exeter, this site is maintained by linguists who routinely work with schools to make sure that the bridge between specialist knowledge and practical application in school is carefully bridged.
Also from the Exeter team, Essential Primary Grammar is highly recommended for taking great care to acknowledge some of the complexities of how words behave in context in ahighly practical and accessible fashion. It is well worth taking time to read the sectons on subject knowledge, as well as heading for some of the more immediate suggestions for application in class.
For more in depth accounts of the terms and concepts that sit within and around the content set out in the Primary National Curriculum, David Crystal’s reference books are essential. We particularly recommend what we now call the ‘green one’, or Making Sense of Grammar. The title alone speaks volumes in terms of its approach, and points to a real reason for exploration and understanding of the conventions of our language, to support meaning-making and use in context.
We have not blogged on grammar for a while now, but we feel the time may soon be right for some revisiting of the lessons of the past six years or so. When we do return to some kind of normal, setting clear priorities for learning will be so important. There’s a lot of prescribed grammar in the curriculum, and all too often that can overwhelm the aims we hold for writing. We intend to share some useful guidance on what matters most, and how best to keep grammar in its rightful, helpful place. Watch this space.
In this week’s blog offering, we make a slight departure from an exclusively English curriculum-related resource. At a time when teachers are turning their attention to the myriad issues concerning how to safely welcome certain year groups back to school, it would seem timely to highlight a blog that considers what the curriculum might look like – certainly in the short-term – for these year groups. In this think piece, which considers how it will be for children when they return to school following the COVID-19 pandemic, Barry Carpenter, CBE, Professor of Mental Health in Education, Oxford Brookes University and Matthew Carpenter, Principal, Baxter College, Kidderminster explain why they believe a Recovery Curriculum is necessary to successfully transition children back to school.
The last few paragraphs in this piece particularly encourage pause for thought, and this section may provoke some timely reflection : ‘School may seem irrelevant after a long period of isolation, living with a background of silent fear, always wondering if the day will come when the silence speaks and your life is changed forever. Our quest, our mission as educators, should be to journey with that child through a process of re-engagement, which leads them back to their rightful status as a fully engaged, authentic learner’.
In conjunction with the aforementioned blog, teachers might be interested in the book list below (click on link for full list: www.twitter.com/MrsHgrps/status/1259825541793951745/photo/1)
Curated by an English Subject Lead (Mrs H twitter handle @MrsHgrps) with the support of a number of educators, including members of the HfL English team, she has brought together a range of superb titles that will contribute towards shaping a supportive and engaging English curriculum offer on return to school.
Can there be enough Oliver Jeffers in our lives?
We love Oliver Jeffers’ books. We assume you do too. It’s only reasonable. We’ve had lots of lovely comments relating to the ideas we shared in this edition of the digest. We are already looking forward to sharing more on another favourite Oliver Jeffers’ book in the coming weeks. For now, you might want to enjoy this typically engaging, thought-provoking talk of his, accompanied by his own unique brand of illustrator genius.
We heartily recommend this talk, if only for the immediate gratification of seeing Jeffers giving viruses a pretty thorough telling off, using language not-for use-in-a children’s-book.
And there we have it, another week done.
Thank you for reading. Keep safe; stay well read.