Here we are then, the 8th edition of our weekly roundup 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 recommendation is a classic in the truest sense:
Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
Red Fox, 2000 (New Edition)
Sometimes you can’t beat the classics. Sendak’s 1963 masterpiece, ‘Where the Wild Things are’ should be a staple of every child’s bookcase. This wonderful book has a deceptively simple story, a unique (and innovatory) style, and layers of meaning that has seen it studied through all kinds of lenses.
You might wish to explore some lighter, but still illuminating, insights around the book, its, author, and its points of inspiration: www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/mar/29/10-wild-facts-about-maurice-sendaks-where-the-wild-things-are
You might want to get deep and wildly grown up and consider some insights from a psychoanalytical point of view: www.thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-22/edition-10/eye-fiction-where-wild-things-are
You might want to explore some of the deeper meanings of the book with your children – who better than them might unlock (or most strongly connect with) the very human secrets hidden in a wild thing’s clothes: www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/BookModule/WhereTheWildThingsAre
Sadly, we cannot offer you the real treat that was our own Ruth Goodman walking us through the books visual codes at last year’s Herts for Learning Primary English Conference. Please take it from us. Look closely at every spread. Then look closely again. Ruth’s blog on the art of picture books may well help you to more fully appreciate the wild wonders of the book: www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/do-judge-book-its-cover
We have chosen to look at the book and couple it with the 2009 film. Taken together, they can provide a plethora of learning opportunities for children across the primary age range.
In case this book has somehow, miraculously, passed you by, Max wore his wolf suit one evening and caused trouble. He was sent to bed without his supper. That night, a forest grew in Max’s room and he travelled to the place where the wild things are. During his time there, he tamed them and became king of the wild things before proclaiming “let the wild rumpus start”. Max later returned to his room to find his supper waiting for him.
Possible activities linked to this book could include:
- Plan a ‘wild rumpus’ party – write lists of food that you’ll need, create decorations, write invitations, create and plan games – you may ask children to write rules for the games. Write an itinerary of events so that you have the most excellent wild rumpus party planned, ready for when restrictions allow you to host it.
- Create wild characters – in the book and the film the ‘wild things’ are larger than life characters. You may want to share with the children some of the insights from the Guardian article linked above, and how the Wild Things were drew upon memories of Sendak’s relatives. Encourage the children to create their own wild things. They can draw them, thinking carefully about the physical attribute their character will have. They could label these attributes. They could write a character description, thinking about the personality, the environment in which it lives and give it a name. Challenge the children through use of rich and specific detail and use of a range of sentence structures in this description to suit the age of the child.
- Create a guide to happiness – one of the themes in the film is happiness and how to be happy. Children could create a poster or leaflet thinking about what makes them happy. They could draw pictures, write labels, write sentences or paragraphs about things which make them happy and why.
- Costume creating – the ‘wild things’ in the film all look very different. Children could create costumes for their wild things at their wild rumpus. They could design them, draw and label them. They could write an explanation on why they have chosen specific costumes and write instructions on how to make them. They could, then, actually make this costumes if time and resources allow.
- What makes a good king? – Max become king in the story. What makes a good king? Children could consider this and discuss it. They could do some acting on being a good king and create a spider diagram to show their ideas. They could write an explanation on the subject, explaining their ideas and justifying them.
- Create a new story – based on this book, could the child create a new version of the story? Maybe they could think of another imaginary place to go with new imaginary creatures. They could create their own picture book of this which can be shared with others.
Above all else, this is a book that looks to capture, but not tame, something of the mind of the universal child. It only seems right therefore to hear from the children themselves. What wild imaginings does the book stir up? Where might they direct their pre- or post-rumpus energies? What has it made them think? How has it made them feel? And just what do they make of this incredible journey to and fro, through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year?
The following 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. 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.
This is an old parlour game which we remember playing often in our youth, and one which has had a popular resurgence during lockdown! This activity is not only great fun and very non-threatening, but often proves hilarious. It is fantastic for reluctant writers for those reasons. It is also completely accessible for all age groups so can be easily done with mixed-age groupings. The game works like this: all players begin by writing a character’s name at the top of their paper. They then fold over, hiding their writing, and pass their paper on to the next person. The next person begins with ‘met’ and then writes another character’s name. They fold and pass again. The next begins with ‘at’ and players write a place, fold and pass again. Next, players write ‘they said’ and some dialogue. This is folded and passed on. Players then write ‘and then they said’ and some more dialogue. They fold and pass again.
The final piece of writing begins ‘and the consequence was …’ and the story is completed. Players then pass once more, open them up and take turns to read out the stories. This is the bit where the players tend to descend into fits of giggles, perhaps leaving the adults a little bemused. If you are feeling brave enough to allow a little puerile or toilet humour in, the laughing will be even more satisfying!
Write a report about … anything!
This is something that we love working with children on in the last week of term. It’s so simple and so surprisingly effective. Say to the children, ‘you can create a project about a topic of your choice’. You can give them free reign to write about anything that they want. You may wish to encourage them to write about something of particular interest that they already know a lot about. This is great for their self-esteem, and you will find that the quality of the writing that they produce will astound you when they feel that confidence. Alternatively, some children might want to use this opportunity to research a topic that they would like to know more about.
The projects can include diagrams, pictures, fact-files, poems, stories in addition to the reports. We have had great fun doing this activity with all primary year groups and have read projects about rabbits, famous footballers, pirates, the rainforest, sunflowers...
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.
Reader’s Theatre Redux
Reader’s Theatre is an approach to reading that has enjoyed a great deal of coverage, particularly in the US. Children can find it a highly motivating approach to reading, and it has been suggested that the emphasis on performance can be supportive of developing levels of fluency.
Here, choose a much-loved book and select a favourite part. Then allocate the parts of the main characters to members of the family. Don’t forget somebody will have to be the narrator. You will all have to huddle around the book but it can be fun bringing the characters to life. You might like to add gestures and movement or you might challenge yourselves to just bring the scene to life with your voices.
Play ‘What is the same? What is different?’ This can be applied to objects, people (sensitively), places and characters from film, TV, books.
For example, you can start with a question:
- What is the same between Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman? What is different?
- What is the same between green and red? What is different?
- What is the same between a buttercup and a daisy? What is different?
You will need to dig deep and push on to think of something that hasn’t been said by the others. Challenge children to think up likely and unlikely pairs. Don’t forget to state the obvious as well as the original! You can apply the game to pictures, words, even passages from books to develop powers of observation in a more literary direction.
This week’s suggestions to power up our ways with words.
Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
Penny Slater from the team explains the rationale behind this particular choice:
I am a big fan of the Radio 4 programme ‘Sorry I haven’t a Clue’. I am particularly fond of the ‘new definitions’ round. I think my old Y6 primary teacher must have been too, because one of her favourite jokes was as follows. She would regularly ask the class, ‘what is a polygon?’ We would dutifully reply, ‘it’s a 2D shape with straight sides’. She would then offer the retort, ‘No, it’s not. It’s an empty parrot cage!’ She would then laugh, and so would a few of the clever kids (it took my mum a few attempts at explaining the joke before I could join in with the chuckling).
Although some of the new definitions offered in the quiz might confound our primary age audience, some might provide some amusement and some food for thought.
Quadrant - four people shouting
Overrate – nine
Minimal – a small shopping centre
Doughnut - eccentric millionaire
There is a back catalogue of episodes available on the BBC Radio 4 website. Now might be a good time to introduce the Y6s to this long-running, and multi-award winning programme (be careful to check episodes before sharing in case of inappropriate language).
Word in a Word
This is an old favourite that can be used to encourage children to explore some of the words from the KS2 word lists.
Present children with words from the Years 3/ 4 or Years 5/6 lists and challenge them to find as many words hidden within the word.
It may sound easy enough, but the children must adhere to these rules:
- The words can only be formed by letters that are already presented consecutively in the word.
For example, in the word ‘explanation’ I could offer the following words:
I couldn’t offer ‘it’ because it would require a rearrangement of the letters ‘i’ and ‘t’.
- You must decide if you are willing to accept abbreviations e.g.
- Or single letter words e.g.
- Or, proper nouns e.g.
Some words offer lots of options. I counted 4 in ‘vegetable’ and ‘opportunity’ and ‘determined’:
get, tab, table, able
port, or, nit, unity
deter, term, mined, in
Challenge: how many other words with a ‘word haul’ of 4 can they find (there are lots)?
The word ‘knowledge’ from the Years 3/4 list provides a whopping 6 words:
know, now, no, owl, ledge, edge
Challenge: can they find a word from the lists to beat this?
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 we are awe-struck by the pearls of wisdom on offer.
This week’s book recommendation:
Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Kucan, is a practical and engaging guide to children’s vocabulary development. Broken down into clear principles and easy to digest chapters, the text contains a wealth of information explaining how children acquire new language and how teachers can assist them in this process. The authors carried out extensive research in American schools, but their work translates seamlessly into the British classroom and teachers will find their approaches to be sensible and easy to adopt. Vocabulary levels are a growing concern amongst educationalists, but this book provides reassuring answers to that issue. There are plenty of activities to weave into your day-to- day practice, whether you work with nursery children or the very oldest pupils. If you only ever read one book on vocabulary instruction, make sure it is this one.
One of Hertfordshire’s very own teachers, Lucy Parrianen from Longlands Primary Cheshunt, has just had her very own book published! You can purchase it on Amazon and email Lucy to get free activities for use in school or at home. ‘Where is my home?’ takes the reader on an adventure around the habitats of the world. It provides opportunity to meet exciting animals and learn about how the habitat is suited to their needs. With fun activity ideas included in the book, it can educate, engage and entertain children.
This week’s recommended blogs/podcasts:
The Reader Teacher
We would highly recommend becoming acquainted with Scott Evans, a primary teacher from Wales. Plunder his website The Reader Teacher and share his infinite knowledge of children’s books. The website features must reads for the month and lists of top books for children. However, the blog section is where this site differs from others. When you click on a link, you will see a number of ‘Blog Tours’ for recently published books. Each tour features a list of dates which hyperlink to blogs by different reviewers. It is definitely worth checking out if you would like suggestions for the next good read for your class.
Books for Topics
Similarly, if you haven’t already stumbled across this gem, Books for Topics is a must-visit site. The pages do what they say- if you need a list of books on Space or The Romans, then this is the place to look. However, the site has grown into something much more than that and features recommended lists of fiction and non-fiction for each year group, as well as reviews of recently published books. The blog page is very up-to-date and has a list of books to watch out for in Summer 2020 as well as a free downloadable book on the Coronavirus, illustrated by Axel Scheffler of The Gruffalo fame.
Following the killing of George Floyd, and the subsequent events that followed in its wake, edu-social media has once again been awash with discussion centred on representation in children’s literature. We’d just like to make a few simple recommendations here in relation to gaining insight into the ongoing – and long term – work of others in interrogating the lack of diversity in children’s books. First, if you haven’t visited CLPE’s Reflecting Realities page and read their two surveys that ‘quantify and evaluate the extent and quality of ethnic representation and diversity in children’s publishing in the UK’, then this is a very good place to start in finding out more about the history surrounding the work for more diverse representation. It also provides a clear, and stark, summary of the current state of affairs and makes clear the need for much further work and far greater awareness of what quite needs to be done to accelerate progress.
Beyond the Secret Garden / Books for Keeps
We would also like to draw your attention to the many articles Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor have contributed as part of their ‘Beyond the Secret Garden' series examining how BAME voices have been represented in children’s literature in Britain’ for the Books for Keep website (a site well worth exploring fully). These articles provide very high quality CPD in terms of developing knowledge and understanding in in this aspect of our work that may, currently, feel very timely – but is just one small part of a much longer term body of work. A terribly long term body of work. We share these links in the news section because online debate and sharing has been fuelled by news. We could – and perhaps should have – just as easily placed them in our CPD section. They provide a starting point for discussion, reflection, and action, and point towards a vast body of further reference points.
That’s all for this week.
Thank you for reading.
Keep safe; stay well and widely read.