Herts Primary English teaching & learning resources for KS1 & KS2: weekly digest, vol 9

    Published: 17 June 2020
    Girl Reading Book


    How can we be at the 9th edition of our weekly roundup of primary English teaching and learning suggestions? We’re almost into double figures. Will there be cake?

    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!


    Love that Book


    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 recommendation is a book that deserves a far bigger audience and if you don’t ensure that it nestles into your library in the near future, well we might have something to say about that:


    Here I Am


    Here I am

    Story by Patti Kim

    Pictures by Sonia Sanchez 

    Curious Fox Books, 2014

    You can watch the book’s trailer here. It’s a really beautiful trailer that captures the themes, style, and narrative of the book perfectly.  So now you’re sold, right?

    You can also find some very in depth guidance notes on exploring the book both in terms of its visual approaches, and the points for discussion that it raises, in this very helpful blog from The Classroom Bookshelf website. This site is new to us and it’s a wonderful discovery. It is written for a US audience primarily, but the vast majority of the ideas and reference points are relevant to a UK setting.

    Unlike some of the books that we have shared on our blogs to date, this book may be one that is unfamiliar to schools but it is too, too lovely not to share here. The text is virtually wordless and powerfully depicts a child’s migration experience. As the back cover asks: ‘how do you make a new country feel like home?’  And the answer here ‘An old keepsake, a new friend…and a little time.’

    The book itself is based on the writer's own experiences, as made clear in an afterword in the form of a letter to the reader:

    'Here I am, almost 40 years after my mother, father, big sister and I moved from Busan, Korea, to the United States of America. 

    Not only did this new place have something to offer me, I grew to learn that I had something to offer it as well.

    That’s why I wrote HERE I AM. It is about leaving a beloved home, coming to a different place, and taking on the tremendous task of creating a new life for yourself.'

    The book presents itself as a sensory journey captured in the dynamic beautiful illustrations that convey the huge range of complex experiences and emotions that come with a family emigrating from one continent to another. In the first few pages, we experience not only the anguish and sadness experienced by the boy leaving his home, but the text is also peppered with those experiences of awe and wonder that the reader can relate to, when seeing a new place for the first time (the reflection on the shiny airport floor, the New York skyline). The street and shop signs that the reader sees on the street and around the airport are presented as gibberish at the start of the text - a  simple, powerful device portraying how alien this new world seems to be. As the book progresses, the signs and symbols slowly begin to reveal themselves, symbolising how the little boy is adjusting to his new life.




    The ending is celebratory: we see him growing as the his precious seed blossoms too. It’s heart-wrenching and sad in places, and whimsical and wonderful in others.




    Here are some suggested written activities and outcomes:

    • Add some captions and speech / thought bubbles to the text. Try to capture a sense of not only what is happening around him, but  how he would feel in seeing some of these strange sights for the first time.  For older children, we can take a more nuanced approach and comment on what might be more familiar.
    • Use drama and role play to re-enact some of the scenes depicted in the story, and write a narrative. Explore what is said and what is thought.  Are they different?  How?  How would the boy speak to the adults?  Would he reassure them?  Might he share some of his reservations?
    • Send letters and postcards in role as the boy, to his friends back home in Korea.
    • Create artwork, in the style of the book, perhaps about the location where you live, or a shared experience with a friend.
    • Re-read the pages where the boy experiences a pretzel for the first time and use illustrations in the same style to share the experience of enjoying something new for the first time.
    • Use the end pages of the book to inspire artwork that captures the street where you live.

    If you would like to explore the thematic element of the seed and the growth of plants as a means of either making an environment more apparently welcoming, or as a symbol for hope or new life, you may wish to explore some of these additional titles:

    • Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen
    • The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin
    • Balcony by Melissa Castrillon
    • Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

    These last two titles lend themselves to close comparison.  Balcony is almost wordless, and Football Flowers is completely told through illustration. As such, these books should all be used as vehicles to develop thought and talk – and wider language comprehension.  Both are very beautiful, and the panels and colour use of Footpath Flowers makes it an almost perfect complementary text in terms of its textual features.




    If you have enjoyed these suggestions for Here I Am, you can read more about these complementary books here. 

    We’ll end with the words of Patti Kim, as she closes her letter to her reader:

    'If you are an immigrant, or maybe just facing something new and different

    in your life, I hope my story helps you see that you’re not alone.

    I hope it encourages you to live out your own story of arriving to that place

    where you can say, “Here I am”


    Patti Kim'


    Keeping Creative


    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.

    The museum of me




    This activity is aimed at children who will be learning from home. They might enjoy re-exploring ‘hidden gems’ that are tucked away within their homes and bedrooms. Challenge the children to locate 5 or 6 items (more if they wish) that mean a great deal to them. The children could then create a museum showcasing these special items. The children could create tickets which could be issued to other members of the household, inviting them to the opening night of the museum. The children could then facilitate a guided tour of the museum, explaining the significance of each item in turn. Finally, if the children were keen, they could create a tourist guide enticing others to come to the museum and behold the spectacular artefacts on display!

    May I have a word?




    Choose a favourite book (or perhaps film or TV show) with a quiet character or someone who struggles to say what they want to. The infamous Bernard of Not Now Bernard springs to mind. Soak up all the things said and done around them. Notice the events throughout in whichever text you have chosen. Note the clues as to how the character might be feeling or what they might be thinking. At the same time, discuss what we have learnt about the character’s personality. How would they express themselves? Experiment and rehearse saying the things that they might want to say, in the way that they would want to say them. Think carefully about word choices and those other less discussed parts of language that add a real sense of character: hesitations, digressions and more. Prepare a brief (or longer) monologue for them to blurt out in a moment of frustration.

    Now a pause for empathy. Consider why the character hasn’t spoken. In fairness to Bernard of Not Now…fame, he does try. In writing his monologue consider how he might be interrupted. How will he deal with it?  Now, what of a truly quiet, introverted sort? They may think at a rate of knots, but will they necessarily want to air those thoughts? Explore why that might be and find out ways to make clear that it can be okay to think deeply and widely about things, and not necessarily air them. Think about how to turn this monologue into a series of thoughts – you might want to intersperse the monologue with elements that show this is an internal conversation: “if only they would ssh for a moment, then I could tell them that…if only they knew that…”. In doing so, we are encouraging a properly deep thought process about the characters, and furthermore, respecting real world language use in context. We’d consider that a win/win!


    Really saying Something


    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.


    Speech Bubble


    The big debate

    Is The Week Junior part of your reading offer?  We’ve long believed it to be a very valuable source of information, entertainment, and food for thought. In fact we built suggested reading sessions around it for our KS2 Guided  Reading Toolkit. Essentially we like this weekly news magazine for its clear-sighted accounts of the most timely events and issues, and its refusal to talk down to children. It takes a global perspective on news, and does not fight shy of the more controversial news items out there. 


    Protests in America


    One other strength is that it is very consistent in terms of its content. In this respect, we feel that the weekly Big Debate page is golden for supporting in class debates. Of course we need to support and equip children for engaging well with debate. Children will need time to read or hear about an issue, think, share initial ideas, begin to shape and try them out, and then develop them further. Rushing into a structured discussion will not pay the dividends that time and preparation will support. For less confident children, or those trying out new language constructions, talking frames or key word mats can be invaluable. Supporting children to use tentative language will be key as they get older. We are thinking and sharing and evaluating ideas and opinions – not incontrovertible facts. The use of those adverbs of possibilities and modal verbs of the Upper Key Stage 2 curriculum will come in very handy here. You may want to take a look at this week’s CPD suggestion (below) if you want to further explore the relationships between thought and language in learning.


    What's in a Word


    ESSENTIALspelling: Battleships


    Battleships game


    When it comes to spelling, silent letters and some of the rarer letter/ sound correspondences can be tricky for children to get their heads around. The teaching surrounding words containing ‘unexpected letters’ could involve opportunities for creating mnemonics such as “It is hard to build underground”. You could offer analogies with other words such as recent and cent/ century or two and twin/ twelve/ twenty. Here is a link to a game that enables children to practise building words with ‘unexpected letters’. Children could play this in pairs or at home. It is taken from the Herts for Learning ESSENTIALspelling resource for KS2–a spelling scheme with a big difference- which will be available for purchase in July (£60 for each year group or £200 for all four year groups).  We are also offering training for specific year groups in July and participants will receive the ESSENTIALspelling materials for their year group.

    You can find out more, and book onto the course here:

    Year 3    ENG/20/719/P Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 8th morning

    Year 4    ENG/20/720/P  Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 8th  afternoon

    Year 5    ENG/20/721/P Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 13th morning

    Year 6    ENG/20/722/P Remote session sent out on July 1st & Live webinar July 13th afternoon

    Cost of each course is £90 which includes a copy of the associated year group materials.


    Food for Thought


    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:


    Words & Minds


    In this accessible book, Neil Mercer helps us to consider ‘how we can use language to think together’. The teaching of spoken language skills is often, quite rightly, linked to writing and developing vocabulary – what children cannot say, they are unable to write.  Whilst this is a truism that will always hold our focus, teaching children how to think together is a skill that helps them actively listen to others, articulate their thoughts, and build a shared understanding that can be greater than that of any one individual.

    He explores the relationship between thought and language and what makes this book so engaging is his analysis of classroom examples and practical approaches that make it relevant to any teacher reading.  He introduces us to specific terminology and concepts, for example: ‘thinking communities’ using ‘exploratory talk’ and ‘interthinking’ and illustrates the three particular types of talk he believes children use in the classroom: ‘cumulative’, ‘disputational’ and ‘exploratory’.  The focus for Words & Minds is exploratory talk.  Many teachers are familiar with this approach having used it in mathematics investigations, reciprocal teaching and philosophy for children to name but a few.  Exploratory talk involves mutual exploration, reasoned evaluation, resolution, criticisms, explicit reasons and evaluations. 

    Mercer’s illustrations and analyses help us towards conscious competence of many aspects of practice and help identify specific developments to be undertaken as a whole school or individuals.  So much of the book ‘makes sense’ and the framing of his observations help us to consider how we might teach these skills and what changes we might expect to see.


    In Other News


    Exploring Pictures in Picturebooks webinar and blog


    Exploring Pictures


    Last week, in a burst of both real generosity and energised speaking, Mat Tobin, lecturer in Primary English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University, provided a packed webinar, introducing, explaining, and illustrating the codes that help to open up and deepen explorations of pictures in picture books.  Through carefully chosen examples, Mat showed how meaning is extended and enriched by the ways in which picture book creators use image – and text – to create some of the richest reading experiences that our younger and not-so-young readers might hope to enjoy.  Mat provided a thorough introduction to this endlessly fascinating field and if this is your entry point, you may find that you never look at a picture book in quite the same way ever again. 

    You can watch a recording of the webinar.

    You can read the accompanying, extensive blog – complete with references (hurrah!).

    #Keep500WordsAlive: Keep the 500 Words short story-writing competition alive!


    500 Words


    The hashtag above does much of the talking for us. We were very sad to learn that this immensely popular competition is facing the axe. We’ve spoken before not only of its role in influencing young writers, but also how the strength of entries can be used to inspire young readers. We’ve been blown away by the quality of the writing that has been celebrated. If you feel like us, you may wish to sign the petition.  

    Windrush day – June 22nd




    Did you know that this coming Monday, 22nd June, is Windrush Day? You may wish to revisit this earlier blog of ours. It looks at one school’s research into Windrush, in tandem with a book study of Shaun Tan’s classic The Arrival. It goes on to take in the place of history in the curriculum, the need for diversity within that – as well as some personal history on the part of the writer. We hope it provides food for thought for further consideration in school.

    That’s all for this week. 

    Thank you for reading.  

    Keep safe; stay well and widely read.

    Primary English

    Herts for Learning Primary English team


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