When embarking on writing plans that focus on this lovely book, my first thoughts were that it might not turn out well. How many things might Y2 decide you can’t do with a puppy and – how many might somebody try just to be sure it’s that’s a fact? Could I be responsible for a spate of calls to the RSPCA? Then I began to map some ideas for writing outcomes and the fun was unleashed. The ideas had to be so ridiculous that no puppy could try them - like driving a car through the classroom or standing on one leg and singing happy birthday. Ridiculous is fun, especially when you’re in year 2. Thanks to the great ideas in 15 things not to do with a puppy, I was off and running. (I’ve also got 15 things not to do with a granny which I will keep for the tutelage of future grandchildren).
As excited as I was to begin, I do find it hard to write plans when I don’t know your class. I don’t know what they like and because I haven’t recently read their books, I don’t know their next steps in writing. However, I do know that children like an interesting context where they can have fun and a degree of freedom. I also know that you are well aware of your children’s next steps and as such, you can take my model and adapt it to fit.
What is my model? Well, there’s not much to it really: Identify the Y2 skill, add a little challenge and provide a helping hand up the slope with some scaffolding. Throughout the sequence of lessons I am preoccupied with ‘stuffing it in’. A friend was once observed by a student. The student said “I can see what you did there. You were pulling all those words out of them”. My friend replied: “No, I was stuffing them all in”. I’m a believer of ‘stuffing’ rather than ‘pulling’ and was pleased to see in ‘Bringing Words To Life: Beck, Kucan and McKeown that we should tell children the meaning of new words and then give examples of them in more than one context. So much better than guessing (although this is a technique which can be employed using morphological and etymological skills). Children then need deep and active processing with the new language.
As you will have seen in your own classrooms, children enjoy overcoming a little pain in the writing journey if we give them a hand up along with the way because they like the feeling of success over adversity. When this ‘hand up’ involves choice, it begins to feel personal. The children feel far more responsible for their learning. Knowing that you have worked hard for something is what builds the self-esteem and fuels the onwards journey.
My starting place for so much I do with children, whether it be weekly planning or questioning within a lesson, is ‘what do I know they will say/do’. Then I consider the next step up from that and how I will get them there. For example, being creative and imaging alternative scenarios for a known story can be difficult for some children in KS1 (and often just as much for KS2). When working with a year 2 class, writing our own versions of ‘On My Way Home’ by Jill Murphy, it became clear that the children could not think of unusual happenings such as aliens landing, witches flying on broomsticks, despite the plethora of examples within the book. As we know, if the children are stuck at this compositional stage, we can’t hold out much hope for the finer details of the sentence and word level learning.
So back to the stuffing in. I’m often strategic with this, using one resource in a variety of ways. Knowing that one of the skills the children will be learning in this Love That Book unit is using the apostrophe for contraction, I included some contracted words in the sentence starters provided for the commands lesson e.g. Don’t; You mustn’t; You shouldn’t; Make sure you haven’t. This not only gave the children a variety of sentence starters they could use which supported them to write command sentences, it also gave them the opportunity to rehearse writing the contracted words. Later on in the apostrophe lesson, we would look at the resource and back at their books from the previous lesson to show them how they were used and the effect on the reader of contracting or not contracting.
So, we have fun with language and run riot with our imaginations in our 15 things not to do with ….. That’s not to say it’s not rigorous with the expected learning outcomes. Fun is mixed with high expectations. For instance, in one of the lessons the children are given a list of verbs. They act them out, choosing their favourite 5 and then put them in order from fastest to slowest. Oral rehearsal of these words in sentences, prepares the children to use the language confidently in their own writing. This also gives them a chance to share their hilarious ideas with others. However, if we just provided a list of words, and suggest the children use them it could have some very random results. By embedding the language in interesting and exciting activities, constantly considering the effect on the reader, we are forming blueprints in the mind for the future.
Of course, I’m not advocating providing so much for the children that they cannot compose for themselves, and possibly over-write ensuring that the reader becomes bogged down. It’s about having that breadth of language to provide precision. Penny Slater wrote an interesting blog in 2016 advocating simplicity Writing at ARE might be Simpler than you think
Fun is the one thing we mustn’t lose sight of. Watching children smile and laugh while they are learning is food for a teachers’ soul. Basing the lessons on books that will effortlessly contribute to this, is a no-brainer.