Planning for reading and writing with a common literary focus

    Published: 27 April 2021

    So, it’s time to write your English plans. That can sound like a chore, can’t it? Not always, not if there is a fire in the belly, and certainly some of us relish the thought of fleshing out a sequence of learning. Often, once you have some texts you love, you do start to wonder whether the allocated weeks are going to be enough time to spend. In this blog, I want to focus on the power of selecting books that feature a common, especially rich subject – a subject that stretches across a range of literary contexts. For this blog, I focus on the topic of wolves. Just take a moment to think of all the various representations in literature of these fascinating, evocative animals.

    Before I leap in to the lovely books and online articles I want to use on this subject, let’s just take a moment. We need to stand back and look at the children’s recent learning outcomes and consider their next steps – whether that be speculating as to authorial intent and then being more deliberate in our own composition, or perhaps working on aspects of writing such as sentence structure, verb tenses, or vocabulary development. We need the learning focuses for the plans. The suggestions below are to provide an interesting and engaging context to help you set your children on the path they need. At the same time, they will widen and deepen their appreciation of literature and the ways in texts can be interconnected. It will help children to develop a deeper appreciation that some choices in writing carry a history of additional reference points that can be used to great effect – whether that be building on preconceptions of a subject or deliberately playing with them.

    So, with the learning outcomes identified for the whole unit of work, let’s rub our hands together with glee at the multitude of opportunities afforded by thinking of the subject of wolves. Below are just a few books from my shelves and I know you will be reeling off many more right now.

     

    Pile of books

     

    No matter which year group you teach, there is a myriad of wonderful texts that could be added to this pile. There is also a wealth of online resources for wolves. I work closely with science adviser Charlotte Jackson on our ‘Linking primary science and English for impact’ programme. In researching lost species / habitats - we found some interesting articles for upper KS2 on whether wolves should be rewilded. For example: ‘A rewilding triumph: wolves help to reverse Yellowstone degradation’ and ‘Rewilding Britain: bringing wolves, bears and beavers  back to the land’. For lower KS2, we found an article on The Smithsonian Institute’s website, Tween Tribune, which offers the same article, Wolf pup offers new hope, at differing levels of reading difficulty. I know that the subject of rewilding alone would have provided my class with fabulous spoken language and reading skill development opportunities. We found in our science programme that just asking the right questions, and offering carefully shaped prompts really helped. You might begin with:

    • ‘what are the benefits of…?’
    • ‘what might be the negatives of…?’
    • ‘what are the “quite interesting if” ideas that strike you on this topic...?’ 

    This exploratory talk opens up a store of existing knowledge within the class and leads onto further rich discussion prompted by the articles.  The subject of wolves really helps with engagement, but it’s the well-structured spoken language and reading lessons which help the children to truly engage.

    As you might imagine, given their role in fairy tales both classical and alternative, wolves aren’t just for KS2, they are for everyone. We have a plethora of wolf books in every school library. In addition to those in the picture above, here is a small selection of books commonly found in schools:

    • Wolves and Wolf Won’t Bite by Emily Gravett
    • The true story of the three little pigs by John Sciesza
    • Mr Wolf’s pancakes by Jan Fearnley
    • Good little wolf by Nadia Shireen
    • Waiting for wolf by Sandra Dieckmann

    The choosing of a subject or theme allows your choices to stretch across children’s literature, providing an opportunity for a whole school plan as well as individual year groups.  I can just picture the displays, from the range of non-fiction to fiction and poetry – The Howling of Wolves by Ted Hughes or Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf, with the infamous line ‘she whips the pistol from her knickers’.  What child ever forgets reading that one!  You could identify themes across your wolf texts for different year groups e.g.

    • KS1 – good and bad
    • LKS2 – differing viewpoints
    • UKS2 – ecology

    As you will probably be using more than one text in a year group, you might employ some other approaches we use in our science / English programme and commonly found in reading lessons e.g. comparisons ‘what’s the same and what’s different?’ You could do this by developing a ‘role on the wall’ of wolves from two different texts. I think role on the wall is particularly useful when children not only note within the outline of the character, what the character thinks of  themselves but they do this by adding the wording from the text that makes them think that. This grounds their observations and inferences in the texts and can provide invaluable insights for formative assessment. They would also add the evidence from the text to the notes outside of the character outline that explore what the other characters think of the wolf. These role on the wall are most useful when they are tracked across the text and follow how the character changes and how the view of them by others changes. The children would then consider what’s the same and what’s different about the wolves across the books.

    Authors like Kathrine Rundell (Wolf Wilder is one of my favourite books of recent years) provide us with rich language to explore and engage with. However, picture books are not to be overlooked for rich pickings either. The Last Wolf by Mini Grey not only offers us a good story and a thought provoking tale focused on ecology but it also offers the children a fabulous range of verbs e.g. ‘lurking’, ‘slithered’ and ‘pounced’ to name but a few. You might build the children’s language further by providing language (words and phrases) to sort on a zone of relevance or on a continuum (e.g. words and phrases from fastest to slowest, fiercest to friendliest or from most dangerous to safest). You could provide them with two synonyms e.g. lurk and skulk and ask ‘what’s the same and what’s different?’. The ensuing discussions around similarities and differences are necessarily peppered with examples of how they could be used which helps deepen everyone’s vocabulary.

    Once the children have immersed in the reading, digging deep into the authors’ intentions and developing their understanding and vocabulary around the subject, they will be raring to write. One of my most recent acquisitions, The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill, is a gripping recount of the hunt for an exceptional wolf.  As with all good books, there’s a twist in the tale and the fact that it is true adds to its impact. Although there is as much illustration as there is narrative (perhaps more), the narrative is rich and, like all good picture books, works in tandem with the illustrations. It’s this layout that I think lends itself to an exciting and useful writing prompt, providing children with much of the narrative through the illustrations providing them with a scaffold to support them to structure their writing. 

     

    Book cover

     

    The ideas that the children will have spoken about, together with the language they have encountered both within the text as well as that provided by you to engage with, provides another strong scaffold toward an engaging writing outcome. Of course, they will have contextualised grammar lessons to help them make the best choices of verbs / adjectives / prepositional phrases etc. but they will be carefully selecting these, not just because the teacher wants them to use them but because they are just what their reader needs right here, right now. Finally, they will close the teaching sequence circle by reading their own and others’ writing, enjoying the tale, and perhaps, considering the author’s motivations and choices.

    Once you begin planning this way, comparing and contrasting across a range of aligned books and texts it does become compulsive.  Here’s another idea to stir your creative juices - Oceans and Islands. You might be thinking of, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch, Wild Robot, Treasure Island, Welcome by Barroux, Pirate Cruncher by Jonny Duddle, Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo, Katy Morag series by Mairi Hedderwick, Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies; Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. Need I go on?  I am sure you will find plenty to add to that list. 

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