Text collections – or should I say connections?

    Published: 15 March 2022

    Some people collect stamps, others toys or even cars. My latest craze is not just collecting books but making collections of books that are related by themes, topic, or content. Why collections? Three main reasons:

    • to build children’s understanding of what they are reading by making connections across a variety of texts – the similarities and the differences
    • to entice children into a wider reading diet
    • to bring an excitement to book corners

    Making links across texts is one strategy we use to comprehend and make more sense of the text we are reading. Asking questions such as ‘What’s the same and what’s different?’ opens rich seams of dialogic learning which necessarily dig deep into authorial language and intent. It is important for children to make connections across texts and to connect what they are reading with their own lives and to find connections from the wider world. That’s why, when we make collections, it is across a wide range of texts from online text to poetry, from modern fiction to our literary heritage, from speeches to books about the ancient Egyptians.

    So, what might a collection look like? 

    You may already be linking your English texts with themes and topics in other curriculum areas. In fact, my collections began in earnest when I considered texts to support learning in primary science. My colleague, Charlotte Jackson and I were helping teachers build collections of texts which they could use to inspire creative writing responses in science. It worked – the writing outcomes were fabulous with the children demonstrating their knowledge through a range of writing outcomes from letters to speeches and explanations. Both teachers and children were delighted with the outcomes. Read Charlotte’s blog which outlines the approach and another which offers text suggestions. One of my collections for this project centred around the Y3 topic of light and comprised of fiction, non-fiction and poetry about dark and shadows. The children enjoyed considering how different authors had portrayed the same subject matter - for example, how SF Said created a threatening atmosphere in Varjak Paw through the interplay of shadows. Or how personified darkness describes itself as a harmless benign entity in Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett as opposed to its hostile portrayal in The King Who Banned the Dark. Of course, there is a cautionary note around forcing links for the sake of it (authentic links, fascinating threads – and above all else the quality of the books should determine how we go about this: you can read more on this topic.

    However, it’s not all darkness. Goodness knows the world needs a little light at the moment.

    Some of my collections are centred around a subject:

    For example, wolves.

    Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill; Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken; Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver; The Last Wolf by Mini Grey; Wolf Pup Offers New Hope – Tween Tribune and so the list would go on. 

    Others are centred around more generic subject matter:

    How seeds can make a difference: The Promise by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin; The Invisible by Tom Percival; Greenling by Levi Pinfold; The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle; The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Or experts who undertake dangerous tasks: expert mountaineers in Everest by Joe Todd Stanton; the expert divers in the BBC article, The Full Story of Thailand’s Extraordinary Cave Rescue; astronauts in When We Walked on the Moon by David Long.

    Or themes such as:

    New beginnings; the power of friendship; hope; courage; belonging.

    In fact, my colleague Martin Galway and I created a successful writing intervention for years 4, 5 and 6, Winning at Writing, using the theme of journeys. Whilst different texts are used across the weeks, they are united by their theme which helps provide a consistency for the children to transfer and apply the core learning across the weeks. You can find out more about this approach.

    The important message is that there is strength in numbers. The more children are able to see similarities and contrasts in a range of texts, the easier it will be to comprehend both current and future reading.

    I have the privilege of visiting a variety of classrooms on a weekly basis and I know one aspect of reading many schools are currently grappling with is how to ensure their book corners are accessible, inviting, used and, dare I say, treasured. If I speak to the children in the classroom, can they respond with enthusiasm about the books they have at their disposal and have read or want to read? 

    One outcome of creating and constantly referring to collections is that it creates a buzz about the books so that when you move to the next collection and the texts in the current one are returned to the shelves, there may be a waiting list for them. As mentioned earlier, you wouldn’t be expected to read all the texts whilst displaying them. You might refer to the collection by offering little spoilers about the plot or insights into what they could learn from this article, book, blog or poem. For example, if you were studying The Journey by Francesa Sanna, you would be spoilt for choice for journey texts. You might also link it with the theme of ‘hope’ or ‘freedom’. You wouldn’t need to study the other texts in depth rather you would refer to them to excite and entice the children. For example, when reading The Journey, I may tell them that at the end of Welcome to Nowhere, the author Elizabeth Laird asks the reader to decide a family’s fate during a journey. I could challenge the children to read the book and we could consider the range of answers we might we have from our class.

    Begin today. Have a look at your library and online to see which texts you could place in the same pile. Don’t forget to list them on your planning so you don’t have to do the thinking all over again next year. Add to your collections – mix your collections (you’d be surprised how many texts easily sit in different piles). Most of all, enjoy them with the children and talk about them as often as possible – begin the book buzz in your classroom. Start collecting.

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