This week, I had the pleasure of attending ‘Shrewsbury Bookfest’ where author Piers Torday challenged anyone who wants to become a writer to write every day. Well… here is my attempt at an adventure story.
The adventurer struggled to place one foot in front of the other; each step on the burning sand seemed to bring him closer to death. He was in trouble: he had finished his water the day before and he was lost and alone.
In the distance, he espied a row of trees and he headed towards them.. As he moved closer, he saw the tell-tale glint that signified life: water.
It wasn’t a mirage either. It was a spring bubbling from the red rocks and forming a shallow crystal clear pool at their base. The adventurer let out a hoarse cry of joy and hobbled quickly towards the spring. He dropped to his knees, cupped his hands under the water and brought his lips down towards the cool refreshment.
“HALT!” boomed out a voice. “Do not drink a single drop.” A desert warrior stepped out from beneath the shade of a palm. Lightly armoured, he looked deadly as the sun glinted off his wickedly curved scimitar. “You are not permitted to drink from ‘The Spring of Knowledge’ without the correct vessel.”
The adventurer rocked back on his heels, “But I have had no succour from this heat all day and in this sun I shall surely die!”
“You must use a suitable vessel!” he growled.
The adventurer looked around for something to collect the water in: a bowl, a flask, anything. And then he remembered that he had his tin cup hanging from his pack. “I have this!” he said holding it above his head like a prized trophy and as he dipped the tin mug into the water the warrior let out a deep laugh. “A tin cup is not a suitable vessel to hold water from the ‘Spring of Knowledge.”
“But it is all I have,” pleaded the adventurer desperately.
“Then you will never experience the joys that run forth from this spring!” he replied and at that point the warrior, the rocks and the life-preserving liquid disappeared. The adventurer was left alone under the searing sun…
Are you still here? Good, I am glad that didn’t put you off! I have seen this same thing happening across our education system for years. Many educationalists will tell you that books are ‘The Spring of all Knowledge.” Einstein has been widely attributed to the following quote:
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
This message and others like it are often splashed around school walls along with similar well intentioned messages such as this one from Cicero who said. If you don’t read books then you are soulless or more eloquently:
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
Lemony Snicket tells us, “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” In other words, if you do not read, then no one will trust you.
Groucho Marx has often been quoted as saying “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Reading between the lines, he is telling us that if you watch TV, then you’re uneducated.
And George R.R. Martin tells us that if you don’t read, then you will not be intelligent, when he wrote, “…a mind needs a book as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
Often when I attend talks on reading for pleasure or even writing for pleasure it is often quotes like these which speakers throw around with gay abandon and yet the National Literacy Trust tell us that one in ten pupils do not own their own books by the time they leave primary school. This number rises to 12.5% of children in areas of deprivation and anecdotally I would suggest that in some schools it is more than this.
Imagine how such children feel during the reading for pleasure push that many schools are having. To be told that their home lives have less value because they live in a book deficient household often through no fault of their own. Rather than alienating these pupils, we should be embracing their home literacies of which they are often experts. In those houses with few or no books, screens often prevail. Sometime in the last 600ish years a snobbery around books was created and it endures today, a snobbery where books are better than these screens that most homes now have. I have even seen teachers arguing that children should not be reading from eBooks because ‘real books’ offer a ‘superior experience.’ It is this attitude that can turn some people away from reading, as can the desire to ensure children are reading books that are deemed acceptable for learning rather than ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ for example.
It is for this reason that rather than talking about ‘Reading for Pleasure’ and ‘Writing for pleasure’ I would prefer to talk about ‘Stories for Pleasure.’
Stories are stories. It doesn’t matter about the vessel in which they are delivered. Think about the explorer in the desert. He didn’t need an appropriate vessel. It was a ridiculous rule imposed by someone superior. His tin cup would have sufficed. His thirst would have been quenched and he could have carried on his journey.
Yesterday, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting on the Shrewsbury panel of ‘experts’ alongside three children’s authors: Piers Torday, Maz Evans and Christopher Edge who were all singing from the same hymn sheet – the lyrics to this canticle?
“Books are but one vessel in which to transport stories.”
Stories are all around us and each of us are filled with stories and they are the currency by which we live. Maz Evans reminded us that we share stories all day long. We recount our stories to our friends and even strangers when we are standing at a bus stop.
Children access stories throughout their daily lives and they are not necessarily written in books. They may be watching stories on their TV or on tablet screens. They could be listening to stories told to them by peers, siblings or parents. It is possible that they are acting out their own stories in the playground or living another life through a computer game, moving their character through a series of tasks to complete a quite complicated plot. It may be that they are looking in the mirror, hairbrush under their chin, singing stories of love and heartbreak by the latest musical diva.
All of these examples of story are important to our children. They should be celebrated and valued rather than swept aside as things that are less than books.
So let’s start sharing ‘Stories for Pleasure,’ and using a range of vessels to deliver them, and let’s see what discussions you can spark about their contents.
I am going to start tweeting about #storiesforpleasure so please follow it and share the stories you’re sharing for pleasure too.
Some examples of stories or story starters to initiate discussion - remember stories do not always need to be written down.
Start a discussion by asking the following questions:
Why doesn't she want to wear make up?
What could have happened to her?
How does she feel when she doesn't wear it?
Opening Lines. What happens next?
Find more of these openers here
An interesting picture - sometimes with a starter question.
Use objects and artefacts in the classroom.
Ask questions such as:
- who did it belong to?
- how did it get here?
- what was it used for?
Watch the video on youtube here
The film 'Poppies' is shown on CBBC each year to give children something to think about during the two-minutes silence. You may wish to use this film in that way or use it to discuss the effects of war on people and animals.
There are some recording sheets for responding to 'Poppies' here Thanks to @GrahamAndre
Further Literacy Shed Resources on War here
There are additional Armistice Day resources from the BBC here
Click this image for further WW1 Resources
Many teachers have asked us to create more VIPERS comprehensions for use in lessons. We have some on Literacy Shed plus already for ages 9-11 and we are looking at developing more.
I have created a VIPERS comprehension pack based on an article about The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier aimed at Year 6. (Aged 10-11)
People love to send me films and I have been sent this one quite a few times over the last few weeks.
'Rang Tan' is an educational film made by Greenpeace to educate people about the destruction of the rainforests due to human intrusion, primarily from the Palm Oil manufacturers.
These resources are adapted from the great resources that were developed by Greenpeace on the subject. The originals can be found here
When using this film with a group of Y4 children this week to tie into their Rainforests topic we began by finding out lots about Orangutans.
We began by watching this short film from YouTube.
The children then created information sheets about Orangutans using the templates below. The objectives of the lesson here were twofold, the children practise their reading skills in order to find the information but also to improve their knowledge of Orangutans in order to write about them in the following lesson. Before reading, we discussed and contextualised the tricky words from the image below.
In the next session we watched the 'Rang Tan' video voiced by Emma Thompson and discussed the dual narrative and the story it told. The children followed the text and read along. There are opportunities here for performance, the children could choose a section to perform dramatically.
Following the reading sessions, we then decided that we would write letters to the Prime Minister in protest against palm oil products in the UK.
This began with a discussion about persuasion. We decided that we should describe the beauty of the Orangutan as in the model below. This would act as a persuasive device as people are more likely to protest for something if they have a relationship with them.
I have been developing some ideas around linking picture books, films and text in order to teach comprehension skills based on our VIPERS reading prompts.
The following video is based on a group of lessons which introduces children to the concept of inference as looking for clues and creating a hypotheses from the evidence that they can find. The beauty of using still or moving image is that it is inclusive, that reluctant readers or non decoders can also join in the discussion. In the following film you will see the development from still image, to moving image and then the application of the skill on some text extracts.
This short presentation was delivered at the OURfP group on 2nd October at Holcombe Brook School, Ramsbottom.
The Non-fiction books mentioned on the later slides. Click the image for more information.
Links to George's Marvellous Medicine
Links to Anne Frank's Diary
Links to Ice Trap
Planning to look at vocabulary in a reading session should not be a laborious task. A quick annotation of the text should allow you to choose the key vocabulary that you would like to look at and discuss with the students.
This week I looked at Survivors by David Long with a group of Y6 children. I decided to focus on vocabulary with the children in this short 15-20 minute reading session. The class theme at the moment is Mountains so I chose the text to tie in with this.
I asked – was this avalanche expected? They answered no.
I asked them to highlight or underline three phrases which show that the events happened quickly or rapidly.
They underlined: ‘Within seconds,’ ‘With no time,’ ‘sudden’ and we discussed how using all three of these in quick succession intensified the feeling of speed.
We read the next section and I instructed the students to find any evidence that the avalanche was very powerful.
We then collected synonyms that the children knew could be used to describe the powerful avalanche.
We then discussed which other natural phenomena could be described using these words.
The savage ocean, a ferocious earthquake, an awesome eruption (of a volcano)
Ask a teacher to name a book about WW2 and they can usually throw around the names of quite a few. ‘The Silver Sword’ (classic one), ‘Good Night Mr. Tom’ (Heart-warming one), ‘Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (shocking one) and ‘Once’ (graphic one). Ask though, which of these books describes the setting of a bomb crater the best and less books may be suggested.
It is imperative though, that teachers have a good working knowledge of the texts, the language used and the structures in order to weave them skilfully into English lessons. For this to happen, a wide range of texts need to have been read by the teacher or teachers so that they can recall features, concepts and even sentences which they can use with their students as model texts.
Take the examples below, each of them is from a different text but each of them describes a forest. It doesn’t really matter what genre the children are writing; a good description can be utilised across a range of writing episodes.
In a hypothetical classroom, somewhere around Year 5 or Year 6, a child is writing about ‘waiting in a forest ready to go into battle during WW2’ based on a picture, film or other stimulus that the teacher has provided. If the class teacher wants to show them a model, they generally have two options – try and find a book where the exact same scenario is occurring (this may not even exist) or write their own model. (Some teachers find difficult).
However, much of the language used in the extracts below would be useful, as would some of the sentence structures and techniques such as building atmosphere or using similes. None of the books below are about World War 2 or are from battle scenes though. With some slight adjustments they can be adapted to work for any narrative which needs a description of a forest.
The Wizards of Once
Perhaps you feel that you know what a dark forest looks like. Well, I can tell you right now that you don’t. These were forests darker than you would believe possible, darker than inkspots, darker than midnight, darker than space itself, and as twisted and as tangled as a Witch’s heart. They were what is now known as wildwoods, and they stretched as far in every direction as you can possibly imagine, only stopping when they reached a sea.
Cowell, Cressida. The Wizards of Once: Book 1 (Kindle Locations 32-35). Hachette Children's Group. Kindle Edition.
In this description the teacher can discuss how Cowell has directly addressed the reader, used rhetorical devices and repeated the word darker and how this effects the audience.
Tanglefern Forest was vast, with some trees so old and tangled that few had passed beneath their branches. But there were places you went and places you didn’t. The Ancientwood in the north of the forest was safe: there was the glade of brilliant spring bluebells and yews beyond Oak’s camp, then a grove of crab-apple trees, and beyond that, after the forest, the farm itself and Tipplebury village. But south . . . Well, south was another place altogether. So she’d heard. The Deepwood was rumoured to be full of shady trees and rotting undergrowth and, when it ended, the heathland, with it sinking bogs and soggy marshes, began.
Elphinstone, Abi. The Dreamsnatcher (Dreamsnatcher 1) (pp. 9-10). Simon & Schuster UK. Kindle Edition.
I like in this extract how Elphinstone paints a positive picture of the forest in the North but then lets the reader imagine what the forest to the South is like. Think back to the scenario of world war 2. The soldier is in the forest and using Elphinstone’s technique, they could say something like:
‘The North side of the barbed wire was safe. The animals went about their daily business, birds were in the trees feeding worms to their chicks, fox cubs frolicked in the long grass of the clearing and a few of us managed to take off our boots and clean ourselves in the babbling brook. But on the other side of the barbed wire? Well that was another place altogether, from what he had heard it was worse than hell, a mud filled hell…’
The Lie Tree
Faith walked through a midnight forest. The trees were pure white, and rose high above her head, disappearing into a blue-black darkness. There was no wind, and yet the snow-white leaves shivered and whispered. She raised one hand to push aside low-hanging foliage, and felt her fingertips brush paper. The trees were flat and pale. The ragged-torn ferns stroked the skin of her hands, paper-cutting her, slyly cruel.
She was not alone.
Hardinge, Frances. The Lie Tree (pp. 234-235). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
The colours that Hardinge uses here are interesting and the last line. 'She was not alone' could be utilised in the scenario above to describe the soldier as well as in many other narrative scenarios.
The Spell Thief (Little Legends Book 1)
The air in the dark woods was thick and damp. Anansi stopped in front of a fallen tree. The roots rose above him like huge dead claws.
Percival, Tom. The Spell Thief (Little Legends Book 1) (pp. 41-42). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
This is a great example of simile, but it is from a book that most teachers would use with Year 3 and Year 4. Having a knowledge of books from other year groups and other key stages, including books for adults is also useful.
I am working on collecting some texts around a number of themes like these which I will continue to blog and discuss in my CPD sessions.
I am currently updating my CPD courses and the range which I offer for the next academic year so keep your eyes peeled for updates here www.literacyshed.com/cpd
Click the book covers for more information about each
Sharing language and ideas for writing across the classroom is a valuable classroom activity. It may be when thinking of specific sentence structures; ideas for narrative content or new vocabulary.
I often use Post-it notes and add these to my working walls but these are temporary and can not always be easily accessed by all pupils especially if there are groups working in different areas.
In schools that have mobile devices, iPads, other tablets or laptops, I have been using www.padlet.com to allow children to share their ideas online. This can be accessed in different areas around the school, at home and it can be recalled when common learning is taking place.
Examples below show that padlets can include text, image and video. They look fantastic and this collaborative learning can be sent directly to a class blog and social media streams. A great way of sharing ideas with parents.
Unfortunately, Padlet have decided to start charging for the service. $99 USD for a class teacher or $1499USD for a whole school account.
In this climate of ever decreasing budgets, Padlet may have just become prohibitively expensive for many teachers and schools.
One alternative that I have been experimenting with is Lino. (click to visit the website)
Lino is free to sign up to and works under the same premise as Padlet. Any one with the web address of a 'lino board' can post 'stickies' onto the page.
You can see from the examples below that children can share their ideas in a similar way to padlet. Students can add their names to their posts, they can choose the colour of their sticky and add images and films.
OVERALL: Lino does not look as good as padlet and it lacks some of the more advanced features such as profanity filter and QR code access etc but it does the basic job of sharing, storing, displaying and accessing collaborative work very well.
Similes to describe the beach
Thinking about words that can be used instead of 'said'.
Reviewing books from the class library.
About 3 years ago I decided to write a novel. A historical novel for children set in and around Norwich Cathedral. At this point you may be wondering 'Why?' There are a number of reasons but basically I had an idea and I fancied pursuing it. I have some time on my hands, it is purely for my own pleasure and it allows me time to drop out of the hectic day to day running of The Literacy Shed and sit quietly. It also allows me to visit as many cathedrals as I possibly can which is a secondary pleasurable benefit.
These are some of the key points that I have learned during the VERY slow process.
- No one needs to read this writing in order for the process to be enjoyable.
- Not everything that I write will be published anywhere except in my own private notebooks.
- Not everything will go as planned because ideas ebb and flow as the ink runs across the page.
- There is no need to stick rigidly to planned structures at the sentence level either. They are fluid and will change through the process.
- The quality of the writing isn't dependable on a narrow set of grammatical conditions.
- It is useful to write in small chunks and add them into the narrative.
- Characters come alive once the writing begins and take on a whole new personality sometimes.
The biggest lesson really is that it is OK to start again. The story has been set in Middles ages Norwich, which at one point became the fantasy city of Nearwich. I experimented with the same story being set during the industrial revolution and then in a strange 'steam-punkish' industrial/medieval landscape and now me and Tom (main character) are back in the medieval period.
How does this affect the teaching of writing?
- Remind the children that their writing may not be published but give them the choice whether to have people read it or not.
- If you have a great idea you do not need to stick to the plan.
- Experiment with language and grammar structure and go with what sounds best.
- Write in small chunks and build up towards a finished piece.
- Allow time to go back and add in more small chunks (or even big chunks) into the narrative.
- It is ok to start again!
Writing like this has really given me an insight in both the processes we force the children to go through and the way in which we help them to build narratives around given characters and themes.
I will continue to reflect upon this process and blog about how this can aid the teaching of writing.