Creating a summary

The 2014 National Curriculum demands in Yr5 and 6 that children learn to summarise. I have for sometime wondered about the need for this but understand that it is a skill often used in academia amongst other places. I have always thought of it more in terms of reading, used to demonstrate understanding of the key ideas or concepts.

As we have been demonstrating and talking about Reciprocal Reading much more recently, I have investigated summarising in more detail in order that we can develop more activities based around it. Much to my delight, it has also meant buying many more children’s books as there is a rich seam of summaries of classics, in particular, out there.  The steps to summarising are:

  1. read and understand the text
  2. identify the main points and key ideas
  3. create your own sentence/sentences to express the information in their own words

Three steps which look quite small but require a lot of readers.

Step 1

This is actually the crux of the matter in reading.  The skills or strategies that we can use to help us understand the text are clarifying and questioning.  Clarifying identifies the parts of the text that are ‘reluctant to yield their meaning’ (Doug Lemov in Reconsidering Reading). Children use the clues in the text along with re-reading, reading on and going back and re-reading slowly to problem-solve and debug the issue.  Questioning where the children generate their own questions helps to identify key bits of information that could be included in a summary.

Step 2

This can be really challenging for children but there are some things that we can teach them.  Firstly, delete trivial information or redundant information or that which is not necessary by actually crossing it out.  This will leave what is deemed important.

Teach children how to use superordinates and/or paraphrasing. Superordinates can be used for lists, e.g dogs, cats and goldfish can be referred to as pets. Paraphrasing refers to the skill of taking some words and using synonyms or other words to refer to key ideas or events. Children can do this by circling words and phrases in the text and then labelling them with a synonyms or putting the ideas into their own words (fewer).

A topic sentence can be identified to support a summary. Not all paragraphs have one so where one is not available, creation of one is a key strategy. This is taught in writing in Yr3 and 4. It is almost impossible to create them in writing if they have not been studied in reading.  They are often more visible in non-fiction and so this might be the first place to find them when teaching and then move into narrative.

Step 3

Now pull together all the words/phrases/ideas and put them into your own words. Another form of paraphrasing.

These summaries can the be presented in a variety of ways. I have found the following books really useful as models of summaries.

unfoldedClassics Unfolded are a fantastic model of summarising. They are based on much longer novels and you wouldn’t start with these but they include a paraphrased couple of sentences for each significant event. Each page has a quote to back up the paraphrasing and an image that an illustrator has created around the text. For children the classics are The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland. Children could however, create one of these for any novel you read in guided or independent sessions.






shorttooThis book is a follow-up to the very successful Short by Kevin Crossley-Holland. The story in this book that I am most interested in is ‘In Your Dreams’. In this story, most words have been deleted apart from the nouns.  Try this on another text to see if it really does yield the main points or key ideas.




babylitThis book contains the nouns or main characters such as the sailors, captain, waves and stars with a small quotation from the original book to back up the choice of word. I love it!




starwars cozyclassicsThese books both work in the same way with just individual words to sum up parts of the story. These are from Cozy Classics including the Star Wars series from the same company. They are 12 worded, felt classics! Which do you think the following story is?














But perhaps the best and the most random is the babylit counting books.

counting babylitcountingpride

These just make me laugh! Who could resist Les Mis for toddlers?






Have you taught summarising? How did you do it?




Assessing without levels

As we move towards a life without levels, all sorts of providers are moving to offer you the solution to this challenge. However, there are a few things which we need to bear in mind when deciding how we will assess in the future.  These can be summarised as:

  1. Whatever we adopt now will need to change in the future when the performance descriptors become available for KS1 in the autumn term and KS2 later on.
  2. Overtime we will develop an understanding of expectations for year groups that are not end of KS in order to make judgements about whether children are on track or not to achieve end of KS expectations.  Again systems will need to be flexible enough to allow this to happen.
  3. We don’t know what language will be used to report at the end of key stages and some systems may want to report this at the end of each year.  This will develop over time.
  4. Tracking is not the same as assessing.  It will be easier to sort your assessment and then find a tracking system rather than choosing a tracking system which determines your assessment.
  5. We  need a range of ways of assessing.  The report into reading in Stoke on Trent, Ready to Read?, talks about triangulating data/evidence and many schools will want to use a range of data to come to a judgement.  I think there is a real danger in using only one system at the beginning stages of new systems. They are all so untried and no one wants to find that their assessment does not align with the new expectations.

So we too must throw our hats into the ring and say that we have developed a system for assessing reading and writing.  It is a very draft set of documents because we do not have all the information that we need to complete the work.  We have taken statements from the NAHT key performance indicators, test frameworks for KS1 and 2 and a few things from APP that are still relevant.

The documents operate in an APP style in that they are for periodic assessment and are designed to be used with a range of evidence.  We would really welcome feedback from those who have used them in their classrooms.  We will write more about them nearer the start of the new term.

A character’s bedroom

We finally did it.  Having read The Paradise Garden by Colin Thompson, we created the main character’s bedroom.  It was fascinating because this was the second time that we had read the book and so the Trainees saw even more in it.  Because we were trying to make links with a child’s bedroom, we read the book differently and so noticed that red symbolises escape or travel and that there were other characters that appeared on many of the pages.

I had set up a bedroom just inside the door of the room that we use for breaks and break out groups.  This is just the bare bones.

1 2

And here is the bedroom after it had been dressed. If you know the book you will recognise some of the items and be able to make your own mind up about why we included them.



It is a hedgehog and duck on the bed.  They appear on every single page and so have great relevance for Peter. Perhaps they had been favourite cuddly toys that were comforters and so went with him everywhere. At one point a helping dog came in to the building, hopped on to the bed and started to chew the hedgehog!  I didn’t manage to get a picture but if you have visted Colin Thompson’s website and read his pages about dogs, you will recognise the link to Cafe Max that appears on many of his pages.

What role play area do you have in your classroom?






Hello Mr Hulot – welcome to guided reading


Hello Mr Hulot by David Meveille is a wonderful wordless book that made me laugh out loud and I don’t often do that.


The book is strongly patterned in terms of the way that the pictures are framed – 4 to 6 frames on the first page followed by a one page frame when you turn over.  It is this that lends the book to being used in guided reading.    It would be very good to use a reciprocal reading type session where the children predict from the first page and then draw what they think the last image would be after having studied The Heart of Paris and Hulot the Plumber.  The children could then generate questions that can be answered by the text and summarise it.

See  a YouTube version here.  This book is going on our guided reading list for level 4 readers.

How To Wash a Woolly Mammoth by Robinson and Hindley

cover   We have been on the lookout for a book that has a good set of instructions for KS1 and look what turned up from Amazon this evening!

This set of instructions sets out how to wash a woolly mammoth with a great sense of humour.  I love the back cover with the bottles of shampoo and soap such as Tusk Whitener and Antibacterial Hoof Wash.

The instructions reassure the owner of the mammoth that they can wash the animal with a few clever tricks.  Step three just says ‘Add mammoth.’ and is then followed by a series of images showing ways in which the mammoth can be encouraged into the bath using a broom or a spooky mask.  This page lends itself to children writing a series of sentences to explain what is happening in the images.

The voice of the text is informative ‘ Don’t forget to wash behind those ears….’ and ensures the owner   undertakes this task successfully ‘CAREFUL – a mammoth’s tummy is terribly tickly!’

hairdoI love the hair styles that the little girl makes when she washes his topknot – a mammoth mullet anyone?

I wondered about using this book with The Night Zookeeper where children could make their own imaginary animal and then write a set of instructions about caring for it in some way.  This could be washing it but it could also be feeding, exercising or clipping it. Maybe that last one isn’t really for KS1 children! I was getting carried away by the TV programme that showed competitive poodle clipping and colouring.

This is one title that will end up in our Teaching Sequence subscription service based on the new national curriculum.  These are the titles that we have written teaching sequences.  More will be added to the list as we write them.

Flat Life

I have never really been sure about how to use the animation  Flat Life, first seen on the BFI Story Shorts 2 dvd.  However, today I think I might have found an outcome for the film.

Through the post I received my own copy of Building Stories by Chris Ware – a book that is definitely not for children – and fell in love with it.  It has a lot of things that I like; beautiful visuals, tactile appeal, an unusual structure, a very appealing front cover/box and a range of text types but all in graphics.  Many thanks @literacyadviser for the tweet about this book.

The ‘book’ comes in a beautiful cardboard box and consists of 14 different types of book/booklet/poster/newspaper and so on. I think it is like Black and White by David Macaulay on steroids.





 I haven’t started to read them in detail yet.  I am just scanning my way through everything to  sort out how it works and what order I should read them in.  I understand from the reviews that it is probably best to read them in order.  What I do know is that the book tells the story of inhabitants of a block of flats and it is this that reminded me of Flat Life.  It seems to me that the children could create booklets about the characters in Flat Life, using the animation as a starting point and through a series of drama/role play activities, develop the characters and their lives further.  They could then tell these in graphic form either by drawing or by using some form of comic creater – Comic Life springs to mind.

It also reminds me of the book 99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden.  99 different styles of comic telling the same story.

What have you seen this half-term that has caused you to make new links?

Update on titles suitable for guided reading

Our most visited post on this blog is our list of guided reading books for levels 3 – 5.  Over the summer we took the opportunity to update the list and have added many new titles.  So here they are!


Below level 3

Smile! Starring Sunny McCloud – Leigh Hodgkinson

That’s Not Funny – Adrian Johnson

Level 3

I want to be Famous by Laura Adkins and Sam Hearn

Three by the Sea by Mini Grey

Pillywiggins and the Tree Witch by Julia Jarman (higher level 3)

The Sprog Owner’s Manual by Babette Cole

A Child’s Garden a story of hope by Michael Foreman

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

Something Else by Catherine Cave and Chris Riddell

The Pirate Lord by Terry Deary (higher level 3)

Major Glad, Major Dizzy by Jan Oke

Six Men by David McKee

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

Crazy Hair by Neil Gamon

Refugees by David Miller

Level 4

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell

The Rumblewick Letters by Hiawyn Oram and Sarah Warburton – read alongside one of the Rumblewick Diaries

Lord of the Animals by Fiona French and The King of the Birds by Helen Ward – use both books to explore the theme

Spooky Devon by Helen Greathead – short stories located in Devon.  Entertaining end papers,  interesting index and short stories to dip in to

Highway Robbbery by Kate Thompson

Short Too! By Kevin Crossley Holland – short stories

Little Wolf’s Book of Badness by Ian Whybrow

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

Ghostly Beasts – Joan Aiken – short stories

The Monster Diaries by Luciano Saracino

The Shadow-Cage and other supernatural tales – Phillippa Pearce

The Viewer by Gary Crew


Level 5

Farther by Graheme Baker-Smith

Me and You by Anthony Browne – explore the 2 stories, why the illustrative style is used with each story, the cultural context of the setting for Goldilocks and stereotypes

The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers – also available as an ipad app for those schools with ipads.  The level 5ness of this book can be found, amongst other things, in the use of the bottle as a metaphor and the idea of an empty chair and what it symbolises

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories – would be a good book for each child to take one story, prepare it and then tell the rest of group about it so that common themes can be explored.  Also interesting to explore the style of illustration in relation to the story.

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Black and White by David Macaulay – an end of year  KS2 book

Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman

The Paradise Garden by Colin Thompson

The Boy Who Climbed Into The Moon by David Almond

George and the Dragon and a world of other stories by Geraldine McCaughrean – also in the series, Robin Hood and a world of other stories and King Arthur and a world of other stories

What we do intend doing is linking the books on this list to cards from our resource Think Reading.  This will mean that you have suggested texts and ideas .

What are your favourite texts for guided reading?

Wordless picture book number 3

When Night Didn’t Come by Poly Bernatene is a wordless picture book which offers a considerable level of challenge to read as well as being a visual feast.

The story tells of a village when the sun goes down and the panic when the moon doesn’t rise.  There are wonderful pictures of the mechanics of making the moon rise with villagers pulling up large bags of stars and throwing them into the sky.

The colours used in the pictures are rich with glowing oranges set against darker blues, greens and purples giving a slightly theatrical, if not magical feel to the story.  It is this element that reminds me of Leon and The Place Between by Grahame Baker-Smith.  In fact it would be wonderful if children could tell the story of night not coming in the style of Leon and The Place Between.  The language in that book is rich in patterning with a magical air about it.

I think this book would be most suitable for Yr4 children, particularly the imaginary worlds/fanstasy unit of literacy.  Wonderful!


Wordless Picture Books Supporting Writing

Working with some teachers last week, we started to explore the power of wordless picture books and how they can support children’s writing.  Here are some of the reasons that we came up with about why we should be using them:

  • they allow children to tell their own story based upon their own understanding of the images
  • the allow children to control a whole story thereby embedding story structure
  • they allow us the opportunity to teach the aspects of writing that children need to get better at in a controlled context, e.g use of speech, figurative language etc
  • they allow us to teach visual literacy skills and the ways in which they can enhance writing
  • they allow children to orchestrate a greater degree of complexity in character, setting, plot, conflict and theme
  • they develop speaking and listening skills

So why aren’t we using more of them?

Over the next few weeks I will be reviewing wordless picture books that will appear on our texts that teach list.

The first one I want to look at is Shadow by Suzy Lee.

This is an incredible book telling the story of a little girl in a garage who switches on the light and starts to make and play with the shadows.  The shadows become more and more fantastical showing a rich imaginary world.  There are only two colours used in the book, black and yellow, the yellow becoming more predominant as the shadows move further into the realms of fantasy.

What I really love is the way in whcih the book is designed with the little girl on one side of the double page spread and the shadows on the other, meeting at the centre of the book so if you hold up one of the pages it really does look like shadows on a wall.  The fold represents the line between reality and fantasy.  There are similar themes in her book Mirror.  Click on the link to the slide show to see what they are.

I can think of several ways of telling the story in this book.  The first way that springs to mind is the way in which Rosie’s Walk is told.  Sparse text telling the reality of the story but that leaves out all the interesting fantasy elements so I think I would like to retell it in the style of Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace and Mike Bostock which is a text with a dual voice.  One text told in straight forward report style and the other told in rich, alliterative language.  I think they would work well with Shadows.

What are your favourite wordless picture books?


A trio of christmas books

I have long enjoyed Carol Ann Duffy’s work, a fact which was brought home to me when I read her  poem Achillles about David Beckham.  I loved the way that she brought popular culture and laureate work together.  Something she has continued to do.  I hope that I am to receive her latest book The Bees for christmas.  I have dropped enough hints!

What I do have however, is copies of the little christmas books that she has written and I have collected over the last three years.

The first of the trio that I bought was Mrs Scrooge.  This is an uptodate version of the story with Mrs Scrooge googling information about the way that turkeys are reared for the christmas feast.  It also contains credit cards, protests and developers.

Up the echoing stairs to slippers, simple supper, candles, cocoa, cat, went Mrs Scrooge: not scared, but oddly comforted at glimpsing Scrooge’s knockered face.

The language rolls and trips off the tongue, rich with alliteration and assonance.  Christmas past, present and future arrive to show Mrs Scrooge the life she has had, has and will have with a happy ending of family near by and developers thwarted.

Posy Simmonds provides the illustrations and they mirror the warmth, detail and emotion.

Another Night Before Christmas is illustrated by Rob Ryan: he of the wonderful paper cutting.   This is the story of a little girl trying to stay awake to see if Santa is real.

The hushed street was in darkness.  Snow duveted the cars – a stray cat had embroidered each roof with its paws.

An owl on an aerial had planets for eyes.  The child at the window stared up at the sky.

I an not quite sure how you pronounce ‘duveted’ but I do love the way that christmas is described; the flirting of the tree in flickers of green and crimson, the reindeer whose breath chiffoned out into the cold and the aeroplanes that sped to the east and the west like a pulled cracker. There are again references to contemporary life with the droning motorways, people in blankets with nowhere to go, cashpoints glowing like icons of light and the satellite filming famine and greed.  The story is however timeless.

The Christmas Truce tells the story of the football match on the 25th December 1914 when war was suspended and Christmas spread.

So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself and offer the day like a gift for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz….. with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

The illustrations by David Roberts are so evocative showing a  devastated waste land of spiky shapes and  red cold noses and cheeks.

These books would make fantastic stocking filler.  Let’s hope there will be many more.

Happy Christmas!