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.

Swag Books

Thanks to Pie Corbett, we have been talking about swag bags/books and magpie-ing for some time now as a support for writing. Swag books or magpie books are basically journals to collect ideas in but up until now there has been very little sharing of what they could look like.

Jackie Morris (she of Tell Me a Dragon, I am Cat and Ice Bear amongst many others) posted on her blog about journals and what writing journals  look like from many well-known authors.  It would be a great idea to share these with children, discussing what the authors do in them and how they set them out.

Ideas that stand out are writing on the right-hand side and revising on the left-hand side of the journal.  This would be a great way for children to show how they are improving their writing and so much easier to see than writing squashed in on the same line as the original.  I also loved  the lists of rolling ryhmes that Dylan Thomas used.  Children could have their own lists of words and phrases to use when needed.  I particularly liked the fact that they were hanging in his sight line so were easy to use.  Roz Maine using the whole of a very large table to plan a book will be a very familiar sight to many primary school classrooms.

So many of these journals have sketches in them, some have paintings, cartoons and items collected and stuck in.

Here in a second post, Jackie shares her first journals when she thought she might like to be a writer.  I love the first ones in a diary, page-a-day.  It really shows that discipline of writing a little every day regardless of how you are feeling.  It reminds me of a quote from Neil Gaimon about waiting for inspiration.

If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.   From Brainpickings


notebooksBeing a bit of a stationery fan, I was interested to see what types of books were used.  I think it matters that they feel pleasing and so really like these from Notebookism.  And it matters because if we want children to use writing journals, then we must model using them and be prepared to share them.

Are you using writing journals in an interesting way?

The Beasties – a great talk for writing book

Happy New Year to you all.  2011 looks like being every bit as exciting as 2010 did.  I thought I would start off the year as I mean to go on and  therefore want to share a great new book with you.

beastiesThe Beasties by Jenny Nimmo and Gwen Millard is a fantastic book that can be used in a couple of different ways but both related to talk for writing.

The book follows in the long tradition of children’s literature about night time and not being able to get to sleep and the worries that the dark can bring.  Daisy is a little girl that finds it difficult to get to sleep, lying awake listening to all the sounds of the street and not noticing the three creatures, could they be monsters, that creep into her room and start to look at all their treasures.  What these three creatures do is pick out one of their treasures and tell a story around it just like storytellers do.  When Daisy finally plucks up the courage to look under her bed, where they are hiding, she finds three very very small beasties and is encouraged to make up her own stories.

This book would make a great model for children to create their own version of in groups with each child writing their own story based around an object.  What you will need for this is a story telling bag with lots of objects in it such as rings, unicorns, special keys, bowls etc that a story can be built around.

The book could also be used however to develop children’s  ability to add detail because each of the stories is in reality a bare bones.  This would mean that the children could learn the bare bones and then using games such as ‘Tell me more about…’ they could add  detail and description to each section and then tell their version of the story.  They would provide a good opportunity to consider how the reader is to feel during each section and how that can be achieved.

This book is suitable for Yr2 or 3 pupils and will be added to our texts that teach fiction list.

What new texts will you use this year in your literacy teaching?

Thank You

thanks1Thank you to everyone who has been trying to use our website and has been struggling to download resources.

We are delighted that it is now up and running and would like to offer you a free Talk for Writing booklet in appreciation of the fact that you have kept on visiting the site and have contacted me for the things that didn’t download.

The booklet describes all the talk for writing strategies that we like to use on training and when working in classrooms.

Guided Writing Resources


Have you ever sat down to plan your guided writing sessions and wished for inspiration?

This publication is a practical tool for teachers to support them with planning quality, guided writing sessions. It is packed with ideas, clearly linked to high value aspects of writing to support teachers from FS to Y6 with moving children on in their writing. Many of the suggested activities include effective Talk for Writing strategies, which can also be used in other teaching contexts.

The book is divided into three sections each including an overview and subject knowledge, activities with progression and variations plus all the resources required.  The sections are based around the following key themes:

Composition and effect

  • adaptation for purpose and reader
  • developing viewpoint
  • style and effect: choice and use of linguistic devices

Sentence Structure and Punctuation

  • extending and varying sentences
  • punctuation

Text structure and organisation

  • text types
  • paragraphing
  • cohesion

At £19.95, this book is a must for all teachers of literacy.  Order your copy here.

Tadpole’s Promise – A Tragedy

I have enjoyed watching teachers’ faces as they read Tadpole’s Promise by Tony Ross and Jeanne Willis. Usually they are shocked as the book lulls us into a false sense of security thinking that there is a happy ending. Even the bubbles on the front cover lead us this way.   But in a tragedy, of course, there isn’t a happy ending.

tadpole In this story Caterpillar and Tadpole meet and fall in love and promise never to change which of course sets up the whole story as all children know that both will.  It is these changes that lead to a tragedy for both but in different ways.

Christopher Booker’s description of  tragedy is:

  1. The hero looks for something.  He finds it and focuses his energy on it.
  2. He aims for this thing and all seems well.
  3. Things start to go wrong and may begin to behave darkly.
  4. Things start to slip out of control badly.
  5. The hero is destroyed.

One of the discussions the book can lead us to is that there is more than one story in here.  There is the story of the caterpillar and of the tadpole.  When using the blueprint it is important that you decide who the hero is.  This is not hero in the sense of having super powers and saving all – rather the main character that you want to follow.

Other blueprints:

Overcoming the monster, rags to riches, voyage and return and comedy.

Have you shared these patterns with children?

Books that link to Talk for Writing

Having the Literacy Centre situtated in a corner of the School Library Service has definite advantages for us.  We are near by when good books are found.  Here are two that were recently given to us to look at.

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett has been out for a few years now but as I looked at it, the word play reminded me of warming up the word activities.  The book plays around with the four words orange, pear, apple and bear and uses them in different combinations such as Apple, pear Orange bear.  This is exactly what we are doing in usual words in unusual combinations, trying out words in different orders to hear the one that sounds great and makes sense.  Older children can study the use of commas in this book and how they help the reader make sense of the combinations.

toddleToddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharrat is a wonderful cumulative sound story of a trip to the beach, playing on the beach and going home.  I can just see aline of children chanting this as they walk around.  It is  ideal for developing sound descriptions and as a model for creating your own sound walk.  In fact it is a book that works extremely well with Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds.  Wonderful!

Storytelling as part of Talk for Writing

If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life.

Siberian Elder in StoryWorld by John and Caitlin Matthews

I have been experimenting with inventing sessions for two terms now.  Inventing is where children become text-tellers, story tellers and non-fiction tellers and  I am always on the lookout for resources to support this work. I recently came across StoryWorld by John and Caitlin Matthews.

storyworldThis pack contains a set of cards and a book explaining how the cards can be used to create stories.  The children that I have used the cards with have enjoyed exploring the pictures and finding the  links between the cards  but I have enjoyed the back of the cards best.

For instance the Star Blanket card says on the back ‘I am a blanket woven from the starry sky’s protection.’  There are then listed three questions that will help the storyteller get started with some ideas.

The book that comes with the pack has a number of suggestions for the ways in which the cards can be used to create stories.  One of the ways in which the cards could be introduced is to think of stories that the card reminds you of.  For instance the Star Blanket card reminds me of The Princess’s Blankets by Carol Ann Duffey.

This is a beautiful resource that I will be dipping into again and again.  There are several different packs of cards such as Stories of the Sea, a Quest pack, Animal Tales and Faery Magic.

These cards reminded me of the myths and legends cards that were in the Further Literacy Support pack and were therefore in most schools.  If you have lost your pack or set of cards you can download them (scroll down the page you have clicked on to see the cards in colour)  and print them off in colour.  These cards can be used in exactly the same way but don’t have the same supports on the back.

What resources do you use to help children become storytellers?

A Recipe for Inventing

Everything comes from something else; nothing comes from nothing.

Anthony Browne, Children’s Laureate in Books for Keeps January 2010

Inventing texts is a way of showing children how to bring together everything that they know about writing to create something of their own.

I have been doing a lot of work recently on plastic carrier bags and inventing – they are an easy thing to carry around the county!

So here are my instructions for inventing:

  1. Take one carrier bag and show children a letter written to you from Tesco asking for suggestions to make the bag more suitable as a school bag.
  2. Ask children to ‘see’  what they would put into this carrier bag to take to school.  As each item goes in imagine how the bag feels and looks. (Imaging)  Quickly write these objects as a list.  Share with a partner and make one list of all the items that you intend to take.
  3. In pairs take each object and explore what adaptations you would need to carry that item safely. (Expanding an idea)  Sketch each adaptation quickly on a separate piece of paper. (Mapping)
  4. Choose 3 objects that you would like to tell Tesco about and place them into an order that you feel would be best to tell them. (Sequencing map)
  5. Find your formal voice and start to talk your letter to Tesco.  It is at this part you will need to support children in suitable language and detail.DSC00577

Here is the map that I modelled.  Idea number one, internal padding to protect my laptop and a lock to keep it safe.  Number two wheels as I always seem to carry a lot around and number three longer padded handles.

Whenever I am questioned by children they always ask, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’  I always reply, ‘The same place you get yours – things that have happened to me, particularly when I was a child, stories I’ve read, films I’ve seen, paintings and dreams.’

Anthony Browne