Knowledge organisers and how we might use them

Michael Tidd’s latest blog post about knowledge organisers is very interesting. I haven’t heard of these before and, like him, I am not a hundred percent convinced that they should/could be used in primary schools. They seem to be used mostly in secondary schools where there is  a strong knowledge-based curriculum. However, I can think of two ways in which they might be used in Primary English:

  1. Teachers could create a knowledge organiser around a grammatical element that the class are learning about. I am thinking here more about KS2 rather than KS1.  As a developmental activity for teams to complete, it would be an excellent tool to bring together understandings and identify areas where there is a need for further staff development. We are, in effect, just re-organising the grammar curriculum but it goes much further than that. I have had a go at creating a knowledge organiser for clauses for Yr6. The benefits of this are that it could be used for revision, sent home for parents to refer to (you may need a parents evening to introduce it and the subject knowledge) and to direct and mark key learning points in a sequence of sessions. It covers all the work from Yr1 where and is introduced right up to Yr6 and this means that gaps can be filled. It would be fascinating to see and compare the chart that they Yr3, Yr4 and Yr5 teachers created for their year groups in the same area. This would go along way to developing consistency of understanding of key elements of learning in grammr. You can see the organiser here. It was struggle to get this all on one A4 sheet – thank goodness for font size 10!
  2. When I looked at the example on Michael’s blog my immediate thought was that it was what children needed to complete when researching and gathering information to write an invent, non-fiction  piece of writing.  Children could be given a blank chart towards the start of the sequence which they could then use at home and during lessons to collect the information they will need to write effectively.  My first worry about the way its use as described by Michael is that if the whole class uses the same one it over-scaffolds writing, ending up with 30 pieces of similar writing. This would be alright at the innovate stage of writing because there you would be showing the class how to use the organiser to support their writing. However, for an assessed piece of writing, I don’t think it meets the spirit of independence as described in the Moderation Guidance documents. But, if children created their own organiser to write about their content of their choice then I think that would meet the idea of independence.

I have found one primary school who have shared their curriculum with parents using knowledge organisers. I particularly like those that include essential vocabulary as it seems to me that we need a much greater emphasis on developing depth and breadth of understanding in this area. Interestingly they don’t have (or haven’t shared) the organisers for their English curriculum.

What do you think about knowledge organisers?

Books that I have been enjoying

Over the summer holidays I normally update our texts that teach lists.  These are books that we think support the teaching of literacy.  On my desk I have a pile of new ones passed to me by our fantastic School Library Service so a big thank you to @bogchild for them all.  Here are a few of my favourite.

dragonTell Me a Dragon by Jackie Morris is a fantastical look at the dragons that we carry around with us.  The book ends with a an invitation for the reader to share their dragon.  The language is rich in description and enables us to create images out of the words.

A great patterned text.  Jacke also wrote the wonderful Snow Leopard which is also on our list.


Monsters – An Owner’s Guide by Jonathan Emmett and Mark Oliver is very funny.  The guide takes us through assembling the monster , taking care of it, trouble shooting and ending with a lifetime guarantee.   I did spot a monster called Bumfluff in the book.  I bet children find it faster than I did!

I have written before about the wonderful StoryWorld cards that support inventing stories.  The latest set by John and Caitlin Matthews is the Mad Professor’s Workshop.  There is a great range of cards, many which will remind you of stories that you already know.  How about the Mad Professor himself, the room of mirrors, the time ticket and the wrong ingredients.  We pick out a few of the cards, identify a blueprint and then tell a story using them.

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

Using Blueprints in the classroom

learningWhat a lot Rebecca and I  learned today and we were leading the course!  We had been inspired by Christopher Booker’s
Seven Basic Plots for some time but it was the first time that we had a chance to share it with teachers.

So what did we learn?

In order for children to work with blueprints there are some ways of working that need to be in place and they are

  • Book talk to allow children to respond personally to a text.  If you keep going for long enough and value all responses so much more comes out than you might expect
  • Comparing and contrasting texts which can be simply achieved by asking the question – have you come across anything else like this?  This opens up the discussion for the links that children might make.
  • Sharing other texts that are like the particular blueprint that you are using which will allow you to collect and categorise.  This helps to show children that blueprints are common patterns regardless of genre and culture.

In writing we found the blueprints helped children to invent stories.  We started the inventing session as in this post but  once people had decided what their characters were we asked them to attach what they had developed so far to a blueprint.  We all had the same characters a woman who was selling shark burgers on the beach and a shark who wanted this to stop (don’t ask how we came up with this). People chose either the quest, tragedy or rags to riches and briefly worked out what would happen at each stage of the story.

  1. The shark (sharky) saw the shark burgers being sold and decides he wants to stop it.
  2. He sets off to do this by rounding up all the other sharks and convincing them to follow him to a safe place so they set off.
  3. Things start to go wrong.  It’s hard to find a safe place and shark burgers have become a world wide favourite and everyone wants them.
  4. Shark hunting becomes a necessity to feed this hunger and because the sharks are all in one place they are easy to kill
  5. Sharky and all of the other sharks are hunted to extinction

In fact I have paraphrased this last part.  What was actually said (and please remember this was teachers)  ‘They were all killed and the sea turned red with their blood’.   So, what sort of blueprint do you think this group followed?

This is an oral activity.  Once the story is agreed it is very easy to map it.

What this type of activity helped us to see is that very often when children  invent their own text they frequently start off with a character and something happening to them but find it very difficult to work this through to a resolution.  By starting with anchoring in a blueprint we can now begin to layer up with detail.  We can think about how we want our readers to feel at each point of the story, we can think about how we reveal character through out the story, we can add clues as to what is going to happen because we are clear about the whole story, we can add a motif to run through the story, we can decide where the cliff hangers and hooks need to be.  And we can start to elaborate at each point to our retelling.

One of the things that teachers wanted in order to continue their thinking about this was a place where they could start to collect books and their blueprints so I have set up two places.  I am slowly writing posts that exemplify each blueprint and you can leave a comment sharing the title and author.  Or you can go to our website and fill in a very simple form that will collate suggestions.

Inventing Texts – Part 2

I worked with a school last week on talk for writing and we looked briefly at inventing texts.  I took the following characters along with me.DSC00517

In order that children start to invent texts we need to hook them into what they know already so I drew the characters out of a bag one at a time and asked what stories do you know that have a character like this in it?

For the shark, people obviously suggested Jaws (there has to be a series of dance lessons in this soundtrack) and linked in to an overcoming the monster type story.  There was a lot of blood and lost limbs in these stories.  As we kept going we started to think about stories where the sharks had lost their teeth –  more traditional and in the style of The Leopard who Lost his Spots.

Once Barbie came out we couldn’t think of any stories with her as a character but if we took her as a symbol of a young female character we thought of the girl who lost her leg, a mermaid who swam to the depths of the ocean to recover the shark’s lost teeth or Pamela Anderson!

Groups then set off to devise their own story, acting like magpies and borrowing some of the good ideas from the shared section.

Although we didn’t have time, the next activity would have been to map the story that had been generated and then to start the retelling.  Here the teacher’s role is to encourage the use of appropriate story language.

We did however, try the same activity as a non-fiction text and guess what?  It works.  We mapped what we know about sharks onto a non-chronological skeleton and then orally retold one of the paragraphs.

How have you approached inventing sessions?

Linked posts: Talk for Writing – Inventing Texts

Talk for Writing – Inventing

One of the mantra’s that schools are using nowadays is Pie Corbett’s imitate, innovate and invent.  As a literacy team we have spent a long time sharing with others what imitate and innovate mean in terms of writing but have not focused on the invention aspect in any detail.  However, without frequent inventing sessions we are in danger of missing out on a key aspect of talk for writing.

Inventing is where children start to make up stories for themselves, drawing on their bank of told stories as well as their lives and needs to start as soon as children enter school.  These inventing sessions should be oral, guided by the teacher, recycling story language and an opportunity to draw on a range of stories and life.  Pie talks about this is terms of story but in fact children can undertake exactly the same type of acitivity with non-fiction.  Many children will need some props to support their oral retelling and there are a vast range of ideas available.  Here are some of our favourites:

  • mind-mapping what children know about stories in terms of characters, settings, problem, resolution, ending, story language or language features and themes.  Children then use the mind-map as a bank and draw out something from each section and then put them together as a story.  This could also be done for the content for any type of non-fiction writing.
  • If you want to invent a myth or legend then the storycards in the Further Literacy Support (FLS) box are particularly good for this.  If you have lost yours get an A4 colour or black and white set here
  • Interesting props that you have collected which could be anything from a magic key to a unicorn to a special pot.
  • Flickr have a great group called Tell a Story in Five Frames for Kids which is sets of 5 pictures telling a story.  Some of these could be a really useful prop to story telling.  Some could even be used for non-fiction texts such as a newspaper report or a recount.  In fact why not take your own 5 frames to tell a story.
  • Start with one of the seven basic plots for storytelling.
  • For yrs 5 and 6 try one of these statements as a stimulus for storytelling from Adam MaxwellI also like the idea of this site.  Hover over a number and see if you can orally tell what it says.
  • tell the story of the graph.  This is a familiar science activity but can also be used for story.  There are several graph drawing programmes but a piece of paper is probably the best technology for this activity. 

As children become more familiar with the idea of inventing sessions they will start to draw more and more on what they already know and have experienced.  Our role as teachers is to support children to tell in detail using the language that is appropriate to that type of text.