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.

February’s Facebook Series – grammar subject knowledge for teachers

For every work day in Janury we posted a warming up the word game on our Facebook page.  One of the things that struck me was how many of the games could end up with children creating poetry out of the game.  I do wonder if we should be doing 2 or 3 days of poetry at the start of evey unit to tap into the unused wordhoard that children have and to put words together in unusual ways whatever the text type.

grammar1This month we are posting grammar subject knowledge videos, about two a week.  These are short videos that explain grammar for teachers and are made up of all the bits of grammar that we talk to teachers about regularly.  The videos would be suitable for teachers and those training to be teachers, teaching assistants, one to one tutors and anyone else who supports children in developing their writing.  They will be released on Facebook or they can all be seen on our website.

Sandra our resident grammar expert is making the videos using Smart Notebook and the smart recorder. What a powerful tool!  We have worked out a series of videos which she is in the middle of making.

The first six are already up on our site, but what we would like to know is which aspects of grammar you would like explained.  If you let us know by leaving a comment, we will create a video explaining it.

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 www.deseducation.org/literacy 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.

A drove of bullocks

This has to be one of the best titles for a long time!  A drove of bullocks by PatrickGeorge is the most beautifully designed non-fiction text around collective nouns.

droveI love an implausibility of gnus or a loveliness of ladybirds.  Each double page spread illustrates the collective noun in a very clever, minimalist way with additional text explaining something about the animal.

This would be a great text for everyone to use in a literacy classroom but for those of you grappling with Talk for Writing this text would be superb.  It would allow for a great deal of word play in devising collective nouns and the small amounts of text are a suitable amount for Yr2 or Yr3 pupils to use as a model for writing.  The vocabulary choice is driven by the collective noun, e.g. for a business of ferrets we have active sleuth, snoop, getting down to business, attention span and repetitive rewards.  Very appropriate!

There are many sites that play with collective nouns, here, here, here and here.

It would be great if a class made their own version of this book for people or objects in a classroom.  The design aspect of each page would be very important.

What is your favourite collective noun?  What would a collective noun be for bloggers – a boast of bloggers?  Let me know.

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.

Talk for Writing

We have now finished our talk for writing conferences.  We had some fantastic comments and people have been emailing us having gone back into the classroom to try things out.

See what Jeremy Guyler at Combe Martin said
I am amazed at the way the children in my class have taken to the ‘talk the text’ part of the sequence for non-fiction (recount). They really seem to enjoy it and as you said they had the whole text down pat in just 3 days. We have begun to create their own texts using HMSS and it is amazing how great their ideas sound based loosely on the structure of the original text. I stood back today and listened to them in pairs as the whole class worked on the first bit of their own recount, talking it to their partners. It was such a buzz to see them doing the learning and being so creative without me having to jaw jaw from the front all the time. It was great.  We still need to get to grips with the finer details of a sequence like this but I am completely sold on it (which I didn’t really expect to be). I think they are making such fast progress, but lots of it comes from them with me facilitating, rather than being the fount of all wisdom. It is good to see very average children really discussing in a quality way to improve each others ideas and to come up with quality
Elly had bought a new camera and decided to try it out at the conference so please excuse the slight wobbles!

What is talk for writing? from joy simpson on Vimeo.

We have posted all of our talk for writing resources on our website.  Beware the retelling of Mr Gumpy!  We also have talk for writing resources here.  What have you tried?

Warming up the Word – Talk for Writing

For some time now as a team we have been thinking about the role of talk for writing in improving writing.  This has been aided by Pie Corbett through attending training and reading his books.  It has become clear to us that there are several key points when planning teaching sequences that need to have talk for writing built in and they are:

  • book talk – talking as a reader
  • writer’s talk – talking as a writer
  • warming up the word
  • learning and remembering texts
  • playing with sentences, and
  • rehearsing and refining your own texts

Over the next year we will be exploring all of these in much more detail, but first I want to focus on warming up the word, or as one teacher describes it – awakening dormant language.

When talking about himself as a writer, Pie describes the need to concentrate or focus on a particular image in his head or feeling and to be able to turn that into words.  Ted Hughes in Poetry in The Making describes this same things by saying

‘by looking at the place in my memory very hard and very carefully and by using words that grow naturally out of pictures and feelings, I capture it.’

So if we want children to develop as writers, it would seem that this is something that we could support them with starting off with external artefacts moving on to internal ones .  In fact we probably do this by using images and generating lists of words.  However, we need to take this further because sometimes the list of words is not very exciting.  Hughes states that you must

‘keep your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste, your touch, your whole being on the thing you are turning into words.’

So how about generating words for one minute in a quickfire way and record them.  Then as a teacher scaffold the image involving the senses – how did it feel when the wings brushed past you, what could you smell, are there any particular noises that you can hear?  Now allow 2 mins for children to jot down (or the teacher record if writing will hinder the learning) their further ideas.  Share these ideas, celebrate the ones that stand out and allow children to borrow those that they like.  You never know when they may turn up in writing again.  Some thought will need to be given as to how ideas can be recorded for future use.  This whole activity should take no longer than 10 minutes because as Hughes says

‘it should be short and sharp and create a crisis which arouses the brain’s resources.  The compulsion towards haste overthrows the ordinary precautions, flings everything into top gear and many things that are usually hidden find themselves rushed into the open.  Barriers break down, prisoners break out of their cells.’

In poetry and fiction we rely heavily on our own images and feelings as that is what we are trying to convey to the reader.  Non-fiction is slightly different.  Here we need to stick with the external image.  If I am writing a description of a blackbird so that others can identify one in their own garden, it is best if I don’t rely on my own image of that bird but use an image that is actually a blackbird.  The way of generating words and phrases however,  will be exactly the same.

Both writers ponder the same question.  What would happen to children’s writing if they had to write a quick-fire poetry idea every day for a year – ten minutes writing daily?  As Corbett points out, athletes train every day, pianists practice scales every day.  Shouldn’t children be involved in a daily tussle with words?

Ted Hughes learnt to focus through fishing.  He would spend many hours staring at the float pondering on the conditions, the liklihood of catching something and letting his mind wander.  If you would like suggestions for developing this type of quickfire activity then a copy of Pie Corbett’s Jumpstart! Poetry is a good starting place.

And if you enjoy reading blogs, then you might like Deb Renner Smith’s blog  Writing Every Day Works

How do you warm up the word in your classroom?  Please add an idea in the comments section.