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?




What does it mean to be a writer?

Now that we have finished the end of key stage assessments and results are in, there is time to reflect on what the new assessment arrangements mean.

One of the things that has become clear with the removal of ‘best fit’ is that we need to adapt our understanding of what a  writer is as defined by national assessments. If we consider the Simple View of Reading, there is a very clear understanding that to be a reader you need to have the decoding skills and language comprehension. You are not a reader if you can decode the words but not understand them and nor are you a reader if you can understand words but not decode them.

svor The two elements are necessary to be considered a reader.

The same can now be said of writing.

svofw To be a writer you need to have both composition and effect and accuracy in punctuation and spelling.

Composition and effect is present in the assessment criteria but worded very differently. It is about noun phrases for detail and precision, about atmosphere, about the use of dialogue to show character and managing shifts of formality. One of the things that the exemplification files did do was to show how the quality of the writing is linked to the grammatical devices used by commenting on their impact.

This year has been stressful in terms of not knowing what the assessment would look like at the beginning of the year. Almost every teacher I have spoken to recently has said that they will start next year very differently to the way  they did this year, knowing what they know now.

Is there anything you will do differently in September?




Christmas Writing

I have to say that it is a bumper year for great christmas adverts .  I am in love with Mog and his christmas calamity and think it beats the John Lewis advert hands down. I do think that the John Lewis advert and Baboon on the Moon are very similar.
Here is my list of favourite christmas adverts that would be great to use to support writing and as a little present, there are three teaching sequences now available to go with them – one for Yr1/2, one for Yr3/4 and one for Yr5/6.

mogThis is such a fun story where a chain of events lead to Mog escaping quickly from the kitchen, which is in ruins.  I love the expressions on Mog’s face as he moves through the catastrophe.  We have a sequence for Yrs 3 and 4 based on this advert.


mononthemoonThis is a great advert, which if Mog wasn’t around would be my favourite this year.  It tells the story of a man (grandpa) far away and his loneliness.  The little girl goes to endless trouble to get in contact with him and because this is Christmas, she manages it. We have a sequence for Yrs1 and 2 based on this advert and Baboon on themoon . Although the sequence moves onto invented writing, you could stop at the end of the innovate stage. Download the sequence at .

spanishlotto My third favourite christmas ad is the spanish lottery advert which tells about a man who goes to work every day in a rather boring job and the things he does to pass the time. The staff then win the lottery and he thinks he is not included. But it’s christmas so I am sure you can guess the ending.  We have  a sequence for Yrs5 and 6 based on this advert at


kwikfitMy final ad is one from KwikFit  just for the joy of Christmas and the magic of Santa Claus for children. I love the reindeer nose peeking out at the end. is where it can be found.



Do you have a favourite Christmas ad to support writing that we should know about?




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?

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?


Who else wants to engage children in literacy but has no money to spend?

As we are about to start the new school year here in the UK there is one thing that is certain.  Times are tough, budgets will be squeezed and yet we still want to engage and motivate our children.  I am always amazed by the amount of money that some schools are prepared to spend on software when they could be making more of what is available online and free.

Steve Cayley the e-learning advisor here in Devon shared this blog post with us and I have to admit to agreeing with a lot of what it says.   I am going to take point number 2 – make use of web-based applications and elaborate upon it for  primary aged children and focus specifically on literacy.  Hhere are the top 5 items I use in my work with teachers and schools and would like to see in all classrooms.  And they are all FREE!

  1. Wikis and blogs.  These are so easy to set up now adays and allow children to write in very different ways.  Wikis allow children to crowd source, something that they will definitely need to learn how to do, and blogs allow the boundaries between reader and writer to be blurred.  They do different things but should be in every teacher’s toolkit.   If boys and writing is an issue for your school then these two tools are a godsend.  The research suggests that boys like to write in the role of expert and these allow children to do exactly that.  Blogger and PBworks are both easy to use.
  2. Google Docs.  These are so useful.  They are word-processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools that can be accessed by any number of people/children to create a document.  And children would be able to access them at home as well as in school.  Google Apps for Education is also a good place to start exploring.  I always enjoy using gmail in the role of a character from a book that children are engaging with in literacy.  I have many many gmail accounts –  the bfg, bluejohn, grommet and peterinparadise.  Children email the character their questions and I respond in role.  It is a type of hot-seating but the delight that most children experience when they receive an email from from the character in a book is priceless.
  3. Twitter and Skype both bring the outside world in to your classroom.  Twitter allows children to ask questions of a safe network of to gather data and Skype allows you to speak to experts and people of interest.  Children of all ages use Twitter with the support of their teacher.  In fact if you are a teacher and are not connected to others through twitter it might be time to start.  Link to those with similar interests and you will be amazed at the support and learning that are an every day occurence.  I am @joysimpson.
  4. Voice Thread.  This is an amazing tool with elements specifically designed for those working with children.  It allows you to share a range of images and for children to then add their thoughts orally or typed.  This is great for activities that require an opininon or as a collection of information.  There is enough available for free on this site to make it well worth while.
  5. Comic makers. Comics are a great form of writing in their own right but they also help us to make visible for children some things in literacy that can sometimes be invisible. I particularly like using comics as a way of making pace in narrative visible. Comic author/illustrators use different size and shape frames which can be linked to hte movement of eyes across the page and then a discussion about the speed of your eye movement. Was it quicker in some places than others? How did the author make that happen? How does this relate to the story you are writing? Artisan CamMake Beliefs  Comix and for all those fans of Dr Who a Dr Who Comic Maker are worth looking at.  You will need to investigate each one to see if it meets your criteria in terms of e-safety looking particularly at where the comics are stored, who can see them and how flexible they are.

And then there are all the great blogs to link to that share ideas and are of course free and available for all to use.  But that is another blog post.

So what are you going to try out this year and how much will it cost?

What all teachers ought to know about the benefits of animation

class1a on animation from Matty Dawe on Vimeo.

During an animation project that has spanned this year, I have been concentrating  on what progression in animamtion looks like.  Now that I have a little time I want to spend some time reflecting on what the animation did for literacy learning.  I want to think beyond the work that has already been undertaken about camera shot and the level of detail written,  the link between scenes and paragraphs etc.  These have all been well documented  as part of the bfi work.

Because the animation was linked to poetry three times during the year, the teachers involved in the project found that their choice of poetry changes as we moved through the year.  By the third animation they were quite clear about choosing poems with strong images that were accessible to children.  Not revelationary but in terms of the poems they would have normally chosen for literacy there was a difference.

So how did linking poetry and animation affect learning in literacy?

Creating images from words (reading)

  • Animation and poetry are both about images, amongst other things, and we know that good readers often visualise or create images from the words they are reading.  By linking the two together the children became much more expert at creating images that were suggested by the words in poem.  The animating ‘forced’ the children to think in terms of images.  This impact on their reading was quite pronounced as the children were expecting the poems to create images for them which had not been the case duirng the first animation.  If you have children who do not comprehend texts effectively, animation may be one tool that can support this development.

Creating words from images (writing)

  • For some of the children, creating  images and then creating  poetry from the animation allowed them to tap into ‘dormant’ vocabulary.  That is vocabulary whicc we have but don’t often use in our every day interactions.  The Anglo-Saxons called this our word-hoard.  We use approximately 5000 different words in our day to day communication yet we know so many more words.  For developing writers it is important that we show them how to tap into their word-hoard to bring words forward.  It is also important that we show them the process of seeing images and attaching words to them.  This is after all what many writers do and what Pie Corbett in Talk for Writing calls imaging.  Animating allows us to make these two invisible processes visible for children.

Storyboarding (planning)

  • It was interesting to see what the children did when storyboarding.  Writing is normally a task undertaken by an individual, although many schools do encourage children to write in pairs.  Many primary age children do not understand the concept of planning, writing too much in the plan and then writing out again for the actual text.  The primary purpose of storyboarding when animating was to create a shared visual understanding of what was to be made.  This demanded many skills of the children; the ability to articulate ideas, persuade and negotiate.  It was this process that meant that by the time the children had storyboarded they really had a clear idea of what they were about to make. The purpose of planning was clear to the children and had an impact on the planning that they did when writing supporting the understanding of the two processes – planning and then writing.

These ideas mean that animation is an ideal learning tool for use in literacy and not just once a year.  What else should teachers know about animation?

Other posts about animation

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?

Updating Digital Fiction with Digital Poetry

I have to say a big thank you to @mtechman for sharing this resource but now we have digital poetry from Poemsthatgo.  This is poetry that is written especially for the digital age and only works digitally.

Poetry that Goes is kinetic poetry, i.e poetry that moves and stems from concrete poetry.  The site details how this poetry came to be and several of the forms offer great study for the primary classroom.

I particularly like the Figure 5 Media Series inspired by William Carlos William from the 2001 archives.  It offers a great model for responding creatively to a poem through text, image, video and links.

The inspirations section is fascinating and offers several ideas and resources.  Seedsigns is fascinating and is almost a phonics lesson (although we might sound out the p and the h together to make f as a digraph ;-)), it make sfor an interesting discussion and reading of the words.  I also like the ABC game although I haven’t quite ‘got it’.

I had to work quite hard to understand some of the poetry, in fact to read the words with the speed at which they appeared, but this is a site well worth investigating and some of the poems are fantastic to use as models with the children.

Linked posts:

Hyperlinked texts – the cat’s cradle of writing

Day 11 of 20 days to better blogging is thinking about how we write hyperlinked texts and how we can share this with children.  Budtheteacher has been thinking about hyperlinked writing  and has, over time, created a series of posts about it. In fact, what did you do about the hyperlinks in the previous sentences?

I have read several papers about hyperlinked writing being a new genre but I am not sure about that.  A set of instuctions is a set of instructions whether it has hyperlinks or not.  At the present time I am more inclined to think that it is a new way of writing already known genre, but I am open to being persuaded that I am wrong.

For me, hyperlinks introduce me to the blogs and articles that have been part of the idea formation for the post.  They give me a trail that shows how thoughts have come together and they provide extra information.  In fact they give a text depth and a richness that I miss when reading online and hyperlinks are not used.

So, the question is should we be teaching primary school children how to write hyperlinked texts?  I am sure I am hearing an overwhelming YES.  Below are some ideas to support teaching about hyperlinking:

  • when planning a post, create a mind-map that draws in the resources that you have used
  • give all children the same piece of text and ask them to add hyperlinks where they think they would be important.  These can then be shared and the differences explored in relation to the experience for the reader
  • when reading blog posts, try to draw up a list that categorises why people have hyperlinked.  What are the conventions of hyperlinking?
  • read hyperlinked posts in shared reading and discuss whether to click on the hyperlink or not and what you are expecting if you do.  What happens then?  Do you return to the text or follow other lines of enquiry?

Your challenge today is to explore hyperlinking with children and to model writing a post that includes hyperlinks.

Image Cat’s Cradle by Steve C