#FocusOnReading – No3. Children’s Book Awards


This week, as part of our #FocusOnReading we hosted a Reading Conference featuring reading expert James Clements. The event was attended by English Subject Leaders, Leaders of Reading and Senior Leaders from schools across Coventry and Warwickshire. They have unanimously told us that it was an inspirational day which has left them with a multitude of ideas to apply back in school. One area of reading practice that James drew our delegates’ attention to was the role of the literary competitions in helping to promote a love of reading in a school. Primary English has a long history of promoting children’s book awards so this advice from James fell on very welcome ears indeed.

Here in Coventry we have the annual Coventry Inspiration Book Awards. These awards cater for all ages and tastes from birth to 80+. Just like the national book awards there is a website with voting facilities, shadowing events in schools and a lavish award ceremony attended by dignitaries and lovers of literature. We’re immensely proud that for several years we were part of the shortlisting committee for the school-age categories of this fabulous book award and that our director Charlotte Reed has presented awards to winners several times over the years.

So, in the week that the UKLA 2015 Book Awards Longlist has been released and in the month when the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards reach the classrooms of Coventry we turn our attention to one book that has found its way onto both of these lists, Blackberry Blue and Other Fairy Tales by Jamila Gavin.


Our Director, Charlotte Reed gives us this short insight into why she recommends this book for use with children in Upper Key Stage 2.

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Modelled Writing


After questioning, modelling is one of the most useful pedagogical tools available to teachers. In this post we delve into our satchels and explore ways we can improve the modelling of writing; so that it is both fun and effective.

Playing silly teacher

Children love it when grown-ups get things wrong. This technique requires a little bit of amateur dramatics, in that you’ll need to over play your mistakes but it is worth the performance – if only to see the pride of the children in ‘catching you out’. Delight your Y1 class by forgetting full-stops, capital letters and finger-spaces; start all of your sentences in the same way in Y2; try joining all clauses with ‘and’ in Y3… The feedback you get from the class will give you a brilliant idea about their current levels of understanding.

Next steps

Use your assessment knowledge to help you target your modelled writing at the specific needs of your class. There’s no point modelling fronted adverbials when they’re still struggling to join clauses with a subordinating connective. It’s all about keeping it really simple and making sure that you model what you want to see in their next piece of independent work; and that what you’re doing will move them on as a writer.

Balancing the scales

Create a balance between creativity and secretarial skills. Children need to know about grammar and punctuation, without either their writing makes little sense. But modelled writing needs to be more than an explanation of technicalities. It also needs to explore creative language and literary techniques.

Words and Pictures

Most literacy units of work are inspired by texts. Rightly so. Good quality texts provide children with a model of ‘What A Good One Looks Like’ (WAGOLL) which can be used to compose their own texts. Pictures though, can also stimulate writing opportunities. We have lots here. Vary the types of pictures that you use so that sometimes you’re capturing a conversation, sometimes describing a scene and sometimes creating a character.

Finding the wood for the trees

Model what you want them to do. Being distracted by connectives, punctuation, vocabulary, openers, handwriting, powerful verbs, interesting adjectives and so on can confuse the purpose of your writing session. Focus your modelling on one objective. Make sure this is vocalised to the children, ensure it is part of their success criteria and try to park all those other on-going aspects of writing.

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Sounds Pinteresting


I like collecting things. When I was a girl I collected erasers, pencil toppers and key rings. Little bits of brightly coloured plastic from places I’d visited: Twycross Zoo, Kenilworth Castle, Coventry Cathedral… Now I’m a grown up and have my own children we visit the same local attractions. What have my children bought? Beanie babies, wooden swords and pencil sharpeners. It’s either in the genes or is representative of the sort of gift that can be purchased from a few weeks worth of pocket money.

I still collect things now and this is where Pinterest comes in. My colleague Charlotte wrote a fabulous blog post about how to use Pinterest as a teacher and I urge you to take a look – it’s really rather good. Our Pinterest boards are an online collection of all things literary – created by us to help teachers find resources to teach English. So what do we have?

For teachers in KS2 we’ve got Books for KS2 and Great books for Y6.

If you’re still using the titles from some of the Primary Strategy units of work we’ve got Pinterest boards on:Issues and DilemmasStories with familiar settingsJourneys and QuestsDiaries and Letters, and Books with historical settings.

KS1 teachers may find our boards on Lost toysBooks for KS1KS1 transport books, and Pets (KS1), useful resources.

We have 70 boards and over 1500 pins. Come and take a look and let us know what else we’d like to start collecting.

Rachel Clarke – Primary English Consultant


Good books to read aloud


“Ok children, settle down, relax and listen while I tell you a story…” These have to be some of the most precious words many of us have said to our classes – fond memories of shared moments, unbridled pleasure and a love of the spoken and written word. All too often it’s a phrase missing from classrooms. The burden of a cluttered curriculum, the pressure of year on year progress and the fear of a visit from the inspectors – with their agenda of evidencing learning at all times, means that reading aloud to children is for some teachers an impossible dream. It shouldn’t be. What better learning is there than learning to listen; to enjoy the cadence of a voice as it takes you on journeys to other worlds; to experience vocabulary beyond your reading ability, words that wouldn’t arise in your daily interactions; to take time out for pleasure; to learn to remember and resume with a narrative; a chance to predict, to make deductions and to problem solve. Reading aloud to children opens up a new space in the classroom, somewhere where the ordinary pressures and hierarchies of school dissolve. The book rules – not the endpoint of a level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics.

Now, the members of the Primary English Team don’t live in a book-filled library. We share our offices with maths and ICT colleagues and a number of very serious data-crunching school advisers. On mention of this blog post this raggle-taggle band of education professionals erupted into a cacophony of memories, shared experiences and voices raised in pleasure, excitement and… agreement (and that is not something that happens readily in these parts). It seems that reading aloud to children is not only a shared pleasure but a strategy that should be investigated by the United Nations to ensure world peace.

So, what is it about reading aloud to children that unites these previously disparate clans? A few major themes emerged – again from across the disciplines of our team. A text with pattern, rhythm and rhyme featured highly on our experts lists. ICT specialist Dy Hewett referred to the lyrical, flowing text of Room and the Broom, Whilst adviser Alex, talked about the raucous and irreverent humour of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Our experts talked about the predictability of rhyming texts and how it enables children to join in with reading the text. This type of choral response was also referred to by one of our senior colleagues, Ed Carter, who pointed to the patterned and predictable language of traditional tales. When reading aloud to children in his school he only needed to say, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair…” for the children to complete the refrain with, “So I may climb without a stair”. Similarly, a well-weighted delivery of “And they all lived…” should always elicit a response of “Happily ever after.” These shared experiences and choral recitations glue classes together. They show that storytelling creates cohesive communities which go on to exist beyond the stories.

“Bringing a book alive like a drama,” was how maths expert Becky Chandler referred to the joy of reading text aloud. For her a good read aloud text is one that enables her to put on accents like the Irish accent she uses for Rover Saves Christmas by Roddy Doyle. I used to love reading Farmer Duck for a similar reason. What’s happened with this text though is that one particular line has woven itself into the vernacular of our family, so that at the end of a long day we frequently say to each other, “How goes the work?” in I’m afraid a rather ham-acted Somerset accent. None of us ever replies with “Quack” but we all know where our line has come from and the many times that we shared that particular book.

Humour was another characteristic that our experts felt was influential in making a good read aloud text. Almost everyone asked recalled reading Quick let’s get out of here by Michael Rosen. As a collection of poetry this also shows that short stories and poetry make useful additions to a read aloud curriculum. At the other end of the emotional spectrum books that make you sad can also be great books to read aloud. Primary English colleague Julia recalled reading the Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde whilst accompanied by Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The tears that flowed from her Y6 children caused a rush of Kleenex on that particular day.

Other features that our experts referred to were: easy sentences, ones where you don’t trip over punctuation or have to read ahead to check your intonation. Short chapters work well too, particularly ones that leave a great cliff-hanger so that children are desperate for you to read on. A manageable amount of characters was also referred to – our experts didn’t like reading books aloud when there were lots of character voices to remember. Books that lead children to seek out more by the same author was another point raised by our teacher experts. Books in series, such as the Famous Five, a Series of Unfortunate Events and Horrid Henry were all discussed at length in our read aloud learning conversation.

I was once asked at interview what I would do if I could be Secretary of State for Education for ten minutes. It’s simple really. I’d make reading aloud to every class at the end of the school day a core element of the National Curriculum.

Rachel Clarke, Primary English Consultant

To see more recommendations for read aloud books see our Pinterest board here.

Our Books in Series Pinterest board also includes great books to read aloud


Looking for a big resource in a small book…?


Hands up who remembers Child Ed. How about Junior Ed? You know, those magazines kept on the shelf in the staffroom, jealously guarded by the teacher in charge of resources, tea money and organising the Christmas do. If, after promising faithfully to put them back in the correct magazine file in strict month order, you were lucky enough to be able to read them, they were always full of good stuff – teaching ideas, posters, advice and resource suggestions. No doubt some of you still have a pile of them somewhere…

So good news! This month saw the launch of a new bi-monthly magazine, Springboard Stories, which aims to fill the gap where Child Ed was. We were asked to contribute to the first edition by suggesting some of our favourite and most useful resources, in less than 50 words. Cue lots of discussion. We came up with the following:

  • Looking for a big resource in a small book? Pie Corbett’s Jumpstart books for 7 – 11 years are essential for every teachers’ toolkit. Packed with ideas, they cover learning-led word, sentence and text activities; and can be used for warm-ups or main lessons, They’re interactive, fun and adaptable for FS and KS1.

  • Sue Palmer’s Skeleton’s for Writing are indispensable for non-fiction across the curriculum. Relevant from YR-Y6 these visual aids for writing support children in creating non-fiction texts which meet the needs of their audience.

  • Social bookmarking site Pinterest is a tool enabling teachers to curate their own online resource collections. Fast to create, these visual collections save web pages for sharing with others or for supporting children with topic research. Check out our collections on Pinterest.

  • Looking to add breadth to your Guided Reading resources?  Look no further than Collins Big Cat! These books are lovely – written by top authors, with attractive illustrations and photographs, suggestions for Guided Reading sessions and reader response activities. Ready book-banded, the range contains 50% non-fiction and 50% fiction.

  • The Harris Burdick Mysteries, an intriguing book with a mystery at the start. We won’t spoil it! The book contains 12 pictures, titles and captions which inspire children to write their own tales. Great for KS2. It’s interesting to see the different directions the same start can take when giving children choice within a structure.

What would your 50 word suggestion be? Let us know and we could add it to our Resources for Teachers Pinterest board.

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Originally published on LoveToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.Com 13th September 2012.


Video from Primary English

Clips from two guided reading sessions in John Shelton Primary School in Coventry. Rachel is using two of the titles from The Mini Tales Pack with a year 5 and year 6 group of children whilst addressing some key reading objectives.

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