Vivacious Vocabulary: books to support playful vocabulary learning

In this article I share some of the children’s books I take to schools when training teachers and TAs about vocabulary.



To know a word well requires:

“Rich, decontextualised knowledge of a word’s meaning, its relationship to other words, and its extension to metaphorical uses.”
                                                       

Beck, McKeown, & Omanson (1987)

The quotation above finds its way into all the vocabulary training that I do. To me it sums up what word learning is all about – thorough understanding of the definition, an understanding of how the word is a synonym, antonym, homonym or morphological relative of other words and then the ability to take that word, play with it and take it out of the literal sphere and use it for different effects. In training, and here on the Primary English blog, I’ve written about the importance of a planned, systematic approach to language learning. But I’ve asserted long and hard that a playful approach to language learning is also essential. A love of jokes, puns and wordplay lays the foundations for extending language into metaphorical uses.

So where am I going here? Well to the pleasurable pursuit of reading books that play with language. These are not books that I’d necessarily build into units of work, although there’s no reason why this could not be done. These are books that I think should populate every classroom library. Books where language learning is inherently joyful and entertaining.

Let me tell you a little about each of these books and why I like them.

Dear deer: A book of Homophones by Gene Barretta A fun colourful book that plays with homophones so that there’s the MOOSE who loved MOUSSE and ATE EIGHT bowls.

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett A delightful book that performs the essential role of exploring fears, but with words such arachnophobia and ablutophobia offers a chance to explore root words, derivations and etymology. Such a gorgeous book.

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What’s the big idea? Identify themes in texts

In this article, I take a brief look at supporting children to identify themes in texts.

The National Curriculum asks that children in Year 5 and Year 6 identify and discuss themes and conventions in writing. But what are themes?Themes are not the plot and they are not the genre. Instead, themes are the underlying messages that exist beneath the words written on the page. They are the big ideas that the author is trying to convey to the reader. Note how I say beneath the words written on the page. Themes are not necessarily explicit and they are conveyed by writers through the words and actions of characters as they respond to the situations in which they find themselves. I’ll say it again, beneath the words on the page – it sounds a bit like read between the lines that age old phrase that we use when asking children to infer meaning. And therein lies part of the problem. Identifying the theme in writing requires inference skills and we all know how hard those are to teach.

National Curriculum: Year 5/6 Reading comprehension p.44

Some popular themes in children’s literature are friendship, determination and bravery. These are big ideas and ones inherently bound in notions of emotional intelligence. They are ideas that require an emotional lexicon; something that so many children struggle to access. So how can we help? Certainly, we need to talk about the themes in the books we read and encourage children to identify them. Simply asking, “What’s the theme in this book?” is unlikely to reveal much joy. However, providing children with a range of common themes and asking if any are present in a text is likely to be more successful. Our Primary English Theme Tokens have been produced for just this purpose. These are a collection of common themes in children’s literature for children to colour in and then discuss with friends. There are also spaces for children to add themes they may have identified that are not included in the resource.

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Graphic Organisers – the Freyer Model

I’m currently big on Graphic Organisers. It’s the way that graphic organisers make it easier for children to articulate their understanding that I particularly like. But also, it’s the way that a really good graphic organiser lends itself to a multitude of educational requirements. The Freyer model (sometimes called the Freyer diagram) is one such graphic organiser.

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Book review: The Road to Ever After by Moira Young

The Road to Ever After

When the lives of two lonely characters collide, a story of deep sensitivity and personal growth begins. 13-year-old orphan, Davy David ekes out an existence on the fringes of life in the back-water town of Brownvale. Rising early each day from his home in the churchyard yew trees, Davy hides from Mr Kite the gang-master (who patrols the streets for down-and-outs) by sheltering in the local library and movie-theatre.  Things take a turn for the worse when the town’s tyrannical clergyman, Parson Fall, discovers that Davy is the secretive artist who’s been decorating the yards of Brownvale with his drawings of angels. Turning-in Davy to Mr Kite, would give Parson Fall no greater pleasure.

Fortunately, Davy stumbles into the overgrown grounds of a dilapidated museum on the edges of town. Here he meets ancient, decrepit and reclusive Miss Elizabeth Flint. Wanted by Parson Fall, and with little to keep him in Brownvale, Davy accepts an offer of employment with Miss Flint. And so a most miraculous adventure begins.

In a story peppered with references to the silver screen, it is hard not draw parallels to It’s A Wonderful Life and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Of course, to young readers these references will be less apparent and so perhaps the direction of the narrative less certain.

The Road To Ever After is a beautifully crafted tale. The two main characters are given time to develop and we continue to learn about them up to the final pages. Moira Young summons a world of indeterminate time, somewhere in the past and in a place never quite established – both of which add to the sense of mystery in the story.

Keen readers will note the socially pertinent references to a local authority unable to provide for its vulnerable citizens: both young and old. A place where the local library faces closure and the obvious future impact of this on those who seek refuge in the books and warmth of a shared and valued place.

This book is an ideal choice for shared whole-class reading in upper KS2. It offers multitudinous opportunities for discussion about life, death, social care, theft and so much more. With the current KS2 Reading SATs emphasis on vocabulary and inference, this text offers opportunities for teachers to scrutinise the author’s choice of language and how she creates meaning in and between the words she had written.

A special book to be treasured.

Watch the official book trailer here.

The Road to Ever After official trailer

Rachel Clarke, Director Primary English Education

All content on the Primary English website is owned by Rachel Clarke.

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Filling the writing gaps with authentic texts

It’s that time of the year. You’ve looked at the children’s writing, checked your assessment grids and have established that there are a few gaps in learning.

We’ve all been there. But me saying so, doesn’t necessarily make you feel better. The children need to demonstrate that they can use the desired features and you need to find yet another way for them to do so. It’s not easy.

Not so long ago, I was asked to write a set of teaching materials that teach the key grammatical elements required by the national curriculum. Not, as is often the case, in the form of short stand-alone grammar activities. But by starting with a quality text that exemplifies a National Curriculum objective and culminates with children writing their own authentic text to exemplify their proficiency with the specified aspect of the curriculum.

The result was Writing Mechanics published by Keen Kite books.

Writing Mechanics

So how, can Writing Mechanics help you close the writing gaps? Well simply, by allowing you to focus on one specific grammatical element with the confidence that at the end of the teaching sequence, your children will be able to demonstrate their understanding of grammatical features to write authentic texts for specific purposes and audiences. Perfect for this time of the year when you need to close the writing gaps.

To find out more about Writing Mechanics click here.

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education

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Progression in narrative texts

Not so long ago, I shared a post about my Progression in non-fiction texts document. It proved pretty popular and I know many of my readers downloaded the resource and started using it to inform their planning and subject knowledge. This is great news. It really is rewarding to produce a resource with the aim of helping others, and then hear that it’s been positively received.

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Playing with words (part II)

Explicit, planned, and strategic strategies for teaching vocabulary are at the core of the Primary English approach to teaching vocabulary. If you attend one of our vocabulary training sessions, we’ll walk you through the available research on vocabulary acquisition and provide you with a taste of some practical approaches for actively teaching vocabulary as part of your core English provision. This is the Primary English way; we’re practical, strategic and ultimately very sensible.

This said, we do like to have a bit of fun, and incidental learning is one of the ways we like to do this. On our vocabulary training courses, Taboo is one way we catch our attendees learning. If you’ve never played Taboo, it’s a fun game for activating known vocabulary by restricting players’ word choices by making designated words ‘Taboo’. So with the card below, players try to guess the word ‘sailor’ from their colleagues’ given clues (these may not include, ship, sea, captain or ocean). What we’ve found from playing this game, is that good knowledge of synonyms is useful; you can’t say ship but you can say ‘someone who works on a boat’. We’ve also found that activating understanding of the context of the word by saying ‘this is someone who navigates on a boat’ should prove to be a useful clue. And knowing that some of these people are called a ‘mate’ is a useful bit of general knowledge about the target word. So, as you can see, Taboo is a great incidental activity for practising and provoking existing vocabulary. Download our Taboo cards free of charge from our resources page.

Taboo
Taboo

Another popular incidental learning activity used on our training courses is Four Pictures One Word. You may well have played this on your phone or tablet, and if like me, you’ll have found it incredibly addictive. Here’s an example we use in training. All four pictures show the same word used in different contexts. The black dashes indicate the number of letters in the word, and the necessary letters are provided (along with a few extras to keep you guessing).

Four pictures one word

This game is perfect for morning work and for filling one of those micro-gaps that sometimes appear in the school day. I’m hoping by now that you’ve worked out the missing word. If you look closely, you’ll see one boy indicating that it was his little brother that ‘did it’, in the next you’ll identify the indicator of a car, you’ll then see an image of a car indicating to pull onto the road, and in the final image some pH/ litmus paper is being used to indicate the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The missing word is of course, indicate. What I really love about this activity is how it demonstrates that the same word can be used in different contexts and that rigid definitions can limit our understanding of words.

As I said at the beginning of this article, Primary English is an organisation that focuses on planned, strategic approaches to vocabulary learning. However, this doesn’t stop us from spotting an opportunity to have a bit of fun by finding incidental opportunities to play with words.  

If you you’re looking for a playful approach to word learning, you may be interested in these posts:

Riddle with vocabulary

Very punny vocabulary

Rachel Clarke

Director and owner – Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

All content on the Primary English website is protected by copyright. Please bear this in mind when sharing our content.

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Playing with words

The first in a series of blog posts considering playful approaches to vocabulary and spelling.

I had a tidy-up in my office recently. As is customary with tidying, I made a great big mess then threw a huge pile of paper into our recycling bin. I also found a long-forgotten notebook. It was whilst flicking through said notebook that I found a list of activities I’d made for teaching phonics, spelling and vocabulary. This rather fortuitous case of lost and found has led to a resource upload and, I hope, to a series of blogs about playing with words.

Roll a plural

Knowing whether to add s, es, or to ‘drop the y and add i’ is a huge ask for some of our little learners. To both learn and practise this key spelling skill, I’ve added my Plurals Cube activity to the Resources Page here on the Primary English website. It’s free of charge to download and you’re welcome to share it with friends and colleagues (please just say where it came from).

It’s an easy resource to use. Simply roll the dice and find a word card from the selection that uses the rule shown on the dice.

Word in a word

Do you ever look at a word and spot the other smaller words within it? I don’t mean anagrams, but instead the words that form as you scan the word from left to right. I know I’ve really annoyed my teenage daughter by doing this on the way to school in the morning – not that I’ve allowed her annoyance to stop me doing it. Here’s the example that annoyed her most recently:

Me (pointing to the Land Rover Discovery in front of us): Dear child, have you ever noticed the number of words hidden inside Discovery?

Dear Child (grunting): No? But you’re gong to tell me about them aren’t you?

Me: Or we could do it together. Okay, we won’t do it together, but let me tell you about them. Disc, disco, discover, is, cove, cover, over, very…

Dear child: Mum, stop it. Please…

I’m happy to admit that I’m quite sad, but I do think this a great activity for learning to spell longer words by spotting the little ones inside it. And of course, it’s a good way to explore new vocabulary by working out where and what the hidden words might be.

That’s it for my first blog of 2019. I plan to be back soon with more ideas for playing with words. If you liked this blog post here’s an old post about playful approaches to vocabulary building: Very Punny vocabulary

Best wishes,

Rachel

Rachel Clarke is the director and owner of Primary English Education. All content on this site belongs to Rachel and is protected by copyright. Use of Rachel’s content without permission will be challenged. Please do not reproduce, plagiarise or monetise any of Rachel’s content.

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Progression in Non-fiction texts

In a rare turn of events, I have rediscovered my long-neglected blog and decided to share my thoughts with those of you even mildly interested in hearing them.

I’ve been busy. I mean really busy. I’ve been working in schools, writing teaching materials and all too often chasing my tail as I try to catch up with myself. I’m not complaining. Having a lot to do is the dream position for those of us who are self-employed. And I’ve loved all the opportunities that have come my way since taking my online sabbatical. But it’s time to get back on the web and start sharing the fruits of my labours. Because I’ve made a thing. And I think it’s a thing a few of you might like. In fact, I think it’s a thing that might prove rather useful in your school.

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Promoting a whole school love of reading

A school I work with has asked me to help them promote a love of reading that spans beyond World Book Day. Now there’s nothing wrong with World Book Day; in fact, there’s a lot that’s right about promoting books and reading. But I do understand the reason behind the school’s request. They want to think about sustainable, everyday things they can do to promote a love of reading in their school. Naturally, I’ve written on this subject before but in this article, I’ve added a few more ideas and as many links as I could think of. As the school are based in Warwickshire, I’ve made mention of organisations and initiatives in this part of England, but not exclusively so. I am of course only one of several educators who talk about developing a love of reading in school. Whilst much of what I discuss here is from my own work, I am indebted to those other reading enthusiasts for their ideas and inspiration.

Recommendations

If you’re looking to promote a love of reading in your school, you need to ensure that the books you have are worthwhile. When you consider that ‘UK publishers released more than 20 new titles every hour over the course of 2014,’ (The Guardian 22nd October, 2014) it can be rather daunting to start looking for books to suit the wide-tastes of all readers. This is where recommendations come into play. Your local School Library Service (SLS) should be right at the top of your list for support and guidance but there are other valuable outlets worth exploring too. I’ve listed a few below:

Coventry SLS (because I’m based in Coventry and they are in my opinion the best SLS around)

Warwickshire SLS (because Warwickshire is my neighbouring authority and they are also rather splendid and great people to work with)

Love Reading for Kids

Reading Zone

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