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’ isa 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. Just scroll down to the Phonics and Spelling section and you’ll see the resource flagged with NEW!!!. As with all the resources on the page, 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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Books dealing with loss

This short article considers books to use with children dealing with bereavement.

In a school not too far from me the children, parents and staff are dealing with the loss of a well-loved teacher. She was a delightful lady; a real-life Miss Honey. Hers is a loss that will be felt for many months to come. Sadly, their experience is not unique. I know of too many other schools that have had to face this awful pain. I am by no means qualified to offer bereavement advice and am not going to attempt to do so here. But as homage to a teacher I knew well, and who I know loved children’s books with a heartfelt passion, I can offer some suggestions of books to use with children experiencing loss.

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

This gentle and poignant book was written to help young children deal with death. It’s a sensitive but honest portrayal of passing which leaves the reader with hope for the future. By looking at the positive influence that badger had on all of his friend’s lives, the reader is left understanding the legacy that loved ones leave, long after they have passed away. A beautiful book.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book

Written after the death of his son Eddie, this beautifully honest book deals with the deep, all-consuming sadness that can affect us after the loss of a loved-one. Particularly helpful for those children experiencing despair. One for the older children.

Charlotte’s Web by E B White

My go-to text for dealing with loss is Charlotte’s Web. Chapter 21 deals with Charlotte’s passing but also with her legacy: her unborn children who will ensure her memory lives on, and the lengths to which she went for her friend Wilbur. It is in this chapter that Charlotte utters these most beautiful words that resonate with all of us who experienced friendship that transcends death:

CharlottesWeb

Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies

I adore this book. It evokes the special bond that exists between grandparents and their grandchildren. The story begins with the sort of joyful adventure that only grandparents seem able to provide. It ends with Grandad taking a journey that he must take on his own, and from which he cannot return. A bright, vibrant book aimed at younger readers but suitable for all.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

This gentle picture book examines what happens when we bottle-up our feelings after the loss of a loved one. An accessible text for those children struggling to let go of their pent-up emotions.

To my colleagues experiencing the loss of their dear friend, she may have gone but she’ll never be forgotten. Just like Charlotte the spider and Susan Varley’s Badger she has left a legacy;a school full of books and literature at the heart of all that you do.

In remembrance.

Rachel Clarke: Director – Primary English Education.

 

There are a great many more children’s books that deal with death and loss. For further ideas, I recommend this Guardian article by Holly Webb.

I have begun to curate a collection of PSHE books on Pinterest that you may also find useful.

 

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Any questions?

The 2016 KS2 Reading SAT has long gone but the repercussions of ‘that paper’ are still being felt in Y6 classrooms across the land. There has been much written about the paper and I’m not going to add much more. What I can do though, is offer a couple of solutions.

My first solution comes in the form of the Primary English KS2 Question Prompts (see our resources page). This little booklet of reading comprehension questions is one of the most popular downloads from our resources page. It provides plentiful question stems organised by Content Domain and is an essential tool for planning high quality reading comprehension sessions. The reason I suggest this as a solution is this: I think the style of the 2016 questions was more of a concern than the challenge of the texts. This being the case, the Primary English KS2 Question Prompts have had a make-over. They now include question stems based on those found in the 2016 test. You’ll find more of ‘what impression…‘ and less of ‘what thoughts...’ than in the previous edition, which should better help you prepare your pupils for the end of Key Stage tests.

My other solution comes in the form of the Reading Detectives series from Keen Kite. As the series editor and author of the Y6 book, I can guarantee that this series offers a solution to the thorny issue of question style. When writing the Y6 book I constantly referred to the questions in the 2016 SAT and made sure mine were as similar as possible. I also endeavoured to explain how the answers had been derived and the types of skills pupils needed to apply. The Reading Detectives are an essential addition to the KS2 reading comprehension curriculum that will help you familiarise pupils with the high demand of questions in the end of Key Stage tests.Read my blog for Keen Kite here.

Please do click through to our resources page and download a copy of the Primary English KS2 Question Prompts.

Rachel Clarke, Director: Primary English Education

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

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Riddle with vocabulary

In my last post I discussed the usefulness of puns for developing vocabulary. In this post I look at riddles as tools for language learning.

Riddles work in a similar way to puns but also encourage problem solving and lateral thinking as demonstrated by this popular riddle: What has a face and two hands but no arms or legs?  As adults it’s fairly easy to solve by applying our understanding of the words ‘face’ and ‘hands’ into our knowledge of the components of an analogue clock, rather than as human body parts. We make a semantic link. But for many children this is a challenging leap into using familiar language in a new setting. Dare I suggest, the notion of an analogue clock is one that is less familiar to many of our children than once it was; making this riddle particularly tricky.

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Very punny vocabulary

In this post I consider the use of wordplay for building vocabulary.

I like words. There are some words that I use frequently like ‘fabulous’, ‘certainly’ and ‘education’. And then there are words that I love like ‘rambunctious’, ‘filibuster’ and ‘pearlescent’: rich words, which sound pleasing to my ear, but I use infrequently as they can only be used in specific situations. A good vocabulary is like this – it needs to be full of really useful words to use in everyday situations, but to be really effective must also contain less common rich words which enable clear communication in very specific situations. The 2014 National Curriculum recognises the importance of a good vocabulary and mentions it in the programme of study for reading, and writing, and of course explicitly, in Appendix 2: Vocabulary, grammar and punctuation (yes, I’ve emboldened vocabulary because appendix 2 is about more than grammar alone).

Learning academic words and rich vocabulary is important for children. However, ensuring that vocabulary teaching is more than the list-learning of words, requires creative thinking. Let me demonstrate:

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