Help! I’m addicted to hacking my teacher-life.

Primary Egnlish Teacher Hacks

My name is Rachel and I am addicted to hacking my teacher-life.

For as long as I can recall I’ve been saving the pedagogical pennies in the belief that the pounds will save themselves; I’ve attempted to draw other people into my world with my time-saving blog-posts; and now I’ve even started pushing my time saving highs with a Pinterest board dedicated to my pedagogical obsession.

I’ve noticed something though. I’m not alone. As I travel from school to school, I’ve realised that other teachers are also afflicted by an overwhelming need to hack. This blog post is dedicated to those teachers who no longer see ordinary everyday items for what they are, but for what they could become, and their potential pedagogical uses. And if you know a teacher hacker, you’ll know that if there’s one thing that both feeds and calms our addiction it’s the pleasure of sharing our hacks with anyone who will listen to us.

In this blog post I focus on the humble washing peg. Laundry-day essential it may be; but to teacher hackers it is a pedagogical philosopher’s stone.

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The teaching cup-cake challenge

the teaching cup cake challenge

A short blog in which I offer a cake: fondant ratio as a metaphor for good teaching.

the teaching cup cake challenge

Fairy cakes

Back in the day the sky was bluer, children played out in the street, and small individual sponge-based treats were known as fairy cakes; a nice name evocative of mythical creatures and a sprinkling of magic. Nowadays, the skies remain blue, children still play out but also have an abundance of electronic distractions; and small cakes are somewhat larger and less imaginatively called cup-cakes. I have nothing against cup-cakes but as a fan of sponge I feel that the cake: fondant ratio of the cup-cake has shifted to the detriment of the core ingredient – cake. There is nothing wrong with fondant topping and I certainly have nothing against the addition of decoration. It’s simply that I prefer the old-fashioned fairy cake balance of mostly cake with a little topping.

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Planning a learning journey

Planning for learning – a road well travelled

Most schools have a long term plan of how the national curriculum will be delivered for each subject and in each year group. This could be cross-curricular topics, discrete subject teaching, specific teaching of specialised objectives in grammar and phonics or any combination of the above. When it comes to the unit of work, or weekly lesson planning stage, there is often less strategic direction; and with a new curriculum teachers can find themselves wondering how best to meet the needs of the children in their class.

When planning units of work for children it’s all too easy to lose focus on the purpose of the learning and slip into a planning frenzy led by fabulous activities and inspirational resources that you’ve found in a book/online/had in your cupboards for years. We’ve all done it, but does it really work? Grabbing the children’s attention is important, but when time is scarce and pressure is on us to reach attainment and progress targets we need to think carefully about the purposefulness of what we plan.  This is where planning through the metaphor of a journey can help focus our minds on the learning taking place and how each lesson works as a tiny step towards a final destination.Planning a learning journey

Map it out

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New Curriculum – planning for coverage



How are you going to plan for the new national curriculum for English? Are you looking at teaching objectives in isolation? Will you be embedding the English objectives in your cross- curricular themes or are you going to continue with English units of work?

At our recent English Subject Leader training we found that most schools are planning to use a combination of the above. English units will stay; objectives will be embedded through cross-curricular teaching; and some aspects of the curriculum, such as grammar, will receive daily discrete teaching.

Knowing how busy our subject leaders will be towards the end of this term and the beginning of next term we gave them a planning presentation to use with colleagues back in school. We designed it with one of our favourite phrases in mind “the same…but different”. What we’ve done is to take the existing Primary Framework units and adjust them to meet the requirements of the new curriculum. We’ve focussed on outcomes that demonstrate the acquisition of the national curriculum objectives rather than the features of genre, as this is where the emphasis lies in the new curriculum.

We like this approach. It provides context to learning; it gives teachers the familiarity of units they already know; and it meets the statutory requirements of the new national curriculum.


One of the challenges facing teachers in this first year of the new national curriculum is ensuring that they cover all of the objectives. To help teachers with this we’ve devised a set of coverage grids so that every new curriculum objective can be planned for across the units of work in each year group. It’s a tick chart really but a highly visual and useful one.

Our coverage grids ensure that teachers can see which objectives they’ve yet to cover and also which objectives have been revisited over the year. Our coverage grids also make it easier to spot which objectives work together in a cohesive and logical manner; meaning better quality units of work.

There’s just one more thing about our coverage grids: they’re a great tool for school leaders who will be accountable for the provision of the new national curriculum. Our grids are an efficient way of monitoring coverage and so ensuring that all children receive their entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum.

Our coverage grids are available to purchase on CD by mail order. At just £20 including VAT and postage and packaging they are proving a very popular resource. In addition to the coverage grids the CD includes an overview of possible units of work and a set of individual pupil assessment grids. All the grids come in Microsoft word format so are fully amendable.

To order a set of our coverage and assessment grids just email and we will arrange payment and delivery with you.

Click here to see a sample from our Year 3 coverage grids Year 3 Vocabulary, grammar and punctuation_objective coverage

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited.  


Creating a reading school


This week we take a look at how to create a reading school. In a change to our usual approach we pose a number of questions for you to ask about the organisation and management of reading in your school.

Reading Spaces

What do the reading spaces in school look like? How are the used? Who uses them?

  • Consider library, classroom reading spaces, outdoor reading spaces etc.,

  • Involve children in a critical appraisal of reading spaces. Where do they prefer to read?

  • Is the quality and range of book stock regularly reviewed and updated?

Guided Reading

Is effective guided reading taking place?

  • Is there an understanding of the different organisation needed in guided reading for children at level 3 and above?

  • Are the resources appropriate? Are they will managed?

  • Is guided reading taught by the teacher or by teaching assistants? If the latter, what training is provided?

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Writing moderation – weights and measures


With the moderation season now in full flow, we’ve collated a few bits of advice to help you get through it as unscathed as possible.

Weights and measures

Writing moderation is the school assessment system’s version of Weights and Measures. It’s a system where producers – you, bring your product – the children’s writing, to be weighed, measured and scrutinised by your peers. It’s the way that we maintain ‘the standard’ and use an agreed set of criteria by which we can grade that produce.

Comparing apples and pears

We’ve encountered a few writing moderation meetings where teachers haven’t sorted their produce prior to the meeting. Instead they’ve come with oats mixed with corn, apples mixed with pears and have then used the meeting for their peers to sort out their produce for them. This isn’t moderation. Writing moderation is where you come to the meeting having already decided on the level at which each child is working so that your colleagues can then act like the scales and yardsticks of the assessment system. To make the most of moderation make your judgements before coming to the meeting.

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Love your school library

Do you love your school library?

Does your school library encourage children to develop a lifelong love of books and reading or is it a dusty store of dated books no-one wants to read?

We’ve collated this short check-list to help you encourage children into your school library:

  • Develop a buying team – select children from each class to support book selection. Use them to select books and canvas opinion – this creates a buzz when the books arrive as the children are excited to see the books they’ve chosen.

  • Be a book pusher! Encourage children to add post it notes (see our post-it notes blog) to books with mini reviews. You could make a feature display of these like many book shops do now.

  • Ask bookshops for promotional book posters, they get lots and will often pass them onto schools when they are finished with them. If you don’t ask you don’t get!

  • Have an extreme reading competition and get the staff to join in too. The winning entries could be made into reading champion posters to be displayed in school.

  • Have a simple display of what each class is reading that can be kept up to date and changed easily. Create collections that support the texts and topics being studied in each year group and rotate these as the topics change.

  • Have a cull, be honest, get rid of books that are tatty or dated. You can then replace them even if slowly with better quality books. You could run a sponsored read to raise money.

  • During guided reading you could send an additional adult to the library with a group of children to teach them both library skills and how to select books.

  • Make sure that your library includes a variety of texts. Don’t forget to include comics, magazines and newspapersFirst news is a must for your library and you might also want to explore subscribing to The Phoenix for a really diverse weekly comic.

  • Have a library champion. This could be a member of staff charged with running the library or could be a parent volunteer or school governor. What you need is someone who is passionate about books and reading and who has time to make the library the heart and soul of the school.

  • Don’t forget the technology. Libraries are about information as well as reading. Make sure children are able to access information through computers and tablets as well as from books.

  • Make it comfortable. We all like to read in different places so provide a variety of seating and open and closed spaces.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. We’d love to hear how else you’ve made sure that your school library promotes a love of reading.

Charlotte Reed and Rachel Clarke – Directors, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited.

What’s the Same, what’s different?

What’s the same, what’s different’ is currently one of my favourite activities for anything! It’s a great way to get the children talking; makes a great starter activity or assessment; it’s a perfect post reading guided reading activity and so the list goes on…

What’s the same, what’s different – characters:

Do you need to compare characters in a story? Take Glinda the Good and The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz – they’re both witches; they both have magical powers; they both wear something on their heads; one is wicked and one is green – you get the picture. Alternatively you may want to encourage children to compare characters across books following guided reading sessions? For example, compare Lila in The Firework Maker’s Daughter and Maia in Journey to the River Sea – they’re both girls; they’re both adventurous; they both end up in boats; Lila has a father but Maia is an orphan; Lila is poor but Maia’s family has money.

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Sent to Coventry

Traditionally we think of ‘being sent to Coventry’ as a punishment where nobody speaks to you. Today though we flipped that saying on its head and hosted an event featuring three top quality presenters who spoke to us throughout the day.

First out was the quietly charismatic David Mitchell. David outlined his journey through pupil blogging from his ‘field of dreams‘ moment to his current position of presiding over the Quad Blogging initiative. If you’ve not heard David speak before, then we recommend him highly. David’s realistic and honest delivery provides listeners with a greater understanding of what pupil blogging is all about. He frequently refers to his own considerable evidence base: sharing childrens’ starting points and how their writing has improved through blogging.

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Post-it Note Pedagogy

Are you a Post-it Note Pedagogue? Here at Primary English HQ with LOVE them and they’re always something we keep in our school bags. In this quick guide to  Post-it Note pedagogy we look beyond the writing of lists and the marking of pages and summarise a few ways to use Post-it Notes as a teacher.

Post-it Note pedagogy:

  1. Post-it notes are great for making pictograms with young mathematicians. They can write or draw on the sticky notes and organise them to show the frequency of the data they are collecting.

  2. Children love learning about sentences through practical activities. Write separate words on Post-it Notes and use them to construct sentences. Different colours can be used for different word classes such as verbs and nouns; connectives and conjunctions; and even for phrases and clauses.

  3. Try writing different phonemes on Post-it Notes and then use them to blend words.

  4. When teaching poetry try covering up rhyming words with Post-it Notes so that children can use their knowledge of rhyme and the context to predict the hidden words.

  5. Speech bubble shaped Post-it Notes are great for teaching dialogue. With the youngest children in school you can get them to write dialogue to accompany wordless picture books.

  6. Some children are reluctant to offer answers in front of the whole class. Post-it notes can be a helpful tool to support such children. This is a great way to harvest vocabulary from the class and can make a quick and useful display.

  7. Asking children to write short book recommendations on Post-it notes and leave them stuck to books in the class library can be a useful, engaging way of getting children to offer opinions about the books they have read.

  8. Pink and green Post-it Notes can support peer assessment using ‘tickled pink’ and ‘green for growth’ as a way of marking the good points and areas for development in written work.

  9. Red, amber and green Post-it Notes are great for self-assessment. Ask children to select the appropriate colour of Post-it Note and then write a comment on it to support their self-assessment.

  10. Post-it notes are invaluable for jotting down your personal assessment notes and then sticking them to your lesson plans, assessment records or children’s work.

These are just a few of the ways that Post-it Notes can be used in the classroom. For more ideas take a look at our Pinterest Board and the official 3M website. Do also let us know how you use Post-it Notes in the classroom.

Rachel Clarke and Charlotte Reed – Directors, Primary English Education Consultancy