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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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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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 Collins 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 Collins 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.

Beautiful Book Quotes

Drawing children’s attention to beautiful books is all part of promoting a love of reading and is essential if you’re aiming to create a reading school. In this blog post we take some of those beautiful books and consider how to use some of the quotations within them to inspire children to read.

Use quotations as advertising soundbites

Consider collecting quotations that you love and display them in the classroom or library. Display the books from which the quotations come side-by-side. This way the quotations work as short adverts for the books.

Set a challenge and develop home-school links

Create a collection of great quotations by working as a staff team. You could also consider asking the children and their parents to offer their favourite book quotations. Set it as a challenge with book related prizes for the most quotations, or a particularly funny or poignant quotation.

Get visual with a rolling Powerpoint of beautiful book quotes

Create a rolling Powerpoint presentation of book quotes (or ask some children to make one). This can then be displayed in the library, as children enter the hall for assembly, or in classrooms as children arrive in the morning. You could share this one that I made if you’re able to access YouTube in your school.

Build vocabulary by collecting great words from great literature

Encourage children to collect interesting words that they find in book quotes. Provide them with notebooks to record the words they find and then ensure that they have time to use dictionaries to research the words so that they can go on to use them in their own writing.

Get grammatical by spotting grammar in practice

Look for examples of grammatical forms in different quotations. The Charlotte’s Web quotation in my video uses the perfect form. Other examples in my video make good use of question marks, inverted commas and apostrophes for contraction and possession.

Don’t forget poetry

There are many, many well-known and well-loved poetic quotes. Why not create a collection of poetic quotes to promote a love of poetry in your school?

These are just a few thoughts about how to use book quotes in your school. Let me know how you use book quotes in your school

Rachel Clarke – Director: Primary English

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

 

 

 

RIP Assessment Focuses. Hello content domains

In this short blog post, I introduce the updated Primary English suite of materials for reading.

content domainsFrom September 2015 onwards, the new national curriculum has been taught in all year groups across the primary range but it’s not just the old curriculum content that has gone. The Assessment Focuses have also been retired. Of course, this makes total sense; if you’re going to change the curriculum then the criteria for assessing it must also change. So, in this blog post we say RIP Assessment Focuses, and welcome to the world Content Domains.

KS1 Reading Content domain reference KS2 Reading Content domain reference
1a draw on knowledge of vocabulary to understand texts 2a give / explain the meaning of words in context
1b identify / explain key aspects of fiction and non-fiction texts, such as characters, events, titles and information 2b retrieve and record information / identify key details from fiction and non-fiction
1c identify and explain the sequence of events in texts 2c summarise main ideas from more than one paragraph
1d make inferences from the text 2d make inferences from the text / explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text
1e predict what might happen on the basis of what has been read so far 2e predict what might happen from details stated and implied
  2f identify / explain how information / narrative content is related and contributes to meaning as a whole
  2g identify / explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases
  2h make comparisons within the text

For more information about the reading content domains click KS1 reading here and KS2 reading here.

The content domains work in much the same way as the old assessment focuses. They’re not the curriculum but the broad headings under which skills have been grouped for assessment. They were initially formulated for test developers so they could ensure their materials covered the range of the curriculum programmes of study. Just like the assessment focuses they are also useful to us as educators for assessing where gaps exist, for analysing formative and summative test data, and then for planning next steps in learning. As I said, they’re not the curriculum but knowing the content domains and how to ensure that they are all covered in teaching and learning is important.

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#FocusOnReading No 9 – The Round Up

With the autumn term drawing to a close, it seems timely to reflect on the Primary English Autumn 2014 #FocusOnReading.

The highlight of our #FocusOnReading came early in October with our reading conference led by reading expert, James Clements. This was a practical and inspirational day which left our delegates with job lists longer than their arms, but smiles on their faces brought on by looking at wonderful books and discussing ways of developing a reading culture in their schools. We highly recommend you take a look at James’ website.

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#FocusOnReading No.7 – Hearing children read

Reading aloud

This week’s blog post has been written with teaching assistants in mind. Read on for 10 tips on how to get the most from hearing children read aloud.

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#FocusOnReading No.6 – Phonics

You know that feeling of waiting for the bus? You wait for ages and then two arrive at the same time! Here at Primary English HQ we’ve had a similar experience with phonics training over the past few weeks. We hadn’t done any for what seemed like an age, and then in the past few weeks it’s been the most popular request coming into the Primary English office. We’re not complaining: we love phonics and recognise the significant role that good phonics teaching plays in teaching young children to read. As we’re holding our autumn term #FocusOnReading, it seems appropriate that our recent flurry of phonic activity should prompt a blog post on the subject.

At Primary English we like to deliver training that meets the needs of each of the schools with which we work. This means every training package, including our phonics training, is unique. Yet whilst different, each phonics course holds true to the principles of good phonics teaching; some of which we share here.

#FocusOnReading

Perfect pronunciation.

Teachers, you’re busy people and I hate the thought of you wasting your time but poor pronunciation of phonemes does just that. If phonemes are accompanied by the ‘uh’ schwa vowel, all too quickly b-u-t becomes a dairy-based spread rather than a useful co-ordinating conjunction. This video from the Letter and Sounds Phonics Programme is an invaluable for checking the purity of your pronunciation.

Delightful diction

When teaching phonics your diction needs to be delightfully divine. The beginning, middle and end of every word needs to be enunciated with clarity and precision. Slurring sounds or relying on glottal stops can negatively impact on the ability of your children to hear each sound you pronounce.

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Spooky stories: Things that go bump in the night

So, it’s Halloween. The time of the year when it’s legitimate to knock on the doors of strangers and demand they hand over the goodies or risk a trick.It may not sound like it, but I do quite like Halloween. I like the focus on children, the fun and the inevitable hauls of sticky sweets and far-from healthy treats. I am though, no expert in ‘doing Halloween with style and panache’. I may just about scrape out a pumpkin and buy a few ‘funsize’ chocolate bars for those inevitable ‘after dark visitors’ but that is just about as far as my Halloween preparations and celebrations go. Charlotte, my fellow founder of Primary English was  brilliant at making any event one to remember; and her efforts for Halloween were simply ‘spooktacular’. So, today I revisit an old blog post by Charlotte where she shared her passion for spooky books.

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