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 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.

#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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Obituary- Charlotte Reed

Charlotte Reed was a crafter, artist, baker, teacher, daughter, aunt, partner to Antony, a friend to many and one of the founders of Primary English. She was a bombshell of feisty individualism, relentless energy and wicked, infectious humour. After diagnosis of cancer in May 2014, Charlotte died in Myton Hospice on Wednesday 15th October, 2014.

They say that even the brightest star won’t shine forever. But in fact, the brightest star would live the shortest amount of time. (Philip Plait)

_MG_9604-EditCharlotte was the brightest star I’ve ever met: radiant from her head to her ‘stilettoed’ heel. She filled rooms with laughter, light and love. Her irreverence, sharpness and quirky turn of phrase seeped into the bones of her friends. We were ‘giddy kippers’ in her company, revelling in her anecdotes of trips to the theatre, her ‘fabulous’ shopping trips and her ‘frankly’ essential new handbag purchases.

Charlotte was an advocate. She worked hard to promote children’s literature which she did as part of the shortlisting panel for The Coventry Inspiration Book Awards. She was one of the organisers of the Literally Book Festival and an avid collector of illustrated children’s fiction. If there was ever a chance to squeeze children’s books into one of our training sessions then Charlotte was there with her shoehorn ready to fit it in. Her advocacy extended to the teachers she supported on a day to day basis. She was adept at raising their confidence, in providing them with skills and empowering them to improve their own practice. She believed in the potential of the teachers she worked with. Before establishing Primary English, Charlotte had been our team leader. She looked after our interests like a mother bear protecting her cubs. She led us, cared for us and made sure that our interests were served at all times.

Charlotte’s love for her friends was boundless. Her many gifts reflected this love: handmade cards; hand-stitched gifts; home-made cakes and little curios picked up in ‘lovely little shops’. These were for birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Valentines’, Halloween, because it was Friday…any reason she could think of. But gifts weren’t the sum of her friendships. Charlotte was more than this. Her friendship was about the quick text messages after a hard day or a humorous Facebook post when she knew you were feeling blue.  She was kind and thoughtful.

Charlotte had relentless energy. She had places to go, shows to watch, hotels to stay in, and fabulous holidays to enjoy. She loved life and embraced everything it had to offer. Arranging a social event with Charlotte involved a coordination of diaries that would surprise even the queen.

Charlotte’s feistiness is unforgettable. She possessed an enviable steadfastness in her own opinions. In writing these words about her I turned to E. B. White, wanting to draw on the beauty of his prose as he described the passing of Charlotte A. Cavatica. I found what I was looking for but in the back of my mind was our Charlotte, saying it how it was, “When your name’s Charlotte people buy you copies of Charlotte’s Web. That’s nice. But, I just hate that book.” And of course she did. It’s about a pig and a spider. There’s no gallant hero, no romance, no glitter, rainbows, magic, dancing, love or romance…Those were the things that Charlotte loved and because she was so clear about what she did and didn’t like it is easier to remember her. She was one of the brightest stars and like many other bright stars her light went out too soon.

In memory of my dear friend Charlotte Reed.




#FocusOnReading – No5 – Give guided reading a chance.


Recently I’ve noticed a trend. A small swell of teachers who are saying that guided reading doesn’t work and that teaching reading comprehension to whole classes is a much more effective way to teach reading. As an advocate of guided reading, I struggle to agree with teachers who are dropping it. When given the time and resources, and when taught by a skilled practitioner, I believe that guided reading is the best approach that we have of meeting the learning needs of all young readers. Today’s blog post from our Primary English Associate, Lynne Burns supports this view. Like me, Lynne is experienced enough to remember teaching reading before the widespread introduction of guided reading in the late 1990s. In this heartfelt article she pleads the case for the use of guided reading and the use of both scheme and real books as we open-up the world of reading to children. 

When I first started teaching, far more years ago then I care to remember, it was before the introduction of Guided Reading.  I used to teach reading by listening to each child read one to one at least twice a week, which was equivalent to spending over a day a week teaching reading.  Except, of course, I wasn’t really teaching reading and I definitely wasn’t promoting a love of books.  There was rarely, if ever, time to share a whole book with a child.  The children usually read one or two pages to me while I corrected any decoding errors.  If there was time, I might ask them a couple of questions about the part of the book they had read.  The books the children read were dull, old fashioned reading scheme books; books that I would never have dreamt of reading to the whole class or using as a text in my English lessons. But this was just the way things were done and I was too inexperienced to do otherwise.

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#FocusOnReading No4. – So you think you know about comprehension?

It’s been a busy few days here at Primary English HQ. Just a few days ago we hosted the headline event in our #FocusOnReading: our Reading Conference, featuring the fabulous James Clements. Unfortunately for us, our associate Andrea Sherratt was unable to join us due to a prior commitment in London. This is not to say that she was not maintaining the Primary English #FocusOnReading, as she was at the Institute of Education learning more about comprehension. In this latest installment in our #FocusOnReading series, Andrea shares a few snippets of sage advice garnered on her trip to London.


So I thought I knew about comprehension!

For me, there is always something quite exciting about the journey to a training course; the expectations, anticipation and the wondering about unknown. My journey down to training in London yesterday was no different.

The event was a two day ‘Inference Training’ trainer course, delivered by Tony Whatmuff, from Leicester LA. The purpose: to become equipped to support whole school improvements in comprehension, and I must admit to assuming there probably wouldn’t be many new insights that I hadn’t already covered in my MA studies of ‘Literacy Learning and Literacy Difficulties’. But how wrong I was. A personal lesson that there are always new things to be learnt. Every day’s a school day!

From the very first moments of the training, it became clear that this was going to be a turning point in my understanding of how to efficiently and effectively support children’s development of comprehension. So let me share with you just three of the many insightful points I have gleamed over the last two days.

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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