Category Archives: EDUCATION

Explore theatre through time travel

Dr Aleks Sierz FRSA is a theatre critic, teacher and broadcaster, and Lia Ghilardi FRSA is an internationally respected cultural consultant and urbanist. They are the authors of The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre: The First Four Hundred Years.

Here they explain how you can use imaginary characters and the concept of time travel to bring ideas about theatre history to life in the classroom. They also provide questions for further study that you can download and use with students.


What a drama!

Theatre is one of the glories of British culture. From West End musicals to classic Shakespeare plays, it is central to our national story. Enjoying theatre can give young people a way of sharing their own experience in a meaningful way. By doing so, they can see themselves reflected in characters on stage, get involved in their ethical dilemmas, and learn from such interaction. Theatre is great for cultivating empathy.

Bringing history alive

As most teachers know, bringing history alive can be a real challenge. In The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre, we have used the idea of time travel, already popular in our culture (the Tardis!), to bring to life the wonderful story of British theatre. We wanted to give a more vivid sense of stepping into another world, which is what the past is, to convey the experience of being there, feeling, sensing, even smelling, the stage.

We were also keen to make the experience of reading more immersive, by developing the narrative as if it was the storyboard for a film. We hope that the method that we chose to use, setting up scenes and imaginary conversations, will enable young people not only to gain a better understanding of history, but also to acquire a sense of ownership over their learning.

Using fictional characters

In each chapter of the book — which covers four hundred years of history from the Elizabethan age and Shakespeare, to the coronation of the present Queen Elizabeth II — we have created a different fictional character who acts as a narrator or guide to the theatre of their time. These guides give readers a helping hand — they are characters who live in the past and know all about its customs, rituals, food, politics, personalities, and, of course, its theatre.

Our guides have their own idiosyncrasies, personal prejudices and memory lapses. They help us not merely to understand what the historical past is like, but also to experience it as if we were there — right in the middle of the action.

Guiding spirits

In the first chapter, which covers the age of Queen Elizabeth and its star William Shakespeare, our guide is Walter Wickson, a fussy clerk who knows all about the Globe and other open-air theatres of this age. In 1603, when Queen Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors, dies, he hands us over to his son, Wilt, a young law student who prefers to see plays rather than studying, and who knows all the gossip at the time of James I and Charles I, the first two Stuart kings.

In the 1640s, the Puritans — who are enemies of drama — come to power and shut all the theatres for eighteen years so our next stop is 1660, when the monarchy is restored. Here our guide is Moll Farthingale, who, having been a celebrity actress herself, is perfectly well informed about thespian highs and lows. For the next century, with Britain ruled by four kings all called George, our guide is the formidable Henry Holme Lord Edgcott, a real-life lord, complete with country pile and posh town house. He will show us around British theatre in the age of the super-star actor-manager David Garrick.

By the 1790s, with news of the French Revolution crossing the English Channel, followed by war with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France, we need a new guide. Step forward Gabriel Freeman, a young black gentleman, formerly a slave in the West Indies, who campaigns for the abolition of slavery in these heady revolutionary times and, because of the social connections of his patron, is able to show us around the theatres of the age.

In 1837, when Queen Victoria comes to the throne, the fires of revolution have died down and it’s time for another guide, Jack Goodheart, a teenager who is as familiar with the slums as with the salons of Victorian London. He introduces us to music halls and melodramas. Victoria dies in 1901 and then we meet Constance Wright, a New Woman of the Edwardian age who, pedaling her tricycle, takes us around the venues where some of the radical experiments in early twentieth century drama are taking place.

After the end of the First World War in 1918, a new era dawns and with it comes our last guide, the redoubtable Sidney Roberts, a gentleman’s valet with perfect manners and great theatrical knowledge. He will introduce us to the shows of entertainer Noël Coward in the Roaring Twenties, survey the grim wartime years of 1939-45, and end with the postwar plays of modern greats such as playwright Terence Rattigan. By the mid 1950s, the tale that began with the coronation of Elizabeth I finishes with the coronation of Elizabeth II, watched on TV.


 Download Questions for Further Study

 Learn more and order your copy of The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre: The First Four Hundred Years.

I wanted to write what I wish I had seen as a gay kid in school

Chris Thompson is a writer for stage and screen. His play Dungeness was first performed 9781350194779by young people as part of the National Theatre Connections festival in 2018 but was bought back for the 2020 festival this year. Although the 2020 festival did not happen this year, schools and theatre groups rehearsed and bought performances online throughout the country.

Written fifty years on from the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England, Dungeness is a unique play for young people about the struggles and joys of being gay and has already had an amazing impact on the young people that have been involved with it.

Methuen Drama are proud to be publishing Dungeness, alongside Stonewall Housing, on Monday 10th August as part of the Plays for Young People series.

We spoke to Chris just before launch day to get his thoughts and inspiration behind the play. Here’s what he had to say:


I wrote the play Dungeness because I wanted to write what I wish I had seen as a gay kid in school.

In the UK we’re lucky that for the most part LGBT+ rights are protected in law. But the day-to-day lives of queer young people can be full of highs and lows.

We only need to look at the statistics to see that LGBT+ young people are more likely to become homeless, more likely to self-harm and suffer depression.

The play addresses these issues but it’s also full of joy and laughter.

There is a clear desire from teachers and students to make LGBT+ people feel safe and valued in schools. And nothing makes me happier than hearing how schools have used the play to both address homophobia but also to celebrate LGBT+ life and give those kids a chance to see people like themselves on stage. And for straight allies it’s a wonderful chance to promote empathy and understanding.

Just having this play on your bookshelves sends a clear message that LGBT+ young people are seen and allowed to be themselves.

One thing I hadn’t expected is how the play has created its own community. There’s an amazing bunch of people who have been involved with the play and they all share and celebrate that common experience.

It’s been wonderful receiving messages from students, teachers and parents about how it’s helped teenagers come out, or started important conversations in classrooms about respect and difference.

With its debates about protests and commemoration, the play is about taking to the streets to be who you are. My desire is that we use the play as a springboard to look at not just LGBT+ rights, but also other protest movements happening around us now and historically.


Dungeness publishes on Monday 10th August. Find out more here:

You can read more about Stonewall Housing and their work here. A percentage of all sales of Dungeness is going to the Stonewall Housing projects.

Let’s Get Playwrighting

(Why playwrighting and not playwriting? Watch video 2 in the series here)

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Methuen Drama are proud to be sponsoring Bitesize Playwrighting, a brand new Picture2 (1)initiative and competition for schools from touring theatre company Tamasha and Bloomsbury author, Fin Kennedy.  

 Launched last month, the competition is intended to support secondary school Drama teachers continue to inspire students with the art of playwrighting whilst studying at home, in school, or as a project to be set in the school holidays.  

 Tamasha’s artistic director, Fin Kennedy and the members of the Tamasha Playwrights group have been busy recording a series of short videos, each no longer than 5 minutes, that walk students through the playwrighting process step-by-step.  

 Each clip introduces a different element of drama, from creating believable Characters, to the Inciting Incident which brings them together, to writing realistic Dialogue, considering the scene’s Location, and structuring a simple Plot. Each video is constructed around a practical exercise for students to complete, all intended to build up everything they need to write their own 5-minute scene for two Characters. 

How to enter

We’re inviting all students to watch the videos and then write a 5-minute scene for two characters. Send it directly to Tamasha at the email address below before the end of September 2020. All submitted plays will get some tailored notes from one of the Tamasha Playwrights group, and our favourites will be offered some one-to-one mentoring and an invitation to complete a final draft for publication. There will be one winner from each year group (7-12) along with a requested staff entry! 

The winning entries will be compiled into a digital book by Bloomsbury celebrating young people’s playwrighting, and it will be made available to all participating schools on the Tamasha and Bloomsbury website.

To take part, please email aitor@tamasha.org.uk to register your school, after that it’s over to you! Read more about the competition on Tamasha’s website here 

Good luck and happy playwrighting! 

Watch the Introduction video from Fin Kennedy and then head over to the Tamasha website to watch the rest.  

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Going Up to Secondary School in the Year of the Virus

By Jenny Alexander, author of No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School.


Going up to secondary school is a big change and it’s 9781472974303natural for children to have some anxieties. That’s why schools normally put a lot of work into helping with the transition. But these are not normal times.

This year, the sudden disruption of classes and ongoing uncertainty about the future has made the transition to secondary school even more unsettling for a lot of children and the long period out of school is giving anxieties a chance to build.

Recognising this is why the government has prioritised children in transition years going back to school first, but even for those who can there won’t be any of the usual leavers’ parties and assemblies or induction days.

Fortunately, as with curriculum work, parents and carers can do a lot at home to help children prepare and feel confident about going up.

Information

Information artwork-page-001Knowledge is power, and even in these difficult times, transition years teachers will make sure children have all the general information they need, such as the different ways classes are organised and delivered in secondary schools. But talking to children about their individual concerns can uncover specific worries that might seem surprising.

For example, a high-achieving child might feel anxious that they won’t be able to do the work at secondary school, although that would probably be the last thing the adults around them would expect them to be worried about, but the problems for high-achievers is that they have more to lose than a child who normally struggles. A sociable child might worry about making new friends, not because they actually will struggle but because friends are particularly important to them.

Opening up the conversation and listening to what children say is the key. Brushing off a child’s worries because we don’t think they’ve got anything to worry about means we are not helping to address them.

Action

In every society, major life transitions are marked by some kind of ritual and all schools mark the transition to secondary school with events such as leavers’ assemblies, prize givings and parties. In these times of virus, social celebrations are not possible, but children can still get a sense of closure through practical activities such as writing letters or making cards for the teachers and other staff members who have been an important part of their primary school experience. They can have an online party with their friends or a special family meal to celebrate and give a sense of completion.

Looking forward, while they might not be able to physically visit their new school, they could ‘walk the trail’ with a parent or carer, making the journey they will make at the beginning of the new term; they could create a ‘wishes collage’ to focus on what they are looking forward to among the new opportunities going to secondary school will open up to them.

Here’s a helpful guide to making a wishes collage from No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School.

Wishes collage

Attitude

Unhelpful thoughts are where anxieties take root and grow strong: how we frame a situation is important to our mental health. This is a basic tenet of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Children who feel very anxious about going up to secondary school may be focusing on all the things that could go wrong, and their self-talk could get stuck, like a hamster in a wheel, along the lines of ‘No-one will like me, I won’t be able to do the work, what if I’ve got the wrong stuff…’

Noticing, challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts is a simple practice that’s incredibly effective and easy for children to grasp, and I cover the basics in, How to be Happy (Bloomsbury). I would recommend children’s self-help books like that one as a quick, easy introduction for adults who may be unfamiliar with the Cognitive Behavioural approach too. Children pick up attitudes from the adults around them.

For general anxieties, my 70 Ways to Boost Your Self-Esteem (Five Lanes Press) offers lots of quick practical and creative tasks; for a specific worry that many children have about going up, there’s 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself and Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends (Hodder).

Information, practical activities and positive habits of thinking – these are the basic tools we can all use to manage anxiety. It’s a real bonus that helping children use them to feel confident about going up to secondary school is also giving them skills to cope with anything else they might be worried about in what is, for most of us, a worrying time.

Jenny Alexander is a well-established author of over one Jenny Alexander - Online-47hundred fiction and non-fiction children’s titles, including Finding Fizz and the Peony Pinker series. Jenny always wanted to be an author and learnt the craft of writing in the couple of years that she worked for educational publishers. She has written prolifically on the theme of bullying and her books have been translated into many languages: German, Danish, Welsh, Portuguese, Greek, Indonesian, Chinese, Korean and Turkish.

No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School is full of information about going up from primary to secondary school and covers all of the big worries and anxieties, and is available to order from Bloomsbury.com

How to Help Children with their Emotional Response to the Lockdown

Whoa! Where did that come from? When the lockdown first started, I certainly didn’t see the full impact of what was coming, and what it would actually mean in teams of changes to our daily lives. The situation certainly startled me at first, alongside a dollop of disbelief. And then, as I settled into it, I could not deny a background feeling of unsettledness. When I could distract myself by engaging in something absorbing, I’d suddenly be re-startled as I recalled the full oddness of what was going on. Then came the feelings of acceptance, which still had some undertones of bewilderment. I could stay content as long as I didn’t allow myself to become agitated by thoughts of what I would have been doing in the other life. I also noticed that little things became bigger and big things became huge; everything felt more intense than usual.

Many of my books are about emotions and9781472949806 and I am a fan of the idea that emotions need expressing. I think the slight ‘war spirit’ essence of the current situation has made us all a bit stoical. We have metaphorically ‘held our emotional breath’. And yet there is no doubt that this situation will have had an emotional impact. Some of us will have felt this emotional impact at the time, some might have a delayed reaction, and some will have suppressed it, which may cause it to re-emerge in the future. The latter is more likely for those of us who are less familiar with emotional expression.

So, given my interest in emotional expression, I had was just starting to think about how my books could do with a supplement addressing the emotions of lockdown when a seven-year-old named Etta emailed me and shared the pages she thought needed to be added to my book What’s Worrying You? Etta is an emotional genius. I particularly liked her advice to ‘enjoy time off school; it won’t happen again.’ A soothing reminder for many children, I would think.

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Brilliant drawings by Etta

Lockdown has many different emotional components. There are the feelings evoked by the actual lockdown and all that it entails, the anxiety about the actual virus, and the uncomfortableness caused by the uncertainty of the future, as we cannot know how this will ultimately unfold and how we will feel about our eventual return to ‘normal’.

Children are bound to be having some kind of emotional response to these circumstances. I believe it is important to help them find ways of expressing these emotions so they can find resourceful ways of dealing with them. It can be simply about asking your child what they are thinking and feeling. It could also involve:

  • Inviting your child to draw life in lockdown, like Etta did. They could give survival tips or show the pros and cons.
  • Chatting while out exercising, considering how life is different and what we like and don’t like about it.
  • Saying how you are feeling, or making a list of emotions which your child could choose from to express how they feel. They might be able to say what has triggered that emotion.
  • Having a conversation about any worries your child might have about their eventual return to school.

I guess this is just another prompt to remember that emotions have a significant impact on us and in a situation like this, we might need a little more help to focus on them and understand them. Ultimately, by acknowledging and processing the emotions of lockdown and its easing, you and your child are more likely to arrive at a place of gentle acceptance and some calm. Emotions that we acknowledge and process are always more manageable. This links to further consoling advice from Etta: ‘When you are in lockdown, just remember it won’t last forever.’

9781472942425My latest book, It’s OK to Cry, seems timely. It is not a book that explores the emotions of lockdown specifically but a book that helps children find the words to express how they feel. It was written with boys in mind as their conditioning can mean that they are less likely to express how they feel verbally. But it is actually helpful for everyone. It certainly could be used to help a child express the emotions associated with lockdown.

Coming soon is a free online booklet I have written for parents, carers and teachers with some creative activities to tackle boredom during lockdown, as well as activities to help children reflect upon recent events. It invites children to explore what has been enjoyable, what has been less so, and how all this has made them feel. It also includes a couple of activities to help you support your child with the emotions surrounding returning to school. This will be available from Bloomsbury.com. Please email bloomsburyeducation@bloomsbury.com if you are interested in receiving a copy to download.
For further ideas for helping your child with their emotions please visit: https://www.mollypotter.com/blog

3) Tips for Parents in a Pandemic: Supporting Teenagers During Lockdown

Check out the first post in the series here and the second post here.


By Janet Goodall9781472976611

Supporting the learning of teenagers is often difficult for parents and families, and some may find it even more of a challenge when all of the learning has to take place at home!

We know that many parents back away from engaging with their children’s learning as their daughters or sons get into secondary school. Parents often tell us, ‘I can’t help anymore – I didn’t do that at school’ or ‘It’s all changed so much and I don’t know how to help!’

In this blog, I’d like to give some ideas about how you can support your child to keep learning during lockdown, but first I’d like to reiterate something I’ve said in other blogs. These are not normal times. There’s no point in trying to recreate a ‘normal’ school day at home. Schools are set up for groups of students who are all the same age, studying the same subjects; that’s unlikely to be the situation in your home. What’s important – now more than ever – is not so much helping with the content of what young people are learning, but supporting their desire to learn. Everyone else in their class – in the country – is ‘missing out’ on schooling at the moment. Think of how many times your child asked you, ‘Why?’ when they were five years old. It’s that curiosity, that desire to learn, that will carry them through.

How to help with work from school

It’s likely that your child will have work set for them by their school, and it’s also likely that at some point, they will come across something that they can’t do or find difficult. In these cases:

  • Ask your child to explain what the problem is. Sometimes, that leads to its own solution.
  • If your child is stuck and you don’t know the answer, the first thing to say is that it’s OK not to know! Try to put a positive spin on it – not ‘Oh, wow, that’s too hard. Let’s do something else’ but rather ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know either!’ Ask your child to suggest where you (together) might look for an answer. Is there a website? Could someone else in the family help? A friend on Zoom or by phone?
  • Admitting to your child that you don’t know the answer isn’t a failure – it’s showing that you are still learning as well and that you value learning.

The importance of praise

Particularly during a time when most of us are much more anxious than usual, and all our routines have been disrupted, it’s important to find joy where we can. Praise your child for work well done, and in particular, praise your child for continuing to work on something that is hard for them. What you’re trying to do with this is to support their desire to learn, as well as their actual learning of content. Let your child see that learning is important to you.

Supporting learning in different subjects

If you want to support the skills your child is using for different areas, you might try some of the following:

  • For literature and English, suggest your child creates two diaries of the pandemic – the first, a ‘real’ diary, capturing what they are thinking and feeling. The second, an ‘imaginative’ diary. What might be happening? What might be going on in an alternative world?
  • Your child could collect and collate family histories. This would cover English, literature, history and some mathematical skills. They could collect, write down and illustrate childhood stories from different members of the family. They might create an elaborate family tree, again by talking to people and working out dates and timelines. If you have old family photo albums around, this might be a good time to get them out and share stories.
  • Many libraries and museums have made their collections open to the public and online. Why not suggest a ‘day out’ to the British Museum, for example? Make a day of it and involve your child in all aspects. Plan a picnic (think about what needs to be bought and what can be made from what’s on hand). Plan how you would get there if you were actually going (looking up train timetables is good maths practice!). Plan a route to get there (this is geography and map reading). Go to the museum website and decide what rooms you want to look at together. Discuss what you see there and the history behind it. Suggest your child takes notes of anything they find interesting to research ‘when you get home’. Don’t forget the picnic!
  • Keep in contact with your child’s school when and as you can. Use the resources they provide but remember that everyone – including teachers and students – is going through a very difficult time, so be patient – including with yourself!

Going back to school

When the time comes to go back to school, start to ease back into a routine as soon as you can. Getting up early in the morning seems to be particularly difficult for teenagers, so moving back toward a ‘usual’ getting-up time in a series of steps might be useful.

9781472955180Finally, the most important thing you can do for your child during the COVID-19 lockdown doesn’t change, regardless of the age of the child. Let them know that they are loved, and keep them and the family safe, so they can return to school (including the early mornings!) in good time.

Janet Goodall is Associate Professor in Education at Swansea University and is a leading expert in parental engagement. She is the author of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Engaging Parents (forthcoming). Follow Janet on Twitter @janetifimust.

2) Tips for Parents in a Pandemic: Supporting Mathematics Learning

Check out the first post in the series here.


By Janet Goodall9781472976611

In the second blog post of this series, I’d like to talk about how families can support their children’s learning in and around mathematics.

Many parents shy away from helping young people with anything more than simple addition and subtraction, often because of their own experiences around maths when they were at school. This feeling even has a label, ‘maths anxiety’; if the thought of helping with maths bothers you, you’re not alone! In this blog post, I want to give you some ideas that might help overcome that, so you can support your child’s learning during the lockdown. This post is about maths, but a lot of it will apply to other subjects.

First, to reiterate something from the previous blog post, your children are not ‘missing out’, in the sense that they will ‘be behind’ others when they go back to school, because no one is able to follow the ‘usual’ curriculum at the moment, and no one has ‘school as normal’. Being safe and secure is more important than anything else.

Secondly, you probably already do a lot more maths around the house than you realise. Researchers Dr Tim Jay and Dr Jo Rose found that parents engaged in a wide range of activities that related to maths, without using that label. There are the obvious things – counting, working out a budget, and measuring and weighing ingredients when cooking. But there are a lot of other things that relate to maths as well. Matching socks when doing the laundry, working out football rankings, deciding how much paint will be needed to redecorate a room, filling holes in a card or stamp collection, discussing shapes… these all relate to mathematical concepts.

Here are some ideas which can help support maths learning:

Counting

  • Count the stairs on the way up to bed and, for slightly older children, count in twos or threes.
  • You can also count the number of steps between different rooms.
  • If you have access to outside places for exercise, count steps there as well! Who can run faster or further?
  • For older children, use those step counts to create a map of the house and perhaps populate it with interesting imaginary creatures. If you have access to outside spaces, they can be mapped as well.

Cooking

  • Many families are finding they are doing more cooking now. Your children can help not only weigh and measure but plan meals – how many onions will be needed for which meals in the week? This could lead to work with fractions as well – half an onion is needed on Monday and we can use half of the remaining half on Tuesday.
  • This could also lead to other ideas, such as working out if it’s cheaper to buy a large bag of something and whether it will all get eaten by the use-by date.

Space

  • Ideas about space are important for a lot of subjects, including maths. Look up places on maps (online or paper) and work out how long it might take to get from one place to another.
  • You could also create maps from places in favourite books and do the same calculations. How long would it take to walk from one place to another? To ride a horse? To drive a car?

Confidence and self-esteem 

  • Try to avoid being very negative about any subject. Don’t let your children hear you say, ‘Oh, it’s too hard. I hated it in school.’ Even if you found maths hard in school, try not to pass that on to your children.
  • Older children will probably have work sent to them from school. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do the work. In fact, you could ask your child to explain it to you, as you were taught differently (which will almost certainly be the case). Explaining what they are doing is a very good way to cement learning and it can increase your child’s self-esteem and belief in themselves as a learner.
  • If you and your child find that there’s something you can’t do or can’t work out, the important thing is to talk about problem-solving. How might you find the answer? How else might you work it out?

9781472955180In maths, as in other subjects, what’s really important at the moment is the learning journey, not its end: keep the conversations about learning going. Share what you’re learning, as well as what your children are doing. Let your children know that you are proud of the work they are doing and what they are learning.

Janet Goodall is Associate Professor in Education at Swansea University and is a leading expert in parental engagement. She is the author of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Engaging Parents (forthcoming). Follow Janet on Twitter @janetifimust.

 

10 Tips for Learning from Home with Poetry

  1. Read, read, read. Get as many poetry books as you can find in your house – or order a few, find stuff online, most poets for children will have content on their websites etc. Start finding the poets whose work speaks to you. You’ll start to notice why you like the particular poet – how do they use words? Do they use humour? How do the words feel in your mouth, sound in your ear? What do the poems make you think about? Do they spark any ideas of your own?
     
  2. See if you can find any videos of the poets that you like. Again, lots of them will be posting videos to their Youtube channels and websites. Watch them perform. How do they bring the words to life? Some poets will be much more animated than others. What style do you like?

  3. Find a poem that you love. Practise performing it. Is it a loud, noisy poem that calls for rhythmic percussion, banging pens on mugs and stuff like that? Or is it a quieter, gentle poem – if it is, how can your performance reflect that? Is there anybody in the house that can join in with you? Could you split the poem into different bits? Experiment. Have fun!

  4. Can you have a go at writing a poem a bit like the one you’ve been performing? You could maybe write about a similar subject or pick a word, phrase or line from the poem which you can use as a starter to get yourself going.

  5. Write any ideas down in an ‘ideas’ book. Ideas can come at any time and you need a place to collect them before they’re forgotten. All that reading and performing will definitely be generating words, phrases, whole lines that you want to write down. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, just smash the ideas down.

  6. Watch my video ‘why is poetry different?’on my YouTube channel – there are some tips which I regularly use as part of my school workshops which demystify poetry and explain why there are no rules – and therefore no reason to worry about getting it wrong. It’s all about ‘having a go.’

  7. When you’ve spent a bit of time jotting ideas down, put them away. It’s really important that you come back to them the next day or the next week with fresh eyes. Then you can start getting it right for YOU. That means you sort through the words and phrases that resonate with you – not for anyone else. You’re trying to please yourself. If it’s supposed to be a funny poem, does it make you laugh? (we all have slightly different senses of humour; my wife, Joanna, for example rarely laughs ay my ‘funny’ poems – yet they make me laugh, and that’s what counts.) If it’s about YOUR life and thoughts and feelings, does it tell your truth, in YOUR voice? How do you want the poem to look on the page? Experiment!

  8. When you think the poem is right for you, have a go at performing it – what works best for the poem? What’s comfortable for you? Are you a loud, energetic poet, or a quiet one? Or can you do it all?

  9. Keep doing it. The more ideas you jot down, the more starting points you’ll be giving yourself to have a go at. Keep reading all sorts of poems by all sorts of different poets as well – they’ll continue to spark ideas. The more poems you write, the more your own individual voice will develop. 

  10. Start collecting the poems you’ve written – you could write them out on paper and illustrate them and then staple them together? Have you got paints? Could you chalk one on the pavement outside your house? The possibilities are endless! Have fun!

Bright Bursts of Colour

Matt Goodfellow is from Manchester. He is a National Poetry Day Ambassador for the Forward Arts Foundation. His most recent collection is Bright Bursts of Colour (Bloomsbury 2020). He spent over ten years working as a primary school teacher but now his fills his week with writing, and visits to schools, libraries and festivals to deliver high-energy, fun-filled poetry performances and workshops. Follow him on Twitter @EarlyTrain.  

During lockdown, Matt has been putting out free videos on his youtube channel to allow children, teachers and parents to access poetry. Find him on YouTube channel at Matt Goodfellow Poet.

1) Tips for Parents in a Pandemic: Reading and Literacy

By Janet Goodall

All over the world, parents and carers are 9781472976611suddenly finding themselves on the very frontlines of their children’s learning; schools are closed or their days greatly reduced and children are at home for most if not all of the time. But learning doesn’t stop because schools are closed (any more than children stop learning during the holidays – it’s just more obvious now!).

In this series of blog posts, I’ll be making suggestions about how to support learning for children and young people at home. But first, there are some very important points to make:

  • Parents who are not professional teachers are not going to become professional teachers overnight and no one should be expected to, and no one should expect to do so! You don’t need to be a professional teacher to support learning.
  • There is no point in attempting to ‘carry on as normal’ – these are not normal times. Your child is not missing out on schooling that other children are getting. Everyone is missing out on classroom-based schooling.
  • Classrooms and homes are not the same thing and can’t be. Classrooms are set up for large groups of children who are all more or less the same age. It’s very unlikely your home has the same sort of group of children. What you can provide for your children is personalised support for their learning. It’s quite likely that school staff are providing help with the content of what needs to be learned; parents need to support that learning, not supplant it.

In this blog post, I would like to focus specifically on reading and literacy. I’m starting with this topic for three reasons. The first is that reading and literacy are the foundations for almost all the rest of learning – once you can read, you’re away! The second is that many parents feel comfortable supporting reading, and the third is that reading with your child (along with a great many other ways of supporting learning) can be fun! So, what can parents be doing to support these skills at home?

  • Children whose parents read, and crucially those who see their parents read, tend to do more reading themselves. It doesn’t seem to matter what parents are reading – it could be books, shopping lists or cereal packets. It’s the act of reading – showing your child you are reading, discussing reading and reading together – that makes the difference.
  • Reading the same book over and over with young children is likely to happen in a lockdown situation and it’s a very good idea! You’ll find that you’re not only reading the book but discussing it – what’s going to happen? What might the characters do next, or instead?
  • Reading and literacy are fundamentally about words, so conversations are vitally important. Talk to your children – even from birth! Teenagers have told us that they value people asking how they are (even if they don’t respond – the act of asking shows you care). Singing nursery rhymes, telling jokes – it’s all words and all useful.
  • If your child is old enough to write, perhaps they could start and keep a diary of what ‘Life in Lockdown’ is like. Or they could dictate it for you to write simple sentences which they could illustrate.
  • If you’re keeping in touch with other family members by phone or electronically, your child could ask someone to tell a story and they could write it down and illustrate it.
  • Very young children need to develop the muscles they’ll need to write – drawing on the walls of the bath with shaving cream at bath time can 9781472955180help with the big muscles, and things like sprinkling decorations on a cake can help with the small muscles.
  • Try ending each day with a round of what everyone has learned that day. Everyone says two things they know now that they didn’t know before (adults included!). This will show your children that you are still learning, that you value learning and that they are still learning, even if they’re not in school.

Janet Goodall is Associate Professor in Education at Swansea University and is a leading expert in parental engagement. She is the author of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Engaging Parents (forthcoming). Follow Janet on Twitter @janetifimust.

Top Ten Tips for Teaching History at Home: by Clare Horrie & Rachel Hillman

Clare Horrie and Rachel Hillman are the authors of The National Archives History Toolkit for Primary Schools and 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: History.  In this post they provide their top ten tips for teaching history at home.


Exchanging the classroom for your kitchen doesn’t mean that teaching at home can’t be engaging, inspirational or fun. Teaching history is all about hooking children’s interest in the first place and one way of doing this is by using original historical sources. Teaching history using original sources is crucial to developing children’s critical thinking skills and understanding of what history is all about. With a source-based approach, their learning can be transformed and their historical skills honed through the method of historical enquiry, a key aim of the National Curriculum. This can make history real, captivating and exciting.

Here are our top tips for bringing this approach to life at home:

1. Take a mystery document approach to introduce a historical topic. Find an original source for your topic, e.g. a photograph, government report, painting, cartoon, royal seal, manuscript, or private or official letter, and show it to the children to captivate
interest. See our list of suggested links at the bottom for where you can find historical sources at the bottom of this page. Don’t say anything about the source at first but give the children five minutes to look closely at it. Use the approach below with a written source or adapt it if using a visual source.

Picture1
Letter of thanks from Nelson Mandela to Sir John Maud for sending him books via the British Embassy, 14 September, 1962. The National Archives (Catalogue ref: DO 119/1478) 

LOOK at the source as an object. DON’T read it. What do you see?

  • How was it produced? (E.g. typed or handwritten.)
  • How is it set out? (E.g. with dates, in sentences.)
  • What does this reveal about the type of document it could be? (E.g. a letter, diary, calendar, report.)
  • When was it written? Can we see?
  • Any other points to note?

NOW encourage children to read or describe the source image to make inferences based on its content:

  • Can we tell when it was written/drawn/photographed? (Look for clues in the language or scene.)
  • What is the document or image about? (E.g. a historical event or character.)
  • What is the tone or attitude of the source? (E.g. written, visual, propaganda, personal, formal.)
  • Why do you think this source was produced?
  • Who is this source meant to be read or seen by? (Think about the audience.)
  • What other sources could you use to find out more about the content?

FINALLY, ask the children to select their own ‘mystery’ document to present to you. What does it reveal about a particular topic?

2. Your home-school children could be tasked to create their own worksheet lesson on a particular historical topic. You give them the level and the age group and they need to select sources, develop an enquiry question and write some more detailed questions.

3. Gather together any history textbooks, reference books and library books you might have access to at home. Use them to locate a particular history topic studied in school. Use the suggested links to find some original sources on the same topic. Discuss how we can use sources to find out about the past. Do any of the sources say anything different about the topic in the history book? Do any of the textbooks contain original sources? You could also compare how the same topic is described in different books. Can the children explain why these differences exist? The purpose of this kind of activity is to get children to understand that we learn about the past from original sources that historians have interpreted and these interpretations may differ, depending on the sources you use.

4.  Boost historical thinking by getting the children to produce an illustrated timeline for display on a decade, era or single topic.

5. The children could write a biography of a significant individual in history based on a selection of primary and secondary sources. Guidance for writing a biography is available on the web here.

Picture2
Plea roll initial detail of Henry VIII towards the end of his reign, 22 April 1541, The National Archives (Catalogue ref: KB 27/1119/2) 

6. Try a spot-the-difference activity. A child of any age can do this. Find two similar sources from different time periods. Can the children compare and contrast them? What seems similar or different? What does this activity reveal about change over time?

7. Use original sources for creative inspiration! Children could paint their own portrait of Elizabeth I in the style of Nicholas Hilliard or write a poem or story based on a photograph. They could make a historical birthday card or their own facsimile document. Primary school children could make their own ‘archive box’ (or kitchen display) containing sources about their lives: a toy, birthday card, photograph, and so on. The possibilities are endless!

Picture3
Photograph by P.H. Emerson (18561936) showing women working in the fields, 1886. The National Archives (Catalogue: COPY 1/375 f21) 

8. Children could hold their own Zoom video broadcast about a history topic and then virtually meet up with their classmates to discuss it.

9. Use film clips alongside document source evidence for 20th-century history topics. Try video footage from The National Archives (click here), or British Pathe (click here) contains a huge selection of newsreel from 1910 onwards. What does film reveal that documents do not and vice versa?

10. Start your lesson by Googling what happened on this day or significant events that happened this month. Find out more about the topic by doing some further internet research.

Suggested Links

About the Authors

Clare Horrie is Education Web Manager for The National Archives’ education website. Together with Rachel Hillman, she has developed, written and produced a wide range of online teaching materials from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5 for the website. Clare previously worked as a secondary school teacher and head of history in the state sector.

Rachel Hillman is Onsite Education Manager for The National Archives. She has led in the development of The National Archives’ special educational needs and family programmes, as well as a number of large-scale education events for history students. She has also developed creative projects for young people on different historical themes and previously worked as a primary school teacher and history coordinator in the state sector.

About The National Archives History9781472959355 Toolkit for Primary Schools

With instant access to genuine historical sources, accompanied by exciting lesson plans, activities and photocopiable worksheets for both Key Stages 1 and 2, The National Archives History Toolkit for Primary Schools is the essential manual for teaching history in the primary classroom.