Category Archives: Writing

Playing Shops: How Abie Longstaff wrote Cavegirl

There are six children in my family. I was the oldest and the bossiest, so I coordinated endless games to amuse my younger sisters. We stole Mum and Dads’ clothes for dress-ups; we pulled all the cushions off the sofa to make a gymnastics team; we even used the old wooden hostess trolley to sail away to sea.

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Abbie and her sisters

One of our favourite styles of game was shops! There’s something about buying and selling that really appeals to children. I think it’s because it’s a basic form of transaction; one that’s easy to understand. Someone has an object to sell, the other offers to buy it. So as children, my sisters and I made pretend shops that sold sweets, or books or toys to one another. I saw this game continue in my own children – they loved making yard sales: setting up a little stall on the street to sell old toys or DVDs for pennies, helping at the school fair with second uniform or biscuit sales.

With my first books, The Fairytale Hairdresser series, I created a world of shops, where the Big Bad Wolf is an optician (‘all the better to see you with’), Little Bo Peep has a wool shop; and the Tooth Fairy is a dentist. My main character, Kittie Lacey, has a salon. The books celebrate entrepreneurship and creativity. This theme is evidently close to my heart because my chapter books, The Magic Potions Shop, also feature a shop! It’s funny how the things you loved as a child are brought out in the stories you write. On school visits I often tell children that the games they play, and the books they read will influence the kind of writer they’ll become, and I guess I’m proof of that.

With this new book, Cavegirl, I’ve taken the idea of buying and selling back to Neolithic times – the late Stone Age. The Neolithic period (very roughly 8000 to 3000 BC) was an era of change. Societies had begun to develop; communities living in fixed shelters, farming crops and keeping livestock.  Clothing was made of animal skins, and stone was fashioned into tools or weapons. Settling in one place allowed time for creativity, in the form of pottery, cave paintings and jewellery. On a trip to the UAE to see schools, I was lucky enough to visit the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which displays ancient artefacts from the Stone and Bronze ages, including arrowheads, axes, tools and fireplaces excavated in the surrounding area. Some of the region used to be underwater, and I was even taken to see ancient seashells embedded in the Desert Mountains.

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Ancient shells in the desert rock

The trip really inspired me to set a story in this period.

In those days, a barter system was in operation; goods such as weapons, pottery and copper were traded. Trade is the most basic form of commerce – one that children practise every time they swap a sticker or a trading card.

In Cavegirl, I wanted to play with the game of buy and sell in its purest form, but I wanted to add in entrepreneurship and creativity. I wanted my character to adapt the object she swaps, enhancing its value each time. In this way she moves up the ladder of trade, aiming to purchase the perfect birthday present for Mum. Only – it doesn’t all go to plan.Cavegirl

Abie Longstaff is the eldest of six children and grew up in Australia, Hong Kong and France. She knows all about squabbling, chaos and bossing younger sisters around so she logically began her career as a barrister. She started writing when her children were born and lives in Hove with her family. Abie writes for children from picture books to older fiction and is best known for the Fairytale Hairdresser series. Her latest book Cavegirl is out now!

Igniting Dylan’s Writing

Dylan doesn’t like writing. His teacher makes him write and then he has to go back and correct mistakes. So, he tries to write as little as possible. He can’t wait to be “finished”. And she makes him “do spellings”. This is difficult for Dylan because he doesn’t talk or read much at home, so he doesn’t encounter as many words as his peers. He doesn’t know what half the words mean, anyway. His latest piece of writing is about 18th Century smugglers, whatever that means. There’s a smuggler museum in his home town of Hastings but Dylan has never been. In fact, he’s never been to the beach, even though it’s only 3 miles away. So, his writing about smugglers lacks context and understanding. Dylan is like many pupils, who associate writing with failure, doing corrections and feeling pretty miserable about themselves.

Dylan is burdened with all sorts of labels at his school, but perhaps the best label would be that he is an able pupil who, at this stage, hasn’t had the same opportunities as his label-free friends. In my experience as a teacher, consultant, headteacher and writing moderator, there are plenty of Dylans out there. If we’re not careful, their experience of writing in the formative years will restrict their progress and overall prospects. Which is inexcusable – because the Dylans of the world have the same potential as anyone in their class.

What does Dylan need? He needs his teacher to look at things a different way. Rather than getting Dylan to launch headlong into writing and then take a soul-destroying look back at things he’s done wrong, the teacher needs to deliver teaching sequences which support Dylan to build up a piece of writing, layer upon layer, with the skills of writing, reading, spelling, talking and listening embedded within. Dylan, like any pupil, needs to make mistakes (or how will he learn anything new?) but he needs to make them as part of a journey through word-level activities, into reading tasks, through drafting “messy” writing by exploring different writing choices, into edited and polished writing – which he can review proudly.

I’ve been working with Dylans for many years and have used my experience to create a sequence containing all the key ingredients for brilliant writing – the WRITER sequence. My new book – Igniting Children’s Writing contains 50 tried-and-tested activities, organised into the sequence, to get pupils thinking brilliantly about their writing.

Take Dylan’s Smugglers piece. Imagine if, over a couple of weeks, he experienced the following sequence:

Work on Words: Dylan gets to read paintings of smugglers, explore maps and talk about the history of smuggling in Hastings. He doesn’t realise it, but by talking about what smugglers wore, their dastardly deeds and where they did them, Dylan is practising all sorts of grammar and encountering new vocabulary. He might even get to go to the Smuggler Museum – and see the sea! The words he’s encountering are displayed on the wall, so he’s already learning to spell them correctly.

Read as a Writer: The class starts to read Moonfleet. Key passages are studied closely and Dylan gets to use different reading skills, such as skimming and scanning for key information and terminology, or thinking about what he learns from the characters based on the things they say and how they speak. He loves the quizzes that the teacher sets after they listen to a scene from the audiobook.

Investigate Writing Choices Together: Dylan hates grammar worksheets (These still have their place, of course – the bin) but now he’s working with pairs and groups to think about the grammar choices a good writer makes. He joins in with some shared writing to practise some of the grammar, which he helps to present to the class.

Try-Out individual Choices: The teacher catches Dylan reading the next chapter of Moonfleet before school. He’s had a good few days and feels ready to draft out his only piece of writing: he’s decided to write a “drop in” scene, featuring an encounter with the ghost of Colonel John “Blackbeard” Mohune. Dylan is hooked by the story of the King’s diamond, which, legend has it, was stolen by Blackbeard. Dylan uses a thinking map to plan his scene and includes key words and phrases. He’s thought of topic sentences of each of his paragraphs. He writes a draft – a first attempt. He’s given the ghost “a burnished, gold locket, which contains the hurriedly-scrawled location of the diamond”. He likes that.

Edit, Perform and Publish: Dylan can’t be finished yet, because everyone in the class has only produced a draft. His partner and the teacher give Dylan some feedback and he’s ready to edit and improve. He tries writing some of his sentences differently. He changes some words. He takes other words out completely because they’re not needed. Because the class is putting together a Smuggler Writing Collection, he makes some final changes and “writes up” in his best handwriting, within the Smuggler border he’s drawn in Art – with maps and lockets and the ghost of Blackbeard.

Review Key Learning: Although he won’t admit it, Dylan is pleased with his writing and he’s asked to review what helped him to write well. He decides that using the Spellzone display, and planning the paragraphs, were the most helpful.

Dylan still says he doesn’t like writing, but secretly, he’s starting to feel the buzz of success and creative pride. He hopes that Mum will see his writing on Parents’ Evening. And he can’t wait to see where that Ghost has hidden the diamond.9781472951588 (1).jpg

Mark McCaughan is an experienced senior leader and local authority consultant. He has taken on whole-school, subject and pastoral leadership throughout three ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted inspections and is currently supporting schools where performance was low in the Reading SATs and using the activities provided in Igniting Children’s Writing to great effect.

Mark loves supporting schools to get pupils thinking brilliantly and can be contacted at mark@mcmlearning.co.uk.

Managing Homework For You and Your Pupils: The Checklist

Many teachers struggle to manage homework. Many teachers would like to see it banned altogether, in fact, so would many parents! Homework has always been a subject of debate. Does it have any significant impact on children’s learning, or it an expected ‘hassle’ that increases teacher workload and tensions among families? As a teacher and parent, I don’t mind the extra work of arranging homework or supporting my children at home, when I can see its value. When homework builds upon the learning in the classroom, or helps to prepare for upcoming lessons, it can be of real value but it worth remembering these points:

  • Work WITH parents

Communication is key, as is a well-established routine. Right from the word go, share with your parents how much homework will be set, when it will be set, and when it is due. Many schools have a homework policy- as a class teacher, make sure you are familiar with this and are following the guidelines to ensure consistency across the school.

  • ..kids will be kids!

Every week, without fail, there will be someone who will lose their sheet! If your pupils have a homework book, it is worth any sheets being stuck in. Even better, update your class page with a copy of the week’s homework task. This allows parents/older pupils to easily access their homework, meaning you are not bothered when the child/parent is panicking at the last minute!

  • Provide a WAGOLL (What a good one looks like)

Things regularly change in education and often, the strategies used nowadays will baffle the parents. Recently, a friend of mine with a Year 1 child had no idea what it meant to ‘dot/underline the sound buttons’ of alien words. Providing an example of what the homework should look like, with an explanation can save families hours of time and avoid tensions when it is clear that the child was correct, after all! This particularly applies to many maths strategies.

  • Consider the workload (for you and your pupils)

Planning ahead is important here. Weeks vary in the teacher calendar. If you can see you have double parents’ evenings or an assessment week coming up, be careful not to set homework that will require marking- this is the last thing you need. Children also have busy lives, and similarly, when they have evening concerts or school trips, they will be tired. Homework activities that focus on pupils’ wellbeing are particularly useful during busy times. Chapter 1 of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework focuses on pupil wellbeing activities.

  • Use homework to prepare for upcoming lessons

Share with your pupils and parents information about upcoming lessons and how they can prepare. This might involve finding out some information, asking questions or planning an idea. Once back in the classroom, the children can discuss these, meaning even those who forgot get the chance to hear from others before the lesson starts.

  • Prepare a bank of useful activities

Keep hold of homework tasks you set, as chances are they will come in useful the following year. It is also worth sharing with the parents a list of activities they can easily undertake on a regular basis. Idea 23 ‘Recall’ (100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework) provides a list of quick-fire recall games that parents can play with their children to support mental maths. These ideas can again be shared on the class webpage, or sent home as a booklet, for parents to refer to. If these games are also played regularly in school, the children are familiar with them, making it easier to play at home.

  • What is the point?

All too often, teachers rush around at the last minute, photocopying some worksheet for the children’s homework. But it worth considering the purpose of your homework tasks. How does it support/reinforce what is happening in your classroom? Is it an appropriate level for the children? Will it add hugely to your workload?

 

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Jenna Lucas has been a primary school teacher for 12 years, originally in Bristol and now in Bournemouth. In her teaching career she has taught Early Years through to year 6 and led English as well as teaching and learning in the curriculum in her own school and in others in a coaching and mentoring role.

100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework is Jenna’s first book for Bloomsbury Education and is available now.

You can follow her on Twitter @JennaLucas81

 

Visit our 100 Ideas page to see the full range of titles in the series for Early Years, Primary and Secondary Teachers

The what, why and how of teaching spelling, starting with phonics

Kate Robinson explains the rationale behind her new book, A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling:

When a child struggles to spell, the ripples of impact are far-reaching. For readers of such a child’s writing, deciphering can be arduous. For the child themselves, the experience of writing can be stressful and debilitating. This was certainly my experience as a young child who found it hard to spell.  Every thought strains towards remembering or guessing spellings, or towards adapting language choices. It becomes hard to hold onto meaning if you are constantly grappling with how to spell each word. Fluency is stifled and self-confidence takes a battering.

When we help children to spell, we are helping them towards a complete freedom of written expression with which their full intellectual capacity can be unleashed. In a world where personal, social and political power are so closely linked to communication, this freedom, or lack of it, can have immense consequences for individuals.

When the right approaches are offered, most children can become successful, confident spellers. Yet even the best spelling programmes currently available lack the full range of focused, stimulating approaches that many class groups need, leaving some children unengaged and floundering. With A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling, I want to address this by enabling teachers to offer a more finely tuned, responsive and dynamic range of approaches.

Introducing and building on the very latest research, A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling offers multi-sensory, fun and engaging strategies, games and activities that address a broad spectrum of barriers to spelling. You’ll find ball games, card games, treasure hunts, movement, craft, drawing and writing games. These games and activities help children to build phonic skills as a key strategy for spelling. They also develop a wealth of further strategies including recall through association, word analysis, visual techniques and fine and gross motor movements.

A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling allows you to quickly and easily enhance established programmes. Alternatively, it will enable you to develop responsive, engaging spelling programmes of your own that meet the specific needs of the individuals and groups of children that you are working with.

Finding the right way to help a child to spell can change their life forever.

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New Q & A with Historical Tales’ author Terry Deary

Happy Friday! Today, Words for Life published an interview with Bloomsbury Education’s own Terry Deary, ahead of the release of his new fantastic Shakespeare Tales. To find out more about Terry’s favourite books, top-tips for parents, and why he’d rather be the villain of the story head over to http://www.wordsforlife.org.uk/terry-deary now.

Terry Deary’s Shakespeare Tales are hilarious new additions to his highly successful Historical Tales series and are perfect for supporting learning about the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death in 2016, as well as being a great accompaniment to any lesson on drama or Elizabethan England. Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are available from Bloomsbury now. The next instalments, Romeo and Juliet and Twelth Night, will publish 16th June. You can find out more about Terry Deary’s Shakespeare Tales, here on our website.

Peter Worley | Why use stories for doing philosophy with children?

First of all stories engage. When a teller tells a story well the audience visualize the story so that it seems to happen before them. If you want children to think, first of all they must be engaged.

Secondly, stories enable children to grasp complex ideas very naturally, where in the abstract, they would be lost. Tell the story of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ from The Odyssey and children can follow the complexities of ethical dilemmas that would be nigh on impossible for them in the abstract.9781441118141 Once Upon an If

Thirdly, stories can be used to activate the children as moral agents. You can stop the story at the crisis point, the difficult decision or the conflict, and instead of simply reading on, you could ask the class questions: ‘What do you think [the character] should do?’, ‘What do you think [the character] will do?’, ‘What would you do?’ and ‘What do you think you should do?’, or ‘What would you do if you were she?’ and so on. All of these questions are importantly different.

But best of all, stories can be used as rehearsal for life. Here’s an approach to using stories that I call ‘the Hokey Kokey’ approach (‘Hokey Pokey’ outside the UK). In other words, ‘it goes in, out and in again’. By ‘in’ I mean ‘concrete’ or ‘in the story’, and by ‘out’ I mean ‘abstract’ or ‘out of the story’. It is taken from Once Upon an If (pages 65-68) and is inspired by ‘Socratic method’, the techniques used by Socrates – and documented by Plato – in the marketplace of Athens two and a half thousand years ago.

The Hokey Kokey approach:

  1. Take a key concept suitable for philosophical enquiry, such as bravery (a favourite of Socrates) or heroism.
  2. Take a story where the concept features centrally, such as the Odyssey (for both bravery and heroism).
  3. Find an appropriate section or passage that tests the concepts in question. Or you might want to consider the story as a whole.
  4. Ask a simple but conceptually appropriate question using the following structure ‘Is X F?, for example, ‘Is Odysseus a hero?’ (This question is concrete or ‘in the story’.)
  5. Run an enquiry around this question.
  6. Then ask what is sometimes known as a ‘Socratic question’ to do with the central concept under consideration following this structure ‘What is F?’ In this case: ‘What is heroism?’ or ‘What is a hero?’ for younger children. (This question is abstract or ‘out of the story’.)
  7. Run an enquiry around this question.
  8. Now for the key bit! Make sure that, once you have explored the abstract Socratic Question, you return to the concrete question to ‘test’ what has been said in the abstract (at steps 6 and 7). This uses a strategy I call ‘iffing’ and it follows this structure: ‘If F is p, q, r… then is X F?’ In this case: ‘If a hero is someone who is never frightened then is Odysseus a hero?’ (This question returns to the concrete in order to test what has been said in the abstract.)
  9. Explore and examine the implications that follow from step 8. The class will need to examine whether there are any instances in the passage or story where Odysseus was frightened and then consider whether this means he’s a hero or not. Sometimes the class will revise whether the character is in fact F (in this case, whether Odysseus is in fact ‘a hero’), on other occasions, they will revise what F is: for example, someone might say during this part, ‘Odysseus is a hero but sometimes even heroes are frightened, so I don’t think a hero is never frightened. Perhaps it’s acting bravely while he’s frightened that makes him a hero.’

For younger children, try using this method – also around the concept of heroism – with Max Velthuijs’ Frog Is a Hero (published by Andersen Press).

The If Odyssey

National Storytelling Week:

For using the Odyssey to do philosophy, see the award-winning book, The If Odyssey, especially ‘Appendix 1: The Hero’ for a list of specific passages in the Odyssey to test Odysseus’ heroism where you could use the Hokey Kokey method.

Though not all, many of the sessions in my books lend themselves to the Hokey Kokey method. As it is National Storytelling Week, the following stories in the ERA-nominated Once Upon an If all have task questions that will work with the Hokey Kokey method:

  • The Patience of Trees (key concept: freedom)
  • The Promise Slippers (key concept: promise-keeping)
  • The Six Wise Men (key concept: thing)
  • The Fair Well (key concept: fairness)
  • The Water People (key concept: death)
  • Honest Said (key concept: knowledge)
  • The Fire Stick (key concepts: magic and science)
  • The Island (key concept: knowledge)
  • The Valley of The Diamonds (key concept: wealth)

Meet the Author – Jenny Alexander

Welcome Author photo - Jenny Alexanderto the first of our Meet the Author features. We’re thrilled to be able to introduce you to some of our Bloomsbury Education fiction authors and share their thoughts and advice on writing, encouraging children to read and write and how their books can be used in the classroom. Read on to find out more about the brilliant Jenny Alexander. 

What are your five favourite books, and why?
I couldn’t possibly choose! I have eclectic reading tastes, and how can you compare a non-fiction book that gives you a ground-breaking insight with a work of fiction that gives you a few days of sheer escapist pleasure?

If you could be a character from a book who would you be?
One of the reasons I write is because I can create the characters I would like to be for myself, and explore the situations I want to explore through them.

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What inspired you to write The Binding?
The Binding was sparked by an unsettling incident I witnessed in a remote part of Scotland nearly ten years ago. I was walking past a ruined crofter’s cottage when I heard a commotion inside and went to see what was going on. I found four children, out of breath and flushed with excitement, the biggest one grasping in his fist a baby bird. They flashed each other a guilty look, before the big boy rallied, took the chick to the nearest window and opened his hand. It fell to the ground.

‘It was stuck in here,’ he said. ‘We were trying to catch it so we could help it to get out.’
We all knew that wasn’t what they were doing, but the bird was free now, and I stayed there watching it limp away to the nearest cover while the children ran back towards their houses.
I got to thinking, how would it be for a child to live in a place where there were few other children, and virtually no adult supervision?

Then, in the wonderful way that fiction works, that little nugget of an idea began to layer up with other ideas. It resonated with memories from my own childhood, particularly the secret club I had with my three siblings, which we called ‘the meeting.’ Stories other people had told me and new fantasies were called into my mind by this seed idea, and transformed in imagination to fit into it. I love this process. It makes me feel energised and happy. And when, as occasionally happens, it also grows into a publishable book, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

What would you want children reading the book to learn from it?
It’s a classic bullying situation, where a powerful, charismatic child is able to dominate the others in a friendship group, using humiliation and exclusion to crush any opposition. I’d like children to think about the importance of sticking up for each other, and the power of the group when they stand up to bullying together.

What advice would you give to teachers and parents wanting to encourage their children to write?
I wrote How to be a Brilliant Writer (A and C Black) to encourage children to write, by dismantling the idea that writing has to be ‘good’ and putting the emphasis where it ought to be, on writing as a wonderful opportunity to discover, develop and share your ideas and experience.

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Jenny Alexander is a popular author of children’s fiction and non-fiction titles. She has written extensively on the theme of bullying and her latest title The Binding examines the subject in the context of isolation, authority, respect and the difficulty of speaking out.

When Jack and his family arrive on a remote Scottish island, the whole summer holiday seems doomed…until they find the den. Soon the children are initiated into a secret society. As the summer goes on Jack realises he will have to sand up to the leader, whatever it costs him.

Find out more about Jenny here and follow her on Twitter @jennyalexander4