Summer of Writing (prompt 3)

We are back at school tomorrow – just 7 weeks left until we break up for the summer.  But that means today is really all about homework. So it was a genuine quick write based on this:

Bell Ringer writing prompts

If this chappie found his way to our house in London, I would be mightily concerned.

Happy Sunday, happy writing.

Mrs E


Revision Jenga

Jenga 7

Revision is a tricky nut to crack, especially for literature students where the topics for revision are as wide ranging as quotations from the text to feminist readings to historical context.

Jenga Revision is just one of the ways I help student memorise everything they need to know.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Get hold of your Jenga blocks. (you will need felt tips as well)
The cheapest Jenga blocks I have found are these mini Topple Towers from Poundland. Just £1 each.  The tower doesn’t stand much higher than 15cm. But that makes it perfect for small group work.
*Note – buy the cheapest ones you can – because these will be unfinished wood and easier to write on with felt tip!*

Jenga 2

2. Decide what you are going to write on them.
When I started out using this activity, I was totally laid back about what went on the blocks. A few years on and I’m a little wiser.  Here’s what I learnt:
Colour code the categories – so red for direct evidence from the text, blue for historical context, green for key literary terms.
Get students to plan / find the information first – no writing on the blocks until you’ve written it on paper (this can help avoid lots of repetition too)
Brevity rules! The blocks can only take 1 or 2 words – so precision is needed.
Neatly does it – some of those boys need to earn the right to write. Prove to me you can be legible, gentleman!

jenga 8

Jenga 3

3. Get working on making the blocks.  Depending on the number of texts to be revised, I will either allocate each group a different text or split the chapters or sections across a number of groups.

Jenga 4

4. Get your game on. Here are the rules of the game.

– Choose who goes first (tallest, shortest – I don’t mind).

– Person number 1 pulls out a block and uses the information on it to ask a question of someone else in the group. For example – say the block has the name “Crooks” on it. The questioner could form any question that will give them the response Crooks. The harder the question, the better. Which character in Of Mice and Men has their own chapter? Who does Curley’s Wife threaten to string up? Which character in the novel reads a lot?

– If the response is correct, then the responder is given that block to start making their collection. They then take the next turn.

– If the response is incorrect, then the questioner keeps it (for their collection).  And they keep taking turns and keeping blocks until someone answers correctly.

– The winner is the one who has the most blocks when the tower is completely gone. This encourages them to make the questions as difficult as possible.

Jenga 5

And that my friends is how we play revision Jenga!

Thanks for reading.


Long pin test

Summer of Writing (prompt 2)

bugs life

Fancy writing today? We did too.

Here’s our writing prompt from today – a bug’s life.

You are a bug on car windshield. Tell your story.

We are aiming to write between 350 – 45o words each time. Today we are focussing on being scientific and precise in our description.

Summer of writing (prompt #1)

me and kids

We are planning on doing loads of creative writing in our house this summer.

So to get the ball rolling, here is our first Summer Writing prompt.

Writing prompt 1

The 24 hour dance competition: Describe the sensation of dancing for 24 hours straight. Focus on what can be seen, heard and also what is thought and felt.

I’ll post some of our writing.  Keep checking as we will be putting up a new writing prompt everyday!

Thanks for reading

25+ ideas for increasing student talk

I’m always looking for new ways to get students talking.  The lethargy that comes with Friday Lesson 5 – or, you know, even Monday Lesson 1, can be hard to break.

So here are 25+ new and old ways to get your students talking.

25 ideas

This resource is totally free and can be downloaded from my TPT store here: 25+ ideas for more student talk

Here’s a few of the ideas to keep you going:

Slide23 Slide16 Slide13


Teaching x-ray vision


Teaching inference and deduction skills to low ability students is sometimes a minefield.  The whole point of inferring is that you can make connections, often beyond a text, this is a tough challenge when the words on the page are hard to decipher.

I believe it is key to teach inference and deduction early and to teach it explicitly.

In lessons I equate the skill to an x-ray.  Looking below the surface.  Seeing beyond the skin.  Understanding what is living in the bones of a text.

Task 1:  Inference pictures

The pictures below allow students to make simple inferences within a limited scope.  There are wrong answers to these questions, and although I do like to get carried away on unusual ideas, sometimes we need to start with the obvious and work from there.


  1. Using your observation skills, write down everything you can see.
    (The items are……)
  2. Using your inference skills, what can you figure out about the owner of the items.
    (I think the owner is…..)
  3. Write down (explain) how you figured out who the owner was.
    (I know this because….)

inference 1

In feeding back on this, students will refer to real life or other texts (film) and the connection is made.

Task 2: Text inferences


Read the example of inference below:
I wouldn’t eat after that two-year-old if I were you.
Inference: The two-year-old probably did something gross to the food you were about to eat or has a cold and you could catch it. Something bad will happen to you if you eat it!

This text allows students to explore different ideas but again there are some very clear wrong answers.  The negative language means it cannot be a positive emotion being expressed.

The specific reference to an age means that there is a limit to what might have happened.

I often ask students to imagine what a photograph going with this phrase would look like.  This generally describe something like this >>>

Now we could move onto other more flexible inferences:

  1. If she died, I wouldn’t go to her funeral.
  2. A woman walks into a hospital clutching her huge belly and cursing out her husband, who trails behind her carrying a large bag.
  3. You’re driving on the motorway, listening to the radio, and a police officer pulls you over.

The last one usually generates much debate on speeding and police officers’ favourite music artists.  It’s also funny how often students miss the meaning of “huge belly” on no 2.

I find myself using these activities time again when teaching some texts from Boy in the Striped PJs to Hamlet.

Outside the box in a box

A hand-drawn mini unit on developing creative thinking skills (or what I did when I had finished all the schemes of work and the holidays were still two weeks away).

2013-09-03 20.26.06

Lesson 1: Kids probs

Ask students to come up will all of the problems they experience as kids.  Get a big class mind-map going on somewhere.

Around that mind-map put 4 sheets, titled:

  1. Outside the box ideas
  2. Bizarre and strange ideas
  3. Ideas from the future
  4. Friends and family ideas

Starting with “Outside the box” ask students to think about someone they know who has a very different life from them.  It could an elderly relative or someone who lives in a different country.  Students place themselves into that person’s shoes and answer the same question – what would this person say about kids problems?

Then you can get “Bizarre and strange” ask students to come up with the wackiest, craziest and most ridiculous problems they could experience (like being kidnapped by zombies on the way to school).

Next it’s “ideas from the future” students imagine childhood in 100 years time – what problems might these kids experience?

Finally, onto “Friends and Family” and this can be a nice think-pair-share-square activity or a fantastic homework.  Students need to gather other people ideas to add to their list.

2013-09-03 20.26.21

Lesson 2:  Solving the problem

Using the same style of expertly hand-drawn worksheet.  Students choose one problem from the previous lesson and attempt to solve it, using the same process.

Then you can get creative – make a homework machine, make the never-disappearing key ring, make the mum’s bad mood muncher.  Students can just design or they can design and make depending on time and resources.  Or get creative writing – use these ideas (sometimes all of them to together) to write the wildest, most hilarious adventures out there.

Lesson 3: Looking at my world

Now turn this way of thinking to analysis and criticism.  Using the same, now somewhat hackneyed worksheet ask students to spill onto paper everything they know about their school.  “Imagine you are a year 6 student, about to start at our school, what are you thinking, what do you want to know and what should we tell them?”

This can then form the basis of a piece of non-fiction writing (we made an A-Z of our school).

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Sometimes thinking outside the box still requires boxes.

Describing in colour

Revisiting descriptive writing as students mature is essential.  Childish phrases and thinking are abandoned – but what replaces them?

Here is some of the work we have been doing on descriptive writing this term.

Describing in colour

Describing in colour 2 Describing in colour

If you are looking to develop mature description with your students, check out my Descriptive Writing pack (May 2015).

descriptive writing tpt

Descriptive writing tasks, worksheets and activities to inspire, challenge and enjoy! No prep, 20 pages of descriptive writing activities – perfect for the month of May.

4 weeks or 20 hours worth of descriptive writing at your fingertips!

Is Reading Recovery like Stone Soup?

Filling the pail

Researchers from the Universities of Delaware and Pennsylvania have written a paper describing a large, multi-site, randomly controlled trial of Reading Recovery. The effect size is impressive: 0.69 when compared to a control group of eligible students. This is above Hattie’s effect size threshold of 0.40 and so suggests that we should pay attention. As a proponent of evidence-based education, you may think it perverse of me to question such a result.

It’s not.

Reading Recovery involves taking students out of normal lessons and giving them a series of 30-minute one-to-one reading lessons with a Reading Recovery trained teacher over a period of 12 to 20 weeks. So the intervention packages together a number of different factors including:

– the specific Reading Recovery techniques

– additional reading instructional time on top of standard classroom reading instruction

– one-to-one tuition

Each of these factors could plausibly impact on a child’s reading progress. For instance, we…

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Should teachers buy or sell resources?


The first of two posts thinking through how buying and selling teaching resources isn’t the seventh circle of hell that some might think…

This year – for the first time – I have spent my own money on lessons (made and sold by someone else) to use in my classroom. And – now having thought about it – I don’t mind at all.

I know our salaries are squeezed by the unaccounted for costs of teaching – a study guide for a new text; a set of biros or laminating pouches. We buy critical readings for A Level texts, or DVDs, or posters. Edu-books and events like ResearchED now also appear on my list of expenditure – all of these help me think and develop as a teacher. It would be nice if my school could give me a pot of cash to spend on the above, I recognise that it can’t happen often, so I make my own judgement about what I am happy to spend on (and what I am not).

Last Autumn whilst tackling a gap in subject knowledge – I came across TeachersPayTeachers. If you’ve never heard of it, the American grassroots organisation is a glossier cousin to TES Resources. Here teachers across primary and secondary buy and sell ‘products’.

I was helping, via Skype, the child of a friend who was struggling with studying Huckleberry Finn. He’s American, living in the Middle East, and needed some guidance before an exam that would enable him to re-enter mainstream education in US. I hadn’t read Huckleberry Finn in 20 years and certainly had never taught it. My time was limited and a simple Google search brought me to the doorstep of TeachersPayTeachers.

For the princely sum of $6.00 (about £4.00) I purchased a PDF file of 80+ pages of literary analysis which saved my bacon that week.  The analysis was more detailed than a study guide or anything found for free on the internet.  I was impressed and went back to poke around the site some more.

The startling difference from freebie-style resources on sites, like TES, is the products on TPT are slick, well-designed and fit for purpose (the obvious caveat here being I have checked out all of them).

I have since made a number of purchases from the site – all of them were exactly as described, were value for money (when set against my time saved) and without the standard TES apostrophe, grammar, spelling mistakes.

Whilst many of the resources for sale might have started out as classroom lessons or worksheets – it isn’t good enough to just upload your Sunday night rushed PowerPoint to this site. There are rules and advisory guidelines that expound that need to be thoughtful, high quality, clear and customer friendly. It seems that hours and hours are spent creating resources that will match precisely the needs of classroom teacher customers – whether it is algebra or world history or Ezra Pound’s poetry – someone has considered the subject area from my point of view and spent time working out what I might need.

Teachers in the USA can and have made a lot of money from TPT, and who can blame them, given the uncertainty of teaching employment contracts and pay in the US.

But selling resources isn’t an idea that many in the UK are comfortable with. I wonder why – is it that the idea of selling something is in direct opposition to the altruism of a public service job?  Many blanche at the idea of monetising resources – another step towards the capitalism – but I think we are already there.  We will buy resources from EMC but if a colleague has created something genuinely valuable and wants share this – the expectation is that he should do it for free. Again, I ask, why?

Textbooks are on the way back in, another huge cost.  I’ve just reviewed the latest batch of KS3 textbooks from one of the big exam boards and I wasn’t impressed. They contained no deep learning. Just the same old activities, gap-fills, tables and card sorts. The £600 expenditure for a batch would not be value for money. For every double page spread – there was probably one activity I would consider using. Why? Because they aren’t written by the people on the ground.

Classroom teachers are the experts. If they are willing to share it for free – then great, but given their time is saving me time – I have no problem parting with what is a small amount of money in return. These individuals are not out to make a cheap buck. They are thoughtful practitioners sharing ways to access learning – could they possibly deserve to be paid for it?

If I make the choice to spend my money, then I would rather put it directly into the pocket of another teacher, than the TES, Teachit, Edusites or Pearson. And as it turns out – it’s better value for money.