A good thing

 

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This thing happened and it was good.

There are times when something spontaneous happens in the classroom and the results are so unexpectedly cool that it is hard not to stop and enjoy.

We have had a big push on reading with our reluctant KS3 readers over the last couple of weeks. You know the kids I mean. These aren’t the bright, top set kids – who are reading Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man at the age of 12 – these kids are the ones who declare proudly “I’ve never read a book” or “I’ve only read one book ever – it was George’s Marvellous Medicine in year 3”. My personal favourite: “I hate reading.”

This is my class in year 8. Unsurprisingly they are mostly boys, mostly the cheeky ones you see cutting in the lunch queue, mostly the ones who haven’t made much progress.

It became obvious, when I picked this group up, that our KS3 curriculum wasn’t going to cut it. We needed to read, read, then read some more and then read and keep reading. At first most were struggling to read a sentence fluently. Some were unable to read words with three or more syllables. Remembering what we read from one week to the next was an issue. Trying, and learning to keep on trying, even when it got tricky and embarrassing, was as important as learning how to do the reading thing.

So far this year we have read two novels. I won’t bore you with which ones; nothing fancy, books had been sitting in our book cupboard for a few years. Chosen to meet the criteria of being just hard enough to aid learning and with a storyline that was relatively easy to hook onto and remember. After that we read a translation of Grendel and now we are reading non-fiction texts.

I won’t sugar coat it. Reading extended texts with this class is still tricky. Decoding, comprehension and inference skills are improving, but reading has never felt fun in these hours. Reading is still hard. Very hard.

Fast forward then to last week and World Book Day. We start every lesson with 10 minutes of silent reading – most are doing the Diary of Wimpy Kid thing, some have borrowed from my extensive collection of Horrible History books. They are reading though. Not just holding the books and daydreaming. Eyeballs move. Hands go up – “what’s this word Miss?”. Spontaneous comments “This book is funny Miss”. They are reading.

The non-fiction text of the week explained how chicken nuggets are made. Yep, it caused a stir. We tackled the vocabulary – consumption, tempura, raised (as in chicks raised in factories for consumption) etc. Yum!

I then posed the challenge. “I have never eaten a chicken nugget. Can you create a clear argument that would convince and persuade me to eat a nugget?” After the horrific realisation that they were in the same room as a vegetarian, we looked at writing an argument.

The kids wrote. We peer marked. I have worked hard with this class to develop their basic literacy skills through peer marking. We have a set of criteria and use it every lesson, it has numeric scores (i.e. if they have started every sentence with a capital letter, award them 5 marks) and the boys seem to like the clarity this presents. We champion improving on previous scores. They usually get house points if they are in the top 10%.

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Here’s the thing that happened. It was World Book Day. I had been showing off some books that we had been sent and whooping generally about reading. Cheeky Billy piped up “Miss, I want that book. If I get top marks today, can I have it?”

My response was “Heck yes!” After all, what else was I going to do with these books?

Eight other voices called out – “Can I have one if I get good marks?” Affirmative from me.

And so the writing was on. The focus in the room was a notch higher than usual. Muttering could be heard “I need to use an exclamation mark”.

Writing done, peer marking completed, attempts to exploit the marking criteria were batted away and four books were handed out.

The whole class crowded around the box, giving their opinions on each option, helping the lucky four make their choices. Cheeky Billy lost out. His frustration was good humoured “I’ll give you my World Book Day voucher.” Then inspiration struck “Can I earn one tomorrow Miss?”

I grinned and nodded, booting them out the door to lunch and forgot about it.

The next morning, I was on gate duty, four of my gang of boys arrived after the bell shouting “I’m gonna earn that book today Miss.” And so last lesson on Friday afternoon arrived and the remaining gaggle of 11 kids proved themselves desperate to earn a book.

At the end of the lesson, there was pushing and shoving over the last two copies of Cuckoo Song by Francise Hardinge.

Let me repeat, these boys – self-declared haters of reading at the beginning of the year – were pushing and shoving over a book. A book. I could have wept with joy. My job is the best job in the world

Today a whole week later, they are still talking about it. Still telling me what is going on the books they are reading. Still telling their mates that I gave them a book. Still telling their parents that they earned a book at school.

This thing happened and it was good.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Enjoy!

Teaching x-ray vision

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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.

So:

  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….)

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

Task 2: Text inferences

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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).

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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.

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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!