Archive for the Category ◊ Curriculum ◊

Reading Rocketeers
Sunday, February 11th, 2018 | Author:

Recently I attended the BETT show and part of the reason to visit is to see the latest technology available in the classroom but this post is about something else entirely. While there, I attended a presentation by Lee Parkinson and John Murray sharing their ReadWritePerform English resources. During the presentation, John shared a few of his resources and one was the Reading Rocketeers book. 

The purpose of the book is to support children in their reading. It is aimed at children that are able to read but find inference and comprehension difficult. John suggested around Year 2/3 and as a Year 3 teacher, this sounded ideal. I flicked through, took the plunge and ordered a copy. There are 25 texts within the book and they range from about 50 words to 150 words for each piece of text. Each text has some questions to orientate the children and get them thinking about it, followed by the text and then some questions about the gist of the text. Following this there are literal questions which require the children to retrieve information from the text and then the main questions, the inference. The children are also required to draw a picture to show their understanding of the text and example pictures are included too. 

My original thought was that a small group of children will use the texts in the book as an intervention and we would go from there. While discussing this with a colleague, we decided to try 1 or 2 as a whole class read and then pick our children for the interventions.

So far, we have had 1 whole class reading session, based on the easiest text in the book. 

The text is called “The Window” and talks about Lucy standing on her toy box looking out of the window at her mum hanging washing on the line. I read the text, then the children drew a picture of what they thought was happening. I then shared the picture from the book and we discussed differences. 

The children then had a set of seven questions to answer and my only guidance was that all answers should contain “because”. There were questions that asked “What was the weather like?” or “How old do you think Lucy is?” After 10-15minutes, we shared answers and discussed reasons. When asked about the weather, some said sunny or windy because Mum was hanging the washing out and only one mentioned that the word “fluttered” showed that it was windy. 

When asked about the age of the girl, one child said “She is standing on a toy box, so I think she is about 5. 5 year olds have toys and she would be quite short too so couldn’t see out of the window”.

When I do it next time, I will draw pictures after. Some children said that the girl looked short in the picture or that her brother was taller so I think that the picture swayed their thinking. 

Although it is very early days, I am extremely impressed with the resources. I think that they will have a huge impact on the reading in my classroom. I intend to try another whole class text (one a bit further into the book) and take it from there. I will also use the results from the first session to teach how to answer the questions to explain their thinking too. I’ve shared the book in school with the English leader and the Head of School and both were very impressed so I’m hoping it has a huge impact in class. 

To find out more about Reading Rocketeers, visit:

There is also a sample text on there too. So have a go and let me know what you think. 

John is @readingexplorer on Twitter if you have any questions. 


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Hooking them in
Saturday, January 13th, 2018 | Author:

This week in Year 3, we started reading a new book based on our topic of Egypt. It wasn’t a long book, about 15 pages in fact but I still wanted the children to be hooked in and to get enthused about what they were going to read (and be writing about).  They didn’t know that we were going to be learning about Egypt until a few days later.

So I started by visiting Tagxedo and typing the whole story into their create box. This took a little while, but like I said, it wasn’t a long book so it was fine. I then removed all appearances of the main characters’ names. I didn’t want them to know these just yet and thought we could introduce them later.

I then shared the word cloud on my board and gave them time to have a little chat about what they noticed. Obvious words such as “king” and “bear” jump out but with a few minutes of looking, they spotted “pyramid”, “iceberg” and “playmate”. I asked them for their first thoughts and then we jotted down 5 words that we noticed. Not necessarily the biggest ones, but 5 that might give us clues about the content of the book. (feel free to play along, the actual book title is further down the post)

Next, I gave them the chance to explore any unusual or unknown words and to make a list of them. They jotted them down and then we recapped how to use a dictionary (or find them on Google) and they went about writing definitions of the words that they didn’t know. We then had a bit of fun by spending 5 minutes telling each other the story, just based on those words. They found this HARD, but of course they did. They are 7 and were given a bunch of words and nothing else.

The final step was the toughest one. I told them that every single one of them would probably get it wrong and that this was totally ok. We predicted the name of the book. We had “The Royal Bear King” and other similar mixtures of the big words such as “King Bear and the Royal Pyramid”. But others used the clues a bit more. One girl said that as it said Arctic and Egypt, there was obviously some travelling involved so she chose “The King who went on his travels”. It was a good insight into their thinking and they were nearly all wrong. Yep, one got the title spot on.

The book was the Egyptian Polar Bear. We have now started writing about the places that the polar bear visits on his travels from the Arctic to Egypt and using our descriptive techniques to describe his amazing journey.

If I was doing this reading lesson again, I would make hieroglyphics a bit larger by typing it a couple more times as it was so small, most children didn’t see it or even try and look it up.

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The Half-Way Point
Thursday, February 20th, 2014 | Author:

This half-term has been a bit different to usual. Yes there are days out and yes, the nieces have come to visit, but I have also been into school, not for planning, but for completely redesigning my classroom. This post will also be an update on the classroom tour post I shared in September.

I have a massive classroom. It echoes, it’s just huge. The plan was to redecorate and build a small office/workroom space at the back for interventions, so I held off making changes for the first term but as this work isn’t going to happen now, I could get in and change things. Also, I wanted to reflect on what has worked and what needs to be improved.

Literacy – As blogged about here, we focus on a different sentence every week. In practice this actually becomes a “sentence of the literacy unit” but that doesn’t sound as cool. So what I have done is to make a board showcasing different sentences. Some are examples of complex sentences, e.g. embedded clauses and some are taken from Alan Peat’s book. The idea is to have examples to share with the children but also to have space for children to share their own too. Example sentences will also be in their toolkits on their tables so that they can see them while they are working.

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Maths – Before, I had a working wall and a whiteboard for Maths. The whiteboard didn’t really work and soon became used for other things as I needed somewhere to write notices for the children and also put up learning objectives, the date and other similar information. I love the A4 whiteboards that we have. These are not the chunky ones for using on the carpet, these are flimsy ones that snap very easily (one broke yesterday when I dropped it onto the carpet!) but they are perfect for blu-tacking to the wall and writing on. For my Maths board, these will have questions based around the maths we are doing. I try to differentiate them but the more-able will always try and answer every question anyway. there is also space available for me to stick up paper to show methods or ideas as we go along. The main thing for me is to make their toolkits on their table better so that once we have taught something in Literacy, Maths or Spellings, it comes down from the wall and into their toolkit to be replaced by new learning on the wall.

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The Science wall has more whiteboards stuck to it with questions about our topic. I could print the questions and stick them on but these whiteboards are fab for quickly changing ideas. I have also left space for children to stick post-its with their own questions too.

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A big change in my room is that my dry-wipe whiteboard has been moved. There are various reasons it hasn’t been moved until now, but having it at the front of the room will help. The behaviour chart is also now at the front, next to me while I teach. One issue that I had is that when the children move up or down the chart, I had to break from the teaching and request that the child moved their name. This meant that the flow stopped and sometimes there could be problems if a child didn’t want to move their name…so by having it at the front, I can move names without discussion if needs be and continue with the lesson.

Another change is that I now have a board for “Building Learning Power” which is something we are trying to start in school.  It is about picking up the learning behaviours and making children aware of what they need to do to be better learners. My wife suggested making it Lego-themed and singing “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team” to show how working together can achieved great results. I have a few children who want to improve, but want it on their terms. They want to work on their own and don’t want others to help. I want to break this down and make them want to learn and succeed together. So learning behaviour is going to be a big push this term.

One idea that I found in the book Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners is the idea of having marbles in a jar not to represent “good” behaviour but to represent learning behaviour instead. So “Well done Timmy, you have shown great resilience today” which then leads to a marble (or for me, ping-pong ball) going into the jar. The whole class will need to work together to focus on the behaviours we are trying to learn about. I want to make this very explicit to them so that we can discuss what is meant by resilience or perseverance. It’ll be interesting as some of the children find persevering very difficult indeed at the moment!

It’s odd to think that half of the year has gone already and I’m still figuring out what to do. I am doing OK so far but I want to get better and I hope that the re-arranged classroom will give y children the chance to succeed even more than they have done so far.


Scratch Programming in Easy Steps
Wednesday, January 01st, 2014 | Author:

One benefit of the Christmas holidays is the chance to catch up on various jobs that need doing and books that need reading. One book that I have had for a couple of weeks is Scratch Programming in Easy Steps by Sean McManus.

I know that many people will find this book extremely useful and as I have mentioned before, Scratch has been part of my ICT curriculum in school for a few years now. Programming won’t take over the curriculum, but if you are looking to introduce Scratch then this is a useful book to use. This takes the excellent resources from Code Club a few steps further. Those are good for getting started but this book actually begins right at the beginning, with explanations of the different blocks and their functions as well as instructions for changing elements such as the background or the main sprite.

Every aspect has colour images (crucial when using Scratch’s different coloured control blocks!) and it also includes step-by-step guides to writing each program. The next step for me would be to adapt the numbers. What happens if the 50 becomes a 5? Or I change this to 2.5? As confidence grows, children and teachers can then explore changing blocks to see the impact it will have. The book is very clear and gives lots of information about each element.

Once the basics are covered, there are various projects such as playing Dodgeball, creating your own choir (little bit odd, but fun) and also creating your own quizzes and conversations. Towards the end of the book there are projects involving Raspberry Pi and webcams as well as some short projects such as Keepy-Uppy. The book covers the how to do it but doesn’t give examples from the classroom. But that’s where good teachers come in. I saw the conversation aspect and thought about how I could get two characters from my Guided Reading book talking to each other discussing why they had acted like they had.

If I was looking at the new Computing curriculum and wanted to include aspects of Scratch,  I would start with this book and Phil Bagge’s Code-It website which has plans, resources and videos. Then, when confidence has been developed, teachers could change the dodgeball game to a similar one but with a different outcome and this will enable your plans to grow and grow.


For information: I was sent a copy of this book to review, but if I didn’t like it, I would say so.

Getting on with it
Friday, December 27th, 2013 | Author:

One of my Christmas jobs is to plan the curriculum for the rest of Year 4. We did look at this in May when draft documents were out and we pencilled in an overview for the year but quite quickly we realised that we needed to change it. This happened for many reasons including:

  • The final curriculum was released and changed our plans
  • We wanted to make something coherent and exciting, our initial plans were done in a couple of hours and didn’t fit together as much as I would’ve liked
  • I now know the children. I didn’t then. I was new in September and hadn’t worked with the children so didn’t know what would or wouldn’t work for them.

I know that this year, as the National Curriculum documents were disapplied, we can do whatever we like (pretty much) but I want to think longer term so that I have some things in place for next year if needs be. Not to 100% re-use but to adapt and change as needed.

There has been a lot of talk about Gove, his constant teacher-bashing and the new curriculum, among many other things, but y’know what, being a teacher is an amazing job so I’m going to just get on with it. I read this post from Pete Yeomans and I know that some people disagree with his tweets and think of him as argumentative at times, but read that post.  He talks a lot of sense. As a profession we have just been given a hell of a lot of freedom. Let’s make the most of it and create something amazing for our children and our schools.

Take the new curriculum. For Science it lists five areas that Year 4 must cover. The electricity area is so small and simple it can be done in 20 minutes (allowing 10 minutes for finding some batteries that work of course). It involves making a circuit with buzzers, bulbs, switches and batteries/cells, play with it a bit e.g. what happens with more batteries? Or with more bulbs? Then draw a diagram of it. Simple. So this gives you loads of time to expand on it and develop it. The problem with the circuits made in many schools is that they don’t really do anything. What about this though. We could get some proper equipment with batteries, LEDs etc and make a torch that the children can take home. That’d be better wouldn’t it? We could even write instructions for how it works.

It’s the same for many other areas of the curriculum. Yes there are things we don’t agree with in there, but I think this is because we have no idea what happened in Baghdad or Benin in 900AD so we don’t know how to teach it yet (I’m sure someone is making/has made documents to help). Having a slim curriculum is fantastic, it gives you the chance to open your mind to a whole host of possibilities. I asked the children what topics they would like to learn about and they stuck to fairly standard things such as Egypt, Romans, Vikings but also wanted to know about their body, weather, aliens and my favourite, London. This could be a great topic looking at the capital throughout the ages, stopping off at the plague and the Great Fire along the way and, of course, a school trip. Many just want to go on the underground as they’ve never done it before. Think of the writing opportunities from that first-time experience though!

So my New Year resolution is not to moan about the curriculum, even the Computing bit, I’m going to make sure that the stuff we teach the children is going to be fantastic. It will encompass ideas from the children and from teachers, it will include chances to be entrepreneurial and it will involve parents as much as possible. And my children will make a lot of progress along the way too.

Anyway, now to plan a topic suggested by my class about the human body and the digestive system. I think it’s just because the children wanted to say poo without me moaning at them…

Sentence of the Week
Monday, December 02nd, 2013 | Author:

Recently we have introduced a few new strategies to improve the vocabulary and the writing for the children we work with. Firstly, we started with “Word of the Week”. This is a different word that we would teach the children each week. Following an inset day, we discussed that words fitted into three groups.

  1. Words that they already know e.g. watch, house, quietly
  2. The bit to focus on – I’ll come back to this in a minute
  3. Words that they will probably only remember when in the zone and thinking about it e.g. photosynthesis, chunking

The decision was made to focus on the group 2 words. So far we have had words such as: friendship, emotion and perspective. We spend 2-3 minutes each day looking at the word, saying it, spelling it, putting it into sentences etc and it is helping to improve vocabulary and the children’s writing.

Following this, we thought about making a bigger impact in our year group. I have been following Alan Peat for a while now and I am a big fan of his books. The one that I used a lot last year talked about different sentence types and he has recently released a follow-up. Both of the books contain a variety of different sentences and in class, we are picking one a week to focus on. In future weeks, I hope to let the children choose the focus sentence.

We started with BOYS sentences and these contained But Or Yet So. This helped to teach the children about connecting ideas together in different ways (not just with “and”). Last week though, we had huge success with the sentence of three with action as suggested by Pie Corbett, author of Jumpstart Literacy and Jumpstart Storymaking. This works like a 3 item list with commas but has more detail and describes actions.

We were writing the story of Bear and Hare from the John Lewis advert and there’s a great bit where the animals are decorating the tree. This is where most children put the sentence to great use. Here are some examples:

The hedgehog walked over, picked up the decoration and gave it to the squirrel to put on the tree. Carefully, the deer reached down, picked up the bauble and hung it on the nearest branch.

Our aim is to choose a different sentence type each week and teach how it can be used, altered and adapted to suit the need. So far, it has given the children the chance to explore sentences and experiment with their writing.

100WC Questions
Sunday, October 20th, 2013 | Author:

I am writing this post because I have been asked by a few people how I actually use the 100 Word Challenge within school. So I though I would share a few ideas to get you started. This week, over 1000 children have contributed to the weekly prompt for the first time. I wonder how long it is until over 2000 posts a week are submitted?


Where do the children write their posts? 

In our school we have blogs: and this is setup using WordPress Multisite. This means that each blog I create is a sub-blog from the main one. I have created a blog for the 100 Word Challenge: and every class has a login. The children are aware of the login and password and because of restrictions I have put in place, the children write their posts but it won’t go live on the site until I check it. When the children are writing their post, they add their name into the tags so that we can search for all of the posts from a particular child quickly.

You could of course have any blog just for 100 Word Challenge, but WordPress Multisite lets me manage it easily. I don’t post them onto the class blogs as they would quickly get filled if 30 children were writing on there every week!

How do I use the prompts without a blog?

When I am first showing the 100 Word Challenge to people, I suggest that they use it within class as part of  Literacy lessons or maybe morning tasks. To start with, I help the children witht he planning stages. Use the prompt and see what ideas they have. Will their writing be a letter or a story? What about something else? What characters or settings are there?

Last year, I wrote the prompt (or printed if it was a picture) and put it on the wall in the classroom. The children could then write about this during the week, maybe for 5minutes a day during registration or as one of the activities in a reading carousel. This gets them used to using the prompt and writing around 100 words. I often get the children to peer assess these as they can then look through them and build up their awareness of targets and the content of writing rather than just marking and saying “your writing is neat”.

A text-based curriculum
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 | Author:

We’ve been having a bit of discussion about the curriculum at my new school and I wanted a chance to jot down some ideas and see if anyone had done something similar to help guide us before we get started.

Currently we are sort-of looking at the new curriculum and teaching from bits of this but I think it’s fair to say that we are teaching with a subject-based approach. In Year 4, we are teaching literacy based on the book Rebecca’s World, our science is all about liquids and solids and our artwork is based on the work of John Dyer. So it isn’t linked up. Yet.

We were talking today about having a text-based curriculum. I was originally thinking about each unit being based around a book but this has now extended to videos too, allowing us the chance to use the great animations on the Literacy Shed too and also full length movies as well. Through the range of texts we use, we could teach the other aspects of the curriculum. For example, the book How I Met Dudley is all about machines and how they work, linking well to science with circuits or Design Technology where we can make our own machine of some kind.   The thinking is that we will cut back on having science/art/etc every week and just teach intense units where they link properly. It will mean a lot of Literacy-focussed work, but this will be good for raising standards but we will of course include opportunities for cross-curricular work too.

So, I guess my question is, can anyone suggest any great books for use in Key Stage 2 that will allow us to teach some excellent Literacy, but will also allow some links to other curriculum areas? Does your school have a book-based curriculum? What are the possible downsides?

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