Category Archives: Literacy

June #52books2017

Managed to squeeze 12 books in this month – a mixed bag but enjoyable nonetheless.

36. G.R. Gemin – Cowgirl

This is Gemin’s first book, and, if you liked Sweet Pizza, you’ll probably like this too. There are similar themes: a community crumbling around its inhabitants (in this case the Mawr Estate); a determined central character (Kate – the ‘Cowgirl’); and a surprising agent for change in Gran. A fairly straightforward, well-meaning story that would be a good read for Y4.

37. Katherine Rundell – Rooftoppers

A wonderful story of hope. Sophie was left in the care of Charles after the ship she was on sank, and, as the only female survivor, realises her mother must have died. Charles – a brilliant, eccentric character full to the brim of the finest moral code – has his paternal methods questioned by the authorities, which leads the two to abscond to France, where Sophie has a hunch that her mother may be living.

Here, Sophie meets Matteo, a boy who lives on the roofs of Paris, and the two, aided by other roof-dwelling children, race against time to search for Sophie’s mum.

Sophie is a fabulous character, showing determination, self-belief and confidence in proving herself to  be the equal to, and better of, those she meets on her journey.

38. Ross Welford – What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible

Ethel, a 13 year old girl from Whitley Bay, finds herself turning invisible after a chance encounter with a sunbed and some unusual acne medicine. Her new-found abilities are kept secret by Boydy, a boy at school who is something of an outcast, and together they embark on adventure after adventure, getting themselves into more bother each time. Ethel finds out a few things about herself along the way which change her life forever.

An entertaining read, informally written and one to share with a Y5/6 class.

39. Emma Carroll – Letters From the Lighthouse

WWII. 1941. London. A bombing of the city persuades the mother of Olive and Cliff to evacuate her children to the coast, where it is safe, especially after their older sister Sukie goes missing.

Olive and Cliff are eventually housed in the lighthouse with Ephraim, a peculiar character who has a secret – and Olive is determined to find out what it is.

A wonderful piece of historical fiction and one that some of my children have enjoyed reading already. There are lots of twists and turns as Olive tries to solve the many mysteries that keep her puzzled, and the overall messages of tolerance, compassion and solidarity are as good a lesson for today’s children as they were for Olive and her companions.

40. Christopher Edge – The Jamie Drake Equation

Jamie Drake’s dad is an astronaut, circling the Earth aboard the ISS. After using a local observatory, unusual messages start appearing on Jamie’s mobile phone – could he really be talking to aliens?

The ending of this book is dramatic and heartfelt, a plea to show love to those we know, and to those we don’t.

41. Stewart Foster – The Bubble Boy

One of my children lent me this book as they said I’d enjoy it. They know me well.

Joe suffers from a debilitating condition which means he cannot come into contact with the outside world for fear of infection. He is visited frequently by his sister, Beth, his nurse, Greg, and a fellow sufferer – Henry. Joe and Henry keep in touch via Skype, allowing Joe to keep in touch with real life while the world continues outside.

Enter Amir, a new nurse with an eye for the unusual. He appears to be obsessed with aliens and installs Sky for Joe (somehow without being detected), all because he has a plan.

Joe is instantly likeable, remaining positive for those around him despite his difficulties. All in all, an emotional read.

42. Peter Bunzl – Cogheart

We started this as a class but the children voted to stop as they just weren’t following it. They had a lack of understanding of the Victorian era, weren’t sure about the difference between mechanisms and robots, and had no idea what an airship was. If anything, it highlighted lots of misconceptions. So we left it, and I picked it up again recently.

Lily is the daughter of a renowned inventor who goes missing when his airship crashes; the family’s loyal ‘mech’, Malkin the fox, embarks on a mission to warn Lily of the imminent danger she is in. Lily, meanwhile, is unaware, until the appearance of the mirror-eyed villains who follow her and her new acquaintance Robert, a clock-maker’s son.

There’s lots to admire – rich language, well-developed characters and a shedload of action. Once I got past the halfway point, the pace really picks up. I’m glad I returned to the book and have its follow-up Moonlocket on my to-read list.

43. Fleur Hitchcock – Murder in Midwinter

Maya was innocently snapping pictures with her phone when she sees something she wishes she never had. She is moved away from London to the Welsh countryside for her own safety, but danger seems to creep ever closer.

This story was fairly straightforward and didn’t really do it for me – Maya and her cousin Ollie don’t get on in the first instance but it seems obvious they’d grow closer, while the ending seemed to go on and on.

There are some great moments of tension, but just not a story for me. Would be a good Y4/5 read.

44. Eloise Williams – Gaslight

An Oliver Twist kind of tale, as Nansi finds herself orphaned and thieving for the evil Sid, an unforgiving character whose selfishness knows no bounds. Events transpire to help Nansi realise her mum might still be around, somewhere…but can she escape Sid’s evil clutches?

There is some wonderful language in here that I know some of my class would wallow in. A brilliant read.

45. Kate DiCamillo – Because of Winn-Dixie

This book is often held up as being one that every teacher should read, so I did. It was fine – a simple story, perhaps, or maybe I’m missing the point. It’s possibly because most of the books I’m reading are with my Y6 class in mind, and this is far too young.

46. Justin Fisher – Ned’s Circus of Marvels

A fantasy epic. Ned’s birthday quickly spirals out of control as it falls to him to save the world, using powers he previously was unaware of. I genuinely found this difficult to follow as there were so many characters, from George the giant gorilla to Mystero, the shapeshifter. There were goblins, demons, witches, immortal beings, and many more beyond.

The actual plotline is fairly easy to follow, but the story takes a long time to get going, wandering down endless dead ends and blind alleys before the action really starts.

47. David Almond – Kit’s Wilderness

Almond’s second book, following a similar theme of darkness and death as his debut Skellig.

Groups of children visit the local abandoned mine to play games of death – the ringleader, John Askew, chants over the ‘victim’, who then leaves them in the mine for as long as it takes for them to come to. All a game, thinks Christopher ‘Kit’ Watson and his good friend Allie…until Kit is chosen and it changes him forever.

This story has close links to Clay and Skellig in that Almond effortlessly blends fantasy and reality, all the while maintaining a message that most of us would be able to easily relate to. Another splendid read.


May #52books2017

27. Maz Evans – Who Let the Gods Out?


Elliot is suffering – he has problems at school, his mum’s health is a worry, and between them they are struggling to make ends meet. Added to this is the sudden appearance of Virgo, an immortal. She takes Elliot on a whirlwind adventure to save them both – it is full of jokes, smart historical references and an all-action endeavour which races by. The humour is aimed at the book’s audience but there are lots of nods and winks to adults as well, while the caricature Greek gods add lots of hilarity to the tale.

28. Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Island at the End of Everything


This should easily a contender for book of the year – it is simply magical. Set on Culion Island in the Phillipines, we are introduced to Ami. Her mother is afflicted with leprosy and, led by the fantastically venomous Mr Zamora, will soon be separated from Ami as Culion is turned into a colony for those who are ‘Touched’.

The story follows Ami’s separation, her struggles in her new home and her plans to return to Culion. You may need to sit down with a box of tissues when you read the ending.

This is a book of hope, of love and of relationships, reminding us that there is good in people. The language used is full of poetic lilt and imagery, and would be a brilliant class read.

29. Christopher Edge – The Many Worlds of Albie Bright


Albie’s mum passed away recently, so now it is just him and his Dad, a famous scientist. Intrigued by the idea of parallel universes, Albie sets up his own experiment which takes him to lands of alternate existences, a glimpse into what could have been. Another story with a choker of an ending, but a really quick pace and good humour too.

30. M.G. Leonard – Beetle Boy


I read this with my class and they have absolutely loved it. They were fascinated by the beetles – we kept putting images of different types on our board – but the story itself had them well hooked from the word go. They laughed at Humphrey and Pickering, did that awkward laugh/glance at their friends when Novak met Darkus, and drew great big gasps of breath at Lucretia Cutter’s evil ways.

They have voted to read the sequel – I am pleased about this!

31. Zana Fraillon – The Bone Sparrow


This was tough, but brilliant and engaging. Subhi lives in a detention camp – I was imagining something like the Calais jungle – where he dreams of the outside, of a better life. This is tantalisingly close when he meets Jimmie, a girl from outside who has found her way in, and befriends Subhi when she learns he can read. The story tells us how Subhi survives, mainly thanks to his sister Queeny and his friend Eli, but he holds on to the hope that his father will come and find him and his family soon.

The ending was really hard to read and process, and the afterword brings it all home that this situation is based on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of Burma, and that people of all backgrounds and ages are treated like this in 2017.

32. Katherine Rundell – The Wolf Wilder


Marina and Feo, mother and daughter, look after wolves. They teach them how to be wild again, having been the toy-pets of the wealthy. General Rakov doesn’t trust these so-called witches, and hunts them down, taking Marina away and leaving Feo to escape, promising vengeance.

Feo is a wonderful character, full of bravery and determination and self-doubt, and is supported ably by Ilya, a boy soldier who quickly falls in love with Feo’s wolves. The two of them grow as a partnership, learning to trust each other and eventually, to trust others, as they embark on a journey for what is right.

33. Lara Williamson – Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy


Adam Butters is an adopted boy who yearns to find out why his birth mother gave him up. The story centres on his difficult journey to do just this, but is written with lots of light-hearted moments.

Lara Williamson writes from a child’s point of view brilliantly – the misplaced confidence, the friendships, the secret plans – and has a wonderful way of drawing everything together at the end. The final few chapters, particularly Adam’s conversation with his adoptive mum, are really well-thought out and touching.

34. Jo Cotterill – A Library of Lemons


The first book for a long time that I managed to read in a day, simply because it’s that good.

Calypso lives with her dad. Since her mum’s death, she has preferred her own company, taking to reading books rather than making friends. Her father is doing the same, immersing himself in his own work rather than his daughter.

This begins to unravel when Mae starts at Calypso’s school and the two bond over stories. They form a strong friendship, one which opens Calypso’s eyes to what she has been missing in her own home.

A book about friendship, grief and inner strength, and an uplifting read.

35. Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane


Another magical, mystical tour through the mind of Neil Gaiman. Here the narrator reflects on events that happened to him when he was seven, involving the Hempstock family, who seem to have lived forever; Ursula Monkton, a tormenting, ever-present other-wordly figure who appears as a nanny, a worm and a piece of fabric; and the miner, whose suicide precipitates a chain of events so bizarre, so mesmerising and so unreal-ly real that it will stay with me for a long time.

Developing a love of reading

Aidan Chambers’ book ‘The Reading Environment’ talks of ‘The Reading Circle’. Here’s how I’ve tried to develop this in the classroom, hopefully encouraging a class of readers at the same time.

The Reading Circle, from Aidan Chambers’ book ‘The Reading Environment’ (1996)


Know your books (bookstock and availability)

I’ve been buying lots of books over the last seven/eight months and have read lots of blogs written by teachers and book reviewers in order to try and develop a wider knowledge of suitable books for my year 6 children. While I’ve always loved and promoted books like Skellig, Wonder and Holes, I wanted my children to become familiar with a wider range of authors, which is what they’re currently doing.

They now know about newer authors like Polly Ho-Yen, Lara Williamson, Peter Bunzl, Lisa Thompson and Kiran Millwood Hargrave. They are learning about more established authors such as Elizabeth Laird, David Almond and Kate DiCamillo. They are out at the weekend buying or borrowing books, then rushing in to tell their friends, or me. This is probably the best feeling there is as a teacher – to know you have influenced or encouraged them to pick up and buy a book.

And to do this, I have needed to show that I am enthusiastic, knowledgeable and interested. People like Simon Smith, Rhoda Wilson, Ashley Booth and Mathew Tobin have helped enormously with this as they regularly engage in book-talk, sharing recommendations, ideas and enthusiasm online.

Share books (accessibility)

I know lots of teachers do this, but I also know that lots of teachers wouldn’t ever want to – I think it is important. My class borrow books from me all the time, and through word of mouth certain books are seldom on my bookshelf. That’s what I want.

Whenever I finish a book, I share my review with the children and put it on my lending shelf. By the end of the day it has usually gone.

My personal bookshelf, which children go to and borrow from regularly

We have now opened our junior library at school so hopefully the children will have a greater range of books to choose from.


Engage with authors (formal talk and book gossip)

There are so many ways to get in touch with authors these days that it would seem silly not to. Twitter is the most obvious route, with authors keen to hear from their readers and able to give quick replies. Lara Williamson contacted the class via Twitter then sent them a personalised email; M.G. Leonard responded to a tweet by leaving a lovely comment on our blog; and Frank Cottrell Boyce sent us a letter that included a fake £20 note from the set of Millions. 

These authors didn’t need to take the time to reply to our class but the fact that they did really engaged the children – here were real-life authors talking to us, thanking us and asking us questions.  This is such an easy thing for a teacher to do and the children’s reactions are priceless.

Discuss (book gossip)

It sounds obvious, but talking to the children about the books they are reading has such a massive impact. Whenever I see them reading, or with a book, I ask them what it is, how they’re finding it, whether they’d recommend it etc. They’re probably sick of me doing so, but they are doing it themselves now – sharing recommendations, asking to borrow each other’s books and even telling me when a particular author has a new book out.


Read together (time to read)

Linked to the point above, because of their confidence in reading, the children love to read together. When we have reading time, either at the start of the day or when it is timetabled, some children choose to read silently on their own, some read with a partner (almost acting the stories out), and other children listen to one of their peers read parts of their books to them. Seeing the children involved in their books is a powerful and rewarding thing. 

Read aloud (hearing it done and doing it for yourself)

As a class, we’ve read 6 books this year, which doesn’t sound many but isn’t bad going considering we have had SATs to prepare for and a squeezed timetable at the best of times. We read every day – the children voice some of the characters, and they create accents and personalities for the characters we come across. The children are involved. As Chambers suggests, they are hearing it done, doing it for themselves and having time to read.

There were two reading-related articles in the Guardian this weekend, both of which surmised that stories are being devalued and almost forgotten in our current education system.

The Secret Teacher

Ditch the grammar and teach storytelling instead

Reading is a wonderful thing to share with a class, and it should be promoted by a teacher as often as possible. Chambers’ Reading Circle is a simple, straightforward model to follow and has helped my class to develop as readers, hopefully for a much longer time than I’ll be teaching them.

Talk for Writing in Y6

I’ve encountered a few comments recently about Talk for Writing around whether (or how) T4W works in year 6. I thought this might be useful for one or two people.

Talk for Writing is split into three parts, on which there is more here.

This 6 week block was based on Tales of Fear (fiction) and Reports (non-fiction).

Tale of Fear: Imitation

We shared the short version of our story ‘Jack‘ with the children, and the first week saw them mapping and learning the text.

The trick here was to encourage them to internalise some language, but particularly to look at sentence structure. This was talked about as we learned the text, but looked at more deeply when we shared the longer version – the children were able to give reasons for longer, more complex sentence structures which were then followed by short, dramatic changes.

This discussion around sentence structure allowed us to develop the children’s understanding of a wider range of punctuation as well. From here, a toolkit was made (to my mind, a toolkit is what could be included, not what has to be included – as per success criteria). The toolkit has the tools used in the learned text (e.g. repetition) alongside a directly-lifted example, as well as, if possible, the impact it has.

Reading around the text

Spotting tricks

Initial toolkit

When the children engaged in reading as a reader activities, they were quick to notice that things were deliberately hidden from the reader, and questions were raised about whether the creak was a ghost/spirit, a noise made by Jack’s dad as he went to work, or simply Jack’s imagination running wild. This is easily my favourite part of the unit as the children have so many ideas about the story and really get their teeth into it.


After our analysis of the text, we boxed up (see picture below) the story so that we could then plan our own. Some children will innovate through simple substitution – the creak might be replaced by a shadow, for instance – while others might write from a different point of view, or even attempt to write a prequel or sequel to the learned text.

Boxing up based on the imitation text

Throughout this week, I model my planning process, writing part-by-part. Here is a perfect opportunity to wean the children away from five paragraphs, which a lot of them will get stuck with, and on to a deeper understanding of what a paragraph is and does, or how one sentence is allowed to act as a paragraph. There is a lot of modelled and shared writing here – I write part of the story before the lesson, the children analyse it (I drop in deliberate spelling mistakes or SPAG targets from that week), and then we write the next part together, all the while talking about vocabulary, impact of sentence structure and referring back to the toolkit.

Annotated version of my text, written with the children

The children then wrote their own stories innovated from the text.

Innovated writing: sticking fairly closely to the original text, developing own language and voice while also playing with structure

Peer feedback with reference to the toolkit


Simply put, this is the part where the children plan and write their own stories independently.

As a stimulus, we read the opening chapters of A Monster Calls, The Graveyard Book and Where Monsters Lie; we shared picture books where fear is an active element, such as The Dark (Lemony Snicket), The Watertower and The Viewer (both Gary Crew); watched videos such as Alma and Road’s End; and also did a short burst piece of writing using two clips – the first was personifying fear and the second was somebody trying to conquer theirs. We looked for the physical manifestations of fear as well as how it might feel – vocabulary such as oppressive, suffocating and paralysing were developed from this short session, which led to a short burst piece of writing.

An invented tale of fear – this writer did not reveal what was scaring the narrator, nor what happened to them – the class were desperate for more

The best part of this week is the sharing of the texts – children take turns to read aloud to their small group and we hear the familiar moans of ‘oooh, it can’t finish there!’ and ‘I want to know what happens next’. The constant sharing of one another’s texts gives greater value to the children’s writing and also encourages and maintains a high standard.

Developing language

Reports – Imitation

We wrote a short report on fears so that we could link easily to our fiction text. As with the imitation week for the fiction work, we learned the text, looking particularly at the vocabulary, punctuation and sentence structure. We really wanted the children to develop a formal voice within their writing throughout this unit, so the imitation week was important in developing vocabulary and an understanding of the active and passive voice.

Looking carefully at new and unknown vocabulary

Explaining writer choices

Once more, we devised a toolkit of the features we found and showcased them with working examples.


Some of the children were keen to write about their own fears, or fears they had heard of, but others went a bit further, bringing in books about different phobias. We shared these as a class and then set about planning our own report, this time on unusual fears. We looked at how the imitation text was structured, which the children decided was thus: define the fear, explain its causes, share symptoms then report on medical advice. Therefore, that’s how we planned.

Shared planning (before boxing up)

A simple boxing up ahead of innovation

I wrote my own text, introducing fears of broccoli, a loss of mobile phone signal and the rain, and the children seemed to really enjoyed helping me with this before writing their own too. Again, we did a lot of modelled and shared writing here, always considering what made our writing formal and what made it less so. I was pleasantly surprised to hear children explaining that the use of the second person was ‘too chatty – it’s just like you’re talking to your mate and you don’t sound like an expert’.

My annotated innovation – the pink writing is what the children have edited for me

Developing a formal tone

This child finds punctuation tricky, but here they are using complex, deliberately-structured complex sentences to show formality


As before, the children planned and wrote their own reports, some using their own passions and interests; others using our topic week as a starting point.

Over the six weeks, we had covered the vast majority of the English writing curriculum, as well as parts of the reading curriculum.

Other notes

  • We have separate reading and grammar lessons which are tailored to support each week’s learning. For example, we did short burst sessions on using colons during our grammar session of report writing (week 2), and in week 1 of the same block read lots of different report-based texts.
  • It is vital that you write your own text first – don’t just write it cold. Know what you want to write, but be prepared to let the children tweak it. Explain your choices throughout.
  • Ensure the children have enough time to plan carefully, and if they’re unsure, to plan with you. Poor planning generally equates to poor writing.

Hopefully this has been of some use – it isn’t ground-breaking, nor difficult. What it definitely offers is an easy way to teach vast swathes of the curriculum to year 6.

Reflecting on writing 

We have been spending a lot of time reflecting on our choices, explaining our methods and expanding on our thoughts in maths recently. It made me wonder why we don’t do the same when writing.

Over the last week we have been writing fantasy stories, set in far-off distant kingdoms, under the sea, inside volcanoes and, erm, on a football pitch (we talked about this). The children have enjoyed this but some have found it hard, particularly as writing fantasy stories relies heavily on creating a whole new world, and, ideally, a new fantastic point of view.

So the children have been busily imagining predators and prey, hunters and faeries, merbabies and Giders (a gorilla crossed with a spider),  and as such have been trying to do the old ‘paint a picture’ thing – something they realise is more important than ever as nobody has actually ever visited their land other than themselves, in their heads.

We’ve encouraged the children to explain why they have chosen certain words or phrases in order to write more deliberately and effectively. Some examples are below.



This was an interesting exercise, not least because it shows at least one child is unsure about what a metaphor is, but because after writing these comments, lots of the children went away and changed what they had written. They edited, improved and rewrote. Some children loved their feedback partner’s idea so much that they ‘magpied’ part of it for themselves. Writing improved. Description improved. Children made deliberate choices – and, thanks to the blog, they were writing for the reader, not just the teacher. This has obvious links to reading as we begin to prepare for SATs, as well as developing understanding for the grammar terminology. 

In addition, we (and when I say we, I really mean the children) quickly put together some videos on iMovie using photos, videos and the voiceover option (click here to see these). They were really easy to do and lots of the other children want to do the same when they’ve finished describing the shark that turns a cloud into gold with its death-ray.

Writing is fun, isn’t it?

Header image taken with permission from Sweetie187

BYOD trial & comics with T4W

We recently embarked upon a unit of English where we were allowed to dangle a creative carrot for the children in the form of comic books.

Using the imitate-innovate-invent model as suggested by Pie Corbett, we began by looking at the Spiderman origin story. We used the original comic book, as well as the iPad app (there are origin stories for the other major Marvel characters too). Boxing up (a favourite of mine) allowed the children to see a complicated story in a simple way, from which we wrote as a whole class.

Using comics not only grabbed the children as they knew they would be making their own superheroes, but it was also an easy way in to encouraging the children to vary sentence openers, as well as grappling with that lovely SPAG terminology. Nothing like sucking the fun out of reading, but needs must…

The Spiderman comic books allowed the children to spot a wider range of openers – rather than just using ‘suddenly’, ‘without warning’ or ‘as quick as a flash’ (one of my boys wanted to use ‘as quick as The Flash, which made me smile), they were able to see adverbial phrases as a way of opening sentences. Suddenly (!), I was seeing a much wider range of sentence opener and children stretching themselves as a result.

After seven fruitless days...

After seven fruitless days…

Storing his frustration behind him...

Storing his frustration behind him…

Wrapped up in exasperation...

Wrapped up in exasperation…

Filled with tears...

Filled with tears…

Feeling lightheaded...

Feeling lightheaded…

Yearning to find the heartless soul...

Yearning to find the heartless soul…

The end result of this unit of work was to get the children to plan and make their own comics, based loosely on the Spiderman story. We used Comic Life alongside a green screen app called Bluescreen-It, which we had on the school iPads. However, seeing as we had over 100 children wanting to use them at the same time, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to try the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scheme, especially as nearly every child had some form of tablet or phone.

Unfortunately, Comic Life was only available on Apple devices, so those children with Androids didn’t bring their devices in (I admit to having not done sufficient research on what was and wasn’t available here). That said, we still had a good uptake; children were willing to buy the app for their own device, they happily brought in their iPad/pod/phone and it gave them a bit more ownership over their work.

The results can be seen below and by clicking here. In an ideal world, I’d have liked to have spent a good week or two on making, editing and sharing the comics, but time waits for no man and passed us by. Still, we had fun, learnt some new writers’ tricks and created a buzz for English that isn’t necessarily always there. We shall do it again, I hope.







Skype Reading Project – Part 2

It was back in October that Sway Humphries and I started to use Skype with a couple of our guided reading groups. Each week, we’d call one another and discuss a shared text in addition to guided reading sessions. The results were broadly positive – see here.

Post-Christmas, we decided to change the groups around. I looked at children who had made less progress than expected, as well as those who I felt could benefit from more discussion.



The average point score (APS) data for the Skype children is below (remember that this group have worked with Skype since Christmas).

Entry to y5 Autumn Spring End of year
Whole class 23.31 24.35 25.81 27
Skype group 2 23.5 25.00 27.00 28.5
Class without group 2 22.93 24.25 25.23 26.79


As you can see, the children were initially around the same mean APS as the rest of the class. By Christmas, they were starting to slowly pull away. However, by Spring the progress was double the rate of the rest of the class. Summer term has seen this progress slow a little – I would argue the summer term has been much more ‘bitty’ than Spring for a variety of reasons (see Problems).

Over the whole year, the Skype children had made around 5 points progress compared to 3.8 points for the rest of the class. Remember that 2/3 of their time has been spent working with Skype.

It should also be noted that the first group of Skype children have seen their progress slow slightly, from 2 points per term to 1.5 points in the same time.

Data can be made to say whatever you want of course, and I am well aware that my sample size isn’t great. Additionally, two or three children have not been included in this brief analysis as they were a bit of a revolving cast!

Nevertheless, I have trialled two groups, as has Sway, and we have both seen clear progress with our children. Why is this?


Purpose and Audience

As with writing, the children have responded to having a clear purpose and audience to their guided reading sessions. They are no longer reading with me and their peers, but instead working with another school. Put simply, they want to impress. They know they need to have read the appropriate chapters in order to take part in the conversation. They know they will be put on the spot. They know they will not be able to shy away.

This has been developed further as we implemented Reciprocal Reading. I had never tried this before so Sway led the way and shared her resources. Reciprocal Reading essentially means that the children take charge. Each child has a job – Boss, Predictor, Clarifier, Questioner and Summariser. Through rotating these jobs, each child is able to focus on one aspect of their reading, and throws this into the conversation. Again – purpose and audience.

Reciprocal Reading has generally worked well and has led to amusing conversations between the groups, particularly when deciding if a character was secretly somebody else’s Dad – it all got a bit Eastenders. However, the children were able to back up their thoughts for this being a potential plot-line! What is clear is that the children have enjoyed these roles. Sway organised a Socrative to gather the children’s thoughts about the Skype Reading experience. All said that Skype had helped them to learn, to enjoy reading and one even mentioned they were now able to ‘clarify and question’ – brilliant!

You can see the Socrative responses from my class below.




‘The Spoken Language’

Because of the expectations that Reciprocal Reading brought, I saw a definite increase in confidence in my children. One of the quieter children remained quiet, but involved herself much more through asking and answering questions, making notes as others spoke and referring back to points that had since passed. This made me think about the area of the English curriculum formerly known as Speaking and Listening – the Spoken Language. At staff meetings we have looked at how this area has changed, and one stand-out point was the expectation that children not only speak clearly, but actually listen and respond to others, not necessarily in a ‘linear’ fashion. The child I mention above was showing this brilliantly, even if she didn’t realise it. Could this be an avenue to explore when working on the spoken language in future?



As Sway detailed in her blog post, there have been inevitable problems. Our agreed time was decided after much deliberation due to contrasting timetables. In addition to this, INSET days, one-off curriculum events, technical glitches and an absence of somebody to cover the class has meant that sessions have been cancelled, shortened or made more difficult. That said, the children have always been ready and have been able to take part in at least 80% of the planned sessions.


What next?

Sway and I have not yet spoken about whether we will continue to use this approaching reading, but I certainly hope so. I would also encourage others to try it, even if it’s just for half a term, for the following reasons:

– primarily, the children have enjoyed using Skype and working with others.

– there is a clear purpose and audience for them when reading.

– they are developing speaking and listening skills

– the data backs it up 🙂


I would be more than happy to work with anyone interested, and I’m sure Sway would too.

It has been interesting but definitely worth it.