The Holy Grail of Cross Curricular Learning! ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ by Ross Mackenzie

As a teacher, I find myself on an eternal quest to find a stimulating, original theme to link areas of learning for my pupils, which holds sufficient breadth to avoid the need for tokenistic links that end up making little sense to the children and even less sense to me! In the past I have found myself straight-jacketed by agreed whole school topics that were driven by one subject….the result being that I actually ended up completing virtually dissertation level research into obscure Victorian explorers to try to find some semblance of a link between the ‘given’ history theme of the said Victorian Explorers and the geography topic of The Amazon?!? Hours of my life that I will never get back and a process I have sworn to never enter into again as a result.

This has resulted in me scouring book shops, blogs, Pinterest and social media for rich learning contexts which have enough inbuilt freedom to link the sometimes disparate aspects of the curriculum in a meaningful way. On rare occasions you discover high quality texts which emit an almost mythical call to teachers everywhere…..use me and your pupils will love learning whatever you throw their way! ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ by Ross Mackenzie is one such text that emanates with this ethereal educational glow!

I couldn’t possibly be tempted to give the plot of the book way….it must be experienced to truly appreciate the magic of the story but I will at least allude to some aspects to exemplify how this text could be a godsend for cross-curricular learning.

The story itself is centred around the eponymous Nowhere Emporium; a magical shop which can travel through time and space holding endless wonders behind the myriad of doors that festoon the labyrinthine hallways. This very fact makes it the perfect vehicle for cross curricular learning as, regardless of historical period, geographical context, artistic theme or mathematical skill…the Nowhere Emporium can go there with you. 

At the same time, the story itself it a true wonder to read. The story is dripping with powerful language, emotive descriptions and wonderful characterisation, providing a multitude of opportunities to use the book as he center of English reading and writing development.

I am already buzzing with the thoughts of how I am going to integrate the story into my teaching during the new academic year! I am immediately determined to transform my classroom into a version of the Nowhere Emporium; red velvet curtains draped over my stock cupboard door with gold lettered ‘Hall of Wonders’ sign, where I will be regularly ‘finding’ the latest unusual object, letter or image provided by the magics of the Nowhere Emporium….which will magically link to our curriculum for the term, our very own Book of Wonders to capture examples of amazing learning, oustanding behaviour and home learning tasks and maybe even a desk/bureau for the Emporium’s Mr Silver to work at when he visits in our absence…which could also luckily double up as the class writing area! I can also see myself scouring eBay to find some unwanted roles of ‘library shelf’ event wall paper to really help transform my classroom into the dusty curiousity shop that is the Nowhere Emporium.

The author, Ross Mackenzie, is a true master of his art. A book written for children which can also fire the imagination of adults is a rare creature and I, for one, am greatly appreciative that he has chosen to share his wonderful story with the world! You MUST get yourself a copy….it will be your ticket to cross the threshold of the Nowhere Emporium and you will never want to leave!


EXCITING NEWS! Multi-book cross curricular project uniting ‘Journey’ and ‘Quest’ by Aaron Becker with ‘Chalk’ by Bill Thomson

I am sure you are aware of the awe inspiring picture book ‘Journey’ by Aaron Becker, which tells the story of an isolated young girl. She finds she can access a hidden kingdom with the use of a piece of magical chalk (well I like to think of it as chalk – it could just as easily be a wax crayon or even a sharpie!

However, from experience, many people seem unaware that a sequel to ‘Journey’ exists in the form of ‘Quest’ by Aaron Becker. After I recently stumbled across the amazing ‘Chalk’ by Bill Thomson, the old picture book neurons started firing and I saw huge potential for an exciting and engaging cross curricular English and Art project.

From the first moment that anyone flicks through the pages of ‘Journey’ and ‘Quest’, they are captivated by the detailed illustrations of the magical kingdom access by the isolated girl and her friend. The continuing plot across both books is an excellent starting point for PSHE work focused on friendship and compassion; the girl in ‘Journey’ is determined to rescue a beautiful purple bird from captivity.

journey 1

This journey sees her exploring dense forests, sailing along sky-scraper high viaducts and taking flight in amazingly elegant airships. It is only after she rescues the bird, that she discovers that the purple bird is actually a drawn representation of a young boy – who appears to have discovered a similar piece of chalk to the girl.

journey 2

This is the launching point for the plot of ‘Quest’, as the two children return to the magical kingdom through an enchanted door, all the while aided by their mystical chalk drawings that spring to life – I particularly love the huge squid that helps them access an undersea city.

Quest 1

The children resiliently follow their quest to free the imprisoned leaders of the kingdom, returning order and calm to this magical world once again. The end of ‘Quest’ is truly beautiful but I will let you discover that for yourself!

English Activities

To be honest, I could wax lyrical all day about the potential of this book to develop oracy, reading and writing but I will try to be as concise as possible and summarise a few of the most powerful opportunities.

  • Both texts are wordless; the children could create Pie Corbett style story maps or traditional story maps to represent the key plot points within the books. Can they find any parallels between the plots of each text?
  • When familiar with the story, the children could be challenged to create short pieces of text or paragraphs that could be added to each page to change the wordless presentation of the originals. This would provided the perfect opportunity to explore sentence structures and punctuation, in order to achieve short but narratively impactful passages which ‘fit’ onto each page.
  • Extending the writing skills could be achieved by lingering on some of the most detailed images. This would allow the children to experiment with different descriptive writing techniques including the use of senses, changing points of view (i.e. the view of the city from the tower guards, as opposed to the little girl) and even writing from a third person perspective.
  • I would also be tempted to use ‘Quest’ to explore the use of dialogue within narrative writing, as the children could either write and punctuate the dialogue within their written extracts for each image or prepare the dialogue between the boy and the girl in the form of a playscript – which could later be re-enacted for an audience of children or parents.

Introducing ‘Chalk’ by Bill Thomson

Having developed the children’s writing skills through short burst tasks and within the context of ‘Journey’ and ‘Quest’, I feel that ‘Chalk’ provides a linked context for their own extended story writing.


In the book, a group of children find a back of chalk, hanging from the mouth of a plastic ride-on playground toy, in the form of a T-Rex! They soon discover that whatever they draw with these magical chalks immediately comes to life – this was the point at which I saw the obvious parallels between Aaron Becker’s work and that of Bill Thomson. When they use the said chalk, the children produce all manner of wonderful creations including hundreds of butterflies. Unfortunately, one child is inspired to draw a dinosaur in the same style as the T-Rex toy – which inevitably  comes to life and that is where the real adventure begins!

chalk 2chalk 3

This is where the children can be challenged to let their imaginations run wild, whilst you bottle that enthusiasm to ensure they produce some amazing narrative writing. How about setting the scene by leaving the children their own bags of chalk on the playground and asking them to draw what they would like to see come to life. From this fun, idea generating actively the children can then develop their own story maps/plans and hopefully develop these into rich and engaging narrative stories.

To be honest, they should be begging you to let them write their stories once they have imaginatively lived the events of ‘Chalk’ for themselves on the playground!!

Have fun with your chalk, crayons or sharpies!




Mr Wuffles! by David Wiesner


There are many ways to categorise and organise personality types; one of which is those who love the structure of a clearly defined plot line which ends with a satisfying conclusion, as opposed to others who delight in the possibilities offered by enigma, mystery and alternatives. ‘Mr Wuffles!’ by David Wiesner is certainly a delight for the latter of these!

From the cover and first few images of this largely wordless text, it would be easy to mistake it for a rather conventional picture book about the eponymous Mr Wuffles. However, within a few pages it becomes clear that the central feline character is about to get a new toy!


As a cat owner myself, I share the frustration of the owners in the story who purchase what they feel is a stimulating new plaything, only for the fussy feline to prefer a ball of string! However, Mr Wuffles discovers that his latest toy is actually the conveyance of a group of miniscule aliens!


The jubilation of the very little green men, upon arriving on the planet, is short lived when they are ‘attacked’ by Mr Wuffles! The remainder of the story takes the reader on a humorous trip amongst the dusty corners of any average home; as the aliens team up with some equally cat-oppressed minibeasts who work together to escape from the clutches of Mr Wuffles!

Quick Activities

This book is full of potential! Throughout the text, the aliens are seen to speak using a strange symbolic language. It would be great for the children to try to replace the symbolic language with their own speech bubbles, literally putting words into the mouths of the aliens in each scene – essentially an educational caption competition. It would be really fun to explore the different alternative conversations generated by a class of children.

In addition, the aliens learn to communicate with the local minibeasts using the insect version of prehistoric cave paintings. They create these using found materials (bits of chalk, charcoal etc.) Perhaps the children could create their own cave paintings depicting the events of the story. They could use found materials around the playground, marking their story onto the concrete or they could create a 3D cave painting by arranging found objects on the ground to help create their tale. If you are feeling more adventurous, ordinary classroom paint mixed with some pva glue (you need to experiment with your recipe!) creates a beautifully rubberised paint which can be applied to a rock, concrete or wood surface which will then dry to a durable finish – extending the life of your cave paintings by a few weeks.

Extended Activities

I know of many children who would be enthralled by the code-like communication used by the aliens. Perhaps they could be challenged to devise the alien’s alphabetic, which they can then use to communicate with each other or to create classroom labels and signs. This would be great in a role play area designed around the interior of the alien space-craft – they could label all the buttons and gizmos. They would even create the communications sent to the explorer craft from the mothership or the explorer’s reports back to their HQ about the terrifying cat monster they have encountered.

It would be equally intriguing to tell the alluded to but untold story of the minibeasts who have been suffering at the paws of Mr Wuffles. The children could develop their own narrative based on these tales.

At the end of the story, one of the minbeasts end up leaving with the aliens in their spacecraft. This would be a wonderfully original launching point for some sci-fi writing, as it would provide a set of characters who are immediately ‘alien’ rather than the more obvious ‘human-meets-alien’ approach; has anyone ever written an insect-meets- alien sci-fi story?!?

Additionally, the final image shows the remaining insects being left with a series of broken technology from the alien spacecraft. These could form the basis of some wonderfully explanation or instructional writing, based around the insects working out how this technology might help to protect them from or defeat Mr Wuffles!

Above all else, this is a fun and entertaining story that will not fail to raise a smile!


EASTER SPECIAL – The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett

  During my long and painful years as a secondary school pupil, never did I think that the dry mathematical theories could be presented in a way any more engaging than my slightly unhinged Maths Teacher pretending to be Spider-Man whilst ‘climbing’ a wall drawn on his rotating chalk board! Fibonacci sequences were merely another boring pattern to explore. If only Emily Gravett’s wonderful book had been around at the time….I might have started my picture book evangelical church in my teens!

The premise of the book is that a single field is tracked month by month, along with the rapidly replicating numbers of rabbits in this one field….that no rabbits ever leave, unless it is to go to bunny heaven! This is essential the Fibonacci sequence of numbers but presented in a much more accessible and humorous way than the boring maths text books of old.

The whole text is presented in the form of a calendar, presenting the funny trials and tribulations of rabbits in an increasingly busy field. The bunny so behave in a seasonally appropriate manner in each month…sunbathing in summer, seeking warmth in December etc. This provides lots of rich illustrative details for the children to get lost in to help deepen their interaction with the text. 

   In addition to the Fibonacci element of the story, there are also additional mathematical opportunities to explore. For example, there are ‘mini-books’ within the larger text which talk of carrot prices, rationing supplies and costs. This would provide a wonderful context for further work on the budgeting required to feed and clothe an ever expanding family of young rabbits. 
 Furthermore, the book could provide stimulus for some growing activities in the real world. The children could find out about their local wildlife, the favored food sources and habitat requirements. The children could be challenged to create some rabbit friendly (or other furry animal) planting, calculating the cost of the seeds, maintaining their planting patch, harvesting and even selling any produce that the rabbits haven’t claimed as their own!

The illustrations could even be used to help structure some narrative writing, where the children take a month each in small groups and tell the story of a single rabbit or a group of friends. This could be a fun writing and illustrati task for a special book week or even World Book Day!

Get Them Writing! The ‘turn up volume’ technique

  Another universally useful technique for developing childrens’ narrative writing is to ‘turn up the volume’. To make the most of this technique, you will want to source some highly detailed illustrations. I, personally, love ‘The Moon in Swampland’ by M.P. Robertson. The book is the tale of what happens when the moon walks the Earth to save a young boy from the evil bogles, only to become trapped herself and the young boy must become her saviour. The images contained within the book are very atmospheric and evocative….in my experience, adults and children alike love spending time drinking in every littl detail; from the rain-soaked village streets to the menacing bogles lurking in the shadows.

To use the ‘turn up volume’ technique, you simply need to display a single image as a stimulus. The children will then be challenged to write three short narrative extracts for the image, but each time they will be ‘turning up the volume’ of one specific descriptive device. For example, they might be asked to ‘turn up’ the audio associated with the image. Therefore, the children would be asked to describe what they can see in the image whilst ensuring that they include lots of descriptive details relating to the sounds they might hear. Subsequently, they can be asked to turn up the volume of the visual details in a new piece of narrative with the same image and finally, turn up the volume of the action for a third piece of narrative writing. Finally, the children can then work individually or in pairs to magpie the most powerful description from each of the three descriptions (audio, visual, action) in order to structure a fourth and final version, which should now contain a balance of audio, visual and action details.

Try it with your favourite picture book, art work or movie freeze-frame and let me know how you get on!

Multi-book Project! Traditional Tales with a twist!

  The great benefit of working with traditional tales and fairy stories is that the children are usually already experts in the field. This provides a wealth of opportunities to explore narrative story-telling, art and drama. For this multi-book project, I would use ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ by Carol Ann Duffy as the central text; following this, there are many opportunities to branch out to explore other related texts:

– The Tear Thief by Carol Ann Duffy


– The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith


– The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury


– Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole



– The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch


Central text – The Lost Happy Endings

This is a captivating tale about Jub, keeper of the stories, and her quest to retrieve the lost happy endings to all the stories after they have been stolen by a wicked witch. The children of the world are crying as their are no more happy endings, so Jub must act! The reason for choosing this as a central text is that, during the quest, Jub encounters many of the most familiar fairy tale characters. This offers the opportunity to branch out from the central text, at a later date, whilst maintaining a meaningful, contextualised link for the children’s’ learning.

Setting the scene

To really engage the children with this project, I would employ some good old fashioned awe and wonder! Easily recognisable sections from fairy stories could be copied and cut up. These could be crumpled and then left all around the room for the children to discover, possibly with clues mixed in to lead them to a copy of The Lost Happy Endings. Alternatively, familiar objects from fairy stories could be found around the school; little red riding hood’s cape, goldilock’s porridge, Jack’s magic beans etc.

Possible skills

When studying The Lost Happy Endings, the fact that stories have been broken up into extracts could support focused work on extracts of stories and sentence level skills. For example, the story writing process could be developed gradually by focusing on extract openings, build-ups and resolutions. There is great scope for short burst writing and slow writing, as the children could be asked to write their own narrative for specific sections/pages of Jub’s quest, as she reassembles the lost endings.

The book also lends itself to some excellent character work. The description of the bird-like witch sitting high in a tree, with Jub looking into her nest is spine-tingling. The description of the witch is both breath-taking and grosteque….from experience, children love it, especially the fact that she is smoking a pipe! To extend this, children could be asked to do some character writing focused around other well known traditional tale characters…the witch, Malefiecent, from Sleeping Beauty is a particularly potent character (you could even link in the original and modern Disney film versions as inspiration).

An additional fun task would be for the children to provide each other with their own ‘lost happy endings’ as inspiration for story writing. Each child would write a traditional (or non traditional!) ending to a story on a piece of paper. These would then be mixed up and redistributed to different children, with the challenge of writing the story that came before each particular ‘lost happy ending’.

Related texts

The Tear Thief If you wished to create a short author study through this unit, the use of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘ The Tear Thief’ would be perfect. This beautifully illustrated, heart-breaking story tells the reader about the Tear Thief; a fairy who collects the tears of children. She prizes tears of true sadness – I want reveal the ending here as its is one of those special literary moments that you need to experience for yourself.

Other related texts

All the other texts, identified above, are incredibly fun, alternative takes on the traditional fairy story format. Within the books you will find Tom-Boy princesses, Princes in distress, frightened little wolves and terrifying pigs!

A study of these short, engaging stories would be a great starting point for children to write their own alternative fairy stories…perhaps Little Red could become a wolf-hunter or Granny could become a global manufacturing magnate, as shown in the excellent animated film Hoodwinked!

As an additional branch to this fairy story literary tree, the Story Spinner DVDs and App contain a brilliantly atmospheric oral story which paints a very different, much darker version of Little Red Riding Hood in 3 parts. Each part of told from a different point of view and provides an excellent model for both oral storytelling and powerful narrative for older KS2 children!

I would love to hear what you all make of these traditional tales with a twist and I am sure you will have fun making your own!

Recommended Class Novel; Hairy Bill by Susan Price

  After many years of using the book with KS2 children, I have come to think of it as the perfect classroom text. Susan Price has created a rich and exciting story which is told in a comparatively short book, which makes it ideal for classroom use…helping to avoid those terrible moments at the end of the year when your poor class leaves you without you ever reaching the end of your weighty class text.
The story itself is centred around the arrival of Hairy Bill in an unsuspecting household. His first appearance in the text is incredibly memorable; adults and children alike will be immediately transported to those seconds that seem like minutes in your own bed when you hear a sound in an otherwise silent house. 

The way in which Susan Price juxtaposes the ordinary, everyday lives of the central family against the world of myth and magic brought by Hairy Bill makes the story truly enthralling and strangely identifiable. You will find yourself imagining what it might be like to have Hairy Bill sat in your own living room!

The book is also interspersed with some wonderful illustrations. The illustration of Hairy Bill on the attack has stuck with me for a long time….its is terrifying in a comical way (perfect for children) and akin to an angry terrier going for your leg!

This would be a brilliant text to use as part of a unit of work on mythical stories, as the background of the text is deeply set within British, specifically Scottish myths and folk stories. However…you really don’t need an excuse to use this book in your classroom…it is one of the most enjoyable books to read aloud to children!

Sam and Dave dig a hole by Mac Barnett

sam and dave.jpgThis wonderfully whimsical and deceptively simple tale provides many rich opportunities for learning across the curriculum. The story of Sam, Dave and their Dog is all about them choosing a dig a hole but, unbeknownst to them, every time they are on the verge of a great discovery the trio veer off in a different direction and miss an amazing opportunity.

Quick Activities

Once the children are familiar with the story as a whole, they could choose one of the ‘near-miss’ discoveries to expand into a full narrative. For example, the group come close to discovery dinosaur bones. What might happen if they carry on digging? Will it be a rare/unknown dinosaur? Will they become famous? Is it a dinosaur at all – perhaps an alien? mythical beast?

Equally, the entire story could be expanded and retold from the point of view of a single character – typically Sam or Dave but for a real challenge for the more able, perhaps they could voice the dog and his frustration with the ineptitude of the human excavators!

Extended and Cross-Curricular Activities

At the core of the story is a clear link to the PSHE curriculum – resilience and determination in the face of a difficult challenge. If you keep going through tough times you might be surprised by your success. This text could provide a wonderfully inspiring centre piece for circle time activities. The children could be asked to write letters of encouragement to Sam and Dave or they could respond to the diggers’ letters of frustration in the role of an agony aunt!

From a mathematical perspective, this book could provide an unusual stimulus for work focus on shape and space – specifically measuring and drawing angles. Using copies of some of the images from the text, the children could measure the angles that Sam and Dave were digging at and create a sequence of instructions to reach specific goals from the story i.e. diamonds!

An additional and potentially very enjoyable collaborative project would be to draw and then write a class story. Groups of children could first create their own ‘near-miss’ images of Sam, Dave and the dog at the end of a session of digging – in the same simplistic style as the illustrations in the book. These could then be displayed together on the classroom wall and connected together with different paper pathways. This group artwork could then be used as inspiration for writing new stories for Sam and Dave; the children could pick one or more end locations and write a story about the journey taken by the characters!

This is an incredibly fun book and I would love to hear about your inspired ideas!

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill


As promised a few days ago, I have finally finished pulling together a few ideas around the use of William Grill’s ‘Shackleton’s Journey’ as a contextualising hook for a range of Mathematical learning.

The ideas that I am going to share are focused on Upper Keystage 2, with an additional emphasis on the development of numerical reasoning skills. For clarity, I have tried to organise the ideas using the page titles that Grill has assigned to each double page spread in the book. They actually form brilliant lesson titles for the children, not only helping to structure the story of Shackleton’s journey but also contextualising each and every lesson. This led me to choose to entitle the whole 2 week unit of work ‘Survive!’ to really get my class hooked from the outset! Keep in mind that these activities have been planned with my particular class in mind, including the extent of their prior learning. Needless to say that the length of time committed to each objective will vary from class to class.

Lesson 1 Funding and Recruitment

Starter Activity-

Use mental strategies to recall multiplication tables for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 and use to solve division problems

Use mental strategies to recall multiplication tables up to 10 x 10 and use to solve division problems

 Read through the introduction to the text – there are a number of excellent number facts contained within such as dates. Challenge the children by asking then to devise some questions based on these numbers. What links are there between these numbers? (Reasoning – Identifying Patterns)

Main Activity – 

Order and compare the cost of items up to £1000

 Add and subtract totals less than £100 using correct notation, using whole number and decimals

Plan and track money and savings by keeping accurate records. Realise that budgeting is important

Read through The Crew and display the image. Then set the challenge of using taking charge of a total budget of £20,000 to crew the ship (not as simple as £1000 per person as there are more than 20 crew members – How much will you pay each crew member? The children must justify choices, listing the individual salaries in descending order in a format of their choice.


Lesson 2

Starter Activity – 

Multiply and divide decimals by 10 and 100

Again, using The Crew page, make reference to a salary list generated by the children from previous session. Explain that Shackleton is considering crew costs and structure. He has chosen to multiply the number of (choose a specific crew role) by 10 and the salary cost is now (choose a corresponding cost from the given salary list). Which crew role was it? Repeat with multiplying by 100. Then divide one salary over 10 weeks – how much pay? 100 weeks? (Reasoning – Identifying Patterns)

Main Activity – 

Order and compare the cost of items up to £1000

 Add and subtract totals less than £100 using correct notation, including whole numbers and decimals

Plan and track money and savings by keeping accurate records. Realise that budgeting is important

Move on to read The Dogs page to the children. It shares the information that 69 dogs were selected to support the trip. Having provided the children with a list of possible foods/prices (possibly taken from a current supermarket website) the children should apply the skills they developed in the previous session to cost out the provisions needed to feed the dogs.


Lesson 3

Starter Activity-

Add and subtract numbers using whole numbers and decimals

Referring back to The Dogs page, pose a series of questions about decimals complements within 10 (Children could have decimal complements to 10 grid as support) e.g. 1 dog needs 2 kg of food in one meal – if I have 1.4kg of meat, how much dry mix do I need? How else could I make the 2kg meal? How about 3 dogs? (Reasoning – Justifying)

Main Activity-

Extract and interpret information from an increasing range of  diagrams, timetables and graphs (including pie charts)

Represent data using lists, tally charts, tables, diagrams and frequency tables

Read through the next phase of the story, Equipment and Supplies. The children should then be provided with individual cost of items shown on the diagram in book. This is a really detailed image, as shown above, and the children will need to extract from diagram the total number of each item to calculate their total costs– however, there are some aspects that will require them to make decisions and justify these choices i.e. is a big barrel double the cost of a small barrel? What would the total budget be? The children should also be challenged to represent their results in a table.


Lesson 4

Starter Activity-

Make use of conversions e.g. ¼ of a km= 250m

Record measurements in different ways e.g. 1.3kg = 1kg 300g

Again making use of the Equipment and Supplies page, play the Psychic Game with the children. Start by telling them that you are thinking of a number between 500g and 2 ½ kg. (Really ham-up the psychic powers bit for effect!) The children should all individually write their answers. Then reveal your number to the class. Each table team should then look through their guesses and try to pick one answer that has a justifiable link to the teacher’s number. Each table then shares their answer and justification (hopefully mathematical i.e. if you multiply my number by 10 and add 5 you get your number) for the teacher to score.

Main Activity-

This session should be available for the children to complete yesterday’s task and then take the time to share their reasoning and problem solving skills with the rest of the class.


Lesson 5

Starter Activity – 

Calculate start times, finish times and durations using hours and minutes

Use and interpret timetables and schedules to plan events and activities and make calculations as part of the planning process

Move on to share the Setting Sail/From England to South Georgia pages from the text. The children should be given key dates from journey (including mixed units – days, dates etc). Can they work out from this information how long this stage of the journey took? How many months? Days? Hours? (Reasoning – Interpreting)

Main Activity –

Use coordinates and grid references to specify location

All map lovers will adore the next activity – introduce the children to the Expedition Map. The teacher should then model the use of coordinates and, for differentiation, 6 figure grid references using Map of South Georgia from text.

The children should then be asked to respond to questioning to consolidate understanding i.e. using ‘The Answer is…’ activity, with a range of possible questions on board. Can the children match the correct question to the given answer? (Reasoning – Generalising, Identifying Patterns)


Lesson 6

Starter Activity –

Extract and interpret information from an increasing range of diagrams, timetables and graphs (including pie charts)

Display a pie chart for the children – out of context of the story but relevant to the class, such as number of boys/girls, numbers of letters in first names of pupils. However, the pie chart should be unlabelled and untitled with no key. What is the story of this pie chart? (Reasoning – Generalising) 

Main Activity-

Use coordinates/grid references to specify location

Return to the Expedition Map. The children should then be challenged to apply their skills in the use of coordinates and/or 6 figure grid references from yesterday to expedition map. Teacher to pose a series of relevant questions such as What would the coordinates/grid references be for each key point in the journey? How would you reference the Landmarks? What was the sequence of the journey? (Reasoning – Generalising)


Lesson 7

Starter Activity –

Use understanding of simple fraction and decimal equivalences when measuring and calculating

Use understanding of simple fraction, decimal and percentage equivalences.

Extend the retelling of the story to include the pages entitled ‘Into the Weddell Sea’. Explain to the children that they are working in freezing temperatures on deck, keeping watch for ice bergs and other dangers. Ask them to consider their response to ‘Would you rather spend 50% or 6/8 of the day on deck?’ with them justifying their choices mathematically (Reasoning – Justifying)

Main Activity – 

Extract and interpret information from an increasing range of  diagrams, timetables and graphs (including pie charts)

This session will move away from the pages of the book to enable a Silent debate activity to take place. The children will be presented with a series of graphs showing different info relating to journey/Antarctica but with scales, labels etc removed. Each graph will be glued to the centre of a large piece of paper. Each individual piece of paper will be displayed in different areas of the room. They will then silently visit each graph, noting their guesses about the purpose/information shown in one colour pen and the facts they can extract in another colour. What does the graph represent? (Reasoning – Guessing, Comparing, Justifying)


Lesson 8

Starter Activity – 

Use understanding of simple fraction and decimal equivalences when measuring and calculating

Use understanding of simple fraction, decimal and percentage equivalences.

Now the tension is really going to build! Move on to explore the pages entitled Endurance Stuck! The children will learn that the ship is stuck in pack ice. They have been tasked with the job of clearing the ice away. Would you rather spend 25% or 2/4 of your day digging? How about 0.75 or 2/3 of your day digging? The children should mathematically justify their responses and could show their working on whiteboards. (Reasoning – Justifying)

Main Activity – 

Represent data using lists, tally charts, tables, diagrams and frequency tables

Now that the level of jeopardy has increased, the children should be hooked! Move on to the Winter Months pages. The children should be provided with a set of data about the length of daylight hours between May and July (this can easily be sourced online through Google). Ask the children to choose a method of graphing this data? Once they have constructed this, they should then explain why. (Reasoning – Justifying /Visualising)


Lesson 9

Starter Activity – 

Recognise acute and obtuse angles

The pages entitled ‘Pressure’ provide excellent stimulus for work on angles. Explain that the Endurance tilted to a 30 degree angle in the pack ice. Children to make and measure this angle on the interactive whiteboard using an on-screen protractor or simply card angle representations with split pins – they should explain reasoning i.e. I know it is less than 90 degrees etc. Repeat with other angles. Would you be able to easily stand on the deck at each of these angles? (Reasoning – Justifying, Generalising)

Main Activity – 

Represent data using lists, tally charts, tables, diagrams and frequency tables

Use understanding of simple fraction and decimal equivalences when measuring and calculating

Move on to read Endurance Lost. Introduce the children to PBS Nova Weighty Decisions activity (available online through Google)– which raises the question about what Shackleton chose to recover from the wreck of the ship to stage their escape. Without knowing Shackleton’s final decisions, the children should be asked to make their own decisions about what to take, choosing their own format to organise and collate the information, including the weight of each item (with the consideration that each person could carry 100lbs = 45Kg; 1lbs = 2.2kg). At the end of the session, the children will be interested to know what Shackleton chose and some of the intriguing reasons why – such as the choice to carry oil paints; for the purpose of waterproofing leaks in their small rowing boats.


Lesson 10

Starter Activity- 

Calculate temperature differences, including those involving temperature rise and fall across 0°C

In the story, the team have now reached the Ocean Camp. The children should be presented with samples of monthly temperatures from the Antarctic during the winter months (again easily and freely available via Google). Which two consecutive months greatest range? How much did the temperature rise/fall between the x month and y month etc? (Reasoning – Patterns, Comparing)

Main Activity – 

Calculate temperature differences, including those involving temperature rise and fall across 0°C

Find differences between numbers with 1 decimal place

Calculate Mean, Mode, Median and Range of a set of data

Continuing to focus on the Ocean Camp pages, the session will continue to focus on temperature and negative numbers. The children will be provided with a range of temperature data, taken from the Antarctic, for months relevant to this stage in the story, to sequence and graph on a line graph – with a focus on arriving at the mean, mode, median and range of the data.

Finally – set aside some time to share the end of the story, so that the children can realise what an amazing achievement the was made. All returned safely despite incredible odds!

If the focus on reasoning skills has also peaked your interest in this area of Maths, there are some great texts by ATM – one which I use heavily is called ‘We can work it out’ and is brilliant for developing mathematical reasoning and group problem solving.

There you have it, my thoughts on the use of this wonderful text in a Mathematical context! I am sure that there are many other potential uses for the text in a similar vein and I would love to hear about your adventures alongside Shackleton!

The Viewer by Shaun Tan

   If you are a child of the late 70s and early 80s, you will no doubt be familiar with the once popular (but often disappointing) viewer toy. Mine was made of red plastic and I would regularly be bought white disks to insert, showing scenes through the lens from the latest blockbuster film or popular tv programme….not exactly Netflix or Amazon Prime but it was all we had at the time. Well, one such device is featured in Shaun Tan’s The Viewer…although this tale is altogether darker and definitely for older children.
 The book tells the tale of a young boy who likes routing through rubbish, who finds the Viewer of the title. When he looks through the lenses, he sees images of suffering and descruction (all the scenes depicted can easily be matched to significant periods in History, such as the fall of great empires and the relocation of indigenous people. The tale ends on a mysterious and sinister note after the main character feels the viewer is watching him, until he finally gets pulled into the dark places between the images on the viewer disks….and his family forget he ever existed!

Quick Activities

The images in the book could all be used as a starting point for a piece of short story writing, as they are dripping with opportunities for descriptive writing.

Equally, the images displayed on each disk viewed by the main character could be used together, with the children being asked to sequence the images and then write or orally retell the story they believe is depicted. This would be a great opportunity for the children to explore different interpretations of the same events, as the images provided plenty of opportunity for discussion.

Extended Activities

The final set of images seen in the viewer are of potential modern day apocalyptic situations such as Nuclear explosions, famine and pollution. To take a more positive view, the children could be asked to create a viewer disk set of images or associated story which tells how one of these events was averted or avoided.

On a similar theme, the children could all be challenged to create images or stories for a positive viewer – perhaps a companion device to the one in the story which is found by another character on the same rubbish dump. They could be asked to identify significant successes and triumphs from mankind’s history to show the achievements and progress of the past.

The author’s note states that they were inspired to write the story after one of their childhood disks from their own viewer had a missing image pane….stimulating the idea that someone had been there before them and fallen through the broken image into history. The could provide a rich and challenging opportunity for writing as the children could be asked to write the story of the main character who is drawn into the viewer, in relation to where and when in history he appears. Does he return home? Does he influence historic events? Does he meet any historic characters. This would make the book easy to link to virtually any history project!

Cross curricular opportunities

There are obvious links to be made with art, in that the children could produce their own sets of images to reflect a world, local or personal event. However, this idea could be taken further with the use of animation software; the children could animate their own sequence of images or try to replicate those in the book, filling the gaps with their own storytelling.

The Viewer itself is found in an ornate box. There would be great scope for the children to create their own boxes, decorated and adorned with significant symbols and images, as part of a structures project in DT.

Additionally, the very emotive imagery in the book could provide stimulus for composition in music. What soundtrack would the children compose for the different sequences of images on each disk?