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!

The Egg by M.P Robertson/ Dragonology by Dugald Steer

The EggInterior-Page-from-Dragonology-Book

Multi-text themed project!

Here we have an opportunity to provide children with experience of narrative and non-fiction texts in one integrated, themed project.

The first of the two books is ‘The Egg’ by M.P Robertson. The book tells the story of a young boy who discovers a rather large, mysterious egg. He soon discovers that within the golden shell dwells a young dragon and he decides to take on the role of surrogate mother; resulting in him teaching the dragon how to fly, breath fire and generally be a dragon of legend.

The second text in this project is ‘Dragonology’ by Dugald Steer. This is an increasingly common genre-twisting text; a non-fiction structure presenting fictional information as fact. Nevertheless, it provides an engaging stimulus for non-fiction writing. Dragonology draws together myth and legend from across the globe, with a healthy dose of the author’s own creative flair, resulting in a rich and engaging guide to all things dragon!

The Narrative Element

To introduce the project, the story of ‘The Egg’ could be shared with the children. At this point, you could simply launch straight into the non-fiction portion of the project (see below) having peaked their interest about having to care for a dragon. However, there are a number of further opportunities that could be exploited in order to also develop the children’s narrative skills. These could include:

-Storymapping the plot of the story, in the style promoted by Pie Corbett, to develop further working on the tradition of oral storytelling – stemming from the mythical and legendary link to dragons, with possible extensions to other supernatural creatures.

-Extending the original plot; the story gives the reader short snapshots of the numerous training sessions the dragon undergoes, which could be extended into short narratives in their own right. This could even be extended to feature event extended event becoming an additional chapter in its own right.

-Read around other narratives linked to Dragons i.e. How to train your dragon, George and the Dragon, Eragon.

– Challenge the children to innovate the original plot to create a new story, involving the character finding an egg containing a different fantastical beast – how would the training element of the story change? What challenges or dangers might the main character face?

The Non-Fiction Element

Once the children have been inspired by ‘The Egg’, they could then explore the content of ‘Dragonology’. This text could be used as the source material for the children to produce their own non-fiction text in the form of ‘A Dragon-Keeper’s Guide’. This can be contextualised by relating it to the challenges face by the human character in ‘The Egg’ who has to learn about dragon husbandry through, sometimes dangerous, trial and error.

The children could then be tasked with researching the different species of dragon, their needs, wants and health/safety requirements. The writing related to this task could obviously link to multiple non-fiction genres such as instructional writing (How to safely clean a young dragon’s teeth), explanation writing (How does a dragon breath fire?) and non-chronological reports (The Major Dragon Species of Europe).

Other curriculum links to the project

DT – design and build a cage/home/shelter for a dragon

Art – produce anatomical or still life drawings and paintings of the dragons featured in the children’s self written dragon guide

ICT – use animation software, action figures (snope produce great ones!) or modelling clay to create an animated version of ‘The Egg’

Music – create a soundtrack to accompany the animated version of ‘The Egg’ (above)

OR REALLY GO FOR GOLD AND HAVE A ‘DRAGON-KEEPER’S CONFERENCE – TAKE A DAY OR LONGER OFF YOUR STANDARD CURRICULUM TO ALLOW THE CHILDREN TO BE IMMERSED IN THE WORLD OF DRAGONS. HOLD DRAGON CRAFT COMPETITIONS, PLAY DRAGONS AND SNAKES, DESIGN AND MAKE THE LATEST IN DRAGON KEEPER FASHION ACCESSORIES. THE WORLD IS YOUR DRAGON EGG!

‘The Land of Neverbelieve’ by Norman Messenger

 This amazing book by Norman Messenger is one of the rare gems; a book with so much depth that you can make many return visits and discover something new every time! The book takes the form of a 19th Century style biological journal, filled with amazing observed anatomical drawings of strange beast and maps of wonderous landscapes.

Quick Activities

Encourage the children to take inspiration from the amazing hybrid animals in the text to invent their own fantastical creature with consideration of how interesting and inventive adaptations can help it cope with life in the wild.

Using the map, displayed above, the children could be challenged to create their own fantastical land, within which they demarcate specific habitats, geographical features and natural wonders. They can create their own key to accompany a written travel guide for tourists.

Extended Activities

This book has so much depth, there is great potential for the text to be used as a central anchor for cross-curricular learning. I will detail below how different aspects of the text could be linked to curriculum subjects:

English – narrative writing focused on the adventures of a traveller in the world of the book or a child’s own invented land.

Non Chronological reports based on the lifestyle and habits of one of the amazing creatures or range of species.

Narrative/nonsense poetry based on an encounter with a terrifying creature, linked to The Jabberwocky.

Science –  study the habitats of the species depicted in the text and make comparisons with real animals.

Plant anatomy, food production and seed dispersal, studying real plants and then creating fantasy species.

Art – Observational drawing of plants and animals, emulating the 19th century biological journal style.

Experiment with the use of watercolour, in the style of the illustrations, to enhance observational drawings

3D sculptures of the animals and plants with the text i.e. Clay

Geography – create a 3D relief map of the island, encouraging the children to inclide features such as valleys/ volcanoes

Consider the impact of the physical nature of the island on humans by designing a new settlement.

History – investigate the ‘explorer’ heritage of the past, makin links with the work of Charles Darwin.

Personal, Social and Health Education – invent a new indigenous tribe for the island, considering how they would develop laws, ensure equality, provide for the needs of the people and develop a moral or religious belief system.

These are just a few ideas to get you started! Personally, I would have my whole classroom themed around the text, with regular letters or deliveries being made to the classroom from a fictitious field investigator on the island, with the deliveries then acting as a stimulus for learning activities. Imagine the excitement of a packing crate arriving in the classroom early one day filled with exotic plants for the children to dissect and investigate or a broken packing crate with an escaped creature in the classroom…can they use what they know of the creatures features and habits to create an appealing home to trap it again?

Please let me know what amazing ideas you come up with!!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

During my many years as a teacher, I have witnessed first hand the power of pictures, imagery and symbolism to stimulate and engage learners. Pictures reach to the very core of the human condition; cave paintings were used to communicate the earliest experiences of our species and we have been hooked ever since. The world is full of amazing picture books, potent novels and powerful images which act as a catalyst for the imagination. Unfortunately, many educationalists still limit their own potential and that of their learners by insisting that picture books, in particular, are consigned to areas of earliest childhood learning, when in actual fact they can be even more impactful with older pupils. I have therefore made it one of my missions in life to spread the word (or should I say pictures!) about the importance of illustrated stories in firing the imagination and inspiring experimentation with the written word.What I hope to share here are some simple suggestions of picture books and other sources that can help to create exciting and engaging learning opportunities for children. In addition, I would hope to share some suggested activities for my favourite texts which might encourage my fellow teachers to set off on their own journey into the world of picture books.

I am happy for anyone to contact me if I can be of any help or offer advice from my perspective. Enjoy!