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!


Get Sculpting! Using ‘Night of the Gargoyles’ by Eve Bunting to inspire 3D art!

Night of gargoyles cover

Whilst I find sculpture projects to be great fun with children, especially when you gets your hands on clay, modroc and sculpting mesh but often the focus for the project can be a little ‘loose’. However, with the wonderful ‘Night of the Gargoyles’ by Eve Bunting (and coincidentally illustrated by my favourite David Wiesner) you have a fun and motivational context for a sculpture project which also links perfectly with a cross curricular English/History project.

At the heart of this story is the common premise that when night time falls, inanimate objects come to life – in this case all the gargoyles that sit poised on the rooftops throughout the city. This is a very entertaining picture book that does actually contain a fair amount of text which will also allow for some high level punctuation and grammar work – I’ve used it to look at the ever elusive semi-colon in the past!

The children (especially boys) will be immediately motivated by the comedic rudeness and a japery in the book and, as a result, they are then keen to engage with the sculpture task. The focus I have taken in the past has been to ask the children to design a gargoyle of their own, in clay, with some thought to how the form of the gargoyle represents an aspect of his/her personality i.e. it likes to surprise people from above, so it has wings; or it is always hungry so it has big puffy cheeks to store the scraps it finds in the local bins.

You can make this whole process even more magical with the addition of some glitter! In the past, we have had a resident ‘visitor’ in the our class who pops by at night and leaves us letters and notes to stimulate interest in our next learning activity. On this occasion we had a note left from our local fantastical beasts keeper, who advised us that he had lost a few gargoyles from the local church and then asked us to create him some more to avoid him getting into trouble. He then left us an intriguing little bottle of gargoyle powder (glitter); a sprinkle of which each of the children added to their clay at the making phase to help bring them to life at night!

At this point, the mention of the local church also encouraged us to visit the building to find out more about the many gargoyles residing there. We were lucky enough to get a guided tour from a church warden with a few pairs of binoculars (so we could see the smallest sculptures right at the top of the tower) who helped us all to learn more about the historical aspect of gargoyles and their inclusion on buildings in the past.

To further extend the use of the gargoyle theme (and to maximise on the children’s enthusiasm) we then used our finished gargoyles to write our own narrative stories; The Night of OUR gargoyles. We story-mapped each gargoyles adventures around our local area and then, over a number of sessions, developed these into wonderfully entertaining, extended narrative pieces!

Have fun sculpting and share any pictures of your gargoyles!

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!

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!

Recommended Class Novel; The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

  The children’s literary world is filled with swashbuckling heroes, supernaturally powerful heroines and teenage super-spies. The refreshing take from Trenton Lee Stewart is that his main character is highly intellectual but otherwise quite ordinary, but yet he still manages to save the day! That said, he does it with the help of his friends.
The book tells the story of children who are gathered together to attend The Mysterious Benedict Society of the title. Their attendance is made to appear as a sought after prize for the intellectually gifted but once they are locked behind the doors of their new home, the reality is much different! 

The story is a testament to the power of friendship, especially when friends offer support to each other to overcome their weaknesses or fears. Having read this to a number of older primary school classes, I can comment on the way in which the children are quickly drawn into the many mysteries of the novel. This is obviously due to the high level of adventure but is also the result of Trenton Lee Stewart’s masterful characterisation…he makes the reader really care for all the characters. I distinctly remember a whole class being genuinely concerned for the welfare of a character who is made to suffer at the hands of the James Bond-esque villain of the story…think Blofeld without the cat!

The novel would provide a good counterpoint to other group adventure narratives such as Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, with the aforementioned normality of the characters offering balance in a world of superheroes and mystical forces! This is also another strong candidate for books to hook reluctant readers as this is the first in a series of adventures for the central characters. 


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)


‘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!!