VIPERS – starters

These are some VIPERS style starters based on various stimuli.  I have made these for my Year 5 Class but they could easily be adapted.  I will use them as short comprehension activities to start an English lesson or as a standalone activity in the afternoon.  They could be discussion prompts or require written answers.

I hope they might be helpful to someone.

Thanks to The Literacy Shed Plus for the use of pictures/inspiration!

quick vipers

Easter Maths Trail for Y3

This is an Easter maths trail I wrote for year 3.  I use it as a bit of an assessment.  Distribute the cards around the classroom/playground.  Three levels of challenge: hot cross buns (H), Bunnies (M), Chicks (L).  I buy an egg for them to measure and put some mini eggs in a jar for the estimation challenge/tie-breaker. Covers lots of objectives and is a bit of fun!

Easter maths y3

Easter Maths answer sheet (1)

My 5 Star Reads of 2017

Long time, no blogging! Let’s just say finding the time, energy and inclination has been a struggle this term.

Anyway, with renewed enthusiasm generated on Goodreads via Twitter, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and collate my best reads of 2017.  Please excuse the following bookish nerdiness (although if you’re here I probably don’t need to apologise). According to Goodreads I have read 111 books this year:  27 picturebooks, 66 children’s books, 16 grown-up books (would say ‘adult’ but you might get the wrong idea) and 2 educational textbooks.

These are the books I rated 5 stars:Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 12.19.49.pngScreen Shot 2017-12-31 at 12.19.14.pngScreen Shot 2017-12-31 at 12.19.28.png

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I would do a top 10 but I couldn’t choose – they are all brilliant for different reasons although I did read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane three times and he has a special place in my heart! There were an awful lot of 4 star books too – I must be very generous – check out my Goodreads if you are interested.  I am trying to ‘shelve’ the books according to age appropriateness: this is a work in progress.

I have joked that setting myself a reading challenge is a little like challenging myself to drink a glass of wine a day, but it has encouraged me to broaden my reading repertoire with recommendations from other tweachers leading me to read books I would not normally go for (I would never have picked up Phoenix for example).  My growing knowledge of children’s literature means I can recommend books to children at school both in MY class and children I’ve taught previously.  On many occasions I have found myself thinking ‘so-and-so would love this!’.  It has also been brilliant to find that this enthusiasm and book-chat has led to children recommending/lending books to me and each other – something I would like to nurture in the coming year.

So, a new year means a new challenge – I would like to include some more non-fiction and graphic novels next year as I think these could be the ‘hook’ for some of our more reluctant readers and it would be great to have more ideas and suggestions up my sleeve.  All I need now is more time and more money!


Beetle Boy by M G Leonard

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Beetle Boy won the vote for our last class read of 2016-17.  A couple of my more vociferous readers had read it already and I think their unbridled enthusiasm swayed the rest of the class! (I might have enthused about it a little myself…one of the class let me borrow her copy of Beetle Queen during half-term).

This is a great adventure story – brilliant characters, superb villains (next book dress-up day I’m going as Lucretia Cutter!).  I questioned its suitability for Year 3 a little: it has some sophisticated vocabulary, but the children’s enthusiasm convinced me.  I always think our class book should be something they wouldn’t necessarily be able to read on their own – something to stretch them a little.  It is easy to explain new or tricky vocabulary as you go (I’m on a bit of a vocabulary-building mission anyway, so it’s all good).  There were a couple of mentions of the word ‘suicide’ which I just left out when reading it aloud – didn’t really feel the need to have that discussion with 8 year-olds (it’s just a passing comment in relation to Darkus’ Dad’s disappearance, not a theme of the book!).  I think there might have been another ‘naughty word’ that I changed too, but can’t be sure!  I tried to read them a chapter a day, but realistically probably managed 4 days (and not always a whole chapter).  We always started with a quick recap of what had happened so far, for any absentees (or anyone who might have been finding it trickier to keep up with the plot).

Year 3 loved it: always groans when we had to stop.  Their book reviews were extremely (and unanimously) positive: just the right balance of happy/sad/scary/funny they thought.  It was great for inspiring an interest in beetles too (would make a brilliant topic!).

M. G. Leonard is one of those lovely authors who is happy to communicate with teachers on Twitter.  I asked my children what they would say to her if they could.  I tweeted some of their comments to M.G. (Maya?) and was thrilled when she replied (honestly, I need to get a grip; I’m more excitable than the children!)


Anyway, when I showed them they were VERY excited! I had to convince them it was real.  Worryingly I overheard a couple of boys, incredulous, “What? M. G. Leonard’s a REAL person!”  WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING ALL YEAR?! I always talk about the authors of the books I read.  Just makes you wonder what’s happening inside their heads!

How brilliant that Twitter enables children (and teachers) to connect in this way to authors.  Children get to see that being an author can be a career (well, they do now anyway!) and that writing has a purpose.  Writing in the classroom can be disconnected: linking to real people who write can be very inspiring.  Thank you M. G. Leonard, and all those other writers on Twitter connecting with their readers, we think you’re brilliant!



From Y3 and Mrs G x

Oliver by Birgitta Sif


Oliver is a solitary child.  This gentle story is essentially about feeling as though you are different to other people, how that is OK and, eventually, about making friends with someone just like you.  I used this during a circle time/PSHE lesson.

The text tells us that he plays with his friends but the pictures show only Oliver.  This caused a bit of debate in Y3 and a lot of children assumed Oliver’s friends were ‘out of picture’.  We had to do quite a bit of digging around before someone suggested that his friends were imaginary, i.e. his toys.  There was lots of discussion about loneliness and we had to look carefully at the pictures to see if Oliver looked sad.  Can you be happy without friends?  There were lots of puzzled faces looking at me.  “Well he looks happy at the beginning, but then maybe he’s lonely when his friends stop listening to him.” “He’s happy when he finds a girl just like him.”

There was a debate about whether Oliver had any parents: they are not an obvious presence from the pictures but it wasn’t something I’d even considered: trust children to notice something different! Hence we went off on a tangent for a bit (no change there).

A few weeks ago we read the book ‘We are Wonders’ and several children referred to this during the discussion.  One girl noted that in Wonder Auggie looks different so people can see that he’s different whereas Oliver just feels different, so people wouldn’t know.

This is a great book to begin a discussion on how we are all different: they all had lots of things to say about times when they had felt ‘different’ – when they started a new club, for example.  They also spotted that Oliver’s new friend had appeared throughout the book (again – I hadn’t noticed…).  We had to go back through and look again at all the pictures, noticing what the little girl was doing in each.

A lovely story.

I hadn’t realised when I bought this book (in my local bookshop-in-a-pub: it’s got a lot to answer for that place!) that this is one of the books in Andrew Moffat’s ‘No Outsiders in our School: Teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools’.  As a school we are going to be using Andrew’s approach from September: I highly recommend you look it up.  Brilliant lesson plans using picture books from YR – Y6.

The Journey by Francesca Sanna


The Journey is a stunning picture book that sensitively tells the story of a family having to leave their home because of war.  I have been wanting to use this book in class for ages and, as it was refugee week, it seemed like an ideal opportunity.

Class 3 started by discussing the cover (we could have spent a whole lesson on this – when I use this book again I think I will).

“There’s suitcases so they are maybe going on holiday?”, they spotted the dark figure and the hands, the birds, the waves (‘I think they’re waves’).  They thought the larger figures at the top, of the man with a beard and the shadowy figures were definitely baddies.  They noticed the little figures travelling across the picture: ‘maybe it’s like when we draw a story map and it’s showing us their journey? It is called The Journey…’ We had a class discussion at this point: with hindsight I would have given them a copy of the cover to discuss in pairs before feeding back: they all had so much to say and with 32 children it can be hard to include everyone.  The cover discussion lasted quite some time, eventually one boy piped up, “Can we read the story now please?”  Out of the mouth of babes…

So eventually we began the story.  Each page prompted discussion: it begins on the beach – we live near the sea and we talked about how their lives were similar to ours.  But why was the sea black? Was it pollution? A monster? A bad spell?  Over the next few pages the blackness spreads across the page and there was much discussion about why and what this was.  It fascinates me listening to discussions between children as they link their experiences (of life and other stories) to justify their ideas.

IMG_0045The children noticed the tiniest details in the pictures.  I continually had to flip back as they wanted to make links and explain their thoughts by returning to previous pages. This is interesting as some children clearly articulate their ideas: “The dark is evil.  Black in stories usually means badness.” “It’s not really there it’s just a way of showing things are bad because of the war.”  Other children’s ideas show they haven’t grasped what is happening in the story: this is an opportunity to clarify and question to tease out their understanding.  If we didn’t have this book-chat, when would this happen?

There is a page which shows a similar picture: one when the children are awake and one when they are asleep and the mother is crying.

The accompanying text (narrated by a child) says that the mother is never scared.  This page prompted lots of chat: they noticed the colours – why would the artist do that? One girl said, “The mum is being brave for the children because she doesn’t want them to be scared.  But really she is scared that’s why she is crying when they are asleep, so they won’t know.”

When we got to the end there was some disappointment, “Is that the end?!” There is no neatly tied up happy ending here.  We are left wondering what happened to them but also feeling hopeful for their future.  When I read the Author’s Note at the end, the children were quiet and we chatted about how not everyone is as fortunate as we are. We compared the story to ‘Refuge’ which I read them at Christmas.

We spent an entire afternoon on this book and the discussions were rich but you could easily spend weeks working with this book – I wish I’d had more time.

For a follow on activity and to get the children reflecting, I wanted them to think about what they might take with them if they had to leave their home and I made little suitcases for them to write/draw their ideas inside.

Without wishing to generalise (!), mostly the girls were practical: first aid kit, sleeping bags, food, money, etc. and a little sentimental – favourite teddies, photos, etc.  The boys, generally speaking, were a little more ‘ego-centric’…


At least he’d take his goldfish!

This is the first time I’ve read this book with a class and I will definitely use it again: I’ll spread it over a few days next time I think.  We got a lot from it but I think we could have got more if we had slowed down.