Halibut Jackson – ideas for Power of Reading sequence

DashikiSessions 11 to 13 suggest that children design and describe an outfit for inclusion in Halibut Jackson’s shop.  I have to admit I haven’t actually tried this with a Year 1 or Year 2 class – but here’s how I would approach it.

Session 11 suggests using Halibut’s shop at the end of the story as the starting point.  However, I think there’s nothing lost and a lot gained by using the picture children will know from Session 9 – the double page spread with the text ‘Everybody noticed Halibut Jackson’.

Not only is there more to look at in terms of numbers of outfit, it’s also a way of capitalising on one of the real strengths of the book, namely the depiction of both male and female clothing from a range of times and cultures.  The PowerPoint shows eight of these outfits.  Each slide is labelled with key vocabulary and a short bit of writing following the PoR suggestions: what is the item made of, who might wear it, where might they wear it, how would it make them feel wearing it, and what might the reaction to the outfit be?

The text follows a formula which children may but don’t have to adopt in their own writing.  Each slide has the same sentence structure and order of ideas, but don’t expect or require children to repeat it.  Let them take in what they can and reproduce – or surpass! – as they are able.

At the end of the PowerPoint is a template which you could use or adapt for the children to design their own outfits.


Teaching fronted adverbials with picture books – ‘with’

Image from North, by Nick Dowson, Illustrated by

Click here for a PowerPoint with scans, examples and notes from a range of picture books – Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister, The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson, Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, Fox by Margaret Wild, Fly, Eagle, Fly! by Christopher Gregorowski and North by Nick Dowson.

Ask children to look out for this way of adding an adverbial in their reading books, during Guided Reading sessions too.

Picture book author recommendation: Kathy Henderson 1 of 3 – The Little Boat

If I had to compile a Top Ten Teaching Picture Books I’m not sure which Kathy Henderson title I would choose because they serve very different purposes.

I love The Little Boat (illustrated by Patrick Benson, one of my Top Ten Teaching Picture Books Illustrators) for teaching what a sentence is.  I’m not fond of children being told that they should put a full stop at the end of a sentence when they might not yet have grasped what a sentence is.  Having done years of Literacy intervention I can say that, as we all know, there will always be children who get to Year 6 not understanding what a sentence is.  And of course the lower you go through the year groups, the more children there will be.

The Little Boat shows an author making a sentence last for a whole book – well, the text certainly starts with a capital letter, but there is no full stop at the end of it.  There are no full stops at all.  Each section of text is in fact defined by the picture that matches it, like this:

The picture here is not complete: what you can see above is the left-hand half of a double-page spread, and the right-hand side continues the illustration, illustrating all the detail mentioned in the text.  That’s the format of all the pages.

What I find so useful in terms of instruction is that it shows how a sentence can be anything the writer wants it to be.  Kathy Henderson makes hers a series of simple ideas – here, ‘the boat sailed out’ – combined with a great number of adverbials that both add detail and move the story forward.

You could use this section in pieces written on to pieces of paper- *start teaching* here’s the main idea (one colour), here’s a bit (in a second colour) that tells you where it went, here’s a bit (second colour) that tells you more about where they went, here’s a bit (second colour) that tells you where it went next, etc.  How many pieces does the author use to describe this picture?  Let’s put the words on the part of the picture that they go with.  Let’s draw the bits from the writing that we can’t see (like ‘the skim of the wind’ and ‘the silvery fish’) on the picture by Patrick.  Look how Patrick puts all of Kathy’s words in the picture.  Look how Kathy puts her ideas on different lines.  Let’s put these bits of sentence in a line.  Let’s put the part of the picture that goes with them above. *end teaching*

Then you could experiment with punctuation.  *Where could we end this idea?  How do we show the end of an idea?  If we put a full-stop here, how do we have to show that we’re beginning a new idea with the next word?*

Some of the pages mirror the list-type, close-to-speech writing of children who haven’t yet moved away from using ‘and’ to join ideas.  The text above continues:

and it bobbed by

a tugboat chugging home

from leading a liner

out to sea

and it churned in the wake

still further out

of a giant tanker

as high as a house

and as long as a road

Here, you could ask *which ‘ands’ could we take out and replace with a full-stop?*  You could then repeat with children’s own previous writing.  I like to make it explicit that *grown-up authors can change the rules because they have had lots of practice and they’re very skilled, but you still have to follow the rules*.

All of this instruction makes feedback so much more meaningful: you’ve explained what a sentence is, deconstructed and reconstructed it, mapped it against a picture – and if feedback references all this teaching it makes it less a mantra *Don’t forget to put full stops at the end of your sentences* and more of an activation of previous concrete learning.

P.S.  Where the Wild Things Are can be used in a similar way, though it does have more full stops.

Resources for ‘The Village That Vanished’ – Power of Reading suggestions fleshed out

story mountain picture

These are some resources that I made to flesh out the suggestions on the Power of Reading notes that go with The Village That Vanished.

Without wanting to give way to lazy hyperbole, this is a truly great book in every way.  The illustrations are deeply-felt; the love of the illustrator (the artist Kadir Nelson) for the text shines out of every picture.  They are also technically very beautiful.

Though the pictures do a great deal to convey the meaning of the text, it’s still one that presents a heavy load.

Firstly, I find the structure complicated (I wouldn’t ask children to re-tell this story – also because it’s too long).  I’ve mapped the structure here, with a ‘classic’ story mountain to compare it with.  There’s also an activity that you can do with a whole class using PowerPoint or an Interactive Whiteboard.

Also, the sentences, in terms of language and structure, are demanding.  Here’s a summary, showing how they include more advanced types of punctuation (a colon, hyphens) as well.  Now that (until it changes again…) fronted adverbials are the only kind that matter, I can say that if you’re looking for those, there are some very good examples, particularly of those starting with adjectives (can be hard to model using a good text) and those starting with ‘-ing’ verbs.

Having said that, you could just go through how good the language is in all its aspects (there are some examples of really complex sentences at the bottom of the sentence summary above).  If you want to do that, I’ve saved you the trouble of typing them out in  this document.

Should you wish to focus on fronted adverbials – and you have to, after all – there are some ideas here and here.

The Power of Reading notes suggest:

  1.  writing a prayer, using Njemile’s as a model.  Here’s an EAL-friendly starting point for that.
  2. having a debate about whether or not to leave the village.
  3. deciding which of the characters Njemile, Abikanile or Chimwala is the heroine.

After doing the heroines activity, the notes suggest comparing your one true heroine with other heroines.  You could try the ‘Barefoot Book of Heroines’ by Rebecca Hazel (NB non-fiction) for that.



Picture book recommendation: ‘Tabby Cat’s Secret’ by Kathy Henderson

I read this today:

“Cognitive load theorists suggest teaching domain-specific skills is more effective because, while general problem-solving skills are innate to humans and therefore do not need to be explicitly taught, domain-specific skills are not automatically acquired by learners without explicit teaching.” From ‘Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand’ (NSW Education Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation August 2017)

Cognitive load theorists are psychologists interested in the relation between how the brain works and how children should therefore be taught.  They seem to be saying ‘don’t expect children to learn a technical skill without modelling it’.

At the end of this article, the authors point out that this statement refers to research conducted in Maths, Science and Technology, that there is very little research in relation to other areas, including the teaching of writing.  So, the first thing to question about it is, is it relevant for a teacher of primary age children learning how to write?  Then, if it is, what would that modelling look like?

‘Worked examples’ are the way to go, according to the article, which explains the term as follows:

A ‘worked example’ is a problem that has already been solved for the learner, with every step fully explained and clearly shown. The ‘worked example effect’ is the widely replicated finding that novice learners who are given worked examples to study perform better on subsequent tests than learners who are required to solve the equivalent problems themselves (Carroll 1994; Cooper & Sweller 1987; Sweller & Cooper 1985). The reason for this, according to cognitive load theory, is that unguided problem-solving places a heavy burden on working memory, inhibiting the ability of the learner to transfer the information into their long-term memory. The learner may effectively solve the problem, but because their working memory was overloaded they may not recognise and remember the rule that would allow them to quickly solve the same problem again in the future.

Can this be transferred to the context of primary writing?  Can you compare a Maths problem to a piece of writing?

One obvious difference between a Maths problem and a piece of writing is that there is no single, correct outcome (though when it comes to solutions, I understand, there are those that would be considered more mathematically elegant … ).  However, ‘worked problems’ are something that teachers of writing arguably use routinely.

Here’s one:

Annie in garden
From Tabby Cat’s Secret by Kathy Henderson, illustrated by Susan Winter

We might write this as the following equation: vocabulary + adverbials + detail + variety + sense description + variety of sentence length = a really good piece of writing.

I know that some teachers like to tackle vocabulary by providing lists or directing children towards thesauri, that the government likes to direct teaching of fronted adverbials, and that since sense description and variety of sentence length have been removed from the curriculum (and with it APP guidance).

But I’d rather spend a whole lesson unpicking what makes this extract so good, within the context of the children reading the whole book, and then instructing them carefully on how to write one like it.

Here’s the whole extract:

That night when everyone was fast asleep

Tabby Cat came to lie on Annie’s bed.

She purred until she woke her

then got up and walked towards the door.

And Annie thought, she wants to show me now,

and stumbled sleepy out of bed

and followed through one door

and then another

and out into the barefoot garden

where Tabby Cat turned in circles

round and round Annie’s warm legs

in the cool grass

under the moon.

“Show me your kittens?”



And she was gone.






Picture book recommendation: House Held Up By Trees by Ted Kooser

House Held Up By Trees cover
THE TREES LIFTED IT AND LIFTED IT, and maybe you will drive past it today or tomorrow, as it floats there above the ground like a tree house, a house in the trees, a house held together by the strength of trees, and the wind blowing, perfumed by little green flowers.


This is one of the picture books I have used for teaching writing.  It is about a house that at the beginning stands on a bare square of earth, which by the end is so encroached upon by forest that it is literally lifted out of the ground.  In this sense the narrative is linear.  The advance of the forest is matched by the retreat of the human beings that lived in it, first the children when they grow up, then the father who moves to the city.

Each stage of this reversal is described in the sort of careful detail that needs to be modelled to children in order for them to develop the ability to “‘live through’ the narrative and inhabit their own fictions more fully”, “to fill in the background of the action as well as simply telling the story” (quotes from The Reader in the Writer by Myra Barrs and Valerie Cork).  The interesting dimension that this book has is in providing the opportunity to write from the point of view of an inanimate object – the house itself.

The pictures by Jon Klassen create a sort of wistful atmosphere, with their pale browns and oranges.  They make a big contribution, to the extent that it would be worthwhile to address this specifically by presenting photocopies to the children in black and white for comparison with the colour versions.  Importantly, they very much help to illustrate the text, which has a distinctly literary style, one that is clearly demanding for many children to comprehend and echo.

For those interested in teaching adverbials it offers many examples – not just fronted!  (Anyone who is as much of a nerd as I am can find them all here: click to download.)  Most importantly, it presents children with the opportunity of learning about them within the fully-supported context of a beautifully-written and illustrated text.