3 Easy Ways to Explore Alpacas with Maracas

Alpacas with Maracas by Matt Cosgrove is a book packed with great language and enticing pictures - making it perfect to read to an audience. It’s no surprise that it was chosen as the 2019 National Simultaneous Storytime book, and it’s sure to be a classroom read aloud staple for years to come.

But what else can you do with this great book? And what can you do if you’ve only got limited time and resources to explore it? Here’s three easy ways to explore Alpacas with Maracas when it’s your classroom read aloud book.

3 Easy Ways to Explore Alpacas with Maracas. Easy Ways for teachers to take a closer look at Alpacas with Maracas by Matt Cosgrove. Perfect for school story telling, this blog post includes a free resource as it looks at story telling, vocabulary, movement and character lessons. A Galarious Goods blog post

1. Make Dance Patterns with Maracas

The whole book Alpacas with Maracas is an invitation to get up and dance. While maracas are perfect for this, any shaking percussion tool - from bells to shakers to dried beans in containers - will also allow students to explore the patterns in movement and rhythm.

Students can start with a good old fashioned dance party. Once you’ve read the book, you can invite the students to move like Macca and Al, shaking their musical instruments and getting their groove and move on. You can follow this up with talking about how dancing makes you feel and why people might dance.

Students can also explore shaking to a beat. You can clap out a rhythm for students to follow, explore 4/4 time, explore what happens if you skip a beat or play with different groups of students playing at different times in different parts of the room. Your school music teacher may be able to help you come up with some interesting patterns to explore as well!

Finally students can explore making dance patterns by moving their maracas in different ways. Students can move their maracas (or shakers or bells) up and down, diagonally, to the left and right and in front of them. How can they use these directions to make up a dance routine? And how could they write it down or draw it for other students to follow?

2. Explore the Vivid Verbs of Alpacas with Maracas

Alpacas with Maracas is FILLED with wonderful words including some lovely verbs. Students can find the verbs throughout the text, using them to create a poster of great words. They can also act out the verbs that they find, working in small groups to share them.

Another way to explore verbs is to look for synonyms for some of the verbs in the book. Students might like to start with an easy verb like dance and see if they can brainstorm as many synonyms as possible. You can display these brainstorms in the classroom for students to refer back to in the future.

Students can also use the lovely language of Alpacas with Maracas to create their own stories. It might be a continuation of the story of Al and Macca or their own creation.

3 Easy Ways to Explore Alpacas with Maracas. Easy Ways for teachers to take a closer look at Alpacas with Maracas by Matt Cosgrove. Perfect for school story telling, this blog post includes a free resource as it looks at story telling, vocabulary, movement and character lessons. A Galarious Goods blog post

3. Reflect on the Character Lessons

There’s some lovely character lessons in Alpacas with Maracas, perfect little ideas for students to reflect and build on.

Al and Macca are great friends - they work together, they complement each other and they look for ways to find happiness together. This is a wonderful lesson for students to reflect on, thinking about what makes a good friend and what good friendships look like.

Macca and Al are also persistent They try so many different talents when they’re looking for the right talent for the show. Even when they fail - and they fail quite spectacularly - they get back up to try again. This can lead to a wonderful discussion about persistence and what it can look like when we’re persistent at something which is difficult. We can also talk about trying different approaches to reach a goal - Macca and Al have a goal of being in a talent show, but they need to try different approaches to make it in there.

Macca and Al are also great losers in Alpacas with Maracas. They are the perfect representatives of ‘it doesn’t matter if you lose as long as you give it a try’. Students can discuss what it feels like to lose at something and what a good loser looks like. They might even like to role play some ways to be a good loser.

Are you looking to explore character lessons with your students? This free download includes three character ideas your students can write or draw about.


Alpacas with Maracas is a wonderful celebration of movement, music and having fun. It’s a great book to bring into your classroom and well and truly worth exploring a little more.


Different Types of Government (And How We Can Teach Them)

As our students learn more about government, it is vital that they understand the different types of government. This isn’t always easy or straight forward, though. To make it a little easier, here’s some of the main types of governments - and some ways to approach them in the classroom.

Different Types of Government and How We Can Teach Them. A look at a range of different types of governments, why it is important to learn about them and how we can teach them in an engaging way for our students. Perfect for social studies and government teachers and students. A Galarious Goods blog post

Types of Government

There are a number of different types of government which we can explore in the classroom. These include


Democracy has been formally used as a type of government since Ancient Athens. The general premise of democracy is that the ‘people’ (usually restricted to people with citizenship who are over a certain age) get to decide on the rules and laws of the land - or they get to choose who makes the rules and laws of the land.

Democratic principles mean that everyone is seen as equal and everyone is required to follow the laws - however, in practice there have been times when those in power have treated others poorly (and restricted their ability to make decisions) to maintain power.

When we talk democracy in the classroom, we usually talk about voting - either voting for representatives or representatives voting for the laws we have to follow.


In a dictatorship one person, or a small group of people, control the population and the rules and laws of the land. This is usually done by force, especially with the backing of the military.


A monarchy is a system of government headed by a single person - a monarch - who is usually part of a ruling family. Monarchs might have power to make laws or might be the figurehead of an elected government, but their right to be the head of the government is usually accepted by most of the citizens and they don’t need to use force or restrict the freedoms of the citizens.

In feudalism, there was a system of hierarchy - the person at the top had the most power, a small group of people below them had less power, the bigger group of people below then had less power again - down to the peasants with the smallest amount of power.


The ideal of communism is equality for everyone - a system which should especially benefit workers who have historically done the work while others have received the rewards.

However, in reality, it is very hard to maintain complete equality and communist leaders have often maintained power - and ‘equality’ - using the same forceful tactics as dictatorships.


During the 18th and 19th Centuries, many European countries went out of their way to ‘collect’ nations around the world - creating large empires. They might settle their own people in the countries, promote local people to act as leaders or just rule the country from afar, but they always held ultimate control over the countries - even from the other side of the world. Many times the European countries wanted resources from the countries they ‘collected’.

Different Types of Government and How We Can Teach Them. A look at a range of different types of governments, why it is important to learn about them and how we can teach them in an engaging way for our students. Perfect for social studies and government teachers and students. A Galarious Goods blog post

Why is it important to learn about types of government?

As we learn more history, we begin to understand how important it is to understand different kinds of governments. We can get a better understanding of World War Two when we understand dictatorships. We get a better understanding of the American Revolution and the partition of India and Pakistan when we understand Empires. We understand the suffragette movement better when we understand democracy.

Political history and political background is not always the most interesting part of history and it can be hard to teach. Learning the basics of the types of governments can allow for deeper teaching and make the information more accessible to students.

Understanding types of governments also allows students to understand how decisions are made. As future adults, understanding government allows our students to be better involved in them. Students can approach that part of adulthood with more confidence and will be better informed against misinformation campaigns.

Understanding different types of governments also allows us to move towards better types of governments. It helps us to understand why gerrymandering can lead to uneven representations or to understand why some people have difficulties with the ideas of quotas. For our students, it helps them get an understanding of what fair and unfair might look like when it comes to political systems and helps them to campaign for better representation as they get older.

Different Types of Government and How We Can Teach Them. A look at a range of different types of governments, why it is important to learn about them and how we can teach them in an engaging way for our students. Perfect for social studies and government teachers and students. A Galarious Goods blog post

How can we teach different types of government?

One of the best ways to teach different types of government is to find the stories that go with them. Students may not remember dry definitions of Ancient Democracy, but they might remember the story of the painted rope being carried through the Athenian Agora to mark the clothing of Athenian men who weren’t quick enough to participate in votes. Stories of life under dictatorships are common and are very helpful in giving students an understanding of that life. Stories of different monarchs through history - and their powers (or the lack of them) can also demonstrate monarchy.

The different types of governments have a direct impact on the people who live in them. That makes the stories more relevant and more powerful to our students.

Another way to teach different types of governments is by going visual. Creating diagrams or 3D representations of the different types of governments requires students to take a deeper look at them and to show a clear understanding of the different kinds of governments.

As a teacher, using diagrams to teach can also be useful. Students can record them in their book next to their writing, observe video versions of diagrams or use markers or figures to move around diagrams to get a better understanding of the types of government.

Finally, students can get a better understanding of the types of government through analogies. Using things which are an everyday part of the lives of students can make the abstract ideas much more real. Students can create ‘what if’ scenarios for classrooms or schools or the playground, experiment with what might happen if different types of governments ruled the classroom or apply different types of government to their favourite books or television shows.

Different types of government might seem like a dry topic at first glance. However, a closer look shows how important it is and how we can help our students understand it in fun and thoughtful ways.


Exploring Australian Picture Books About Weather

Australia is well known for its wild range of weather - the drought and flooding rains. Already in 2019 the country has experienced floods, fires, an ongoing drought and the threat of a cyclone. One way to explore this weather in the classroom is through a range of picture books which highlight different weather conditions - using these picture books to help us to get a deeper understanding of this weather and its impact on Australians.

Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post

Flood, Fire, Cyclone and Drought by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

These are probably the best known picture books about extreme weather in Australia. Starting with Flood - a story of the 2011 Queensland Floods - these creators have built a powerful collection of text and illustrations which bring the events and the impacts of natural disasters in Australia to life.

Although these books are part of a series, there are little individual differences which are interesting to discuss as students compare and contrast the books. Two of the books are very clearly linked to specific events - the 2011 Queensland Floods in Flood and Cyclone Tracy (which hit Darwin in 1974) in Cyclone. Fire and Drought are more general - a look at natural events which can impact large areas of the country year after year.

One of the ‘must-do’ activities with these books is to explore the author and illustrator notes to look at the intentions of the creators as they come into the work. For both of the creators, there are personal elements or feelings to these creations and they have strived to create their work to show not just the events and impact of the disaster - but the way people come together to help and rebuild during and after the disaster.

Another great way to look at these books is to look at what is happening ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ - to explore the heavy stillness of the air in the heat before of fire or the endless days of rain before the waters being to rise in flood.


The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe and David Cox

This beautiful book - probably best for middle primary and upper primary - takes us through a story of a bushfire which rages into the mountain home of the narrator and destroys her family house. It looks at the race to escape the fire and the fight to rebuild life afterwards - including looking at the emotional impacts of the fire.

The author includes a powerful author’s note about her own experiences with the Black Saturday bushfires, where she lost her home and her parents. This may or may not be something you wish to share with your students (depending on their age), but for older students it might be interesting to explore the author’s focus on regrowth after a fire. This is an interesting aspect of extreme weather which can sometimes be forgotten as journalists and other story tellers begin to move away from natural disasters in search of the next story.

A House on the Mountain would also allow for an excellent timeline activity, tracing the events of the story - and how the narrator feels - through from before the fire to the rebuilding after the fire.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain by Cory Brooke and Megan Forward

This Christmas book is also an excellent look at drought for younger readers. Jane lives on a farm and wants rain for Christmas to break the drought. Jane believes that Santa is the perfect solution to the drought. This book highlights the difficulties of drought, the impact of a lack of rain on the environment and the people who work in it. It’s a particularly good introduction to drought for younger students.

There are a number of different activities which you can do with this book, including looking at what happens when there is a drought. Students can list some of the things which Jane highlights as issues, combining it with some videos of drought to enhance their understanding of drought.

Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post

Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya Blackwood

This is a really gentle look at the impacts of drought - comparing a visit from a friend from one summer to another. As you progress through the book there are little mentions of how things are different, how things are harder.

This is a great book to use for looking at inference. There’s many places where the narrator just gives a little bit of the story, without fully telling the reader about the worry and concern they are experiencing. Even hearing that his friend will travel for seven hours gives the reader a little clue about the difference - the divide - between their life and the life of his friend.

The comparisons between one year and another is another things which students can use when talking about weather in the classroom. What is it like before a weather event? What is it like after a weather event? This could apply to floods and cyclones as well as drought.

Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein and Bronwyn Bancroft

Big rain is coming . . . but when? This lovely book, best suited for younger students, explores the anticipation of waiting for rain when it’s really, really hot. My favourite part is when the clouds gather, but it still doesn’t rain.

This is a great book for working on prediction, with its easy, repeating structure. Students can also use it as an example of what it’s like to wait for something - whether it’s rain or something else in their lives.

Big Rain Coming is also good for exploring what happens before it rains - whether it’s clouds gathering, a wind picking up, or even the sound of rain moving towards you. The beautiful illustrations also offer room for exploration, especially looking at how colour and lines are used to create a beautiful world. Students might like to compare this with some of Bronwyn Bancroft’s other illustration work as well.

Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post

Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle and Maggie Prewett

The children of Mrs White and the Red Desert are working hard to clean their house so they can entertain their teacher. They want to show her why their homework is grubby, but as she arrives a red dust storm also comes along, giving them the perfect demonstration.

As well as the dust storm at the centre of this book, there’s some lovely other exploration of weather. We hear about hot desert winds and the pitter-patter of rain. We see that the weather is a daily part of life, that is races around (and through) the house and soothes the children to sleep. And that it has an impact on the lives of the children when they are away from home.

This is another great book for inference - we don’t see what happens at school before the teacher comes to visit, but we can infer it. We infer how the dust storm destroys the dinner.

We also see what the impacts of a dust storm can be. Students can explore pictures of dust storms - both in the cities and away from the cities and discuss what the impacts of dust storms are during and after the storm. They may also like to explore the weather conditions which make dust storms more or less likely.

Mustara by Rosanne Hawke and Robert Ingpen

This is another book about a dust storm, but in this storm two children are caught in the middle of it, without warning, with a camel to protect them. Mustara is a historical fiction, giving a few glimpses into a different world of explorers and the use of camels in exploring inland Australia.

The historical fiction aspect of the book gives students another area to explore - what other weather events impacted people in the past? What other stories do we know of big weather events? Students might like to compare accounts of weather from the past with more recent accounts of weather and talk about how people deal with weather the same or differently.


Assessing and Addressing Waiting in Your Classroom

For many children, waiting for their classmates to finish working so they can move on is a frustrating - and frustratingly common - occurrence. Researcher have even found that some students spend as much as 50% of their learning time waiting for other students.

How can we assess the waiting in our classroom? And how can we address it so our students are learning as much as possible?

Assessing and Addressing Waiting in Your Classroom. Do you have students who are always finished early? What do they do while they wait for other students. This blog post explores why you should assess the waiting of early finishers and how to avoid frustrating waiting time. A Galarious Goods blog post.

1. Be aware of the waiting in your classroom

It’s hard to address waiting in your classroom if you’re not really sure when or where it’s happening. Classrooms are busy places and it can be hard to be sure what is happening unless you’re making a point of focusing on it. Keep a record of what waiting happens over a week. You might want to record

  • The inevitable waiting. Waiting for assemblies, specialist teachers, technical equipment to work, students to line up to return to class or move around school. You can do things to reduce some of this, but there’s always going to be some waiting - and it’s ok for your students to know this.

  • Which students are finishing early. Some of the students might tell you if they finish early, others might just finish and wait. Keep an eye out for them, or ask your students to let you know if they finish early.

  • If there are students who are finishing with the rest of the class, but they probably could be finishing quicker. If students have become accustomed to getting more work when they finish early, they may have learned to slow themselves down to avoid the extra work. These students can be hard to spot, but keep a note of any suspicions you have. Especially look out for students who are inserting ‘non-work’ time into their work time and still finishing on time - although their interruptions might be distracting, it might be their way of delaying their finish.

  • Students who are finishing early, but could probably be working at a higher level. It’s good to have a record of who might be ‘rushing’ through the work and may need some slowing down strategies and thinking time.

  • Which subjects have more waiting time. Are students waiting more in maths? Or reading? Do you have lower number of students waiting when you do handwriting? Make a record of this to help you plan future lessons.

Be kind to yourself. If you get a lot of information it can be overwhelming. But it’s ok to pick one or two areas to work on first. It’s also ok to come back and undertake this reflection at a later time - especially if you’ve made changes. You may see some great improvements and you might also find some other areas to work on.

2. Plan to differentiate - combat waiting before it begins

The best way to avoid frustrating waiting in the classroom is to plan for all your students to be as engaged in learning as much as possible! This kind of differentiation is not always easy, though. Here’s a few things you might like to include in your planning.

  • Pre-assess when you can. If you’re approaching a new concept in reading, mathematics or science, it may be useful to offer a short pre-assessment. This allows you to see where students already have a good understanding of the concept - and where there are gaps in knowledge. The work can then be targeted to the students in your class for the best learning for all of them, and it may help you put together some temporary groups to work together.

  • Plan to use open-ended activities with different possibilities. Open-ended activities are a great way to allow all students to be engaged and show understanding of a concept. For example, instead of (or as well as) offering a page of maths problems where students add 10, ask them what happens if they add 10 to different numbers. Students can practice their skills and find patterns.

  • You can also offer students a range of activities to complete - nominating which ones are ‘must-dos’ and which ones they can choose to do when the ‘must-dos’ are completed. (You can read more, and get free resources from this great post from Top Teaching Tasks)

  • Think Sideways. What is the learning outcome? What would it look like if students dug a little deeper into that outcome? For example:

    • if the class are doing addition problems, the students who have finished can explore matching the addition problems to ‘turn around’ subtraction problems

    • if the class are reading an information sheet, the students who have finished reading can find the most important vocabulary (and rank importance?) or create a diagram of what they have read.

    • if students are working on reading sight words, the students who have finished can work on adding new letters or swapping letters to make different words

Try to make as many of your differentiated activities transferable to other activities, while still being effective. Creating a ‘tool-kit’ of differentiation for quick finishers will make it easier to make it part of your planning.

Assessing and Addressing Waiting in Your Classroom. Do you have students who are always finished early? What do they do while they wait for other students. This blog post explores why you should assess the waiting of early finishers and how to avoid frustrating waiting time. A Galarious Goods blog post.

3. Be Prepared for Surprise Finishes

As prepared as you might be, you’ll probably still have time when students finish early. Here’s a few things you can try to work with that

  • Develop a classroom culture of ‘is it my best work?’ This allows all students to demonstrate the best work they can possibly do in the classroom, but also gives quick finishers something meaningful to do when they have ‘finished’. Going back and revising work is an important skill for all students to develop. Ask students to find 3 areas where they can improve their work and ask them to reflect on why they think those areas can be improved. It is possible that they won’t find anything, but it’s important for them to know that even adults (such as authors) go back and revise and improve their work - and a thoughtful way to use time.

  • Ask students how they would explain the concept or how to solve the problem to someone else. They might create a written piece, a drawing, a diagram, a verbal explanation - even a podcast or a video of their explanation.

  • Ask students to create their own related problems. If they’ve finished all the comprehension questions for a chapter, what questions would they ask? If they’re finished with a fractions problem, how would they create one? This allows you another way to see the depth of their understanding, while being meaningful work.

  • Keep reading and games on technology as a last resort. If there’s really no other way to fill in the waiting time, you may need these to turn to. Think about setting a time limit on them (assess when you’ll be moving other students on) so students know when they need to put the book down or turn off the game. And make sure there’s time in your schedule for all students to enjoy the games or reading time so there’s no resentment building against those fast finishers.


5 Reasons We Love Macca (the Alpaca)

Have you met Macca?

He’s an alpaca! And the star of the great Macca the Alpaca picture book series by Matt Cosgrove. These books - four at the moment, including a Christmas book - have jumped into popularity (and many homes and classrooms) since the first was released in 2017.

We love Macca - and we think he’s great for the classroom. And here’s a few reasons why . . .

5 Reasons We Love Macca (the Alpaca) - a little look at the Macca the Alpaca series of picture books by Matt Cosgrove and a range of ways they can be used to supplement teaching in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post

1. There is so much to learn from the illustrations

While picture book illustrations are often important to get the most out of a story, in the Macca books they’re super important. Often the word we need to finish the excellent rhyming structure is there, in the illustrations, not to mention the important image clues which help readers decode and comprehend what is happening on the page.

You can use this while exploring why illustrations are so important to tell the full story in a picture book. Students can explore matching text and illustrations to make sure they have the best combination or explore how the story might change if an illustration was changed.

Students can also explore the style of illustration, looking at how lines are used to show movement and how different fonts are used in the text. Again, they can question what would happen if it was different - without the lines and the different fonts, would the story feel the same to the reader?

2. The books are funny

There’s this lovely slightly frantic and slightly absurd humour in the Macca books, whether it comes through the joy of how Macca will outsmart the bully llama or the inevitability of the Christmas crackers creating chaos and creative present gifting.

In the classroom, it would be interesting to look at why the books are funny - is it seeing alpacas doing things that alpacas don’t usually do (or do they?) or does the humour come as the author builds anticipation for what is going to come next.

Students can also explore writing their own Macca stories. What would happen if Macca went travelling? What would happen if Macca opened a store? What would happen if he had to take those nephews and niece to school . . . .?

3. Macca is Nice

We have our fair share of selfish (but lovable) characters in picture books (looking at you Pig the Pug and Mothball the Wombat!), but Macca is just nice. He wants to defeat the bully, but does it with brains and kindness. He wants to win the competition, but is happy just to dance with the winners. He really, really wants to give his friends the best Christmas ever.

Looking at Macca’s qualities is a great classroom activities - and a great way to compare the different Macca books. You can create a comparison table for the class to fill in as they read the different books, or different groups could read each book and describe all of Macca’s great qualities to share with the rest of the class.

Students can also explore what lessons we can learn from Macca. What does he do that makes him a good role model? And how can we apply those lessons in our own life. This is a great way to explore qualities like giving to others, being creative and being persistent.

5 Reasons We Love Macca (the Alpaca) - a little look at the Macca the Alpaca series of picture books by Matt Cosgrove and a range of ways they can be used to supplement teaching in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post

4. The Macca books encourage our students to move

Encourage them to move? But they’re books! Students sit down to read and listen to books!

But the Macca books are full of movement - and you can use this in your classroom. Macca uses all kinds of movement to defeat Harmer. He and Al try so many different ways to share a talent before dancing with their maracas. And those naughty little Alpacas move in all the wrong ways.

This is perfect if you would like to integrate dance into your literacy lessons. Students can explore different kinds of movements and what they might look like as dance steps. And then they can put those movements together to create their own dance sequences.

Students can also integrate this with physical education, designing an obstacle course which Macca and Harmer might compete over - and then setting it up and trying it out themselves!

5. Who doesn’t love alpacas?! (and the other creatures)

Alpacas are all the rage at the moment - and it’s not hard to see why. The Macca version has lovely big eyes and eyelashes, those great ears, and - thanks to the magic of books - he’s not going to spit at us! We also meet a number of other creatures in the Macca books - either directly (a llama and yaks) or indirectly (Al’s pirhanas or the cuddly sloth).

Students can research these animals and compare the real life versions with their book counterparts. They can explore why we really love some animals while other animals remain unloved. And they can use Macca and his friends as characters in other work - what happens when you have an alpaca as part of a maths problem or a sloth as part of a music lesson?


5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers: Part Two

5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part Two. A look at vocabulary, reading choices and differentiating classroom activities for gifted readers. A Galarious Goods Blog Post

Note: While this blog post is aimed at teachers in Kindy/Prep/Reception, Grade 1 and Grade 2, many of the ideas are adaptable or applicable to older grades as well.

3. Expand Their Vocabulary

Like background knowledge, vocabulary is something you develop with more time, more reading, more conversation, more exposure to different experiences and . . . well, more time. Asking 5, 6 or 7 year olds to automatically have the same vocabulary as older students is a tall ask.

While many of these young gifted readers have wide and varied vocabularies, it’s very possible that they have gaps in their vocabulary knowledge or that they are missing vocabulary understanding when it comes to particular subjects. While they can continue to grow their vocabulary through reading, it’s important to provide opportunities for students to see vocabulary as something you can work on, something to strive to improve at.

Parents of gifted readers will tell you that it’s incredibly frustrating to see sight words or high frequency words come home which are well below the level of their children. These are often accompanied with instructions to ‘learn them’ to ‘laminate the cards’ or to ‘check Pinterest for fun activities’. While these are excellent ideas for students who are learning these words, they leave parents of gifted readers wondering whether their child is being catered for at all, and what possible alternatives there are to sight word activities.

Offering a vocabulary list instead of sight word list is an easy way to differentiate this kind of homework (or school work) for gifted students. Like sight words, you can offer a few easy activities - look up the word, write a sentence with the word, see if you can spot the word in a book, draw the word - for students to complete in the classroom or at home. You can find or suggest additional ideas through Pinterest or extend students with ideas like using folding resources.

You can also help young gifted readers to extend their reading by teaching them how to look up word definitions in a dictionary. Students can develop the skills of finding words, looking at multiple definitions and (at times) looking up more words so they really understand the definition. This is a skill they’ll be able to use for years to come!

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

You can create or find vocabulary templates (or teach students to draw up their own) so students can engage in vocabulary work at a range of times.

To find vocabulary lists, search online for a few years above the grade level of your students (this is where testing will assist you in knowing what level your gifted readers require) - there’s a lot available! A number of subject lists are also available.

To teach dictionary skills, see if you can work with a range of teachers across different grades to put together a small group of students who would benefit from learning these skills. If you have a teacher-librarian, they might be able to put on a little workshop for the students or you may be able to work with your Principal or Curriculum Leader to release a teacher to teach dictionary skills.

4. Support their Reading Choices

This one is especially important when it comes to school libraries. Many, many young gifted readers have experienced the deflating experience of visiting the school library only to be told, ‘No, you can’t borrow that’.

When questioned, various reasons are given for this refusal: the book is too hard (even if the student has borrowed harder books previously); they can’t comprehend it (even if they have other books in the series at home); the subject matter is too old for them (even if parents have given permission); it’s just school policy.

If it’s school policy, then it’s bad policy - designed to dull a love of books and libraries (which should be enjoyed as the magical places they are). As a teacher, I recommend finding out whether your school has a policy like this and whether it should be updated to allow for the fact that some younger children read harder books - or that their parents are happy to read harder books to them.

As for the other reasons, they usually stem from a lack of knowledge of the student (that’s where you - as the teacher who knows the student - can step in) or concern about parent reaction. One teacher librarian told me that her school solves that issue by asking parents for blanket permission, then recording that permission so students don’t have to ‘re-ask’ every year.

Getting to know the books in the school library allows students to explore a really wonderful range of books in a place where they are regular visitors. If you don’t have a school librarian, or your school librarian is reluctant to recommend books suitable for your gifted readers, consider finding an older ‘reading buddy’ from a higher grade - someone who loves books and reading and will share some of the delights of the school library with your students.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

Keep an eye out for advanced readers - anyone who might be reading more than picture books - before you start library borrowing. A quick note home to parents can help you get parent permission. You can then note this on a note you attach to the library box or basket or a tag attached to the child’s library bag. This way, you know who has permission at a quick glance.

5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part Two. A look at vocabulary, reading choices and differentiating classroom activities for young gifted readers. A Galarious Goods Blog Post

5. Differentiating Your Classroom Lessons

A gifted reader with excellent decoding skills will not be served with lessons purely aimed at decoding. And while some phonics lessons are excellent for spelling, constant repetition is also unhelpful if the gifted reader is already understanding and applying those lessons.

However, busy work - asking a gifted reader ‘just to read their book’ or to just do -more- of what other students are doing, isn’t respectful to the student either. They have a right to learn to the best of their potential - just like any other student in the class.

When it comes to differentiating for the gifted reader, it’s important to know where they can continue to learn (it all comes back to the testing!). Do they need to learn comprehension skills which help them with texts on unfamiliar subjects? Do they need to extend vocabulary knowledge? Should they begin to explore responding to texts through reviews or reader reactions? Or could they learn more about sentence structure and grammar so they understand why a sentence works - or doesn’t work?

Vocabulary and comprehension skills are two places where you can differentiate for students. If the class is concentrating on reading a particular book, you could ask gifted students to ‘insert’ or ‘substitute’ a range of provided words into the original text and to work out where they would be effective (a great way for students to apply their vocabulary understanding with words they have previously defined). You can also provide deeper thinking questions for students to reflect on while the class is reading particular books.

Retelling stories in different ways, creating questions for stories or other texts and asking ‘what if . . .?’ questions are all ways that students can extend their thinking about stories. And sometimes differentiation can be as simple as using correct terminology as well as easier wording when talking about sentences - pointing out that descriptive words are also known as adjectives provides a framework for students as they explore sentences in more detail.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

This can be the hardest thing to make work in a busy classroom, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Remember that differentiation doesn’t always need to be a whole new lesson - it’s ok to repeat activities like writing reviews (even adult book reviewers improve by repeating this!), creating questions, finding effective words in texts or asking ‘what if . . . ‘ questions. And sometimes differentiation can happen just by offering an alternate text.

When you’re planning, ask yourself if there are any skills your gifted readers will need to explicitly learn - whether it’s how to write a review, use a dictionary or what a verb is. You may be able to work with teachers of other gifted readers to make this one group during literacy rotations, or you may be able to work with one or two gifted readers during silent reading time or individual learning time. And remember, even if your gifted readers are working on self-directed work - make time to check on their understanding and to show them that their reading is valued in your classroom.

Have you read Part One of this post? It covers testing and offering a range of texts and is a must read!


5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers: Part One

You get a list of the reading levels of your incoming class and there it is - a student on Level 26, way above the average level of the rest of the class.

Or, you notice that there’s a student who’s reading all the posters in your classroom - including the evacuation procedures - while the other students are working on their early letters.

Or, you have a student who is asking to borrow novels from the school library - even though students in his grade are only supposed to borrow picture books.

It’s not tremendously unusual to come across students who can read before they start school, or who pick up reading very quickly when they do start. But there isn’t an awful lot of support for those students - or their teachers. How can you plan for those gifted readers and differentiate to meet their needs in your classroom?

5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part One. A look at differentiating for gifted readers in Grade 1, Grade 2 and Kindergarten classrooms. Exploring testing of reading and providing a range of texts for gifted readers. A Galarious Goods blog post

Note: While this blog post is aimed at teachers in Kindy/Prep/Reception, Grade 1 and Grade 2, many of the ideas are adaptable or applicable to older grades as well.

1. Test Their Reading - in a Variety of Ways

It can be tempting to leave gifted readers for a while before testing their reading. After all, testing reading takes time - serious time. And you already know that those students can read.

Testing is essential, however. Without it, those students have no benchmark, nowhere to grow from. It makes it harder to plan for those students effectively, and it makes it harder to show parents or admin how you’re differentiating for those students when you have no idea where they really are.

As well as testing them using standard tests, consider offering them a couple of other texts to read - and to answer comprehension questions on. Texts on unfamiliar subjects with lots of context clues (like pictures) can be a great way to see if students are using strategies to make connections. Upper level informational readers are great for this.

Also consider asking your student to read and answer some thoughtful questions on a familiar text like a picture book. The student may be better on comprehension when they have the background knowledge to infer and make connections - and a lot of the harder standard tests are aimed at older students with more knowledge behind them.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

If you’re struggling to find time to test reading, check with support staff to see if there’s anyway someone can give you a hand with your class while you test. See if you can work with another class where one teacher tests while the other undertakes some easy activities with the students. Plan some independent activities which allow you enough time for testing - and talk about how important it is for students to give you the time and space to get good information.

5 Ways to Plan and Differentiate for Young Gifted Readers Part One. A look at differentiating for gifted readers in Grade 1, Grade 2 and Kindergarten classrooms. Exploring testing of reading and providing a range of texts for gifted readers. A Galarious Goods blog post

2. Provide a Lot of Different Texts - and Different Kinds of Texts

Do you have a reading area in your classroom? Think about what you have in it.

If you primarily have fiction picture books, you’re probably not meeting the reading needs of your gifted readers. Sure, they can read them - picture books are wonderful for all sorts of learning - but there’s no challenge to read further, to build more background knowledge - and there’s a subtle message that the reading area may not be for them.

Often young gifted readers are told that they aren’t good with comprehension. However, the problem is often that they’re too young to have built the kind of background knowledge you need for effective comprehension. That comes with age and with exposure to a wide range of books (and other experiences).

It’s unreasonable to expect a full classroom library of novels for one or two students, but there’s no reason you can’t include non-fiction books or poetry books or magazines aimed at younger readers. These texts can all be looked at and enjoyed by all the students in the class, but they give your gifted reader the option of more types of texts and different styles of writing - as well as helping them to build that background knowledge which helps so much in comprehension.

What if you have a student who is capable of reading a range of texts, but will only stick with the familiar? This is where you can think about your different subject areas and what you’re teaching there. If you’re looking at how materials change in science, have some reading texts about materials or change available. You can ask the gifted readers to explore these texts as part of their science lesson and report their findings back to the class, use it as a text during reading time and ask students to find connections or simply have it available for free reading. There’s great books available which cover all kinds of subjects these days - perfect for extending subject areas into text.

How do you make it work in a busy classroom?

Do you book talk the books in your classroom? Talk about them, introduce them, or ‘sell’ them to your students? Try book talking you non-fiction or poetry books as well as picture books. It’s a quick and easy way of making a range of texts appealing to your students - and challenging your gifted readers to try something new.

Don’t miss Part Two of this important topic - covering vocabulary instruction, reading choices and lesson differentiation! Click here to read more


Explore the Pig the Pug Series with these Writing Tasks

We’ve talked about how we love the Pig the Pug series by Aaron Blabey before - and how it can be used in the classroom. But how can we use it to teach writing? These five writing tasks allow you and your students to take a closer look at the books, and a range of writing formats

Explore the Pig the Pug Series with These Writing Tasks - 5 Writing Task Ideas for classrooms and students exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and how teachers can teach them. A Galarious Goods post

1. Write a News Article About Pig’s ‘Adventures’

When Pig the Pug goes big, it’s usually followed by some sort of disaster. This is bad for Pig, but great for budding news article writers.

Writing a news article is a great task for a range of grades. For younger students who may be just learning about the format, it’s a great way to identify the ‘who, what, where, when and why’ - good reading questions - before participating in a shared writing of an article as a small group or a whole class. Students can follow this shared writing about one of the Pig stories with individual or paired writing about one of the other Pig stories.

For older students, the Pig books offer a great story to write their article about. They can report on the time that Pig ‘flew’ out the window (plenty of headline opportunities there - another aspect you can explore with the class) or the time he exploded a bathroom just because he preferred to be dirty.

2. Write a Diary Entry - or a Series of Diary Entries

What is Pig thinking? While that’s a slightly scary thought, it’s also a great way to explore the Pig the Pug books through writing.

You could ask your students to write one diary entry - focusing on the aftermath of an event perhaps, or what Pig is thinking before disaster strikes. Or you could ask your students to write a series of diary entries which explore the entire events of the week. What is Pig thinking about as he participates in the photo shoot and thinks of himself as a star?

Or - to change it up a little - what exactly is Trevor thinking? What would his diary entries look like after a big Pig Event or in the lead up to one.

This is a great activity to pair with diary led books like the Diary of a Wombat series by Jackie French or the My Australian Story books for older students. Students can look at the examples of diary entries and identify the elements of them before applying these ideas to their own writing.

3. Write a Comic Strip

How can you condense all - or a good part of - a story into just a few small boxes? This is the question which faces students when you ask them to create a comic strip of on of the Pig the Pug books.

Students can talk about which are the most important parts of the story, creating a list which allows them to create 4 or 5 panels of a comic. They can then explore what images or words they could fit into that comic strip.

Students can also explore whether they should keep Pig looking like the Pig of the books, or whether they should explore their own style of drawing in their comic strip - and why they might make some changes.

This is a great way to explore retell and main idea with your students - particularly those in middle to upper primary classes.

Explore the Pig the Pug Series with These Writing Tasks - 5 Writing Task Ideas for classrooms and students exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and how teachers can teach them. A Galarious Goods post

4. Review of the Book

Writing a good book review can be a great way to get other people to enjoy the books you enjoy. The Pig the Pug books are great for reviews because there’s usually a range of reasons why readers love them.

Students can explore a range of book reviews from different places before they write their own. You can also share write a review with the whole class before students head off to write their own reviews.

Some things students can concentrate on in reviews is comparing them with other books (maybe other books about dogs, other books which feature animals or other funny books) or focusing on why they are so enjoyable to read.

If your students didn’t enjoy the book, they can also write a review highlighting why. (This can be a great activity even if your students did enjoy it - what kind of review would you write if you didn’t?)

5. Podcast Episode

Podcasts are really popular, with a number of podcasts created just for children. You and your students could listen to some of them before getting into creating your own.

Successful podcasts have a question or a theme to work through. When it comes to Pig the Pug they might like to discuss why they enjoy a particular book, which Pig the Pug book is the best, what it would be like to own a dog like Pig or what to read after you’ve finished all the Pig books.

Students should write at least an outline before they start recording their podcast. If they’re working in a pair or small group, they might identify different parts to talk about or create a list of ‘talking points’ to tackle together. If they’re working on their own they might like to create a whole speech to write about.


Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? (And How Can We Teach It?)

Civics and Citizenship education is filled with terminology: sometimes it feels like you’re learning a new - very specific - language. So how would you use that terminology to define Australia’s type of government? And how can we teach that in the classroom?

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post

What is Democracy?

We can blame it on the Ancient Greeks.

Well, to be honest, there were probably small communities practicing elements of democracy before the city of Athens, but the Athenians were definitely the ones who made it popular. In Ancient Athens, any male who was a citizen (and over 20) could take part in government. That meant they could be part of the group which came up with new laws, they could vote on new laws, they could speak out about new laws. The power to guide the future of Athens was in the hands of lots of ordinary people (leaving out women, slaves and people whose parents weren’t Athenian).

Democracy is still about sharing power today, although we don’t tend to see democratic systems where citizens vote on everything anymore - that’s just too many votes on topics not too many of us really care about! Instead of that direct form of democracy, most democracies are representative. In a representative government, the citizens vote for people to represent us.

We hope that those representatives will have special talents or gifts or knowledge and will make thoughtful decisions and laws which help to move the country or state or city forward. Citizens still get to have a say - through voting for people who we think will make the laws we want and through being able to speak out about laws and other things - but we don’t make all the decisions ourselves.

How can we explore democracy in the classroom?

There are lots of ways to explore democracy, but a really easy way is just by voting! Students can propose ideas - like whether blue or green is a better colour, or if Baby Shark is really a good song or not - and then vote on them. The majority wins - and there might be a consequence. Like the teacher writing in only blue pen for the rest of the day. Or Baby Shark being played at least three times before the lunch bell.

To extend understanding, though, you can bring more options into the exercise. What if there were three songs for the students to choose from? What if the teacher offered 5 colours to vote on? In a class of 25 students, a majority of 6 students might be enough to decide on which pen colour would be used. Is it fair for only 6 students out of 25 to make that decision? This opens up an avenue for further conversation about democracy and majorities.

What is Monarchy?

A monarchy is - very simply - a government with a monarch at the head.

A monarch is the leader of a group of people - often a family - who symbolise the power and identity of the country. The monarch might have different title - king or queen, sultan, emperor - and they usually rule until they either die or abdicate - step down to hand over power to another member of the group or family.

While many monarchies are hereditary - they are passed down through the family following a set of rules about who gets it next - some monarchies are elected. For example, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church (who is the head of the Vatican City State) is elected from cardinals before holding the position for life. In Malaysia, the monarch is elected from a group of families and they hold the position for five years.

Absolute monarchy means that the monarch has all the power. However, these days many monarchs hold ceremonial roles or have limited roles in government, with most of the power for making laws and decisions the responsibility of elected governments. This is a constitutional monarchy.

How can we explore monarchy in the classroom?

Because monarchies have been popular throughout history until today, there are many opportunities for researching them in the classroom. One avenue of investigation is to look at the symbols of monarchy in different parts of the world and different times of history. Students can look at what symbols there were for the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and compare them with the symbols for modern monarchies - such as the British Royal family.

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy?

Australia is both!

In Australia, citizens over the age of 18 participate in representative democracy. We vote for representatives to represent us at the local, state and federal level and trust that they’ll make the laws and decisions which guide the country forward.

However, we’re also a constitutional monarchy. We have a head of state who has restricted (and rarely used) powers.

Who is the head of state? Well, the Queen of Great Britain . . .

Between the 16th Century and the early 20th Century, Great Britain collected countries and states around the world to make the British Empire. Those countries were all ruled by the British monarch - the head of the British Royal family. In the modern era, as the British Empire faded, many of these countries became members of the Commonwealth realm and chose to keep the Monarch of Great Britain as their head of state. Australia is one of those countries.

As Head of State of Australia, the Queen does very little. She has representatives in Australia - the Governor General and the Governors of the states, who swear in leaders and sign laws - but again those representatives do very little (and it causes a bit of an outrage when they do try to test their power). But for many people, the Queen is important as a symbol.

Of course, not everyone feels this way. During the 1990s, more and more people called for a referendum (our way of having a direct vote in Australia) to stop being a monarchy. The referendum was held in 1999 and was unsuccessful - keeping Australia as a monarchy. Many believe this will change after Queen Elizabeth the Second passes away.

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post

How Can We Teach It?

Some people might ask if it matters that Australia is a democracy and a monarchy. This is actually an excellent question to pose to your students - does it matter what type of government we have? What if we changed one kind of government or the other?

Students might also like to explore how we got here. How were decisions made in the different Indigenous Nations before the First Fleet arrived? What did early government look like in the colony of New South Wales? How did government change with Federation in 1901? A timeline activity could be a great way for students to examine how governments change and how they come to look like they are today.

Students can also make predictions about what government might look like in the future. Do they think we will have a monarch from another country as the head of state of Australia in the future? Will we continue to have a representative democracy or will we make changes to that system? How might the types of government change?

Monarchy and democracy might not seem like fascinating topics on the surface. But they are the systems which have shaped our government - and have shaped governments and history in the past. By getting a better understanding of these systems, we can help our students see how they can shape the country going into the future!


Don't Put My Child On Your Classroom Data Wall

In the lead up to the 2019 school year, Instagram was filled with teachers creating beautiful things for beautiful classrooms. But as the parent of a school-aged child, one thing worried me - the number of displays which were created just to share the academic and behavioural levels of children in the class.

And - as a parent - I’m asking you to take children off your classroom data walls.

Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods

Whether it’s reading levels, test scores, behaviour, number of books read or goals achieved, our schools are filled with data. But should those data levels be publicly displayed on the wall of our classrooms?

The call for ‘accountability’ - mostly stemming from No Child Left Behind (an early 2000’s government initiative from the United States), led to the call for more and more data to be collected, recorded, analysed and displayed. One way this was achieved was by creating data walls for teachers to use. These were placed in teacher areas - like staff rooms or planning rooms - where they could be used for planning and evaluation. But slowly, these walls of academic and behavioural levelling crept out of the teacher areas and onto the walls of the classrooms. It is these classroom displays which concern me as a parent and a teacher - for a number of reasons.

1. The Privacy of Our Students

Once a child’s name is attached to a levelled display in the classroom, they lose the privacy of their own achievement level. Every classmate, every other student who comes into the room, every parent can see exactly what behaviour level students are at or what reading level they have achieved and how they compare with other students.

In some places around the world, these data walls actually break laws protecting student privacy. But even when they don’t, these walls - which are often put up without the permission or knowledge of parents - share information about students which should be kept for the students, their parents and the staff of the school. I had to give parental permission for my son’s kindergarten to share his learning statement with his school - but few teachers ask for permission to share reading levels, behaviour levels or achievement levels with anyone who looks into the classroom.

2. The Lack of Context

A display showing how many books a child has read over the year sounds like a great thing. But when Alice is reading picture books and Bill is reading novels, Alice is obviously going to look better on the chart.

Lack of context is a serious problem for a wall chart - yet that is what students see, day after day. For some students learning comes super easy. They absorb the information, share the information and it all takes very little effort. For others, they can work extremely hard at school and at home and - on paper at least - show very little progress.

Even if Bill knows he’s only read half as many books as Alice because he’s reading much longer than books than she is - he knows that his number of books looks ‘small’. It takes away some of the pride that he might feel for being able to read longer books, or - at worst - tells him that he should also swap to picture books so he can have a lot of books to add to the chart on the wall.

You cannot easily add context to a chart on the wall in your classroom - not in a way which will help your students to understand it.

3. Is There Evidence That They Work?

The short answer to this is no. When researchers from Australian Catholic University examined the research, they found only one example of research showing positive results for TEACHERS using data walls - and nothing about classroom displays making a difference to students.

Australian authorities and school administrations often point to one school in Australia which showed improvement after putting data walls up where everyone could see them. However, this is a) isolated, b) focused on a particular population of students and c) was combined with a significant program of improvement - much more than just a data wall.

So, why are we doing it? Are we creating walls just because they’re popular? Or because admin told us to?

Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods

4. Does Your Data Display Harm Your Students?

Have you got anxious students in your class? Imagine being the anxious student working hard to go up the behaviour wall, but for some reason you don’t seem to be moving, no matter how hard you try. While your behaviour continues to be good at school - because you’re striving to be moved on that wall you see every session of every school day - your behaviour at home is deteriorating because you’re frustrated and you just don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Or what if that data wall becomes your sole focus in class. You’re no longer interested in classes which don’t progress you on the wall, or learning for the joy of learning. You just want to see that peg with your name on it moved.

Or what if you just cannot get past other people on that chart - if no matter what you do, you’re always on the bottom.

As a teacher, you may not see the harm these charts are doing to your students - students can be remarkably good at masking how they feel to fit in. But parents see it at home. We see it in poor behaviour and loss of enthusiasm for school. We see it in school refusal and constant anxiety related illness.

5. Do your data displays allow for outlying students?

Have you got a goals chart in your room? A chart with the standards for your grade level, and places to put the students as they’re striving to meet those standards?

What are you going to do when a student walks into your class and they’ve already met those standards? Your display has told that student and their parents that you have no goals for them to meet - that there is no learning place for them in your classroom.

If you’re measuring reading levels, where do students go when they’ve already reached the top level?

What about a student who is working on goals or levels which are not easily seen on a standard chart?

Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods

What’s the alternative?

The good news is that if you’re all about data, there are alternatives to classroom data walls. Data walls in teacher spaces - either physical or digital - can be a great tool when planning. There is no reason students can’t track their own data either - keeping it in a private place in their own notebooks and creating their own learning or behaviour goals.

Classes can also create collaborative displays. Recording the amount of books read by a class can be incredibly motivating (we kept ours on the door of our classroom and it provoked many conversations with students from other classes about why we enjoyed reading so much) - and every students contributes together from this. Similar things can happen with achievement levels - additions can be added to displays whenever any child in the class achieves a new level or has a particularly successful (for them) piece of work.

We can also acknowledge a full range of classroom achievements - from being a good sport during a sports lesson to using particularly good words in a piece of writing. We can make our classrooms places of joyful learning, instead of places where everyone is just trying to climb the ladder to their next regimented success.

Further Reading