Introduction to Rowan of Rin: Classroom Discussions and Teaching Resources

Are you looking for a great classroom book, filled with fantasy and adventure *and* classroom discussion potential and opportunities for thoughtful learning activities? Then you can't go past Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda.

 
 Introduction to Rowan of Rin - a look at Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda and teaching activities and discussion questions to go with the novel. Includes a look at novel study teaching resources
 

Rowan of Rin introduces us to Rowan - a shy and relatively timid herder of creatures known as bukshah. When the bukshah's water source dries up suddenly, Rowan - and the other residents of the village of Rin - search for answers. With no other options, they send a band of villagers up the nearby mountain to see what is happening.

Through a strange turn of events, Rowan finds himself on the journey up the mountain, despite the warnings about the perilous journey and his fear of the fabled dragon lurking at the top.

Rowan of Rin is a great book to use from Year 4 and older. Although the language is relatively simple, the concepts can be quite advanced allowing for older students to take an in-depth look at the book.

Classroom Discussions

Rowan of Rin especially deals with what it means to be brave. Rowan does not feel that he is brave, while he feels that those around him demonstrates of all the qualities of valour and bravery. As you progress through the journey up the mountain, Rowan realises that there are different types of bravery and that people who look brave on the outside maybe hiding fears inside.

When students have finished discussing bravery, learning activities might include creating definitions of what it means to be brave, creating lists of people or characters who they believe are brave or researching different types of bravery awards.

This book is also a great addition for any class examining fantasy stories. There are many elements of a fantasy story within Rowan of Rin. These include an invented society; the village witch; an invented animal which Rowan looks after; a journey which requires a number of people; riddles to solve; and a mystical beast at the final hurdle.

Students can compare Rowan of Rin to other fantasy stories they have read or seen - including movies, television shows or picture books. They might choose to explore a certain element of fantasy stories and create lists of books or stories which share that element with Rowan of Rin

 
 

Teacher Resources

There are three teacher resources for Rowan of Rin as well as a resource bundle available through Galarious Goods.

The Comprehension and Vocabulary teaching resource allows students to take an in-depth, chapter by chapter look at Rowan of Rin. Students can answer a range of comprehension questions, explore vocabulary or engage with deeper questions as they work their way through the book.

The Character and Setting teaching resource takes a look at the characters of Rowan of Rin, their characteristics and how they relate to each other. It also explores some of the settings of the book, including the places significant to the journey up the mountain.

The Whole Novel teaching resource encompasses the entire novel of Rowan of Rin. It includes reader response, retell, themes, discussion questions and creative activities.

Get Rowan of Rin resources here

 
 

Don't Make Writing Goals with Blank Pages - Creating Writing to Make Writing Goals

It was hot and stuffy in the classroom, the anticipation of the new school year still hanging thick in the air. Miss West had places a worksheet on everyone’s desk and had returned to the front of the room.

“Today we’ll make our writing goals for the year,” she said, holding up a space sheet. “I need you to think about how you’d like to improve your writing this year.”

Bayley wrinkled his nose. He tried to remember some of the writing he’d done last year. He remembered that some of it was really good, but he couldn’t remember what he was really good at. And what did he need to improve?

 
 Don’t Make Writing Goals with Blank Pages - Creating Writing to Make Writing Goals. A blog post looking at what students need when they are setting goals at the beginning of the school year. Perfect for back to school.
 

When we ask our students to make writing goals at the beginning of the school year, it can be tempting to jump straight into the goal making process. But many of our students are stepping back into their ‘writing shoes’ for the first time after weeks or months since they last engaged in the writing process.

When the first thing these students are asked to do is ‘make writing goals’, students are working from a blank page. They may end up making writing goals, but it’s highly likely that these goals will just be surface goals which don’t really identify where students can effectively grow and achieve in the year to come.

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As the students tumbled into the room on the first day of school Mr Evans asked them to put their piles of new books at the front of the room.

“Just grab a pen and a regular notebook,” he called out, “and find somewhere comfortable to sit.”

As the students settled around the room, Mr Evans found a piece of music. “I want you to listen to this,” he said, “and write me something. It might be about how the music makes you feel. It might be about your holiday. Or you might write me a brand new story. Just blow the cobwebs away and write.”

He gave the students fifteen minutes of writing time, before asking them to stop their work. “I guess we’d better do the organisational stuff then,” he joked.

What would happen if our students started writing from the very beginning of the first day of school? What message would this send to our students? And how can we use that writing.

By using prompts - questions, quotes, pictures or music - we can give our students something to write about in those early days of school. By repeating this daily over the first week or two, we’re showing them that writing is valued in our classrooms, that it’s something we just do.

We’re also able to use the writing they produce. It can be used as formative assessment in writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation. By writing daily, we get to see how students change and improve, how they approach different prompts or styles of writing, and students get a portfolio of writing to use as they set their writing goals.

Are your students looking through their writing? Grab this free reflection resource 

 
 

Joey put the three pieces of writing down in front of her and smiled at Ruby. “I’ve read through these now, and I think they’re really funny. I’m using the same words a lot, though.”

“Maybe you can put that on your list,” Ruby suggested, “You could try to use a better range of words?”

“I like that,” Joey wrote it down. “I think I’ll do that and work on stronger sentences. Let’s look at your writing now.”

Once students have three or four pieces of writing, even short pieces of writing, they’ll have a starting place for goal setting. Students can sit down and read through their work - whether it’s on their own, with a partner or with the teacher - to determine what they’re doing well and where they’d like to improve. Having the writing there in front of them gives them a solid starting place - a concrete example of what kind of writers they are so they can create goals to become the writers they want to be.

Get Back to School and Writing resources here

 
 

Using I'm Australian Too in Upper Primary Classrooms

You will find I'm Australian Too (by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh) in classrooms across the country. But while it has been celebrated as a book for younger children, I'm Australian Too can be used as a teaching tool with classroom activities well beyond the early years. This is an important book - a book that students of all ages can learn from.

 
 Using I’m Australian Too in UPPER PRimary classrooms - Teaching ideas and Teaching Activities for the mem fox book
 

I'm Australian Too introduces us to a wide range of children who live in Australia, exploring the history they and their family have with Australia and giving the reader a little insight into how they experience life in Australia. The story shows us that Australia has been a safe place for generations of immigrants and refugees, a place for those facing hardship and danger. And we can question whether we are honouring that legacy today.

There are a range of learning activities which can accompany this book, including

1. Discussing Australian Identity

I'm Australian Too shows the readers children who all consider themselves Australian, even if their family comes from other parts of the world. This is a great introduction to concepts of Australian identity, to explore what makes Australians Australian.

This is a particularly useful book for students to explore at those times of the year when we examine what it means to be Australian like Australia Day, Harmony Day and those times when Australians are involved in large international sporting competitions. These occasions often raise questions about Australian identity and this book gives students a starting place to work from to discuss these questions. Students can use I'm Australian Too as part of a discussion activity, exploring the text and illustrations to draw conclusions about what the author and illustrator believe. They can use these understandings from the text to shape and write their own belief statements, or compare and contrast with other books which look at Australian identity.

2. I'm Australian Too Character Postcards

There are a wide range of 'characters' in I'm Australian Too. The bright distinctive illustrations tell students additional information and allow them to draw conclusions. These conclusions and the illustration styles can then be combined as creative learning activities.

One option is for students to be inspired by the illustrations and characters to create a postcard which features one of the characters as well as a short piece of text about what it means to be Australian. They can touch on where the character family comes from, how it feels to be Australian, the atmosphere of Australian places or participation in Australian past times.

The postcard is a useful tool when students are trying to summarise their thoughts since they are restricted in space - therefore are restricted in how much they can say. This allows them to keep their character reflections succinct and to the point.

Students can then expand on this by creating a postcard which reflects their own experiences and understandings of what it means to be Australian.

Interested in creating your own postcards? Get the free folding template here.

 
 

3. Create a Character Diagram

The wide range of characters and their different backgrounds in I'm Australian Too also allows for visual comparisons. Students can combine text, shapes, arrows and lines to show different characters and how they are alike or different or connected.

Students might also like to explore how they can create different styles of diagrams to show different types of information. Students can then apply this knowledge of diagrams and organisers as they explore other books and novels.

Get I'm Australian Too resources here

 
 

Including Freewriting In Your Classroom Writing Centres

Freewriting can be a powerful writing tool in the classroom. It can assist students with formulating ideas, creating outlines and even drafting whole pieces of writing. But how can we effectively use freewriting in the writing centres we set up in our classroom? Is it a useful writing centre? And how do we establish freewriting writing centres to ensure they work?

 
Including Freewriting in Your Classroom Writing Centres - a blog post from Galarious Goods looking at using freewriting in the classroom through setting up freewriting writing centres
 

Freewriting and Writing Centres

Freewriting in the classroom is a timed writing exercise. Students are provided with a writing prompt, which they respond to with a steady stream of words. They are not required to stick strictly to the provided prompt (which might be a picture, a quotation or a question), but can write anything which comes to mind - as long as they keep writing until the timer does off. When the time is up, students may store their writing for future exercises or use it immediately as a launch for writing.

Writing centres can be used in the classroom to provide a variety of activities for our students to complete. Students may move independently between activities designed to reinforce and improve skills in spelling, grammar, punctuation and writing composition, or they may rotate through these centres within a group at the direction of their teacher. Whether you have established writing centres or you are planning to use them in the classroom for the first time, freewriting can be easily included - allowing students to practice using prompts to guide their writing.

Setting Up a Freewriting Writing Centre in Your Classroom

Adding freewriting to your writing centres requires only a few simple things. The most essential is a collection of writing prompts which students can use to spark their writing. These may be connected to units of work you are studying in the classroom, or they may be connected to holidays, seasons, student interests or popular culture.

Although you may collect or create a large collection of writing prompts, it is important to limit the choice that students have immediate access to. You may like all the students at the writing centre to work from one writing prompt, or you may offer a small collection of related prompts with just a few more options than the number of students - allowing limited choices and opportunities for swapping prompt cards.

If you are reusing your writing prompt cards in your classroom at a later time, you may like to print them onto card or laminate them to extend their lifetime. It is worthwhile to organise all your writing prompt cards in a single location to allow you to find them when you wish to use them again.

You also require a timer so students can write without having to keep an eye on a clock. You may like to find an old fashioned kitchen timer, dig out a digital timer or search for timing apps or websites on a computer or tablet which is accessible to the students working at that writing centre.

Finally, students will need writing paper and instruments to participate in freewriting. You may request students to bring their own writing tools to the freewriting centre or you may keep a collection of writing instruments and paper available for students to use. If you are providing paper, you might like to create a range of options - including lined and unlined paper and paper which comes in different colours as well as white.

These tools can be easily kept together in the classroom, along with freewriting instructions and equipment lists. (You can download free instruction, equipment lists and freewriting prompt cards here!)

 
 

Establishing Freewriting Writing Centres

Freewriting sounds easy, but can be a little overwhelming when it is presented cold to students. To warm students up, freewriting should be introduced to the class before it becomes a regular writing centre. Model it to your students, allow them to experiment with whole class freewriting individually, as pairs and in small groups. Engage in freewriting along with your students - both as whole group exercises and when you do offer it as a writing centre.

Nominate a student to be in charge of the timer - this protects student writing time!

Allow students to share their freewriting if they wish to. Provide them more time - or another writing centre - where they can read over freewriting they have completed and highlight or note sections which they would like to expand on at another time. Model how they may choose to keep or throw out certain pieces of freewriting.

Freewriting is easily included as part of your regular writing instruction in the classroom. Using a freewriting writing centre allows students to get used to regular freewriting, allowing them to spark creativity in their writing and become more fluent, proficient writers.

 
 

What is Freewriting? (And how can it be used to teach writing?)

There's nothing scarier when we're teaching writing in the classroom than the blank page. Or, to be more accurate, the reaction of our students to the blank page. There is a way to relieve the fear, though, with a simple writing strategy - freewriting.

 
Freewriting in the writing classroom. What it is and how teachers can use this writing strategy
 

What is freewriting?

A very basic definition of freewriting is writing anything you like for a set time period without stopping. The writer sits, with their paper and pen or computer, sets a timer and writes until the timer (usually set between five and twenty minutes) goes off. They can write about anything which comes into their mind, as long as it's in sentences (differentiating it from brainstorming). They might write the beginning of a story and can keep it going, or they might write a string of unconnected sentences - ranging from what they had for breakfast to how much their hand hurts. If the writer is not sure what to write, they can acknowledge that in their writing - writing sentences about how they don't know what to write until a new topic comes to mind.

While the writer might let their writing go wherever they like, they might also focus their writing with a writing prompt. This writing prompt might be a picture or a photograph, it might be a poem or a quote or it might be a question or a topic. The writing prompt allows the writer to put down everything they know or feel about a topic or idea or picture, although their writing might still wander away from the topic.

Another aspect of freewriting is that writers are not allowed to go back to make corrections and they do not need to be concerned with spelling, grammar or punctuation. This allows for perfectionism to rest for a little while - perfect if you have students who are concerned with getting their writing 'right' and therefore never get much written down.

Freewriting is often used at the beginning of a writing session. It's thought to 'blow the cobwebs out' before getting into the serious writing for the day. Getting into the physical and mental mindset of writing allows for writing sessions to be more productive. Others, writers or not, use freewriting at the beginning or end of their days to get thoughts and ideas out of their head and onto paper (or the computer screen).

 
 

How can we use freewriting when we're teaching writing?

If you are using the writer's workshop approach in your classroom, you can easily use freewriting every day. You can allocate five to ten minutes to silent, timed freewriting at the beginning of each writing session, allowing students to get into the writing mindset before they move onto planning, writing, editing, conferencing or small group lessons for the rest of the writing time. Freewriting can also be used as a way to launch writer's workshop - showing students one writing strategy which 'real writers' use as they learn to manage their time and their writing.

You can also use freewriting when you set a new writing task for your students. Students might write anything they like during the freewriting time, or they can write to the topic or a related prompt set for them. This allows them to get past the dreaded 'I don't know what to write!' and may help them discover new writing ideas or directions for their writing task.

Freewriting can be used to spark creativity when you're teaching creative writing, especially less familiar styles like poetry and descriptive writing. Students can use their freewriting to find themes, ideas, phrases or words that they would like to explore further, or they can swap their freewriting with others to find new directions which they may not have thought of before. Using prompt cards (like these ones from the Galarious Goods shop) for freewriting can be a great way to inspire poetry writing as the random nature of freewriting may get students to consider aspects of the prompt they haven't thought of before.

You can also use freewriting when you're approaching a informative or persuasive writing task. Students can read through their research or brainstorming ideas and then use the freewriting time to note down everything they know or feel about a topic. They can use this time to begin to organise ideas and get a feeling for what they're going to write about and come back to their freewriting when they're unsure of what to write next. This is particularly useful when students are writing across the curriculum as it shows them that their writing strategies are not confined to 'writing lessons'. 

Finally teachers can use freewriting as part of their writing lessons to create a community of writers. They can schedule it in at the beginning or the end of the writing lesson to create a space where all students (and teachers) are actively engaged in writing. At the end of the time, everyone will have a piece of writing - even one with errors or unrelated sentences - as well as the feeling that you're all working together; even when you're working on different pieces of writing.

 
 
 
 

5 ANZAC Day Picture Books to Use in Your Classroom

ANZAC Day is an important date in the Australian calendar, but it can be a complex occasion to discuss with students. Much of ANZAC Day and its place in the Australian story is based in the actions of countries and individuals more than 100 years ago. How can we explain that to students in the often short time we have? How can we show them what it was like and how that echoes into our world today.

One way to bring ANZAC Day to our students is through some of the fabulous picture books which have been written and released to bring stories and reflections to young people. Here I look at five of them and suggest some ways they can be used in the classroom.

 
5 ANZAC Day Picture Books to Use in Your Classroom from Galarious Goods
 

The Beach They Called Gallipoli by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

This book, which is probably best suited to upper primary and beyond, is more of an overview of the Gallipoli campaign than a narrative. Like French and Whatley's natural disaster books, it takes us through a timeline, using highly descriptive phrases and effective images to give us a glimpse into what it would have been like. We start before the landing, seeing calmness, work through the Gallipoli campaign with short pieces of text and photos, drawings and primary source ephemera giving us more information, then see how people came to remember the campaign 100 years later.

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can discuss the use of real images in the book. What do they tell the reader? How do we react to real images rather than drawings or paintings? How are they manipulated and what effect does that have?
  • -Students can examine the descriptive words and phrases used and what feeling they add to the book. 

ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan

This book is suitable for younger and older students. It tells two parallel stories - the story of a young girl and her mother making ANZAC biscuits for her father, and the story of the father - away from home at the war front. It's a story of love and family, but also a story of the fear and harsh conditions at war. Keen readers will want to flip back and forward between pages, looking for the similarities and connections the author and illustrator have included and some of the differences between now and the world of the story (I love the wood stove which reminds me of the one my great-grandmother had). 

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can research ANZAC biscuits and how they came to be called that. If you have access to a kitchen, this could be a good time to bake ANZAC biscuits and look at procedure writing and reading
  • Students can create a chart of the connections, similarities and differences shown in the book

The Little Stowaway by Vicki Bennett and Tull Suwannakit

This book is suitable for younger and older students. It is a relatively simple tale of a French orphan adopted by an Australian airman who has to take significant measures to bring him home after World War One. In some ways, though, it is the details which aren't provided which allow for greater exploration. What happened to other French orphans? What were the Australian air men doing? What was it like being an air man in World War One? 

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can use this book as inspiration to brainstorm questions about World War One and what it was like for soldiers
  • Was it right to smuggle Honoré home? Students can discuss whether he should have been left in France or whether bringing him back to Australia was the right thing to do
 
 

Lone Pine by Susie Brown and Margaret Warner (Illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione)

Suited to middle primary and older, this book tells the story of the Lone Pine and how trees were grown in Australia from a pine cone sent home. As these trees - and later trees - grew, they have been planted around Australia as memorials to World War One. As well as telling the story of trees, this tells the story of a family looking for and coming to terms with losing a brother and son. A particularly strong symbolic moment comes when only two of the three saplings survive to grow into strong trees.

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Lone Pine uses very strong, bold lines in the illustration. Students can experiment with their own bold line artwork using paint or oil pastels
  • Students can research more about the battle of Lone Pine and why it is still remembered today

Memorial by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan

Suited to middle primary and older, this book is the story of a family who have experienced war across three generations, a World War One memorial and the tree which was planted at the first memorial service. It deals with memories and how we make sure things are remembered after we are gone and what happens when part of a memorial is removed. This is a particularly good book to read alongside Lone Pine, since both books deal with some similar themes and ideas.

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can visit a local memorial or even one of the bigger memorials in their state. They may draw it, discuss its features and talk about how we preserve those memorials and why its important to preserve them. 
  • Students can discuss the rituals and symbols used at their school or local community ANZAC Day services. They might like to discuss the words which are used and the different elements which are included and how they are memorials as well.
 
 
 
 

5 Ways to Find Joy in Your Classroom and Teaching

 

Teaching can be really hard. So much is expected of teachers in so little time and with so few resources. Sometimes we find ourselves facing problems which we just can’t unravel, no matter how hard we try. And there are days when we ask ourselves why we persist.

Each year I choose a word to aim to - I think about what the word means and how I can bring more of those concepts into my life. In 2018, that word is JOY. I realised that joy is one of those things which can make the classroom an easier place to be, something which can bring light, even on the dim, dark days. But how can we find joy in the classroom and in our teaching?

 
5 Ways to Find Joy in Your Classroom and Teaching from Galarious Goods
 

1. Bring things of beauty and joy with you

There are some objects which just bring a sense of joy with them. It might be their colour or their shape or the reminder of a happy moment. We can bring these things - or things inspired by them -  into the classroom with us.I have a collection of bells which bring me happiness - one was bought on a holiday with friends, another has a unique sound, the third was given to me by a student. They were perfect for my desk in the classroom and brought joy whenever I saw them or rang them. You might have a framed photo of family or friends, an image of an amazing place you’ve been or would like to go or special pens, pencils or highlighters which make you happy.

You might take it further and decorate your whole classroom to make it a happy place. You might fill it with rainbows or images of plants, you might include happy quotes or use your favourite colour  as a background on a notice board.

What if you don’t have a dedicated classroom space? Bring some joy with you! It might be a beautiful lanyard or a lovely pencil case. You might like to buy a special planner (like this one from Mrs Strawberry, these planning sheets from Green Grubs, this library planner from Little Library Learners, or this planner from Oceanview Resources); a planner cover or decor like these beautiful options for New Zealand teachers from Green Grubs or binder covers like these from Jewel's School Gems. Use beautiful pictures as your computer background or screen saver. Buy some nice folders to hold your items or add lovely labels to your cart.

2. Reframe the mundane

A lot of teaching is repetitive . . . and a little bit boring. And while we can make some of it fun, some of it has to just be what it is.

But we can make it a little more joyful by reframing what’s happening in our heads. We can look for the little pieces of joy and remind ourselves that they’re there.

Staff meetings are a perfect example of this. The workplace health and safety officer might be going through the fire drill process for the 10th time in the year - but that means all teachers will be better prepared if there is a fire. And isn’t it great that they take their job seriously - it might really save a life or prevent and injury one day.

Marking can also seem endless, but look for those moments where students have shown improvement or really taken on something you’ve taught in class. Find those little pieces of joy in their work and celebrate them.

3. Work in the Affirmative

I love using affirmations - they’ve been part of my life since I was young and my mother used them with us. I use them quite a lot, these days - as motivation, for calming, for reflecting on what I’m doing and what I’d like to be doing.

Affirmations can definitely be used to bring joy into the classroom. It might be in the form of a lovely quote or poster which you hang in your classroom, or you might like to take a few moments to write your own at the beginning of the day or week. You can keep them in your teacher diary or on your desk or use them as part of a display at home or school. 

Looking for some teaching affirmations? Download my free set of teacher affirmations here.

 
 

4. Get Dancing

Well, you don’t have to dance. You could sing. Or run. Or make yourself the nicest coffee . . . 

The idea is to treat yourself - find activities or rituals which make you really happy and make sure to build them into your weekly schedule. It might be something you can do at school - one year a group of teachers at my school organised an exercise boot camp on the school oval after school, or you could always begin your school day with a song which makes you happy. Or it might be something which you participate in outside of school - a few years ago, I participated in adult ballet classes on Wednesday nights. It made me happy and gave me exercise!

If you have something you do every day, think about how you can make it happier. Always start the day with a cup of tea? What about having a pretty tea cup or tea thermos to drink it from? Like to eat a nice salad for your lunch at school? Could you add a nice relish or dressing or some lovely herbs to make it happier? Buy a nice hat for playground duty, treat yourself to joyful sticky notes, theme your daily whiteboard reminders to your favourite children’s books - treat yourself in ways which bring joy!


5. Bring joy and passion to your subject matter

Do you enjoy what you teach? Really enjoy it?When you enjoy what you’re teaching, your students feel it. If you share that joy, the excitement level in the room often rises and you’ve got a greater chance of having one of ‘those’ lessons which you want to repeat over and over. 

But what if you’re not teaching something you love? Is it possible to get really excited about mixed fractions? (Well, I enjoy them, but I’m occasionally strange!).Can you connect them to something you enjoy? Maybe you can combine mixed fractions and a chemistry or baking exploration? Or use them in a graphing or mapping exercise? Or use them to talk about how many books your class has read?

Or, you could connect them to something your class really enjoys. Challenge them to connect mixed fractions to unboxing videos or superheroes or making slime. Feed off their excitement and see how far it will take you. 

Don’t forget to keep a record of those really great lessons. It might be a photo or a short description. You might collect some feedback from your students or make a video about it. Use photos and descriptions to make a special noticeboard of happy lessons you’ve had with your class. These records can be great for your teaching portfolio, but they can also serve as a reminder of all the happy teaching moments you’ve enjoyed.


How do you bring joy to your classroom? Let me know in the comments!

 
 
 
 

5 Great First Day of School Reads

Recently, I was fortunate to be part of the free Back to School eBook - an Australian and New Zealand Teacher Authors Collaboration. One of the things the participating teacher-authors included was a back to school tip. Mine, of course, was related to reading, so I couldn’t help but dig a little deeper and think about what books I’d love to read aloud on the first day of school. I’m thrilled to present this short list:

 
First Day of School Reads - a Back to School Blog Post from Galarious Goods
 

1. Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey

Theme I’d touch on: It’s ok to try new things out, but it’s also ok to just do you.

You could really read just about any Aaron Blabey book - they’re so funny and surprisingly detailed and really engaging. I love Thelma the Unicorn because she wants something, makes it happen (with glitter), experiences and enjoys it, then goes back to her old world. It also touches on bullying - particularly senseless bullying we often see, which allows for some good cyber safely messages.


2. The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

Theme I’d touch on: We can help find solutions when we listen to the problem

There’s been a number of ‘bear’ books, but the original is still my favourite. Its rollicking, rhyming style is so easy to read and there’s several messages you can look at closer with your students. I love that Lion, Moose and Zebra think that being more like them is the solution, because they’re happy aren’t they? It takes sheep’s empathy to really hear Bear and realise that he’s severely sleep deprived! We can all be better listeners, and this is a message which can carry on from the beginning of the school year

 

 
5 Great Back to School Reads from Galarious Goods
 

3. Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

Theme I’d touch on: It’s ok to be proud of school and it’s ok to work hard at school

This is a book I’d probably read in upper primary grades where we can look at the background around it. That can also be an age where it’s seen as ‘cool’ to disengage from school or school work, and those who are enthusiastic about their school lessons can be seen as ‘different’ or ‘geeky’. This book points out why education is important and how lucky many students are and opens the school year with permission to take education seriously.

4. The beginning of Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman

Theme I’d touch on: Children around the world are living lives both different and the same as us

I adore this book and I know it’s often taught in the upper years. Even if you’re not taking an in-depth look at it until later in the year, you can read a ‘teaser’ of the book and open up a discussion about the differences and similarities in the world. It can be a good challenge for students to consider the world beyond their own experiences and open the class up to a year of discovery and reflection.

 
Five Great Back to School Reads from Galarious Goods
 

 

5. The Tomorrow Book by Jackie French

Theme I’d touch on: Where are we going and how can we solve the obstacles in our way

If you’ve got a future or a STEM focus in your classroom, this gentle picture book can be a great first day of school opening. It invites questions, thoughts, brainstorms, new vocabulary and investigation - just what your need for an exciting, investigative year to come.

What books do you enjoy reading at the beginning of the school year? Which books have been most successful?

 
 
 
 

5 Things School Parents Might Worry About (And how teachers can help those worries)

I’ve checked the new school bag, bought the new water bottle, browsed Pinterest for lunch box treats. Excitement is at an all time high here because my eldest is about to start school.

Despite all my own school experience, I - inevitably - have some worries. And I’m not the only one. Parenting groups I’m part of are filling up with questions and concerns and parenting blogs are publishing posts to help parents with their concerns.

So, what are these concerns? And how can teachers address them - and alleviate them?

 
5 Things School Parents Might Worry About (And how teachers can help those worries) A Back to School blog post from Galarious Goods
 

1. Have I Got Everything Right?

Is the uniform right? Have I bought the right shoes? What books do I cover and name and which ones do I leave? When do I send the library bag to school? What time should I arrive for the school assembly? 

Schools have their own rhythms, routines and systems. So do different teachers and classrooms. Every time a new school year starts, parents and students need to get used to these rhythms and systems and work out how they fit into the rest of life.

While teachers often take the time to go through the little details with students, parents are often left asking questions of more experienced parents or making worried posts in Facebook groups. Lots of parents don’t want to add to the stress of teachers and students in the first days of school by getting it wrong.

You can help these worries by making your school and your own expectations as clear as possible. If you want all books covered and named, let parents know through a note or an email. Ask your administration team to provide examples of the ‘right’ shoes at orientation sessions or meetings with new parents. Use a calendar to help parents know what’s coming up. These little details can help parents be more prepared, which means students are more likely to arrive on the first day ready to learn.

2. What Should I Talk to the Teacher About and How Should I Do That?

Do I let them know we’ve had a bad night’s sleep? Do I let them know that they’re finding the reader way too easy or way too hard? Do I ask them how my child is settling in? Can I get clarification on this homework?

Teacher time is valuable time, and it can be hard for parents to know how to navigate that, while sharing information and not being ‘that’ parent. 

What you want to know or how you’d like to communicate with parents will differ depending on your school, the age of the students and your own preferences. But let the parents know what you’d prefer, whether it’s a short note at the beginning of the day if something at home is likely to impact on the student’s learning, an email to clarify an assignment or a formal meeting set through the school office to discuss greater concerns. You may have a ‘no question is too small’ policy or you might like to produce a ‘frequently asked questions’ handout for parents to address those questions you get year after year. 

3. Will My Child Be Recognised in the Classroom?

Will they remember to speak up? Will the teacher have time to see them with all the other students and forms and reports and outcomes and curriculum they need to get through? Do I need to tell them about what my child can or can’t do, or will the teacher pick that up themselves? Will the teacher be able to work on their weaker areas? Will the teacher see who they are?

Parenting can be worrying, but it can be especially so when we hand our kids over to other people! Parents tend to know so many of their child’s strengths, weaknesses and individual quirks, so it’s easy to worry how a teacher of so many students (with so many other things to do!) will be able to see each student.

One way to address these worries is by making individual contact early in the year. It might be a short note about how the student has gone in the first two weeks or a quick chat at the end of the day. It might be a conversation as part of a back to school or meet the teacher night or a quick phone call to talk about something the student has done well and to address any questions. 

You can also combine these forms of contact with a parent survey - asking parents to talk about their children might help you pick up on things you haven’t picked up on yet. 

If you’re making phone calls home, you might like to use this free Parent/Carer Phone Call Log - it’s an easy way of seeing which parents you’ve contacted and which ones you need to contact, as well as allowing you to record anything you might need to follow up on.

 
 

4. Will My Child Get In Trouble?

Will they listen to the teacher? Will they be nice to other children? Will they talk too much in class? Will they behave themselves at assembly? Will they behave themselves when they’re tired? 

Almost all students are likely to get into trouble at some point. We know that as teachers and parents definitely know that about their own children. So the answer to this one is usually ‘yes, your child will get into trouble at some point.’

Schools often have really detailed behaviour management plans, but these can be a little overwhelming. Plus they don’t always cover the day to day teaching and management of behaviour which happens in the classroom.

Teachers can definitely help break these down and can work with parents as a team on behaviour. If you’re concentrating on a behaviour - raising hand in class or being kind in the playground, for example - you can let parents know. When parents know that’s something to be worked on, they can reinforce the good behaviour at home. 

You can also let parents know that certain behaviours are normal and even expected at different ages.

5. How Can I Help At Home Without Stepping on the Teacher’s Toes?

If I’m reading at home should we talk about the letters and the sounds they make? Should we be doing maths problems or do I leave them for the classroom? I know they’re learning about volcanoes this year, should we do some reading at home first or just wait?

Many parents want to support their children when it comes to learning. But often they’re not sure how to go about it without getting in the way of the teachers and the work they’re doing. 

Teachers can help with this worry by having a list of activities parents and students can do at home together. It might be general like reading books, looking at maps of trips, helping with chores around the house, playing with toys which develop fine motor skills, getting out and exercising together or exploring the interests of the child. Or it might be more focused like looking at sight words, practising time tables or maths facts, looking for interesting words when reading and making a personal dictionary, talking about family history.

If students need more focused help or are showing particular interest in a subject, it’s worth passing on this information to parents as well so they can expand on that at home.

I’ve had several parents ask what tutors (for students at all levels) can do to help. It’s worthwhile to think of the skills which might need reinforcing or extending at different times of the year and to have a list which can be used by the student and the tutor.

You might also like to think of ‘sideways’ activities which the students can engage in. If a student really likes a book you’re reading in class, you might like to suggest that they research what other books are available on a similar topic or by the same author. If you’re learning about Ancient Egypt, they might like to read about other ancient civilisations. A student who is really into mathematics might like to brainstorm places they find or use a maths concept in the ‘real world’. 

There are lots of ways parents can help with learning outside of the classroom and it’s worth the time to offer some suggestions to engage the whole family in the learning of the student.

 

Have you found some effective ways to alleviate the worries of parents at the beginning of the school year? Share them in a comment!

 
 
 
 

12 Christmas Ideas for Your Classroom

Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming!

The snow is falling, fires are lit, rosy cheeked children are running around in lovely woollens! 

Oops! None of that! It's the Southern Hemisphere here and we're getting ready for a lovely summer holiday. But it's still Christmas time and Santa is ready to take orders as we wind down the school year. 

So I gathered some teachers together to offer some great Christmas ideas for your classroom - and a few Secret Santa freebies for you to download!

 
12 Christmas Ideas for Your Classroom - Great teaching ideas from Australian and NZ teachers designed to make your Christmas better
 

1. Have your students create their own Christmas spelling lists. How many words can they come up with? Which ones do they think are most difficult? Are there any spelling rules they can find or use?

2. Use Christmas words for spelling or vocabulary activities. What do words we hear around Christmas mean? How can we use them? Where do they come from? 

3. Write stories about what Santa does in his free time. He can't work all the time, can he? What does Santa's down time look like? This is a great activity which can be used no matter how old the students are.

 
  Get this FREE Secret Santa Surprise from Top Teaching Tasks!

Get this FREE Secret Santa Surprise from Top Teaching Tasks!

 

4. Compare Santa and St. Nick. Where do our current beliefs about Santa come from? What are other Santa traditions from around the world? How can students share this information with others? Can they work collaboratively to share this information?

5. Write a present guide for fairy tale characters. What do you buy for the owner of glass slippers? Should Red Riding Hood look for a different colour hood or should she get some different transportation to visit her grandmother. Students can explore texts, write their own present descriptions and think about how images and text go together in advertising

6. Create a Christmas themed obstacle course. This can be a map of an obstacle course or a real life obstacle course outside or in a gym or hall. Students can think about different types of movement and how to put them together with different types of equipment

 
  Get Your FREE Secret Santa Surprise from Galarious Goods

Get Your FREE Secret Santa Surprise from Galarious Goods

 

7. Write a new Christmas recipe. What food do we eat at Christmas time? How do we prepare it? Students can invent a new meal or dish to go with Christmas lunch or dinner, explore what recipes look like and write their own. Brave teachers might even let them prepare it!

8. Use Christmas supermarket catalogues to plan a Christmas meal to a budget. This could also be used with online price lists and is a great way to explore what Christmas food is and why people eat certain food at Christmas time

9. Explore Christmas food around the world. What do people eat for Christmas where it's hot? Where it's cold? What traditional Christmas cakes and biscuits can you learn about? Why are certain foods associated with Christmas?

 
  Get your FREE Secret Santa Surprise from Aussie Waves

Get your FREE Secret Santa Surprise from Aussie Waves

 

 10.  Create a map of Santa's home at the North Pole. What would it look like? What rooms would Santa definitely need? This is a great way to revisit mapping skills and birds eye perspective. Students can extend this by writing a 'tour' of Santa's home.

11. Research the Arctic. We know Santa lives at the North Pole, but what else do we know about the northern part of the world? This is a great research activity which all students can get involved in.

12. Create a Christmas board game or card game. This is a great way for students to think through procedures, instruction writing, and what makes an effective game.They also have to think about how to connect Christmas with games. 

 

You can get more great Christmas teaching resources at Teachers Pay Teachers. 

Find Christmas Resources from Aussie Waves here
Find Christmas Student Awards from A Plus Learning Here
Find Christmas Resources from Galarious Goods here
Find Christmas Resources from Top Teaching Tasks here

Wishing all teachers a peaceful and happy holiday season