Using Badly Written Texts in the Classroom

Often when we present work to our students, we are showing them exemplary work. But what if we showed them something which was less than perfect?

 
 

When we teach different types of texts to students, we often share mentor texts with them. Mentor texts allow students to see what the texts should look like and gives them something to aim for with their own writing.

Another way to explore writing with students is to present them with a text which is written badly on purpose. Students work to identify where the text needs to be improved and how to improve it.

There are a few different ways you can use a poorly written text with your class:

  • Work as a whole class to identify where the text could be improved and how to improve it. Students work collaboratively to identify the best replacements for the poor writing
  • Students work in small groups or pairs to rewrite assigned parts of the text. They might identify the places to improve the text themselves, or this might be done as a class first
  • Ask students to focus on particular aspects of the text like paragraph structure, sentence structure or vocabulary
  • Students work independently to improve the text 
  • Students work together to identify where the text can be removed. These elements can be covered through mini lessons before students work on rewriting the text

One of the biggest benefits of working with a poorly written text is that students don't have to work from a blank slate. Coming up with a text from nothing can be overwhelming for some students. Using a text gives them a skeleton of a text - allowing them to focus on better writing rather than content.

Freebie

Want to use a poorly written text as an activity your class? Children Shouldn't Eat Junk Food: A Very Bad Persuasive Mentor Text is available as a freebie!

 
 

Looking for some persuasive writing prompts? The Persuasive Writing Prompt Bundle includes extended task sheets, task cards, organisers and a marking rubric - and because it's a bundle, you know that you're saving money!

 
 
 
 

Where Can We Explore Persuasive Writing?

Writing persuasively is a skill which often serves our students beyond the classroom. So what are some of the different ways we can fit it into our busy classroom schedules? How can we integrate it with other subjects?

 
 

1. In English Classes

This feels rather obvious, but as well as explicitly teaching persuasive writing there are opportunities to explore it in other areas of English lessons. Debating or persuasive oral presentations allow students to explore ways of creating and arranging effective arguments, while hearing how they sound - so often we get a different impression of our writing when we hear it spoken out loud.

Persuasive writing can also be explored in reading lessons as students explore texts, find evidence and write their ideas about the text.

2. In Art, Music or Drama Classes

When we come across a really great piece of art, music or drama we often want to share it with everyone. But many people find it hard to effectively write an effective recommendation - to explain why people should see or listen to your favourite thing.

By writing extended recommendations, students can take a closer look at the elements which make the work excellent. This allows for discussion about staging, colour or rhythm - elements being taught in class - while persuading people to enjoy their favourite works.

3. Holiday Celebrations

Holiday celebrations are a great opportunity to explore persuasive speech while acknowledging events occurring throughout the year. Students could even brainstorm topics to write about in the lead up to the celebration.

Interested in a holiday persuasive writing prompt resource? This Halloween Persuasive Argument pack will have you well prepared!

4. In Different Subject Areas

History, civics and citizenship, social lessons and health lessons are all great areas to explore persuasive topics. Discussing and formulating arguments can be small or whole group activities, developing group work skills, and students can incorporate research skills to assist them in creating more persuasive arguments. Persuasion can also help students to develop a better understanding of the work historians or political commentators do and to understand that they don't always agree on historical or government topics.

One example of a subject area persuasive writing task is the Voting Should Be Compulsory Persuasive Argument task at the Galarious Goods store.

Looking for more persuasive writing prompts? The Persuasive Writing Prompt Bundle includes extended task sheets, task cards, organisers and a marking rubric - and because it's a bundle, you know that you're saving money!

 
 
 
 

Exploring Author Intention

Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman is a fabulous fast-paced read, but it also covers the complex and sometimes controversial topic of refugees. While it might be tempting to stay far away from this - you don't always want extra controversy in the classroom - the topic can help to frame a deeper exploration of the book and the intentions of the author.

 
 

Who is Telling the Story?

In Boy Overboard, the narrator is Jamal, a young boy from Afghanistan who becomes a refugee on a boat to Australia.

The choice of Jamal as a first-person narrator is interesting for both the narrative and the message it gives the reader. We see the world through Jamal's eyes - the things he considers to be ordinary and the misunderstandings he has. We begin to understand why he and his family make the choices they make - we're given the opportunity to step into his shoes for a little while.

We can also explore why the author made Jamal the narrator. Was it to provoke empathy or sympathy for his situation? To make us wonder what decisions we might make in the same situation? Or is it a convention that the author has used repeatedly in his other books? How would it be different if he'd made a different choice? If he'd chosen another character to tell the story or had a separate narrator altogether?

 
 

How Do the Characters Respond to Events in the Story?

There are several different types of characters in Boy Overboard - named and nameless - and they respond to events in a wide variety of ways. Some are helpful, some make life more difficult and some are downright dangerous to our main character.

By offering a range of characters, what is the author telling us? Which of the responses does he want us to sympathise with? Which of the supporting characters does he want us to agree with? How does he want us to feel about all of his characters, not just the main ones?

Looking at the characters our protagonist interacts with can be a powerful insight into the intentions of the author. We are given a more complete view of the world in which they live and begin to assess if the author is being fair to the characters or not.

 
 

What messages is the author sending us - and should we trust them?

This is an important question for students to ask whenever they come across text which tackles complex issues. When students learn to question the intentions of the author, they begin to read more critically.

With Boy Overboard, the author is asking us to feel empathy for Jamal and the other refugees. But we should encourage students to read more on the topic - both fiction and non-fiction. This allows them to better understand the actions of those in the book - even if they don't agree with them - and to have a greater understanding of the messages the author is sending.

 
 

Students are facing a different media landscape to the one that existed when Boy Overboard was first published. These days it can be very easy to only engage with media which reinforces your view of the world. By encouraging students to explore the intentions of the author and how that might influence the reader, we can better prepare students to think about and form informed opinions on complex issues in the future.

Should Children's Authors Write About Controversial Topics?

When authors publish books including controversial topics, there are some people who feel that they have overstepped the mark, that they are introducing children to topics that are 'above them'. But what do your students think?

The latest freebie in the Galarious Goods shop allows students to explore this question through a persuasive writing task. This is a great opportunity to discuss books which might be seen as controversial - and why they are seen that way - and is the perfect accompaniment to a novel or book study or for banned book week.

 
 

Interested in Teaching Boy Overboard?

You can find the Boy Overboard Sample Pack here -  this free resource gives you activities you can use in your classroom and an introduction to the other Boy Overboard resources available at the Galarious Goods shop.

Other resources available include:

 
 
 
 

Using Boy Overboard in the Classroom

What kind of book brings together soccer, bread, the horror of living under an authoritarian regime, the importance of education and a side of humour? Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman, of course. This modern Australian classic is a classroom favourite, and it’s not hard to understand why.

But while this book deals with a particular time period - it has many universal themes which continue to be important and worthy of exploration (inside and outside our classrooms) today.

 
Using Boy Overboard in the Classroom - blog post examining Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman, why it is suitable for the classroom and how you can use it
 

Boy Overboard tells the story of Jamal, a football (soccer) mad boy who lives in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. After his family find themselves in trouble with the Taliban, they are forced to flee - first to a refugee camp and then around the world. They're aiming to build a new life in Australia - where Jamal hopes he and his sister will become famous football stars who will be able to return to Afghanistan as heroes one day.

This book deals with a particular refugee crisis which happened while the Taliban was controlling most of Afghanistan. This is history to our students, events which occurred before they were born. But the notion of refugees escaping great danger and searching for a safe place is a notion which is still - unfortunately - relevant today.

 
 

This allows our students many ways to build connections between the ‘history’ of Boy Overboard and the world in which they live today. Students can explore why people leave their home countries, willing to travel through dangerous conditions to start a new life elsewhere. No one in Jamal's family are happy to leave their home and they sacrifice many things to find safety and peace.

Jamal and his family find themselves in a refugee camp. With more than 25 million people in the world considered refugees, there are camps in many places around the world. Students can explore what conditions are like in these camps and how organisations and innovators have worked to make these conditions better.

Another element students can look at is the obligation of countries to refugees. Throughout their journey, people take advantage of Jamal and his family and the other refugees. Meanwhile, governments make decisions which can be hard to understand - especially when we get to know the individuals involved. The 1951 Refugee Convention is a legal agreement which determines the rights of refugees. This may form the basis of a discussion about rights and responsibilities and how countries can meet their responsibilities to refugees today.

 
 

Beyond refugees, students can examine what it is like to life under an authoritarian regime such as the one Jamal lives under in Afghanistan. Boy Overboard acknowledges many of the rules imposed on the citizens of Afghanistan and allows students to explore this form of government.

Students can also relate to Jamal’s situation when he often doesn’t understand the full story. Jamal isn’t written as an all-knowing creature. Instead he is a boy who doesn’t always have all the information, who doesn’t always come to the right conclusion. Students can compare him with other characters or connect this feature of Jamal with their own experiences.

Boy Overboard is truly a great classroom read, either as a read aloud, for a whole class read or for small group work. The characters are interesting and worth exploring, the events of the story allow for exploration, the choices of the author can be discussed. It tackles a serious topic, but maintains the soft humour Morris Gleitzman is well known for.



Interested in Teaching Boy Overboard?

You can find the Boy Overboard Sample Pack here -  this free resource gives you activities you can use in your classroom and an introduction to the other Boy Overboard resources available at the Galarious Goods shop.

Other resources available include:

 
 
 
 

Where Do We Find Persuasive Writing?

Understanding persuasive writing is a key skill for students - whether they're reading it or writing it. But where, in the real world, are they likely to come across it?

 
 

Advertising

The most common place we see persuasive writing is in advertising. Sometimes it's the short text of a television advertisement, telling us how much better our lives will be if we buy a particular product. Other times it might be the lengthier 'advertorials' - ads disguised as article - in newspapers or magazines.

Most advertisements focus on one side of the story only. They often don't acknowledge similar products and they only talk up the positives. They have a very strong agenda - to convince customers to buy their product.

 
 

Political Speeches

Like advertising, political speeches are selling something. However, instead of selling a product, they're selling a politician or political party or a policy they want people to approve of. Political speeches might acknowledge different points of view, but they will usually work to explain why their point of view is the best. Some political speeches will be followed by questions or a press conference - politicians end up constantly speaking in persuasive language.

 
 

Opinion Pieces

Traditionally opinion pieces were published in a paper form. In the past they might be as published leaflets or as letters to the editor. Newspapers often devoted particular spaces to commentary writers who would use their writing to express certain points of view. 

These days, a lot of opinion writing happens on blogs. Everyone is able to share their opinions through the internet, and a lot of people use that to create persuasive arguments about things they're passionate about - like politics, educational theory, best sports team or why someone should read a particular book.

 
 

Looking at persuasive writing with your students? Challenge them to find different pieces of persuasive writing in their world. How do the authors persuade the audience? What skills can they use in their own writing?

Want to bring more persuasive arguments into the classroom? Pick up the Persuasive Argument bundle at the Galarious Goods shop. Or, prepare for Christmas with the Australian Christmas Persuasive Writing Pack.

 
 
 
 

An Aussie Night Before Christmas in the Classroom - Celebrating an Australian Christmas

Over the last few years there's been a number of Australian-themed holiday (and non-holiday) books published. Often they are influenced by and expand on classic stories, rhymes and songs, including Australian settings, animals and familiar objects to create relatable tales for Australian children.

One of the first of these was An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison and Kilmeny Niland, and there's a reason it's still so popular. It moves the classic poem to an Australian bush setting and includes more than a few Australian in-jokes - including a couple for the parents reading.

So how can a book like this be used in the classroom? 

 
 

New Stories from Old Stories

An Aussie Night Before Christmas retells the old 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, moving it the the summer heat of the Australian bush. It's a very modern feeling story, with Mum and Dad sitting down to watch tv sports and Santa arriving in a rusty old ute.

Retelling old stories is a really interesting concept for students to investigate. They can discuss other stories, rhymes and songs which could be retold in new ways or investigate other stories which have been retold. They can discuss the choices of the story teller - where they choose to stay with the original story and where they move away from it. And they can have a go at retelling the story themselves.

A Very Australian Portrayal

An Aussie Night Before Christmas tells an Australian story - but is it the Australian story? This is a great opportunity for students to engage with the idea of generalisations, stereotypes and ideas of identity. They can identify which things seem familiar to them and which ones are different. They can talk about what 'Australian' mean to them and what it might look like to someone from another country.

An extension on this is to ask students to write their own version which shows a different Australian night before Christmas. They could bring in their own family traditions or ones they discuss with their classmates. This could be a great small group or whole class activity.

Why Are Stories Like This Important?

Why should we have Australian versions of stories? What does it mean to students to see their own country in a book, to see images which make more sense than sleighs and reindeer? This could open some fascinating conversations about representation in stories and carols - it would be especially useful if you want students to create their own Christmas carols or stories.

 

This is a great book for all ages at Christmas time. There's a lot of really interesting discussions and chances for writing and other creative activities. If you don't have a copy to share with your class, I highly recommend it.

 
Christmas in Australia activities based around An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison. This resource pack includes comprehension and vocabulary, writing activities, discussion topics and creating activities.

Christmas in Australia activities based around An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison. This resource pack includes comprehension and vocabulary, writing activities, discussion topics and creating activities.

 

Wanting to take a more in-depth look at An Aussie Night Before Christmas? Pick up this Book Study resource at the Galarious Goods shop. Or buy the Australian Christmas Writing Bundle and save!

     
     

    Creating Lessons from Holiday Decorations - A Big List of Ideas

    It's time to decorate the classroom! Or to create fabulous decorations for your students to take home with them! But what other learning can you get from holiday decorations?

     
     

    Find the Maths

    • What angles can you find in a 5 point star? A 6 point star? 7 points?
    • What's the circumference of the bauble? The diameter?
    • What shapes can you find in holiday decorations?
    • What nets do you need to create 3D decorations?
    • What's the area of those nets?
    • How many decorations do you need to decorate a classroom? To decorate a tree?

    Find the Writing

    • Write about why we need holiday decorations
    • Write about the history of holiday decorations
    • Write a procedure for making holiday decorations
    • Write a short story about holiday decorations
    • Write a newspaper article about how your class is decorated

    Find the Engineering

    • Which decorations are the strongest?
    • How can you made decorations stronger?
    • How do you test the strength of a decoration?
    • Can you use decorations to make a machine?
    • Can you make decorations move on their own?
    • Can you create structures out of decorations?

    Find the Creativity

    • How can you portray decorations using paint? Pencils? Clay?
    • What recycled materials can you use to create decorations?
    • Can you create a dance about decorations?
    • Can you create a play or a song about decorations?
    • How can you use colour in your decorations?
    • How can you use shapes in decorations?

    Don't forget to leave your holiday ideas in the comments!

     
    Christmas math and engineering resource using paper chains. Students explore the mathematical topics of measurement, length, perimeter and patterns and engineering principles of creating tests, assessing suitability, exploring materials and drawing conclusions. 

    Christmas math and engineering resource using paper chains. Students explore the mathematical topics of measurement, length, perimeter and patterns and engineering principles of creating tests, assessing suitability, exploring materials and drawing conclusions. 

     
     
     

    Surviving Christmas in an Australian Classroom

    Ah, Christmas. The students are tired. Admin are insisting that it's business as usual until 3pm on the last day. There's activities and performances and assemblies and you never get a full class for more than half an hour at a time. You've just found out you need to move your whole classroom across the school. Oh, and it's swelteringly hot!

    Of course, what you need are Christmas or holiday themed activities which promote real learning - while fitting into the spaces of time you get in the classroom!

     
     

    Bring on the Games

    This is a great time for reinforcing everything you've taught during the year with a series of games. Your students will love you, they'll have a better chance of remembering things into the new year and then their next teacher will also love you! 

    Short multiplication games, grammar games and spelling games are great for filling in the 5 or 10 minute gaps before you have to be somewhere. You could also hold a trivia quiz over the last few weeks, breaking the class into teams and covering all sorts of information from the year (things you've covered, books you've read, events you've attended plus general trivia).

    Board games and adapted board games can work really well for those times when you're missing some of the students. You can also take the games outside to rejuvenate students. Use the first hour of the day when it's a little cooler, or find a covered or shaded place to play. 

    Writing Tasks

    Writing is one of those tasks which is wonderfully adaptable to any event or time of the year. Students can create their own creative writing prompts, create stories, poems, songs or plays about Christmas or the holidays. They can respond to articles in newspapers or online. They can write letters to family and friends or write reflections about the year they've had. 

    Persuasive writing is now a big feature of Australian classrooms and an excellent technique to work on at Christmas time. Students can write advertisements or letters to the editor or they can respond to a persuasive text prompt.

     
    A collection of five Christmas in Australia - themed persuasive writing prompts, this resource can be used for test preparations, homework assignments or as part of whole class teaching or writer’s workshop.

    A collection of five Christmas in Australia - themed persuasive writing prompts, this resource can be used for test preparations, homework assignments or as part of whole class teaching or writer’s workshop.

     

    Reading

    Although the Christmas season might not allow enough time for a Christmas novel, there is enough time to examine Christmas picture books. Students can examine picture books based on old carols and stories or picture books which tell new stories. They can talk about the way Christmas is portrayed, the emphasis which is put on Christmas in the books (is it about Santa? Giving? Where Christmas is held? The food?) or how different Christmas books compare with each other. Alongside the reading discussion, there's plenty of room for accompanying writing and craft activities.

     
    Christmas in Australia activities based around An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison. This resource pack includes comprehension and vocabulary, writing activities, discussion topics and creating activities. A perfect resource to continue and extend learning in the final weeks of school in Australia.

    Christmas in Australia activities based around An Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison. This resource pack includes comprehension and vocabulary, writing activities, discussion topics and creating activities. A perfect resource to continue and extend learning in the final weeks of school in Australia.

     

    Maths Investigations

    Christmas and holidays are great for maths investigations. You can plan for Christmas lunch (time table for cooking, menu planning for 4 people or 6 people or 8 people, working out the cost of ingredients and creating a budget.

    Or you could create an investigation around wrapping presents - how can you wrap different sized boxes? How much paper will you need? 

    Or look at patterns of Christmas lights. What patterns can you create? How does it change when you use different numbers of lights or colours?

    There are so many easy to set up and easy to implement ideas to create real learning at Christmas time - even with the heat. And don't forget my Christmas freebie - available here!

       
       

      Three Connections to The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice #1)

      Although The Ruins of Gorlan is set in a fictional world, there's still many connections to real world history and topics. Those connections are just waiting for you to explore in the classroom.

       
       

      Medieval History

      The world of the Ranger's Apprentice books is a rather modern version of medieval history. Conditions are a lot cleaner and nicer for our characters, but there are castles, fiefdoms, barons and knights and lots of connections to European medieval history.

      Students can spend some time reading up on medieval history. They may like to research historical documents and images or they might like to spend some time reading medieval historical fiction (you can find some here or here). This allows for comparisons, for students to discuss why the author may have chosen a medieval setting and discussions about how realistic the world of the Ranger's Apprentice is.

      Spies in History

      One of the roles of the Rangers is to act as spies for the King. There's a rich history of spies throughout history and it's a topic students can definitely get their teeth into. Students might like to look at why spies are required, who some of the famous spies are and what impact they've had on historical events. They could look at how spies work and spies who work during war time. There's also many middle grades and young adult books on spies which can be connected to The Ruins of Gorlan.

      Archery

      As an apprentice Ranger, Will learns archery and is expected to become an expert with the bow and arrow. Archery is an activity which developed to allow people to hunt for food before becoming a weapon and, in modern times, a sport. Students can learn how archery works and where it appears in other books and media. Through archery you can also connect The Ruins of Gorlan to physical educations - you may be lucky to allow the students to experience archery or you could look at some accuracy and strength drills - and STEM - creating a bow, looking at forces, looking at records from archery competitions, examining how bows and arrows have developed over history.

       
       

      These are just some of the many connections to The Ruins of Gorlan. You can find more in the Ruins of Gorlan Research Task pack, which encourages students to research connected topics. You can also purchase a comprehension and vocabulary packa character pack and an overall novel pack, or you can purchase a complete bundle and save.

       
       
       
       

      Introducing The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice #1)

      Finding novels for small groups or whole classes to read can be a difficult exercise. Here I'd like to introduce one of my favourite books - a great coming of age story appropriate for 8-14 year old readers: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan.

       
      Introducing the Ruins of Gorlan. A look at the Ranger's Apprentice novel by John Flanagan and why it's a great class novel for middle grade readers. A Galarious Goods book blog post
       

      What’s the Story?

      The Ruins of Gorlan is the first book in the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan. It takes us to the fictional world of Araluen - similar to medieval England - a world of castles and knights and the mysterious Rangers.

      The hero of the story is Will, a young orphan who wants to be trained to be a knight like his fellow ward (and - at the beginning of the book - rival) Horace. However, he is considered too small to join the battle school and is instead apprenticed to the enigmatic Ranger, Halt. We follow his training as an apprentice until an almost forgotten enemy appears to test Halt, Will and others around them

      What Kind of Story Is It?

      Although there are some fantastical elements to this book (those elements aren't really present in later books in the series) it is primarily an adventure. It's also an origin story - we see how Will enters training as a Ranger, how he is challenged through that training and asked to make decisions which will shape his future, how he interacts with his mentor and how he can apply his training in an unthinkable situation.

      We can compare this book with other origin stories, looking at what the traits of an origin story are and how we could change or challenge them. Students can also try to write their own origin stories - either of original or familiar characters.

      How Can We Use The Ruins of Gorlan in the Classroom

      There's a lot in this book which can be used in the classroom. The fictional medieval elements allow research and discussion of medieval history. The characters in the story are challenged by a number of situations, including bullying, not being able to follow their dreams, confronting fears and being persistent, allowing for some interesting discussions. There's also incredibly rich vocabulary used throughout the book, allowing for word work and discussions.

      Decided to teach The Ruins of Gorlan, but not sure where to start? Download this FREE RESOURCE - The Ruins of Gorlan: Introductory Activities to get you going.

       
       

      Have you taught The Ruins of Gorlan in your classroom? What ideas and themes did you focus on? Share your experience below in the comments.