Exploring Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom

Books which tell us the story from the perspective of one of the main characters can often have unreliable narrators - narrators you can’t quite trust 100%. These unreliable narrators can be fascinating to explore in the classroom - allowing us to take a closer look at the intentions of the author and what kind of person these characters are.

 
Exploring Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom. A quick look at first person narratives with unreliable narrators and how we can explore them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

The Unaware Narrator

Jamal in Boy Overboard (by Morris Gleitzman) is sure that he and his sister have arrived at a soccer match. Only to discover that he is terribly wrong.

Jamal is a character who often only has part of the story. He is forced to fill in the gaps with the knowledge he does have, but many times his conclusions aren’t right and he has to reassess and draw new conclusions. As readers there are times when we are aware that he doesn’t have it quite right (or we soon find out that is the case) and we have to assess whether we will believe his next conclusion, or treat it with a level of scepticism.

Morris Gleitzman writes a LOT of characters like this. Which makes sense because childhood often feels like this - like you have some of the puzzle pieces, but someone’s hidden the picture which helps you put them together.

Another great example of a character like this is Mothball the Wombat from Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s Diary of a Wombat story. In this case, the illustrations soon let us know that the scratching post is a ladder and the furry enemy is really a doormat, so we find ourselves carrying two narratives through the story - the narrative in Mothball’s head and the narrative we can tell from the illustrations.

Exploring Unaware Narrators in the Classroom

These can be great fun to explore in the classroom because our own knowledge, experiences and schema may be able to help us fill in the gaps. Comparing what our narrators think is happening and what is really happening allows us to understand where our characters come from - whether they’re boys or wombats.

It also allows us to explore the intentions of the author. An author study on Morris Gleitzman books would be particularly interesting, looking at what information he gives his narrators before the events of the book, what conclusions they draw from that information when they’re in unfamiliar circumstances and what they learn going forward.

When we explore a character like Mothball, we can also look at the choices the author has made - the wombat understands certain terms like sleep, scratch and - of course - carrots, but hasn’t come up across concepts like garden beds, door mats or washing lines. Why has the author made those choices for our wombat narrator? How would the story be different if there were different choices?

The Deliberately Unreliable Narrator

Erica Yurken is the best thing since sliced bread. Or at least she is in her own mind. And in the stories she tells others.

Robin Klein’s classic novel Hating Alison Ashley is told from the perspective of Erica Yurken who constantly creates stories about herself and others to amuse herself, get herself out of trouble or to impress other people - including Alison Ashley.

If we just listened to Erica, we would probably be inclined to hate Alison Ashley ourselves. But there are things which make us question Erica’s trustworthiness - times when she gets caught out in her stories, times when she contradicts herself and times when we glimpse her through the eyes of other characters. The author knows that Erica is not reliable and wants the reader to know this too.

We find another unreliable narrator in the Do Not Open This Book series from Andy Lee. Our narrator desperately wants us to stop turning the pages (because dreadful things happen to him when we do), so he’ll try anything to stop us - even turning the book around so we’ll turn the pages from back to front. The illustrations, eventual confessions and meta-knowledge of how books work allows us to know that our narrator is not the most trustworthy of characters - even if he’s only being unreliable to save his own skin.

A. Wolf is also just trying to save his skin in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. He’s found himself in jail and he wants us to know that it’s not his fault at all - it’s all because he needed to borrow some sugar.

In this case, it’s our own background knowledge - our understanding of fairy tales - which makes us question his honesty. After all - we’ve never heard this story before. But we keep reading to see how he’s going to justify his terrible crimes.

 
 

Exploring Deliberately Unreliable Narrators in the Classroom

The biggest questions we can ask in our classrooms when it comes to deliberately unreliable narrators is why do they behave like this? Why are they trying to mislead us - the readers - and what will they get if they manage this?

We can also challenge students to write first person narration like this. To consider what motivates a character and then have them tell a story where they work to convince the reader of something which may not be quite true. This works particularly well when students begin with well known stories like fairy tales and myths and try to tell the story from the perspective of the ‘bad guy’.

What unreliable narrators have you come across in your reading? Have you used a book with an unreliable narrator in your classroom? Leave a comment below.

 
 

Introducing Hating Alison Ashley

Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein has been a staple of Australian classrooms for decades now - and for good reason! This classic Australian novel still holds its own against more modern novels and is the perfect book to engage your upper primary readers.

 
Introducing Hating Alison Ashley. A look at Hating Alison Ashley, the classic Australian middle grades novel by Robin Klein - and why it's perfect for upper primary classrooms. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Hating Alison Ashley is the story of Erica Yurken - a Year 6 student with big dreams and bigger stories who finds her world turned upside down when the seemingly perfect Alison Ashley arrives at her disadvantaged school. As the story progresses, and Erica gets more frustrated with Alison taking on her position of ‘best student’ we see that Alison’s life might not be as perfect as it seems - and Erica might have a real direction to take her big imagination.

Why should you teach Hating Alison Ashley in your classroom?

1. It’s still really relevant!

There’s an occasional reference which seems a bit out of place in Hating Alison Ashley, but it’s still tackling themes and ideas which feel relevant to students today - our position in our class or school, friendships or lack of them, embarrassing families, dealing with teachers and of course - school camp.

Hating Alison Ashley gives students a launching point to discuss some of these ideas and what they would do if they were in the positions that Erica and Alison find themselves in throughout the story.

2. Erica Yurken

Erica knows she is smart. She knows she is the best thing her school has ever known. But maybe, just maybe, is there a possibility she isn’t quite as smart as she thinks she is?

Erica is a brutally real character. She’s funny and smart, but also super frustrating at times. She narrates the story, so we see it from her point of view, but sometimes she gives us just enough information to wonder what the story would be like if someone else was telling it.

Erica in the book also makes me wonder what she would be like as a teenager or an adult. She’s an incredibly memorable character, and it’s definitely worth the time exploring her closer.

 
 

3. The other real characters

Hating Alison Ashley is filled with characters who feel real - from Alison Ashley who looks perfect but has a less than perfect family life to Barry Hollis who does all sorts of terrible things - but seems to be looking for read friendships as much as Erica is. Erica’s family includes her super embarrassing younger sister and strangely absent-but-there older brother who live in dream worlds as much as Erica does as well as Valjoy, who is just the right amount of terrifying. The teachers are also a delight to read - feeling incredibly real as they take on super challenging tasks each day. Then there’s Lennie - Erica’s mother’s boyfriend - who comes in to save the day at just the right time.

These characters elevate the story, allowing students more areas to explore and discuss. Is Erica fair to Lennie? Is Barry Hollis really misguided? What skills do you need to be a teacher at Erica’s school?

4. The novel is really accessible - but has room for deeper exploration

Hating Alison Ashley isn’t a particularly long novel. It would be possible to read the book fairly quickly, either with students reading alone or a mixture of along reading, teacher reading and guided reading. It’s set in a fairly familiar setting - an Australian school in an Australian suburb - so students already have some background knowledge as they step into the world. The writing is good - but it isn’t overwhelmingly complex. It’s easily a novel every student can engage in reading.

But the themes allow for a wide range of explorations for more advanced readers. Unravelling Erica as a character can be an in-depth task on its own! Students can also compare characters, look at the choices made throughout the book by the characters and the author, look at how Erica relates to the people around her and engage in creative tasks around the book.

Have you read Hating Alison Ashley with a class - or as a student? Share your experiences in the comments!

 
 

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.

 
 

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.

 
 

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.

 
 
 
 

7 Reasons We Love the Pig the Pug Books

My family loves the Pig the Pug books by Aaron Blabey. We love them so much that both my children have dressed as the not-so-well-behaved but lovable dog for Book Week. But what is it we love so much about Pig? My son sat down with me to put together some reasons we love Pig - and some ways you can explore that love in the classroom.

 
7 Reasons We Love Pig the Pug. A blog post exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and the ways these wonderful books can be used by teachers in the classroom. Perfect for teachers looking for reading resources. A Galarious Goods post
 

1. We Love the Lessons . . .

Every Pig book comes with a little lesson (or two) to learn - whether it’s sharing our toys with others, telling the truth about our misdeeds or sharing the spotlight.

While the lessons are pretty broad - and sometimes pretty specific to Pig (it’s unlikely our children will be eating their food bowls any time soon!), they’re a great starting place for further conversation about what good and considerate behaviour looks like. We can pose questions like what does a winner look like? Is it necessary to share everything? Is it better to get difficult things over and done with - or just try to avoid them.

2. . . . and How Pig Always ‘Learns His Lesson’

Pig always ‘learns his lesson’ by the end of the book - which is another aspect students can discuss. Does he really learn his lesson. Do students honestly think he won’t repeat his mistakes. And since he usually behaves well when he’s injured and physically unable to misbehave - what might happen when the bandages come off and he is well again. Students can follow this train of thought and develop their prediction skills!

3. We Love the Humour

These are really funny books! They’re a dream for teachers and parents who are reading them out loud, as you can explore with voices (take care with Pig - the shouting can be a problem!) and the funny pauses as you turn pages. But even when you are reading them to yourself, you can’t help but wonder what hilarious hijinks that pug will get up to next . . . and what hilarious trouble he will find himself in.

A lot of the humour comes from the ridiculous nature of the trouble - we know it’s unlikely that these things would really happen to a dog - but it’s funny to imagine that they might. Students can explore writing their own ridiculous paragraphs or stories, seeing how far they can stretch their story before they lose their reader. They can also look for other examples of ridiculous humour in books - the books where the author just has fun with the reader!

4. We Love the Repetition

There’s something terribly comforting about opening a brand new Pig the Pug book and seeing those familiar words . . . ‘Pig was a Pug . . . “

The Pig books follow a comfortable formula which makes them perfect for students developing an understanding of how stories can be structured and for students who like to look for connections between different texts. The familiarity of the stories can also help students concentrate on the details of the book - like the language or the specifics of this particular story - giving students a framework to work within.

It also gives new and pre readers the opportunity to join in and read with the story - they know this bit! They’ve read it before. It can be a wonderful confidence boost or a way to engage with a text because you’re really reading it.

This repetition can be used in writing lessons as well. Students can brainstorm ways for Pig to get himself into trouble and then use the framework to create their own Pig stories. Or they can create their own framework as a class or group and then write a class series of stories which work into that framework.

 
7 Reasons We Love Pig the Pug. A blog post exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and the ways these wonderful books can be used by teachers in the classroom. Perfect for teachers looking for reading resources. A Galarious Goods post
 

5. We Love Trevor

Poor Trevor. While Pig is rampaging his way through the books, Trevor is the ultimate straight man. He’s kind, thoughtful, honestly cares about Pig . . . he just wants things to go right for him occasionally. Who didn’t cheer when Trevor was selected to be a star?

Trevor shows us what Pig could be like if he would just learn how to behave. He also shows us how a character can react to Pig’s antics. This is a great way for students to explore side characters - the characters who observe many of the actions rather than getting directly involved in them (unless they can’t help it!)

Students can also imagine what Pig’s world might be like if Trevor wasn’t around. How would that make things easier for Pig? How would it make things harder?

6. We Love the Language

I LOVE the way vocabulary is used in the Pig the Pug books. Aaron Blabey refuses to talk down to his young audience, using a wide range of words and terms from ‘quivering’ to ‘sook’. It’s not all big words - there are plenty of smaller, easier to digest words - but this is a great way to explore great words and the way they can be arranged and manipulated to create rhythm, rhyme - and a really funny story.

There are so many vocabulary activities you can do with this book - whether it’s exploring the different words or phrases around the word ‘pig’ or using vocabulary folding activities to record some of the great words you can find in the books. Students can create their own word walls of ‘Pig the Pug’ words and try to incorporate them in their own writing.

7. And We Love the Illustrations

When I had to come up with a Book Week costume on fairly short notice, we decided on Pig the Pug - with a crocheted hat doing the majority of the work. As my son walked out to the car to head to kindy, his friend from across the road yelled out ‘It’s Pig the Pug!’ - those eyes and ears immediately tell you who you’re dealing with!

As well as Aaron Blabey’s iconic Pig and Trevor illustrations, the books are filled with little drawings which expand the story - and sometimes fill in the spaces between the words. My particular favourite is Pig the Star, where we see Pig and Trevor dressing up as a wide range of famous people.

Students can explore how Aaron Blabey uses illustrations to tell the story - and how the story might change if there were no illustrations at all. They can also look at how they can tell their own stories - using just illustrations, or by combining illustration and words to create a complete tale.

Aaron Blabey has so many wonderful books, and I have a hard time deciding on a favourite. But there is definitely a place for the naughty Pig the Pug in your classroom - and many different ways you can explore these stories with your students.

 
 

8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard

Providing students with high quality background information for Boy Overboard can be a little bit of a challenge. Many resources are older and out of date and many links are sadly broken. Here, I’ve collected a range of free resources to assist you in providing background information for Boy Overboard and teaching the novel more effectively to your students.

 
8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard - a collection of links and ideas for the Morris Gleitzman novel and some ways to use them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post.

8 Free Resources for Classrooms Reading Boy Overboard - a collection of links and ideas for the Morris Gleitzman novel and some ways to use them in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post.

 

(While all efforts are made to make sure these links are accurate - the nature of the web means they may be ‘broken’. Sometimes searching will help you access the material, but - sadly - some information may be taken from the web permanently)

On Refugees

National Geographic: Refugee Week

To access this resource, you need a login (which is quick and easy to get). This one page primary resource introduces students to a range of concepts, vocabulary terms and ideas around refugees. The page also includes teaching ideas.

This would be good to use before students read Boy Overboard or right after. It would also be a useful resource if students were researching refugees.

BTN: Refugee Day

This BTN video provides background information on refugees in a range of situations and provides images for students to put with the story. BTN has broadcast a wide range of stories on refugees over the years and many are available. This story, like many of the others, also includes teacher notes and further links for students to explore.

UNHCR Teaching Materials for 9-12 Year Olds

This teaching resource from the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) offers a range of teaching ideas and lesson ideas about refugees. One of the most useful resources is the teacher’s guide to integrating teaching about refugees and asylum into a range of classroom subjects.

On Afghanistan

The Pulitzer Centre: Lesson Plan on Afghanistan

This is a complete lesson plan on Afghanistan and its history, based around resources from news organisations. The lesson plan may be a little complex for your students, but there are a range of teacher questions and activities and some good news links (though some links are no longer available)

Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society page is good for some background information on Afghanistan. Some of the links are broken, but the documents at the bottom provide a timeline and a number of fact sheets with extra information about Afghanistan.

On the Pacific Solution

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council - Discussion Paper - The Pacific Solution
Australian Parliament House - Parliamentary Library - Pacific Solution

These two pages are aimed at an older audience, but provide background information to The Pacific Solution and arguments around it. These would be good for teachers to use when preparing discussions or further reading information for students.

On Boy Overboard

Morris Gleitzman’s Author Notes

This is a thoughtful reflection on why Morris Gleitzman wrote Boy Overboard and would be especially good to read while considering author intention. Students should wait until they have finished reading the book to read this.

Boy Overboard Novel Study - Sample Pack

This Galarious Goods free resource allows teachers and students to take a closer look at several aspects of Boy Overboard. This is a great resource if you have limited time to explore the novel or you are just looking for a few supplementary resources