Gruffalo Stuffalo

Our author focus this half term is Julia Donaldson, so OF COURSE we are loving all things Gruffalo in our classroom.

I’ve drawn an enormous Gruff to go up in our reading corner, and had the kids collage him with brown sugar paper and tissue. My Year Ones did a marvellous job: they only knocked a pot full of PVA onto the classroom carpet once, and they mostly remembered that the collage bits were supposed to be stuck on the actual drawing. (I wish I had taken a photo of the state of him directly after the kids had gone home, before my colleague and I tidied him up a bit…!)

Gruffalo

Anyway, he’s almost done now – I used poster paint to give him a bit of definition, and added some teeth and tusks and claws. (His feet and his tail aren’t quite done, as by the time I got to this point it was 6pm on Friday evening, my stomach was practically eating itself, and the pub was serenading me with its very best siren song.) He’s a bit wonky, but he’s recognisable, so I’m trying not to get all type-A about it…

Our TA found some lovely foam Gruffalo & Mouse masks in a cheapo shop, which we’re planning to use rather cheekily as templates so that the kids can all make their own to take home. The ‘proper’ ones will then be made up and added to our reading corner for role play.

Some gorgeous Gruffalo stuffalo on Pinterest:

  1. Favourite Character Pictogram

I love this simple idea for getting a cross-curricular English/Maths display up on a Working Wall. Definitely going to give this one a bash next week!

2. Gruffalo Puppet Spoons

These look quick and simple to make – far less faff than stitching together a load of felt puppets, which was what I had thought about doing. I am going to start keeping my eye out for wooden utensils in charity shops…

3. Gruffalo Classroom Area

This is seriously amazing. I love the miniature story world – could get the kids to scavenge materials to build that during a nature walk. And how clever to use one of those mini Christmas trees, undecorated!

4. Gruffalo Prickles Motor Skills

Always looking for interesting motor skills ideas for mini activities… This is a lovely one which would take mere minutes to prepare.

5. Gruffalo Shape Animals

Lots of scope here for some cross-curricular Maths / English work. I’ll be doing this one, too!

Do you have any good ideas for Gruff displays, or for using the Gruffalo in other areas of learning?

STOP PRESS: TES Bundle Sale – Stone Age to Iron Age Resources

Reproduction Iron Age Sword HiltSword hilt painted 2

Psst… You’ve got until midnight tonight to take advantage of the fabbo TES Back-to-School Bundle Sale, which are offering hefty discounts on teacher resource packs.

I was really chuffed that my Iron Age Sword Hilts History/Art lesson pack has been chosen to be bundled with Stone Age and Iron Age Primary History – you can get more than 50 quids’ worth of Stone Age and Iron Age resources for just £8.

But, yes – midnight! It ends! So if you want to get yourself some bargains, go go go!

From Year Five to Year One: What I’ve learned so far…

So, I’m two weeks in to teaching Year One. Going from teaching ten-year-olds to five-year-olds has been a fair old shock to the system – I’m loving it, but it is taking some getting used to! Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Shiny stickers are basically magic.

STATEMENT: ‘Ooooh, isn’t Natalie sitting beautifully on the carpet? Natalie, have a shiny sticker.’

EFFECT: Twenty-nine children suddenly sitting up straight, arms crossed, ready to LEARN. And to get shiny stickers.

Five year olds need stuff to do in the morning.

Thank goodness for my sagacious job share partner, who casually mentioned that I might want to put out ‘jobs’ on the tables for the kids to do when they came in. I had not even THOUGHT about this. Talk about green. Can you imagine the chaos that would have ensued? The running around? The swinging from coat pegs? The tearing of hair (mine)?

(My Year Fives arrived to me each September ready-trained. They would come in to the classroom each morning, get out their reading books and their pencil cases, sit down, shut up, and crack on. I fondly remember one of my first days of teaching Year Five, when I’d written up a to-do list on the whiteboard. This to-do list was purely for my own benefit, as I am a scatter-brain and liable to forget anything that I don’t write down and superglue to my own face. Ten minutes into registration, I suddenly realised that my organised little kidlets had noticed the to-do list, and without my saying anything, were steadily working their way through the tasks. Bless their cottons.)

Needless to say, my Year Ones do not do this. So every morning, I bung a box of building blocks and a carton of felt-tips on the tables. Works like a dream.

Five year olds need their lunch cutting up for them.

I was so useless on my first Key Stage 1 lunch. First, I tried to send them out to the playground at the start of lunchtime. They all just lined up outside the classroom, clutching their drinks bottles.

‘What are you waiting for?’ I asked.

‘You need to take us to the dinner hall,’ they said.

Because of course, Year One go into lunch first. Hadn’t thought of that. So I led my little crocodile of kidlets into the hall, got them all sat down, and then the lunchtime assistant asked me for the lunch list.

‘What lunch list?’ I asked. (Can you see a pattern emerging?)

Turns out, there is a list of what each child has ordered for their hot meal, which I have to bring with me to the dining hall because five year olds can’t be expected to remember their dinner order.

Lunch list obtained, I headed over to the benches to check that my kiddos were okay, ready to disappear to snatch a few mouthfuls of lunch myself in the staff room. But, wait… There is a little voice by my elbow…

‘Please can you help me cut up my fish?’

‘And my fish…’

‘And mine…’

Yeah. My lunch had to wait a little while.

Five year olds cry. A lot.

Oh man.  They cry over flipping everything. Saline and snot dot com. However, whereas Year Fives are less likely to cry, when they do cry (because they have, for example, fallen out with a friend at playtime) they are likely to sulk for the remainder of the school day, no matter how much their teacher entreats them to cheer up and join in with the rest of the class. A Year One’s tears, on the other hand, can be quickly dried by the appearance of a shiny sticker. (See above: Shiny stickers are basically magic.)

Five year olds don’t generate much marking.

Seriously now. A sentence instead of five pages per child. TOTAL FREAKING BLISS.

Five year olds join in when you tell them stories.

Hands down, this is my favourite thing so far about Year One. They listen to stories, and they LOVE bits that repeat so that they can join in. Reading Room on a Broom the other day, that chorus of ‘Whoosh! they were gone!’ from thirty little voices pretty much slayed me.

So, yeah: Year One, I am becoming a convert.

What’s your favourite year group to teach? Have you ever done a major year group change? How did you find it?

How to survive your first year as a teacher: Hoard glue sticks

Photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ntr23/
Photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ntr23/

I’ve got to say, my NQT year wasn’t exactly a peach. I had what was widely acknowledged to be the trickiest class in the school, and six weeks in, the school had a nasty Ofsted inspection, for which they had expected to receive Outstanding – but actually got Requires Improvement.

A lot of that year was about pure survival. Everyone was stressed out to the eyeballs, under all sorts of pressure from governors and the local authority and HMI, and, kind as they were, probably didn’t relish little NQT me dancing about their heels, asking annoying questions about how to level pupils and how to teach ratio and proportion. For reasons which couldn’t be helped, I worked with six different Teaching Assistants that year. It was a bit complicated. It was not the best of starts.

However.

I did survive, and I did pick up a thing or two that year that made life easier. And then I picked up a thing or two more the following year that made life easier still. This new term marks the beginning of my fourth year as a qualified teacher, and I’m still learning things all the time that make me want to smack my head and go: ‘Well, DUH!’ because they are so obvious and because I so much should have been doing them since Day 1. (Such as hoarding glue sticks at the back of your stock cupboard, so that you don’t run out halfway through the autumn term, leaving you with NOTHING to stick glitter to card with at Christmas.)

So what did I do? I wrote a practical guide for rookie teachers – the guide I would have liked to have read three years ago today – and it was published on the Guardian online today (and in the actual paper too!), and I hope that it helps at least one newbie teacher survive that rollercoaster of a first year. You can read it here.

Enjoy!

Pinpicks: Motor Skills

Honestly, I am a tiny bit terrified of teaching Year One.

I’ve been a Key Stage Two teacher ever since I started as an NQT, and I am used to kids who can, you know, hold pencils properly, and read without saying the words out loud, and who know when they need to go to the toilet and so are less likely to have little accidents…

And I’m a bit intimidated by the actual content of what I’ve got to teach, as well. Phonics? Full stops? Fine motor skills? Just the thought gives me palpitations. Honestly, I would be far more at home with long division and subordinate clauses!

However. A Year One teacher I am, and scary fundamental stuff I have to teach, and so once again I have turned to good old Pinterest in my hour of need. For you, and for me, here are five fab motor skills activities to start the new school year as you mean to go on:

  1. Flower Pot Trees
Funky little beaded trees

For a cute and re-usable motor skills activity, thread pipe-cleaners through the holes in a flower pot to form the branches of a tree. Then provide pots of colourful pony bead ‘fruit’ for the children to thread on. You could combine this with a counting activity for some cross-curricular action!

2. Autumn Necklaces

Autumn leaf necklaces

Provide a range of crispy autumn leaves, hole punches and string, and let the children go to town on their own autumnal jewellery. You could set challenges, such as threading the string through five, six or even seven holes in a single leaf.

3. Seed Sorting

Seed Sorting from notimeforflashcards.com

All you need for this activity is a partitioned tray or set of bowls, seeds, and a pair of tweezers. Jumble the seeds and have the kidlings sort them out. And wouldn’t it be really, really nice if the seeds were seasonal, and at the end of the activity you planted them? Just saying…

4. Pegging out the washing

Super cute activity from specialneedstasks.blogspot.com

I have about ten billion of these tiny wooden pegs, which are so cute I couldn’t resist them, but so tiny that they’re pretty much useless for anything… EXCEPT FOR THIS! Draw (or print out) little garments and laminate them, and then have the kids ‘peg out the washing’ onto a line or letter rack. So blimmin’ adorable.

5. Chopstick Bottle Tops

Super idea from onaya.eklablog.com

Only do this one if you have a good sink area, or you’re not precious about wet desks. Fill a bowl, float a lot of bottle tops (this would handily stop my guilt about chucking milk bottle tops in the bin), give the children a couple of sticks and challenge them to fish them all out. Best put waterproof aprons on the kids first, though.

So, there we have it! Some great ideas that I’m looking forward to having a go at in September.

What motor skills activities do you use in your classroom?

Taking the plunge to part-time…

Time to knit me some more chameleons!
Time to knit me some more chameleons!

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve gone part-time at school. I knew it would happen at some point, but I had sort of imagined that it might be in a bog-standard returning-to-work-after-maternity-leave sort of a way.

As it happens, I am not pregnant, nor have I recently sprogged. It was just time. I was absolutely knackered at work and at home, all the time. I had a list of really important things to do that was growing at one end at least five times faster than I was crossing things off at the other. I was going into work early, and leaving late. I was working every evening and every weekend. I was getting stroppy when I had to stop working to cook dinner. And then I went to bed and dreamed about school. Not good.

And the thing was, there were other things I wanted to do. Before teaching, I had become a rather competent knitter (if I do say so myself), knocking out funky little stuffed chameleons, and fancy cabled gloves, and tailored cardigans, and so on and so forth… and then I started teacher training. In four years of teaching, guess how much I knitted? Two scarves. Two flaming scarves.

They weren't even very exciting scarves...
They weren’t even very exciting scarves…

Then there was my writing. My main plan has always been to be a novelist. I’ve wanted to write books for as long as I can remember – honestly, probably since I was about five years old. It’s my passion in life. Believe it or not (and you probably won’t believe it, looking at the state of this blog), I actually have an MA in Creative Writing. And an agent and everything. (Although the agent has probably forgotten that I exist, given that I have been sucked into the Land of Small Children in Uniforms for the last four years, a place from which one only emerges to restock on glitter and sleep.)

But I couldn’t write alongside my teaching – my brain was just too wrung-out at the end of the day. I’d start a new writing project in the holidays, promise myself faithfully I would carry on with it during term-time… And then term-time would happen, and I’d get asked to do fifty new things at school that I couldn’t say no to, and writing would go out the window.

Then there was, you know, my home life. My husband and my house and my allotment and my friends and family, NONE of whom I was giving anywhere near enough attention. And I started to think – okay, what exactly am I up to here? Why exactly am I killing myself to be the perfect teacher? What is my end goal? Where do I want to be in life? What is most important to me?

And honestly? My teaching career isn’t even up there in the top five. I’m not even sure it’s in the top ten. It is important to me, because I love love love working with children, helping them learn and grow and become even more wonderful people than they already are. It is a privilege. But it is not everything that I want from life.

I want to create, and have the time and the energy to be creative. I want to be able to go away for the weekend with friends without feeling sick in my stomach because of the marking that I’m not doing. I want to enjoy evenings on the sofa or down the allotment with my husband, instead of being locked to my laptop, poring over yet another set of lesson plans or assessments. I want to pick up incredible books to read, and not fall asleep after half a paragraph. And when I do teach, I want to be teaching on a full night’s sleep, with a well-prepared lesson, and I want to be happy and sunny and mentally available for every single child in my class, because that is what they deserve from their teacher.

So I am dropping from full-time teaching to part-time. I will still be a class teacher, but I am job-sharing. To top up my income, I will be doing a little supply – mostly with my employing school – and I will also be working freelance as a writer and proofreader. Most importantly – and most excitingly – I will be working on my children’s book!

Since the summer holidays have begun, I have felt as though I am slowly waking up again. Waking up to my life, and to all the possibilities that are in it. Funnily enough, although I will be teaching less, I will probably be posting on this blog a lot more now, as I will have more time. I’m also moving to Year 1 from Year 5, so I will be looking for Key Stage 1 advice from those in the know – please drop me a comment if you have any top tips for me!

Have you ever gone part-time? How did you find it? Did it turn out to be the right choice for you? I’d love to know!

Teaching Tips Freebie: Class Stoppers

There are some teachers who, with the merest twitch of an eyebrow, can reduce a class to awed silence.

They don’t need to count down from three. They don’t need to raise their hand in the air. They don’t even need to utter a word. After years –  maybe decades – of working with children, they have developed telepathic powers. Like some kind of Jedi knight wielding mind tricks, such teachers have only to think at a child, and said child will immediately stop sharpening its pencil. Or sawing its rubber in half with a ruler. Or flicking its sawn-in-half rubber at an enemy across the table.

And not only will said child stop doing said things, but it will also stop talking, turn its entire attention (and its face) towards the teacher, and listen.

I have not worked out how to get kids to do this yet.

Possibly I am just not scary enough. Or possibly I have not been a teacher long enough. Either way, I can’t do it, and I have a ‘lively’ (teacher code for ‘headache-inducing’) class, and ‘3… 2… 1…’ just doesn’t cut it at 3:15 on a Friday afternoon when three separate children are crying for three separate reasons and someone’s just spilt an entire tub of poster paint on the newly cleaned carpet. How to quieten

So, what to do?

Class Stoppers. That’s what to do.

‘Class Stoppers’ (also known as ‘Attention Getters’) are catchy little call-and-response lines. The teacher calls our something recognisable over the general noise of the class (for example, “Chitty-Chitty!”) and the class stop whatever they are doing to yell out the appropriate response (in this case, “Bang-Bang!”)

I have found this to be absolutely invaluable in a noisy classroom. It works. It actually works. And I think it works for three reasons:

1. It’s interactive. I’m not asking the kids to be passive and quiet immediately – I’m asking them to actively shout out! That’s pretty appealing. Even to a child who is thoroughly engaged in a bit of rubber flickage.

2. It stops kids in their tracks. By joining in the response, they have broken off any conversation they were having before the teacher called out.

3. It’s silly. Who doesn’t love shouting out quotes from Harry Potter in the middle of a Maths lesson?!

I’ve put together a colourful little PDF freebie of the Class Stoppers I use in my class. You can download it here:

Class Stoppers

If you use any of them, please let me know – I’d love to hear your experiences. And if you have any good ideas for new ones, my class and I are always interested!Read More »