Creative Ways to Teach Literacy: Ideas for Children aged 3 to 11


Edited by: Virginia Bower

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    To Peter – who always manages to find the right words To Mum and Dad for their support of everything I do



    Thank you to all the people I worked with – staff, parents and children – at Cheriton Primary School.


    Thanks to Marden school in Kent for allowing children to share their out of school texts.


    Thank you to all of my colleagues and friends at Barming school in Kent for their help and encouragement.


    Thank you to the children of Class 5 Hernhill Primary School in Kent for their ability to engage in this project with enthusiasm, dedication and commitment; thank you also for not only making me smile, but laugh.

    The case studies included in this publication are a composite of numerous children in various settings, complied over the authors’ many years of experience, and are not specific to any one child, practitioner or setting.

    Every effort has been made to trace all the copyright holders, but if any have been overlooked, or if any additional information can be given, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary amendments at the first opportunity.

    About the Editor and Contributors

    The Editor

    Virginia Bower is a Senior Lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. She teaches on both the undergraduate programme and on the full-time PGCE English course and is also part of the team who teach the Masters in Language and Literacy. Virginia is very keen to promote a love of literature in both children and university students and currently runs a reading group for undergraduate trainee teachers where children's literature is shared, studied and enjoyed. Her current research interests focus on first and second language acquisition and development.

    The Contributors

    Susan Barrett is a Lecturer in the Department of Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University where she teaches undergraduate and postgraduate English and Professional Studies courses. This follows a classroom teaching career of 23 years, first as a secondary English teacher and later an upper Key Stage 2 teacher and deputy head. She is currently working towards her Masters in Literacy and Learning and has a keen interest in children's literature and its use in the classroom.

    Justine Earl is a Senior Lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. She teaches on the various postgraduate routes into teaching, specialising in English and Primary Languages. She currently leads the full- and part-time PGCE English courses. She enjoys visiting students undertaking placements in the UK and abroad. Justine also teaches on the Masters in Language and Literacy programme, supervising teachers who are working to achieve their MA. Her other areas of interest include developing partnerships with schools.

    Michael Green is a Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University, where he leads the BA Primary Education module focusing on learning outside the classroom. In addition he teaches on a number of other modules, including Primary English and Professional Studies. Prior to joining ITE, Michael worked as assistant head teacher in a primary school in Medway. His current research interests include the potential use of outdoor learning opportunities for children and digital literacy practices.

    Sue Hammond is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. She specialises in teaching English and Early Years and has acted as an educational consultant in Malaysia and India. Prior to joining the university, Sue taught in a range of primary schools over a period of more than twenty years. This included 14 years of teaching in a Reception class and her interest in researching and working with young children continues to be a passion.

    Andrew Lambirth is Professor of Education in the School of Education at the University of Greenwich. He was previously Reader in Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. Andrew has written widely on the subject of literacy in primary schools. Titles include Understanding Phonics and the Teaching of Reading (Open University), Creativity and Writing: Developing Voice and Verve in the Classroom (Routledge) and Literacy on the Left: Reform and Revolution (Continuum). Before joining higher education, he taught in Peckham and Bermondsey in south London.

    Tracy Parvin is a Senior Lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. She teaches on both the undergraduate programme and on the full-time PGCE English course. Not wanting to be left out of anything to do with the promoting of picture books, Tracy co-runs the students’ reading group with Virginia! Her current research interests are focusing on the development of early reading teaching practices.

    Caroline Tancock is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University, where she is a member of the BA (Hons) Primary Education management team. She teaches on the undergraduate programme on a number of modules including English and Professional Studies. Prior to joining the university, Caroline worked in a primary school in the Medway area. Her current research interests include cultural influences upon reading experiences and attitudes.

    Karen Vincent worked as a teacher for 18 years before recently taking up a post as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. She teaches across all of the Primary Programmes specialising in Early Years education. Her research interests include young children's perceptions of learning and the transition between Year R and Year 1.


    This book is a collaborative endeavour which arises from the desire of the primary English team at Canterbury Christ Church University more widely to disseminate ideas and beliefs about the teaching of literacy in primary schools, and to offer a range of perspectives relating to both theory and practice. According to Jim Cummins (2001: 1) theory and practice are:

    two-way and ongoing: practice generates theory, which, in turn, acts as a catalyst for new directions in practice, which then inform theory, and so on.

    An awareness of theories and practices grounded in research is a prerequisite for teachers to enable them to feel empowered and confident in the classroom. Too often it is the case that, in relation to strategies, frameworks and policies, and not least through centralised professional development, teachers feel themselves to be constantly questioned and even undermined. Where this is the case, the consequent effect upon the planning and teaching process is hardly beneficial to the children.

    This book seeks to argue that, if teachers are aware of and put into practice their own key principles, underpinned by theory and research, then not only will the children they teach prosper and achieve, but they will also be inspired and motivated to become lifelong learners. This in turn leads to secure, motivated teachers whose philosophies and pedagogies have their basis in robust research.

    According to Craft (2005), the irony is that while the government exhorts teachers to be creative and innovative, parallel to this are messages dictating what should be taught and how this should be done, with the effect of ‘reducing creativity in the teaching profession’. Creative teaching requires teachers to ‘make learning more interesting, exciting and effective’ (DfEE, 1999: 89) and for this to happen, we have to believe in ourselves and have the confidence to collaborate with, rather than coerce, the pupils (Cummins, 2001) and be prepared to learn together, enquiring and exploring, questioning and seeking, staying open to new ideas and practices.

    The emphasis within this book is upon inspiring and enthusing children and teachers, linking theory and practice to encourage professionals to be both creative and original in their planning and teaching. The authors are aware, however, that within most primary schools some elements of the National Literacy Strategy (DfEE, 1998) and the Primary National Strategy (DfES, 2006) are significantly embedded in practice. This relates particularly to genre, and while there are increasing attempts to link literacy lessons with other areas of the curriculum, the ‘units of work’ still tend to be focused upon either narrative, poetry or non-fiction. The Strategy materials which have been produced contain useful material to support the teaching of these units, but care must be taken that materials are not accepted without questioning the theories that underlie their implementation. To do this is to run the risk of becoming ‘task managers’ or ‘curriculum deliverers’ rather than ‘concept builders’ who are informed and understand what they are teaching and why (Twiselton, 2000). This book attempts to achieve a balance: on the one hand remaining relevant to both student and qualified teachers by reflecting current practices in school, while on the other promoting a flexible and creative approach. It also carries the suggestion that boundaries between genres and subjects can easily be crossed to enhance both literacy teaching and learning as well as teaching across the curriculum.

    The book is divided into nine chapters: three relating to narrative, three to poetry and three to non-fiction.

    Chapter 1 looks at how using literature by a single author can allow children to find their own voice in their narrative writing. It emphasises the value of using high-quality texts and the importance of contextualising all teaching of specific literary conventions. The use of excellent texts – whether they be print-based, screen-based, films or other media – is one of the key themes permeating the book.

    In Chapter 2 the author explores a range of traditional tales from different cultures with a focus particularly on different versions of the Cinderella story. The chapter emphasises how traditional tales are universal and help children to deal with and make sense of human experience within their own cultures and those of others and appreciate the importance of cultural diversity. The strong story and language structure of such tales provides rich learning opportunities and the chapter will investigate how these texts can be used to engage children in narrative elements such as themes, characterisation, the setting and points of view.

    Chapter 3 offers a very different perspective, as the author suggests that an explicit and continuous focus on genre may well restrict and constrain our young writers. While recognising that genre-led literacy can give children confidence to write in certain ways, this chapter reminds us that it is vital to recognise the fluid nature of the boundaries between genres and to be prepared to cross these boundaries to promote an exciting and innovative approach to literacy. Within the chapter a number of strategies and ideas are promoted, which encourage children to write for their own pleasure and purposes, both inside and outside of school.

    Chapter 4 is the first of the three chapters focusing on poetry. The authors explore children's experiences with playground games, narrative, songs, chants and rhymes and discuss how these might be used in the classroom to enhance the children's understanding of rhythm, rhyme and other poetic devices. A case study is presented and ideas are drawn from this, suggesting how, by respecting children's existing knowledge and understanding and by acknowledging and embracing their lives outside school, we can have a positive impact on their social and emotional development and early reading and writing skills.

    Chapter 5 looks at ways of supporting children's poetry writing in the classroom through the use of existing poetic forms. It begins with a consideration of differing views on this subject from leading writers, moving on to offer practical advice for classroom approaches. Samples of children's writing are offered in an attempt to demonstrate how using poetic forms can still liberate the ‘voice’ of the young poet. The needs of different groups of children including the EAL learner are also considered. The chapter concludes with a call to allow children to experience a wide range of poetic forms in order to be empowered in their own writing.

    Chapter 6 focuses upon performing poetry in primary classrooms. The author argues that performing poetry should be an integral part of a school day because it is enjoyable and rich in opportunities to learn about poetry and the world. He emphasises the fact that performance poetry – with its combination of movement, language and talk – is a mode of learning that has a firm theoretical foundation. The author contends that the performance of poetry does not always require an audience and goes on to create a broad typology for performing poetry.

    Chapter 7, the first of three chapters devoted to non-fiction, explores how creative teachers support children in becoming successful and enthusiastic readers and writers of non-fiction. It highlights the importance of choosing the right text and the need to embed children's experiences of reading and writing non-fiction in meaningful contexts which relate to their interests and experiences both in and outside of school. Suggestions are made relating to how a cross-curricular approach can be adopted for the teaching of non-fiction and the role of ICT is discussed. Throughout the chapter there is a focus on the teacher's role in the teaching of non-fiction at a practical level and the process of teaching children about non-fiction within literacy.

    Chapter 8 is based on an extended cross-curricular project which focused on non-fiction texts, culminating in the production of a digital video. The author suggests that through the use of film-making, children's experience of non-fiction can be enhanced as they cross subject boundaries and begin to develop both their social and cognitive skills. The chapter gives examples from a project to highlight both the benefits and the potential difficulties of this approach to non-fiction. Three key themes emerge: group work, interaction and inclusion; immersion in texts; knowledge of the audience and purpose – and these are discussed in some depth.

    Chapter 9 looks at the specific challenges for all pupils, but particularly those for whom English is an additional language, which non-fiction texts present. The author highlights and discusses principles and practical strategies which teachers can adopt to support EAL pupils, to enable them to enjoy non-fiction and to allow them to access, capture and record information from and respond effectively to this genre. Also included is a consideration of the implications for teachers for children learning EAL and how the strategies discussed can be of benefit to all learners.

    Craft, A. (2005) Creativity in Schools: Tensions and Dilemmas. Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer.
    Cummins, J. (2001) Language, Power and Pedagogy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
    DfEE (1998) The National Literacy Strategy: Framework for Teaching. Sudbury: DfEE.
    DfEE (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. Report of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education: Sudbury: DfEE.
    DfES (2006) Primary Framework for Literacy and Mathematics. Nottingham: DfES.
    Twiselton, S. (2000) ‘Seeing the wood for the trees: the National Literacy Strategy and Initial Teacher Education - pedagogical content knowledge and the nature of subjects’, Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(3): 391–403.

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