Posted on

Explicit Instruction – What Does This Mean?

Children reading in classroom

I started my career as an occupational therapist. My job was to help people relearn how to do things in their everyday life after experiencing an illness or disability. To do this I had to do two things: firstly, I had to analyse the task to establish exactly what the person needed in order to be able to carry out the task and secondly I had to find out what they could and could not do. Only then could I develop a plan to help them master the task. I have applied this same approach – task analysis and assessment of skills and knowledge – to the process of teaching and learning literacy skills.

Mastering a skill of any sort usually involves learning strategies and techniques with lots of practice to hone the skill so that it can be used in different situations. Think about how we teach young children to play a sport. Children who want to play football for example, spend a lot of time learning the skills of ball handling, working with others and understanding the rules of the game. With those skills in place, they are then ready to start playing a game of football.

Whether children start playing football as pre-schoolers or come to the game later, they still have to master these skills and learn the rules of the game. Practice sessions continue to teach and refine these skills and budding footballers spend a lot of time honing their skills so that they can use them automatically and efficiently in a game.

This approach to teaching a sport works well when teaching literacy. Writing and reading are complex processes. Just like a game of football, they require the ‘player’ to master a range of skills and knowledge and to understand how to use them. Just like in football, some children pick up the skills effortlessly and master them with only a small amount of practice. Others take longer, and some decide that football is not for them because the skills required seem too hard to master. Being able to read and write is not like football – playing football is optional, learning to read and write is not. The way we teach children to read and write has to be successful. We need to explicitly teach the skills and knowledge they need to learn if they are to become successful readers and writers.

 

So what does explicit instruction mean for literacy?

It means understanding what is involved in learning to read and write. It means finding out what skills and knowledge students already have and where they have gaps. It means using assessment to drive instruction – to teach the skills and knowledge students have not mastered but need to learn. Sometimes this means whole class instruction and sometimes it means giving students the extra instruction and practice they need in small groups or individually.

 

Explicit instruction to close the gaps

I wrote Catch Up Your Code’ and Sort Out Your Syllables’ to address gaps in literacy knowledge for students in upper primary and secondary classrooms. From Year 5 and beyond, students are required to read more and more complex texts in subject areas that are often new to them. The language is more formal, and many words are multisyllabic, abstract and technical. Students who have not mastered the ability to decode automatically and efficiently will struggle. It is estimated that the average fifth year student encounters about ten thousand new words – described as an “orthographic avalanche” that overwhelms most of those without adequate decoding skills.

 

Teach decoding explicitly

If decoding is not automatic, the skills and knowledge needed must be taught explicitly. First and foremost, students need an in-depth knowledge of how the alphabetic code of English works. ‘Catch Up Your Code teaches this. To decode efficiently, students must recognise graphemes and be able to pronounce them in different ways. Once they have a conscious understanding of the diverse nature of grapheme-phoneme relationships, they can use this knowledge as a foundation for learning to decode unfamiliar multisyllabic words.

That’s where Sort Out Your Syllables’ comes in. Students use their knowledge of the code for the vowel sounds of English, to find and pronounce syllables in unfamiliar words. These two areas of knowledge and skill – alphabetic code knowledge and strategies for decoding multisyllabic words – will dramatically improve decoding skills in the upper years. If decoding isn’t efficient by Year 5, it will not become so, without explicit instruction that targets gaps in knowledge and skills.

 

Sorting vowel spelling patterns – the key to finding syllables in words

These Year 7 and 8 students are working collaboratively to learn about the nine types of vowel spelling patterns they will find in syllables.

Sorting spelling patterns activity on classroom deskSorting vowel patterns activity on classroom desk

 

Teach the skills for writing explicitly

From Year 5 onwards, students are required to write longer, more complex scripts in different writing genres. The expectation is that they should have mastered the foundation skills for writing: to write speedily and legibly, to spell most high-frequency words correctly, to use spelling strategies to spell most words close to correctly, to write in paragraphs, to use punctuation correctly, to proofread their writing for spelling and punctuation errors, to revise and edit their work to improve the content. Unfortunately, many students who find handwriting and correct spelling a challenge will struggle to master the other higher-order skills of writing, regardless of their potential to write as well as they can speak.

The way to improve writing skills is to explicitly target the areas that need improvement, starting with the foundation skills. If handwriting is a major challenge by Year 5, students may be best to use a digital device to avoid illegible handwriting hindering their writing progress.

If they struggle to spell words correctly, a range of strategies are needed. Firstly, students need to be able to write every sound of English in at least one way and they also need knowledge of the diversity of the code. ‘Catch Up Your Code’ teaches this. They need to know how to write multisyllabic words they can say but not spell. Sort Out Your Syllables’ teaches this.

They then need to learn about the spelling system of English – the rules and conventions that affect why words are written the way they are. Once they are fluent in getting words on the page in a form that can easily be read – even if they are not all spelt correctly – they can then be taught strategies for punctuation and paragraphing, authorship, proofreading and editing. All the skills for writing need to be taught explicitly, starting with those that build the foundation for authorship.

 

Summary

Explicit instruction for literacy is simply targeting the knowledge and skills that research has shown to be essential for students to learn to read and write, and ensuring they are taught in a logical, sequential and direct way. It doesn’t matter whether students have just started school or have been at school for a while – everyone benefits from explicit instruction.

Use assessments to find out what students know and can do. Teach what they need to learn.
Check they have learned it. Leave nothing to chance.

 

The way we teach has to ensure all students become successful readers and writers. Teaching skills and knowledge explicitly is the best way to ensure this happens.

 

Featured Products:

Catch Up Your Code

Sort Out Your Syllables

 

About the Author
Joy Allcock (M.Ed). Independent Literacy consultant, facilitator of teacher professional
development throughout New Zealand and internationally. Presenter at NZ and international literacy conferences (IRA, ASCD/ACEL). Author of a range of literacy resources for teachers and students (
www.joyallcock.co.nz). Leader of Shine Literacy Research Project (designed and evaluated by Massey University – www.literacysuccess.org.nz)

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

Books For Brighter Times

Brighter Times Books inside spread preview

Rise and shine, it’s book blog time!

Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, this month coming to you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from a very different-looking Sydney.

We were thrilled that so many of you enjoyed and responded to the last post, Picture Books For Unsettling Times, in which we looked at some beautiful books to help open up a dialogue and support students during various challenging times in their lives. Now, as many of us begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a very challenging 18 months, what better time to look forward and celebrate the brighter days ahead!

For many students, the lifting of lockdown restrictions heralds a return to the classroom, a reduction in screen-based interaction and a rediscovery of many fun social activities they have likely missed out on throughout the pandemic. In this post, I’ll be shining a spotlight on four dazzlingly delightful books that celebrate some of the aspects of post-lockdown life that students can look forward to, steering them towards a positive frame of mind as they refamiliarise themselves with face-to-face learning and social experiences.

So, draw back the curtains and settle down with me as we bathe in the glow of these glorious books for brighter times.

 

‘Your Birthday Was The Best!’ by Maggie Hutchings and Felicita SalaBrighter Times: Your Birthday Was The Best Book cover and quote

We begin with a shiny new picture book (shortlisted for this year’s CBCA Book of the Year Awards) that will have your students giggling, squirming and then giggling some more! In ‘Your Birthday Was The Best’, we meet a cockroach who reminisces fondly about all the fun he had at a children’s birthday party, seemingly unaware that he wasn’t invited…

‘I was happy to see you. And you were so excited to see me you screamed!’

The hilarious juxtaposition between the narrative led by the endearingly earnest cockroach and the reality of the human characters’ experience – captured so magnificently by the horrified expressions of the guests in Sala’s gorgeous illustrations – will not only have your students falling about with laughter but is also a fabulous opportunity to promote and develop visual literacy skills.

Your students will likely have experienced very different birthdays during lockdown; whether that means a smaller celebration within the household, a Zoom party or a procession of drive-by well-wishers, there’s a good chance that many of them will have missed out on the shenanigans associated with a birthday party with all the trimmings. This hilarious and cheeky tale will evoke memories of lively birthday parties gone by and will certainly spark an excitable discussion of future party plans. ‘Your Birthday Was the Best’ also provides an excellent springboard for a fun creative writing prompt, perhaps directing students to recount their own birthday hijinks or to rewrite the account of the cockroach-crashed party from the perspective of one of the human guests.

 

‘Dinosaur Day Out’ by Sara ActonBrighter Times: Dinosaur Day Out Book cover and quote

In the delightfully charming ‘Dinosaur Day Out’, we join Sally and Max as they head to the museum with Dad to visit the dinosaur exhibit, only to discover that they are not the only ones enjoying a day out. The children embark on a tremendous hands-on dino experience, while the totally oblivious Dad narrates from his book. Similarly to ‘Your Birthday Was The Best’, the comical contrast between the different experiences of the characters in ‘Dinosaur Day Out’ is conveyed entirely through the illustrations, again supporting those important visual literacy skills. The irony that the adult character remains completely unaware of the extraordinary events taking place right under (or above) his nose is sure to delight your students.

Excursions have been largely off the cards for the past 18 months and this sweet, imaginative tale of an extra-special interactive day out captures the thrill of exploration and discovery that only an excursion brings. It will reignite students’ excitement for hands-on, real-life learning experiences as opposed to digital ones.

 

‘Lots of Frogs’ by Howard Calvert and Claudia BoldtLots Of Frogs Book cover and quote

Next, we come to one of my favourite rhyming picture books, ‘Lots of Frogs’, where we join Tommy Fox on his doomed quest to keep a lid on his box of trouble-making frogs. This brilliant rhyming story is positively leaping with laugh-out-loud imagery and is propelled forwards by a rhythm that’s as lively and bouncy as Tommy’s frogs.

‘Net’s quite full, halfway there. Look! There’s five on teacher’s chair!’

The book takes us all around the school as we follow Tommy on his mission to get those naughty frogs back in their box, and even the staffroom isn’t off limits! Students will delight in the hilarious images of frogs wreaking havoc around the school and I guarantee that the whole classroom will erupt in a fit of giggles when you reach the line about a frog jumping in the headteacher’s hair! This fast-paced rhyming story is bursting with positive imagery and language associated with the school environment and is sure to help strengthen and reinforce students’ associations with the classroom as a place of enjoyment and enrichment.

 

‘Unplugged’ by Steve AntonyBrighter Times: Unplugged Book cover and quote

Yes, I know I say this a lot, but this is one of my favourite ever picture books! In ‘Unplugged’, by author/illustrator Steve Antony, we meet Blip, an adorable robot who spends her days completely absorbed by her computer, which is just fine by her. However, when a power cut leads to Blip becoming unplugged, she suddenly finds herself blinking in the bright lights of ‘outside’…

Anthony’s clever narrative device of repeating the exact same activities that Blip enjoys on her computer as she does outside (learning new things, playing fun games, dancing to music and visiting faraway places) allows him to sidestep a preachy or judgemental tone when comparing the two different environments for these experiences. Equally, the artistic technique of having the screen-based illustrations in black and white and the outside illustrations in full colour subtly conveys the idea of the richness and depth of analogue experiences compared to two-dimensional digital ones without being overtly critical of screen-based activities.

For the past 18 months, our entire lives have been lived mostly online, our learning, teaching and even our socialising have all been confined to the digital space. ‘Unplugged’ is a celebration of what happens when we switch off our digital lives and enjoy an analogue adventure! This is the perfect tale to help students reflect on the positive aspects of the transition away from screens and appreciate the opportunity to enjoy some hands-on learning and experiences. A follow-up discussion that encourages students to think about the things that you can’t do online, or that aren’t as good online, will help students focus on the benefits of moving out from behind the screen.

 

The titles in this collection are all wonderful celebrations of a post-lockdown world, perfect for reinforcing positive emotions and associations and supporting students as they transition back into face-to-face learning and social situations. Come rain or shine, picture books provide uniquely accessible springboards to broach wider conversation topics, and all of the books in this collection are rich sources of writing and discussion prompts to encourage students to make connections with each other and their own lives and experiences.

And now, as I don my sunnies and floppy hat, this is the perfect moment to remind you that, for a limited time, you can make hay while the sun shines and stock up on these books – or any other resources for your classroom – using our Brighter Times discount. What a bright idea!

Join me again next time, when we’ll decking the shelves with boughs of books, getting excited for the festive season and looking ahead to a brand-new year.

The future’s looking bright.

 

 

About the Author

Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for eight years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

Picture Books For Unsettling Times

MTA Book Blog August Picture Books

Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, this month coming to you from my lockdown book cave here in Sydney.

If you haven’t had chance yet, do check out the previous book blog post, Telling the Story of Lockdown, posted back in June. At the time, I could never have guessed that we were only days away from a new and challenging chapter of Australia and New Zealand’s own pandemic story.

The events of the past 18 months have certainly highlighted the importance of being able to cope with unexpected change and challenges, so, for this post, I have selected five gorgeous picture books that feature characters who are experiencing disruption in all shapes and sizes. From the inconvenient and frustrating to the utterly life-changing, these stories span the spectrum of sources of disruption and challenge in a child’s life and, crucially, offer hope through their various outcomes.

So, relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw, put the kettle on and settle down with me to discover these perfect picture books for unsettling times.

 

‘We’re Stuck’ by Sue DeGennaro We're Stuck book & quote banner

Let’s start by getting stuck into the adorable ‘We’re Stuck’ by Australian author/illustrator, Sue deGennaro. When the residents of Building 24 shuffle into their lift one morning, they are all far too preoccupied with their own busyness to even notice one another. But, when the lift suddenly breaks down, with a dismayed birthday boy trapped inside, the lift’s occupants soon shift their focus from their own needs to each other’s.

A sweet and heart-warming tale of resilience, adaptability and community, students will certainly be able to relate to the themes addressed in ‘We’re Stuck’. A follow-up discussion that invites students to share their own experiences of being stuck in place and having to put their plans on hold will create a meaningful text-to-real-world connection and encourage them to reflect on the importance of recognising that some of life’s unsettling challenges are merely a moment in time.

 

‘Norton and the Bear’ by Gabriel EvansNorton and the Bear book and quote banner

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Or is it just annoying? This is the question at the heart of the delightfully charming ‘Norton and the Bear’ by Aussie author/illustrator Gabriel Evans. Norton prides himself on his unique dress sense, so when the relentlessly complimentary Bear insists on copying Norton’s outfit at every turn it is simply unbearable! However, after Norton loses his temper with the Bear and insists that he stop copying him, the Bear turns up with a new accessory that Norton really, REALLY likes…

Between the ages of 3 and 5 is when children begin to form a sense of self, developing their identity and individuality. ‘Norton and the Bear’ perfectly illustrates how challenges to our identity can loom large, especially for young children for whom the sense of self is still relatively fragile. Whether you identify more with the frustrated Norton or the endearingly earnest Bear, I guarantee that you and your students will instantly fall in love with this story and find comfort in the knowledge that, unsettling though it may be, imitation is almost always a form of flattery!

 

‘Florette’ by Anna WalkerFlorette book and quote banner

Yet another stunning picture book from an Australian author/illustrator extraordinaire, ‘Florette’ by Anna Walker introduces us to Mae, whose life has been uprooted by her family’s decision to move to the city. Mae misses her friends, she misses her old life and, most of all, she misses her garden. However, when she ventures further into her new environment, Mae finds something that plants the seed for a different type of garden, and some new friends along with it.

Moving house is an immensely unsettling and disruptive event that many of your students will likely be able to relate to. Through Walker’s skilful visual storytelling, ‘Florette’ quietly celebrates children’s emotional resilience in adapting to environmental change and shows us that, ultimately, home is not a place, but a feeling, and one which we can carry with us and recreate wherever we go.

 

‘The Rabbit Listened’ by Cori DoerrfeldThe Rabbit Listened book and quote banner

Next up, we have ‘The Rabbit Listened’, and I should put in my disclaimer up front and say, I absolutely love this book. In this gentle, insightful story we meet Taylor, who is struck by a sudden loss that brings his day (literally) crashing down. Everyone around Taylor tries to coach him in how he should cope with his sadness, but it is only when they all leave and a little rabbit comes to sit and listen that Taylor finds the space to adequately process his emotions.

When someone we care about is upset, it can be a very natural response to try and impose our own coping strategies on them, and to even lose patience when they aren’t responsive to our efforts to ‘fix’ the situation. This is something that can be especially difficult for young children to understand, and ‘The Rabbit Listened’ provides the perfect framework to begin that discussion around different approaches to processing trauma, both for the one who is suffering and, importantly, for those around them.

 

‘Finn’s Feather’ by Rachel Noble and Zoey AbbottFinns Feather book and quote bannr

Tissues at the ready for this one. In the heart-wrenchingly touching ‘Finn’s Feather’ we join Finn, who, on the first day of spring, opens his front door to find a feather on his doorstep. Confident in the knowledge that the feather is a gift from his recently deceased brother, Hamish, Finn excitedly shows the feather first to his mother and then to his teacher, neither of whom seem to want to encourage Finn’s belief that the feather was sent by his brother. However, when Finn shows the feather to his best friend Lucas, he immediately matches Finn’s excitement and the two boys set about finding ways to make the feather the centrepiece of their games.

Similarly to ‘The Rabbit Listened’, the beauty of ‘Finn’s Feather’ is the way it illustrates the highly unique and personal ways in which trauma manifests, particularly in children, and demonstrates the ineffectiveness of trying to impose our own coping mechanisms or perceived acceptable patterns of behaviour on the one who is suffering. The hero of this story is certainly Finn’s best friend Lucas who, far from dismissing Finn’s belief in the provenance of the feather, simply meets him where he is and allows him to exist in the reality of his grief.

 

 

Although the collective disruption that we are all currently experiencing will not last forever, unexpected change and challenge will rear their heads regularly throughout a child’s life. Books like these are fantastic tools to help build emotional resilience and provide a safe and accessible springboard for discussion during all manner of unsettling times.

And now, as I retreat into my book fort, I leave you with these wise words from beloved children’s author, E.B White.

‘A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people – people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.’

Stay safe out there.

 

 

About the Author

Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for eight years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

Telling The Story Of Lockdown

Together Apart. Inside book spread

Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, where I, Managing Editor and Bookworm-in-Residence here at MTA, am once again dropping into your inbox to spread the word about one of the awesome book packs that we’ve been busily curating for your classroom.

We were over the moon (wink) that so many of you enjoyed the first post, Storytime in Space,  and joined in with the National Simultaneous Storytime read-along from the International Space Station, what an unforgettable experience!

For this post, we are firmly back on planet Earth, as we explore a collection of stunning picture books that chronicle the event that has undeniably touched every one of us and every corner of the globe over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Together Apart  book pack, we have compiled four gorgeous picture books that reflect on the pandemic and capture the lived experience of lockdown through inclusive, empathetic and sensitive storytelling. So, gather round (maintaining a 1.5 metre distance, of course), as we settle down together, but apart, to discover these beautiful new books that so exquisitely tell their own stories of lockdown.

 

‘While We Can’t Hug’ by Polly Dunbar and Eoin McLaughlin

Banner While We Can't Hug Quote Book Blog

 

We begin with an adorable picture book that addresses perhaps one of the toughest aspects of the pandemic for young children, and that is the restrictions to physical contact with our loved ones. ‘While We Can’t Hug’ is the heart-warming second picture book from author/illustrator duo Polly Dunbar and Eoin McLaughlin, the team behind ‘The Hug’. This bestselling picture book once again features best friends Hedgehog and Tortoise who desperately want to give each other a big hug but aren’t allowed to touch.

“Don’t worry,” said Owl. “There are lots of ways to show someone you love them.”

Hedgehog and Tortoise share a wave, blow kisses, write letters, do silly dances and sing songs together, joyfully demonstrating the various ways we can show affection to those we can’t be physically close to due to the pandemic. This book would be the perfect springboard to a discussion about the new ways of communication that your students adapted to during lockdown, perhaps it was Zoom calls with cousins or blowing kisses through a window to grandparents, or simply spreading some joy to strangers by painting pictures of rainbows just like Hedgehog and Tortoise. Which leads us to…

 

‘Share Your Rainbow’ by various artists

Banner Share Your Rainbow Quote Book Blog

 

 Throughout lockdown, (perhaps during your permitted daily hour of exercise) you will most likely have seen windows full of pictures of rainbows. Early in the pandemic, the rainbow emerged as the international symbol of hope for better days to come. In ‘Share Your Rainbow’, 18 acclaimed artists come together, while apart, to look ahead and share their interpretations of what the ‘rainbow’ – or ‘better days to come’ – means to them, inspired by the millions of children all over the world who displayed their rainbows in their windows.

“I cannot wait to yak with my neighbours, and laugh with my neighbours, and snarf up toasted marshmallows with my neighbours.”

The eclectic mix of illustration styles, diverse characters and relatable imagery makes ‘Share Your Rainbow’ an uplifting and hopeful record of this remarkable period of our lives, and will no doubt be a catalyst for conversation about what your students were most grateful for when lockdown restrictions eased. A follow-up activity that encourages students to draw their ‘rainbow’ would make for a stunning collage display and would provide a poignant visual reminder of the spectrum of experiences and challenges that we all faced during lockdown.

 

‘Windows’ by Patrick Guest and Jonathan Bentley

Banner Windows Quote Book Blog

 

Inspired by author Patrick Guest’s own experience of having to leave his family home during lockdown due to his son’s Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ‘Windows’ is a beautiful, contemplative story that captures the wistfulness of lockdown ennui. Brought to life by Jonathan Bentley’s stunning watercolour illustrations, ‘Windows’ follows five children as they observe the dramatic changes to their outside worlds from the safety of their windows. The story opens with the children daydreaming as they observe the shapes of the clouds, a reflection on how the sudden forced slowdown of lockdown allowed us all to observe more of nature’s quiet comings and goings. Gradually, more and more members of the characters’ communities begin to feature, and the children are able to connect and draw strength from their communities from a distance, for example by leaving rainbows and teddy bears in their windows. The story concludes with a socially distanced appearance from each child’s grandfather, cheering them up with a silly dance and a song:

“I’d love to give you all a hug,
I’d love to squash this silly bug,
but just for now, I’ll keep away, until the lovely, happy day, when all the world can dance and kiss, and hug the ones we really miss.”

Windows’ is an uplifting story of how communities and humanity pulled together, despite being apart, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Comprehensive teaching notes, including suggested follow-up activities, are available to download here from our website.

 

‘Outside, Inside’ by LeUyen Pham

Banner Outside Inside Quote Book Blog

 

 If you’ve managed to get this far through the ‘Together Apart’ book pack without tearing up, then get ready for a flood of feelings. ‘Outside, Inside’ by Caldecott Honor Winner LeUyen Pham is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful picture book that addresses not only those of us who had to move their lives inside during lockdown, but also those essential and frontline workers who remained outside to serve their communities. There may well be students in your classroom who had parents or family members who fall into this category, and ‘Outside, Inside’ does a fantastic job of honouring these key workers and allowing for their experience to be represented. The format of the book contrasts the inside world with the outside world on alternating spreads, illustrating the different challenges faced by people on both sides of the door.

“We had birthdays without parties, shared words without sound, and reached each other without touching.”

Pham’s writing is moving and poetic, and her illustrations are diverse, rich with detail and bracingly real, perhaps due to the fact that she was inspired by real photos of the pandemic when creating the illustrations for ‘Outside, Inside’. This book is truly destined to become a timeless testament to the lived experience of lockdown for children all over the world and will be an invaluable conversation starter and catalyst for emotional expression, both inside and outside the classroom.

 

The pandemic continues to impact our lives and will do for a long time yet to come. It seems inevitable that this moment in history will be something we look back and reflect upon well into the future, much as we do with other major events that have shaped the international landscape and consciousness. The titles in the ‘Together Apart’ book pack will undoubtedly help you to facilitate meaningful conversations with your students and encourage them to verbalise the complex emotions they have experienced during lockdown and the pandemic. And who knows, sharing these four stories of lockdown may inspire a whole classroom-full of future authors who have their own lockdown stories to tell.

Elbow bumps all round.

 

 

About the Author

Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for over seven years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

Storytime In Space – Welcome To The Book Blog!

Houston, we have a book blog!

Welcome to the MTA Book Blog, where I, Managing Editor and Bookworm-in-Residence here at MTA, will be checking in with you regularly to shine a light on one of the fantastic book packs that we’ve been busily curating just for you.

In case you hadn’t guessed the theme yet, this first post is going to be a celebration of all things space as we boldly explore our brand-new ‘Storytime in Space’ book pack, freshly launched (pun intended, I make no apologies) to get your little Earthlings excited about space in the run-up to this year’s out-of-this-world National Simultaneous Storytime – more on that later.

The ‘Storytime in Space’ book pack contains five incredible picture books that are guaranteed to captivate and inspire your students, so grab a bowl of astronaut ice-cream, rug up under a space blanket and relax as we blast off on a journey of discovery from the birth of the cosmos to the Moon landings and Mars exploration, and we may even meet a few extraterrestrials along the way…

 

 

‘Ori’s Stars’ by Kristyna LittenQuote from the story Oris Stars and book cover image

We begin, of course, at the beginning. The very beginning. In the dazzlingly beautiful ‘Ori’s Stars’, author and illustrator Kristyna Litten takes us on a hypnotising journey through the birth of the stars. The book opens with a single lonely entity, Ori, who accidentally creates a strange shimmering ball that attracts more and more beings just like her. Before long, Ori and her starry-eyed friends are joyfully illuminating the vast darkness with their newly formed creations, until Ori comes to a realisation.

‘We need to show EVERYONE how to make stars. If we fill the sky, no one will EVER be alone in the dark again.’

A stunning story of the power of invention, friendship and sharing, ‘Ori’s Stars’ beautifully demonstrates not only that we all have unique gifts to offer the world, but, more importantly, that the power of these gifts multiplies infinitely when we share them with others.

 

 

‘Moonwalkers’ by Mark Greenwood and Terry DentonQuote from Moonwalkers story and book cover image

A hop, skip and one giant leap forward around 13.8 billion years and we find ourselves in a sheep paddock in Parkes, New South Wales. It’s 1969, and Billy, like everyone else on Earth at that time, is gazing skywards, captivated by the impending Moon landing. In the shadow of The Dish, Billy and his siblings read books about space, make models of Apollo 11 and role-play being astronauts until well past their bedtime, and as they slip ‘softly, silently, safely into astronaut dreams’, up on the Moon, the Eagle has landed…

‘Moonwalkers’, by Aussie author and illustrator duo Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton, takes a uniquely Australian look at this monumental moment in the history of our planet and celebrates Australia’s crucial but oft-overlooked role in it. Bursting with fun illustrations and relatable characters, this book also boasts an abundance of fiction and non-fiction text features – such as speech bubbles, fun facts, labelled illustrations and even a step-by-step procedural graphic at the end of the book detailing the stages of the Moon landing – making it an astronomically good example of a multimodal text that students will adore.

 

 

‘Field Trip to the Moon’ by John HareQuote from Field Trip to The Moon and book cover imageNext up, we take another giant leap, but this time it’s a leap of the imagination in ‘Field Trip to the Moon’ by illustrator John Hare. This gorgeously illustrated wordless picture book follows a futuristic class excursion to the Moon – a concept that will no doubt delight your students! As is often the case with excursions, however, things don’t quite go to plan, and when one student is accidentally left behind on the Moon, they soon find themselves having a close encounter with some curious locals.

The inimitable beauty of wordless picture books is that they are universally accessible regardless of reading or language level, as well as being entirely open to interpretation, a wonderfully liberating experience for students of all ages. Students can really engage their imaginations to conjure up what is happening in each scene, what the characters might be thinking or feeling, seeing, smelling and hearing. A follow-up activity that allows students to write their own text or dialogue to accompany the illustrations is sure to yield a whole spectrum of creative interpretations of this heart-warming story that ultimately shows us that, in this world and any other, there is far more that unites us than divides us.

 

 

‘Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover’ by Markus MotumQuote from the story Curiosity and book cover image

We’re back in the realms of reality now, although this incredible true story of the Curiosity rover may seem like the stuff of science fiction. ‘Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover’ by Markus Motum is told from the perspective of the rover itself, providing a brilliantly original and endearing voice to narrate this chapter in the history of space exploration.

‘Thanks to the curiosity of explorers, Neil Armstrong’s footprints are on the Moon. And now, my tyre tracks are being left on another planet. Perhaps one day soon, footprints from the next generation of explorers will join mine.’

In telling this fact-filled story as a first-person account through the eyes of Curiosity, the details of the rover’s creation and function and the realities of its day-to-day life on Mars are conveyed with a warmth that is rarely found in fact-driven texts. Not only will students immediately connect with Curiosity on a personal level, they will also be able to make a text-to-real-world connection with the Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February of this year. All being well, Perseverance and Curiosity will continue to beam extraordinary images and clues to the secrets of the universe back to Earth for a while yet, so our fascination with the Red Planet isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

 

 

‘Give Me Some Space!’ by Philip BuntingQuote from the story Give me some space and book cover image

‘Give Me Some Space!’ by Aussie author and illustrator Philip Bunting follows astronaut-in-waiting, Una, as she embarks upon her mission into the Milky Way to find life in space, only to realise that what she’s been looking for might have been a little closer to home all along. It’s a fun-filled adventure that is sure to inspire the next generation of space explorers, but don’t just take my word for it…

In case you hadn’t heard (where have you been?), ‘Give Me Some Space!’ has been selected for this year’s National Simultaneous Storytime, and on May 19th will be read by astronaut Dr Shannon Walker from the International Space Station. That’s right, this year’s National Simultaneous Storytime will be coming to you live from space. Space.

Join Dr Walker for a truly unforgettable National Simultaneous Storytime by registering for free here: https://membership.alia.org.au/events/event/nss2021

 

And now, as I deploy the landing gear and we make our final descent, I would like to thank you for joining me on this journey through the ‘Storytime in Space’ book pack. Next time, we will be delving into a beautiful collection of picture books that reflect on the pandemic and the lived experience of lockdown with the empathy, sensitivity and lightness of touch that picture books capture so exquisitely.

But for now, I’m going to parachute out of here and get back to sniffing out exciting new books to bedeck your bookshelves and bedazzle your little bookworms.

Over and out.

 

About the Author
Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for over seven years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

10 Name Activities For Early Learners

Peg name activity featuring pegs with letters on clipped to card with name spelt out

Most young children are very interested in their name and it is incredibly personal to them. Often, a child’s name is the first word they learn how to read and write, which leads to further interest in reading and writing activities. When a child starts kindergarten or in the lead up to school, this is a great time to start fostering an interest in name recognition. This often helps children settle into their learning environment as they feel more confident being able to recognise their named belongings amongst their peers. In a school setting, there are lots of times where a child will need to recognise their named belongings, for example, when trying to find their school hat or bag. At the beginning of Prep (or first year of school equivalent), there will be a big focus on name recognition and writing, which will help support students with this learning.
Whether your little one is becoming interested in their name or if you’re a teacher looking for some ideas on how to support your students, the following blog will share many ideas and activities that will develop children’s ability to recognise, write and spell their name.

Sign In Area

Classroom sign in area for students

This ‘sign in area’ was a set-up I had in my kindergarten classroom a few years ago where children could practise writing their names each morning when they came to kindy. Not only was this developing children’s ability to write their name, it also fostered a sense of belonging in the classroom and formed part of the morning routine. Children also developed their name recognition skills as they had to find their own name card in the class pile.

 

Playdough Stamping

Playdough stamping, purple playdough and green alphabet stamps

Many early childhood teachers would argue that there is no better resource than playdough. It is such a fabulous manipulative that can help develop fine motor skills and it can be used in so many different ways. In my classroom, we love using our Alphabet Dough Stampers to stamp out our names, which builds children’s confidence in recognising and spelling their names.

Featured Product:
Alphabet Dough Stampers

 

Sensory Tray Sand Writing

 

Sensory sand tray writing spelling out Ellie letters

Sensory writing trays are a great way for children to explore writing and drawing, without the stress of holding a pencil. There are many materials you can put in a sensory writing tray, such as sand, salt or even coloured rice. At the beginning of the year, I usually set up sensory trays containing sand during our daily English rotations where students can have the opportunity to practise writing their names.

 

Can You Spell Your Name?

 

Can you spell your name activity

This is one of my students’ absolute favourite name activities! They love using the diggers and dump trucks to find and transport the alphabet rocks they need to make their names.

name spelling diggers featuring diggers pebbles with letters written on. sitting on grass backgroundIt’s a super fun and engaging activity that encourages students to recognise and find the letters in their name and then assemble the alphabet rocks in the correct order.

 

Threading With Letter Beads

 

Threading letter beads spelling out childrens names on grass background
I use beads in my Prep classroom a lot as it gives students the opportunity to develop their fine motor skills, as well as whatever additional skill we are practising at the time. My students often use these Chunky Alphabet Beads to spell their names and they’re perfect for this task because they come in uppercase and lowercase letters, so children can practise spelling their names the proper way with a capital letter at the beginning, followed by lowercase letters.

Featured Product:
Chunky Alphabet Beads

 

Peg It!

 

Peg name activity featuring pegs with letters on clipped to card with name spelt out

I’m all about the fine motor skill activities, can you tell?! Pegs are a great manipulative to help with the development of fine motor skills. Making these alphabet pegs was super simple and I use them in my classroom for a range of activities. One of the ways they are used is for name activities at the beginning of the year. I love this activity because students build their confidence with recognising and spelling their names, all while building their fine motor skills!

 

Nature Names

 

Nems written on wooden blocks and a leaf on a grass background
This is a fun name activity that can be done outdoors and is an opportunity for children to engage with nature. It’s as simple as it looks – children can find and collect leaves and then stamp their name onto the leaf. Much more engaging than stamping onto plain paper!

 

Fine Motor Name Craft

 

Fine motor name craft featuring collage of names spelt out glued to card

Yep, you guessed it, another fine motor focused activity! A lot of the name activities I am suggesting in this blog have a fine motor aspect to them because of my experiences as a Prep teacher. At the beginning of the school year there is a huge focus on name activities as well as developing fine motor skills, so being able to integrate them together is ideal when there is only so much time during the day! This name craft activity is great for developing both of these skills and they are perfect for brightening up the classroom at the beginning of the year!

 

Make It and Write It!

 

Make it write it activity featuring whiteboard and pen with magnetic letters

This is another favourite activity of mine that is usually implemented during our daily English rotations at the beginning of the year. Students can use the magnetic letters to make their name and then write it underneath on the whiteboard. I love that these magnetic letters differentiate the vowels and consonants by colour and children can easily recognise the different types of letters in their name.

Featured Product:
Teachables Magnetic Whiteboard and Letters Set

 

Rainbow Names

 

Rainbow names activity featuring clouds cut out of card with matching colourful name tags

A few years ago, my class made these rainbow name crafts and I loved them so much that we proudly hung them in our room for the entire year! This was a great activity for my students to practise writing their names, with the focus being on starting with a capital letter followed by lowercase letters, as well as forming their letters correctly. Plus, anything rainbow is just awesome, right?!

 

 

What is your favourite Name Activity for Early Learners?
We would love to hear from you!

 

 

Featured Products:

Alphabet Dough Stampers

Chunky Alphabet Beads

Teachables Magnetic Whiteboard and Letters Set

 

 

ABOUT HEIDI:
Heidi Overbye from Learning Through Play is a Brisbane based, Early Years Teacher who currently teaches Prep, the first year of formal schooling in Queensland. Heidi is an advocate for play-based, hands-on learning experiences and creating stimulating and creative learning spaces. Heidi shares what happens in her classroom daily on her Instagram page, Learning Through Play. See @learning.through.play for a huge range of activities.

 

Shop MTA>

 

Posted on

All Time Favourite Literacy Resources

Close up of alphabet sorting tray and magnetic letters on classroom desk

Developing literacy skills in young students is extremely important in the early years and a large proportion of the school day is spent teaching these skills. To help me develop my students’ literacy skills, I use a wide variety of teaching tools and resources within my literacy program. Over the past few years, my collection of literacy resources has grown, yet I always seem to return back to my favourites; the resources that can be used in a myriad of ways. In this blog, I have compiled a list of my ALL TIME favourite literacy resources that I use regularly in my classroom and explain the different ways they can be used.

Chunky Alphabet Beads

Chunky alphabet beads letters on grass backgroundThere is something about threading activities that really captivates children’s attention. I have used these Chunky Alphabet Beads in both kindergarten and school settings and both age groups have adored them. On top of the obvious hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills that threading resources promote, there is also a range of literacy skills that these Chunky Alphabet Beads encourage. I have used these beads with my students to develop their letter recognition skills, name and word building skills, as well as awareness of uppercase and lowercase letters and alphabet sequence. Some of the activities I have implemented using these Chunky Alphabet Beads include:

    • Spelling names (focus on using uppercase letter followed by lowercase)
    • Spelling sight words
    • Spelling CVC words
    • Matching uppercase and lowercase beads together
    • Sequencing the alphabet
    • Letter finds (e.g. finding all of the e’s, or finding the letter that makes a /s/ sound)

Chunky alphabet beads words on grass background

Featured Products:

Chunky Alphabet Beads
Flower Sorting Tray

Wooden Alphabet Sorting Tray

Alphabet sorting tray on desk with magnetic letters
I LOVE resources that can be used in a variety of ways, which is why this Wooden Alphabet Sorting Tray is included in my list of All Time Favourite Literacy Resources. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have used this tray in my early years classroom and it is one of my ‘go-to’ resources when planning hands-on activities for literacy rotations. Some of the activities I have implemented using this Wooden Alphabet Sorting Tray include:

    • Sorting and matching magnetic letters into compartments (using tongs for added fine motor opportunities)
    • Matching an uppercase letter manipulative with the matching lowercase compartment
    • Practising letter formation by writing letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper and then placing them in the matching compartment
    • Writing words that start with each letter on a piece of paper and then placing them in the correct compartment
    • Beginning sound match-up (having a range of small toys and sorting them into the correct compartment according to their beginning phoneme)

Alphabet sorting tray activity with post it notes and felt pens on a grass background

Featured Products:

Wooden Alphabet Sorting Tray
Easy Grip Tweezers
Magnetic Lowercase Letters

Alphabet Bean Bags

Alphabet bean bags on grass background

In early years classrooms, there are many times in the day when students are transitioning from one activity to another. I like using these transition times as a teachable moment to consolidate learning and to give the children an opportunity to showcase their understanding. One of my favourite ways to transition students (e.g. from the carpet to the tables) is by throwing an alphabet beanbag to each student. Each child will catch their beanbag and tell the class what letter they are holding. This activity can also be adapted by having the student explain what sound that letter makes, or say a word that starts with that letter. Besides transitioning, other activities I have implemented using these alphabet beanbags include:

    • Throwing beanbags into a hula hoop and saying the name of letter/correlating sound
    • Laying letter cards out on the carpet and throwing the beanbags on top of matching letters
    • Uppercase/Lowercase game where the beanbag is thrown and then depending on what side it lands on, students will say “Uppercase!” or “Lowercase!”

Alphabet bean bags activity close up of word PLAY spelt out in kids hand

Featured Products:

Alphabet Bean Bags
Alphabet Wall Frieze

Phonix CVC Group Work Set

Phonic cvc activity matching key sight words  with letter blocks on a grass background

Along with making CVC words, some of the other ways we have used these Phonix cubes in the classroom include:

    • Building sight words
    • Building word families
    • Building names (they have uppercase on one side, lowercase on the other)
    • Sequencing the letters of the alphabet (my students love this one because they end up with a really long creation, which they think is fun!)

Phonic cvc matching activity featuring alphabet blocks and  CVC prompt cards on a grass background

Featured Product:

Phonics CVC Group Work Set

Lowercase Alphabet Dough Stampers

Lowercase alphabet dough stampers spelling out the word look into green dough

Playdough is ALWAYS a hit in my classroom and is perfect for developing those important fine motor skills as well as allowing children to engage in sensory play. To add an extra element to playdough play, I love adding these Alphabet Stampers to our playdough table to encourage letter exploration and word building. We frequently use our Alphabet Stampers to practise our sight words, which is a great way for students to familiarise recognising, reading and spelling these important words. Other ways we have used these Alphabet Stampers in our classroom include:

    • Stamping names into playdough
    • Stamping CVC words into playdough
    • Tracing letters with a finger after stamping

Lowercase alphabet dough stampers activity featuring blackboard on desk prompting students to make a sight word with the dough and stampers

Featured Product:

Lowercase Alphabet Dough Stampers

Write and Wipe Sleeves

Write and wipe sleeves on desks featuring sight words worksheets

These Write and Wipe Sleeves have saved me SO much time and money over the past year, which is why I’ve included them on my All Time Favourite Literacy Resources list! What teacher doesn’t love saving time and money?! There is no need to laminate sheets with these Write and Wipe Sleeves, I simply place whatever sheet I need for the lesson inside the sleeve and then voilà! Students can write with whiteboard markers on these sleeves and then easily wipe away. Some of the activities we have used these Write and Wipe Sleeves for include:

    • Roll and Write sight words
    • Tracing and writing sight words
    • Tracing letters or using resources (rocks etc) to trace over letters
    • Making playdough letters

Write and wipe sleeves activity featuring whiteboard pens and markers on classroom desk

Featured Product:

Write and Wipe Sleeves

Storywands

Close up of a Storywand with a series of fiction books on grass background

Developing oral language skills and comprehension skills are vital components of our early years curriculum. One of my favourite resources to support development of both of these skills are Storywands. Storywands are a fun way to encourage discussion and understanding of stories. We have used them in whole-group shared reading sessions, as well as small-group guided reading. Each star has a different question on it, which encourages students to focus on different story elements. These Storywands are used extensively as part of our reading program and in a variety of ways, including:

    • In whole-group shared reading
    • In small-group guided reading (where each student answers a question)
    • Using one star per lesson as a focus (for example, students will draw a picture to answer the question, ‘How did the story end?’)
    • To focus on developing the reading skill of prediction
    • To focus on developing oral retelling skills

Storywands activity set up on a teachers desk in classroom

Featured Product:

Storywands

Wooden Alphabet Discs

Wooden upper and lowercase alphabet discs on grass background

I have a weakness for any type of wooden resource – especially ones that can be used in so many ways! These Wooden Alphabet Discs have 26 uppercase and 26 lowercase discs and are perfect for simple letter recognition and letter matching games. I have used these beauties in both kindergarten and school settings in a variety of ways, including:

    • Letter match-up sheets (matching letters, matching uppercase to lowercase)
    • Looking for alphabet discs in rainbow rice

Active world tray  filled with coloured rice and alphabet discs

  • Separating numbers and letters (with the addition of Wooden Number Discs)
  • Letter Partner game (hand out uppercase and lowercase discs to students and then they have to find their partner with the matching letter)

Wooden alphabet and numbers sorting activity

Featured Products:

Wooden Alphabet Discs
Active World Tray
Coloured Plastic Bowls – Set of 6
Easy Grip Tweezers
1-20 Wooden Number Matching Discs – 40pc

Lowercase Letter Beads


Lowercase letter beads sight word activity on grass background

You already know that my students LOVE threading activities, so it probably won’t surprise you that I have included these Lowercase Letter Beads in my list of All Time Favourite Literacy Resources. I love that these beads are lowercase and they can be used with lots of different tools such as string, laces or even pipe cleaners. We mainly use these beads to practise spelling our sight words. Our favourite way to do this is by threading them onto a string as well as using tongs to pick them up and arrange them into a word. Other ways we have used these Lowercase Letter Beads in the classroom include:

    • Spelling names
    • Sequencing letters in the alphabet
    • Creating a string of words in word families (e.g. mat, cat, sat)

Lowercase letter beads threading activity on grass background

Featured Products:

Lowercase Letter Beads – 288 pieces
Fine Motor Tweezer Tongs


Alphabet Soup Sorter Cans

Alphabet soup sorter cans close up on grass background

Last, but definitely not least, on my list of All Time Favourite Literacy Resources are these Alphabet Soup Sorter Cans. My students always get super excited whenever I bring these out because of their fun nature and opportunities for hands-on learning. This resource encourages students to sort the object and letter cards into the correlating cans and supports alphabet awareness, letter and sound recognition. Some of the ways I have used this resource in my classroom include:

    • Whole group activities when introducing a letter/sound
    • Consolidating a group of sounds (e.g. SATPIN)
    • Small group sorting with some or all cans

Alphabet soup sorter cans activity on classroom desk

Featured Product:

Alphabet Soup Sorter Cans

Have you used any of these resources within your literacy program? What is your all time favourite literacy resource? We’d love to hear from you.

ABOUT HEIDI:
Heidi Overbye from Learning Through Play is a Brisbane based, Early Years Teacher who currently teaches Prep, the first year of formal schooling in Queensland. Heidi is an advocate for play-based, hands-on learning experiences and creating stimulating and creative learning spaces. Heidi shares what happens in her classroom daily on her Instagram page, Learning Through Play. See @learning.through.play for a huge range of activities, play spaces and lesson ideas.