Little Miss Teacher Blog

By Clara Fiorentini

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Christmas Resource Pack 4th - 6th

Hello everyone!



I was sorting out some files earlier and came across a nice Christmas resource pack suitable for 4th - 6th with some lovely festive learning activities for the season upon us! 

I've added it to my Teacher Freebies!

It includes 23 pages in total:

·     Christmas Theme flashcards
·     Reading: The Little Matchgirl
·     Question Time: Comprehension Activity
·     Poetry: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
·     Responding to Poetry: Question Time – Comprehension Activity
·     Responding to Poetry: Drawing
·     Christmas Time Acrostic Poem Template
·     Christmas Word Jumble
·     ‘Christmas is Coming’ – rhyme poster
·     Christmas Time Cloze Procedure
·     Cool Christmas Facts – Reading activity
·     Christmas Facts Writing Activity
·     Design a New Sleigh For Santa Activity
·     Christmas Creative Writing: Writing Prompt & Writing Template
·     Christmas Riddle Activity

Enjoy the final fortnight, holidays are coming!


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Thursday, 14 November 2019

A child's name


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We, as educators, are in the very privileged position to work with young children and have a role in helping them evolve into their very best, possible selves.

We teach, we show, we lead by example. In turn, the children learn by doing and by our examples.

Regardless of context, setting and age, one of the most important ways we can show a child that we value their presence and their 'selves' in our teaching and learning environments, is by using their name.

Staring a new position? Getting a new student? Heading on placement? Take the time to familiarise yourself with names first. Names need to precede plans, behaviour concerns, abilities, expectations. Names come first.

Address them. Call them by their name. Value that one little piece of themselves that they have possessed the longest. The first piece of language many of them will have been awarded from day one. The one little word they brought on their journey as theirs.





By using a child's name when you speak with them, you are encouraging them to look.
By using a child's name when you speak with them, you are showing that you value them.
By using a child's name when you speak with them, you are recognising them as an individual.
By using a child's name when you speak with them, you are showing that you care about them.
By using a child's name when you speak with them, you are leading by example, modelling and encouraging them to do the same!

Here's a little poem of mine, which I always found helped with the little ones.


If you think you would find this poem useful in your practice, feel free to download it!


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Thursday, 24 October 2019

Happy Birthday Aistear!

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Play gives children opportunities to be in control of what is happening and what they know. (Levin,1996)


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Through play, children exercise self-control, develop previous related knowledge, take turns, co-operate and socialise with others. (Glover, 1999)

It's hard to believe that Aistear
the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework celebrates its tenth birthday soon. It's safe to say that the curriculum framework has helped bring the teaching and learning methodologies in our primary infant classrooms on in leaps and bounds. For the most part, teaching in the early years of primary school in many classrooms has a significantly different appearance now, compared to what it did over a decade ago. More formal ways have been set aside and a more playful approach adopted. I know, my own practice and my approach to teaching and learning have been immensely enhanced by elements of the Aistear framework.

As primary school teachers, we definitely have a lot to thank Aistear for. The
 concepts of 'play' and 'playful pedagogy' are still undergoing a journey of their own in the Irish primary educational context. Over the past decade, play-based practice with less an emphasis on didactic, formal approaches has indeed been a source of rejuvenation to our teaching at the junior end of the school. 

Through my own experience with the Aistear framework, as an infant teacher, I felt more and more equipped on a year-to-year basis contending with the ever-evolving, ever-diversifying Irish infant classroom. Our classrooms are in a constant state of evolution and while this can be a challenge, there-in lies a need greater than ever for a playful approach to teaching and learning
 to meet the different learning needs of the children.

From the perspective of a teacher who spent several years dedicating immense effort (proudly) into getting an Aistear approach up and running in an infant classroom, it was (without a shadow of doubt) a truly beneficial learning curve but didn't come without its challenges. The biggest challenge of those, being simply, the attitudes towards play.

'How would you be bothered?'

'There isn't enough time.'

'There aren't enough resources.'

And my favourite of all...

'It's an awful lot of mess.'

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One thing is for sure, when you look beyond what a small few may see as 'mess' and appreciate the sheer amount of skill development, language development and interaction at hand, the immense value of play in the primary school stands before you. 

Where are we going with 'play' at primary level?

As stated in the Aistear Framework (p9);

"Early learning takes place through a reciprocal relationship between the adult and the child – sometimes the adult leads the learning and sometimes the child leads. The adult enhances learning through a respectful understanding of the child’s uniqueness. He/she alters the type and amount of support as the child grows in confidence and competence, and achieves new things."

To fulfill the aims of the Aistear framework, it is imperative that playful pedagogy is valued and prioritised at primary level
 as a natural transition support for the children. The Aistear hour was of its time but it worked! It helped people get into the 'swing' of things and let go some of the overly formal classroom practices. But is the notion of the ' Aistear hour' restricting the potential of playful learning across all the elements of the infant school day? We must strive to ensure that the the precious elements of 'child-led' play so evident in our early childhood contexts are maintained and continued to be wholly fostered at primary level. Child-adult ratios are a significant and unavoidable factor. After the transition from ECCE contexts to primary school; and with brimming class sizes, tackling the best 'led' approach to play can be a concern. As primary school teachers, ensuring that the child-led element continues to be fostered is important yes, but using our role as facilitator of play by embracing open-ended invitations that playful pedagogy awards will only continue to maximise the intentional teaching opportunities that play provides. Finding the balance and recognising the balance is key. We can play, teach and observe learning simultaneously.


Intentional teaching involves educators being deliberate, purposeful ad thoughtful in their decisions and action. Intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have 'always' been done that way. (Duncan, 2009)

Those of us who have embraced playful pedagogy in classrooms can most definitely recognise and agree that play is not a simple, singular term. It is indeed a very multifaceted teaching methodology.
Is there a need for child-led play? Absolutely.
Is there a need for playful learning? Definitely.
Is there a need for intentional teaching through play? Without a doubt.
Do I need to go on? Surely not.

Play is play and it is here to stay. It is serious business – it is the work of the child and it involves serious learning. 
Our new Primary Language Curriculum (2019) recognises the significance of 'appropriately playful learning opportunities' when developing literacy skills in junior and senior infants which is a welcome inclusion for many.

What is evident in schools now, is that children, who have been immersed in playful learning and instruction framed by Aistear's themes, are now journeying through the senior end of the school, armed with the learning skills and dispositions practiced and embedded during their play-rich learning experiences. A scenario which can only but blossom over the coming school years.

Happy birthday Aistearwe have learned a lot- the children have benefited significantly- here's to the next decade!





Portraying Playful Learning:

Are you interested in Aistear or playful pedagogy in the primary setting? Many wonderful teachers share their journeys through playful learning online - particularly on Instagram. They play an extremely important role in promoting good practice and through their platforms are inspiring many young and long-standing teachers to embrace playful learning and highlight the benefits of the Aistear framework and playful pedagogy at primary level.

Look out for:



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Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Fuss-free play dough recipe

I've been asked to post my favourite play dough recipe. I've tried several recipes, but this is hands-down the easiest, safest and most successful that I've found.


No boiling water necessary; which makes it all the better for getting the children involved in making your play dough batches. 

I've lost count of how many times I've used this recipe and it never fails.

Happy playing!


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Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Halloween - 8 ways to get your class writing!

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I love Halloween.
I love Halloween themed learning.
I love Halloween themed writing even more!

Halloween is a brilliant time of year for working on creative writing. So many opportunities for discussion, for descriptions and details.

As children progress with their writing competence, their texts depend on details. Quality sentences with descriptions and details to hook the attention of readers. What better excuse to integrate the theme of Halloween and make use of all things creepy, gory and shivery to inspire young writers to evoke some detail in their writing?

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Watch out for:
The Literacy Shed have some fabulous spooky-themed images for prompting narrative writing and some great eerily themed background sounds too, to play as you write! Set the mood for spooktacular writing before the children begin!

Halloween Themed Writing Activities:



  • Pass the Page

This is a lively group activity for narrative writing. In groups, the children compose a Halloween themed story. I like to use a visual to prompt the writing. The children must take turns writing one line at a time and passing the page around the group until their story is complete. Each time a child writes a sentence, they must read it aloud so all group members can hear. This is a lovely collaborative approach to narrative writing and ensues lots of lovely discussion, chat, debate and vocabulary development! I like to encourage a collaborative approach to practice a concept like narrative writing before setting the children off to compose a piece themselves.

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  • Potion Making

Potions may seem like an obvious one for Halloween, but they are a great opportunity for creative thought and descriptive writing. The 'Song of the Witches' from Macbeth is an ideal invitation into potion themed creative writing as it is rich in description, detail and rhyme. Invite the children to compose a potion for a spell of their choice - consider the ingredients, the recipe and encourage them to give their rationale for this potion.
Could you extend the learning and link in with any potion themed reading? What about an extract from George's Marvellous Medicine or The Witches!

  • Halloween Onomatopoeia

Creak! Bang! Whoosh! Stomp! Halloween is the perfect theme for practising onomatopoeia. Invite children to compose sentences using onomatopoeia and then encourage them to use it in their narrative writing.

  • In the Haunted House

Before we ever set the children a task of writing a narrative, it's important that we arm them with the tools and language to shape their work. Time to plan and time to prepare is essential. Regardless of the setting, it's important to consider how the setting looks, how it sounds and how it feels. Considering the senses when writing opens paths to all sorts of welcome descriptive language.

  • Halloween Jokes
Why wouldn't the skeleton cross the road?


Because he didn't have any guts!
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Introduce the children to some Halloween themed jokes, then have them try to compose their own! 

  • Halloween Story Starters

Sometimes it can be tricky to get started with writing a narrative piece without a visual or a title. Story starters a nice way of launching the writer into a narrative and help open the scene. 

  • Witches Cauldron Writing Prompts
Setting the scene is important. When a theme is involved, it's nice to have a key object to focus attention on to inspire and trigger ideas for creativity. So if it's Halloween, why not use the cauldron. Fill it with a few key items that must feature in the story or piece of writing.

"In the cauldron, the witch's pot,
Let us see what prompts we've got!
Are they nice or are they gory?
Whatever they are, they'll be in my story!"
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  • Roll a Story


Roll a story is a nice way of helping pupils to pick a character, setting and key object to feature in their writing. It's a nice starting point for anyone who might struggle to get started or to trigger a little inspiration!


You can download all my Halloween Writing Materials for free here! 

Be sure to share a picture of them in use in your classroom!







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Monday, 7 October 2019

Podcast Interview: Inside Education

Inside Education - a podcast for educators interested in teaching

I was last week's guest on Inside Education - the educational podcast presented and produced by my colleague Seán Delaney. I spoke to Seán about all things literacy, language and literature. Such a lovely experience and an honour to be invited on as a guest for a podcast I enjoy listening to and admire so much myself!

Let me know if you have a listen!

Inside Education Podcast Interview - Little Miss Teacher


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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Press Pause: Key skills & strategies to foster before formal literacy learning

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Every school is different. Every classroom is different. However, regardless of where your class is 'at' when they start school, there are many key skills which children deserve and require the opportunity and adequate time to develop before ever engaging in formal literacy learning. These skills go far beyond the month of September, appear in many forms and are of immense importance. This is a long post, but it's all here in one place!



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Pre Writing Skills



Pre-writing skills are  fundamental skills children must develop before they are able to write. These skills will affect a child’s ability to hold and use a pencil, and the ability to draw, write, copy, and colour. It is essential that we dedicate plenty of time for children to develop and practice these skills long before we ever introduce letter formation and handwriting! 
Developing pre-writing skills isn't just about colouring and tracing - in fact it goes far beyond this. We ask young children to sit and hold a pencil to write - but often forget about the challenge and effort alone it takes for a young child to acutally 'sit' and position themselves to do so for a duration of time.
 To fully engage in writing, children need strong necks, cores, shoulders and fingers. Building up muscle strengths like these comes from activities such as crawling, rolling and jumping! Makes you look at your infant PE a little differently now, doesn't it?
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Fine Motor Skills

I cannot stress how much time needs to be dedicated to 
developing fine motors skills. Children need to work on their fine motor skills to build up hand strength, work on their grasp and their hand manipulation. Tasks that develop pincer grip, picking things up and sorting are essential. Get out the fine motor toys; give the children time to fiddle, pick, thread, pull  and push!

Short on supplies? Clothes pegs, paper clips, pipe cleaners, straws, colanders - fiddly fine motor activities can be easily created. There's not excuse for ideas with Pinterest


Why not set up a Funky Fingers station specifically aimed at fine motor work? 
My infants always loved this. I can't find my memory key with past photos of mine but Infant Teaching Ideas has some fantastic ideas on her website for Funky Finger Stations.


Gross Motor Skills

These also need a lot of development in the early months of school. Did you know that in order to prepare a child to learn to write it's ESSENTIAL that we work on GROSS motor skills BEFORE fine motor skills? Read an article about my colleague Sinéad Lambe's fascinating research on gross motor skills of Irish Junior infants and the impacts on their handwriting development.

Moving around the room, awareness of their limbs, awareness of others, sensory processing - all skills that must be developed outside of the constraints of a chair. Did you know gross motor skills are also closely linked to attention skills? 

Short on supplies? Hopscotch, Simon Says, bouncing & catching balls, Follow the Leader & obstacle courses are all brilliant for developing gross motor skills.



Listening Skills

If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll have heard me talking about the importance of developing listening skills in the early weeks of primary school. This is a key component to success in other areas of learning across the board. 



Listening skills become extremely important when children begin school. By working on listening skills at school you are helping children to develop their auditory detection, discrimination, recognition, sequencing, and memory. These skills are essential for success in vocabulary development, grammar skills and future reading skills. Therefore listening skills have a huge part to play in preparing for literacy learning!

Here's a link to a previous blog post of mine detailing some really useful strategies for developing listening skills. 


Talk
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"Talk is the foundation of literacy." 
James Britton, 1993

Talk is essential. Busy does not always equate to quiet! We need to create time for talk and see talk as a valuable teaching and learning strategy in the infant classroom. By letting the children talk about their learning we are helping them to process their learning, encouraging them to learn from one another, build relationships, express themselves and enhance their language.

Optimum opportunities to 'talk' throughout the day:
  • Morning reception time - give the children a few moments to chat to each other before the day begins!
  • Talking as a closure to play - pair-share-review or a quick show and tell about what was created or played with is a lovely way to incorporate some child-led talk.
  • 'Ready, steady, chat!' - why not include talk time as a transition; children are naturally wired to chat and love a little chance to talk about what they want to talk about!

  • Telephones - Old mobile phones, old telephones; what ever you can get your hands on. These are great not only in the socio-dramatic area but at a little chatter corner in the room too. They see adults on phones and taking calls all the time, so it's only natural that they want to mimic and have their own chats!
  • Story baskets / Story stones - encourage children to talk and retell stories independently and playfully.
  • Experience Book - create a class experience book where you can record the children's experiences that they share. They love to talk about themselves and the things they've done (realistic and imaginary) so maximise on this. It's lovely to revisit, discuss and model with.
See my post on Start The Day Strategies to find lots of activities to get the children talking at the beginning of the school day and create an environment of responsiveness!

Vocabulary Development
Children need vocabulary to communicate. Their vocabulary knowledge is something that should be constantly evolving and increasing. Therefore a variety in strategies to develop vocabulary is key.


  • Word Walls - create word walls of new and interesting words.
  • Word of the Day - another favourite of mine; a word of the day, outside of your reading or spelling, a special word to add to their vocabulary bank. 
  • Synonyms - model mature language for the children. If someone is cold get them to think about if they're chilly or freezing! 
  • The Picky Puppet - the Picky puppet looks for words but he can be picky about the initial letter! The Picky Puppet looks for different words everyday but they all have to begin with the same letter. Great for getting the children thinking about vocabulary they have and their understanding of letter sounds.

  • Stories - stories, stories, stories - the more the merrier and probably one of the most natural modes of developing vocabulary.


Narrative Skills

In developing narrative competence, children learn to produce and comprehend causally and temporally structured plots. Children’s narrative ability is crucial in developing social skills and accessing the curriculum. Important elements to master include:

  • Sequencing language - teaching children to sequence their narratives; first, next, then, lastly etc.
  • Units of time - morning, afternoon, night-time; days of the week; months of the year; seasons
  • Abstract concepts of time - nearly, soon, earlier, later, after a while etc.
  • Question words - I always taught the infants about question words to help them think - who, what, when, where, why, how?



Print Awareness

Before the children every begin to read formally, time needs to be spend developing their print awareness. Print awareness is a critical pre-reading skill. 

How can we develop print awareness?

  • Teach children how to handle and hold books correctly
  • Teach children how to turn pages and follow text from left to right
  • Encourage children to scribble and mark make
  • Encourage them to notice print and text on pages
  • Encourage emergent reading - invite children to 'read' storybooks by following the pictures regardless of whether they can actually formally read the text or not
Don't forget about Environmental Print which has a huge part to play in early reading development. Reading pictures and signs is still reading too! Read my blog post on Environmental Print.

Watch our video on Environmental Print on The Literacy Channel.

Print Motivation

Print Motivation is basically a child’s interest in and enjoyment of books and reading and is an extremely important skill in the development of a child's reading ability. Children who enjoy books are more likely to want to learn to read, and to keep trying even when it is hard.
We can promote print motivation by:

  • Keeping reading time fun and engaging - use your voices, change the tone of how you read, pick funny texts - whatever works!
  • Don't flog a dead horse - if attentions are waning, stop and finish the story another time! The last thing we want is a child to associate boredom with books.
  • Choose books with repeated phrases or chants; keep everyone involved, engaged and enjoying the process.
All together now:


Phonological Awareness

One of the most important areas to work on before ever jumping into letters and sounds is phonological awareness. I cannot stress this enough. It is the foundation for learning to read.
Phonological Awareness is an umbrella term which covers sub-areas such as phonemic awareness, syllabic awareness, rhyming, alliteration and onset and rime. The NCCA have a useful document online detailing Phonological Awareness and some activities to get you started.




Play
If you can't make time for everything else, then at least make time for play. Children learn by doing. They learn best through purposeful, child led play and you the teacher will never learn more from them than when you do just watching them play.

Worried about how to continue play during the pandemic? Read my Continuation of Play guide here.

Find all my posts on Aistear & Playful learning here.

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Plenty to work on, plenty to try and plenty of reasons to pause and slow down your approach to literacy! If you have any other key skills or strategies you like to work on before formal literacy learning, do share!

Download my posters for The Picky Puppet, 'Ready, Steady, Chat' and Question Words HERE.




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Friday, 6 September 2019

Oral Language Activities to use with a Novel

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When it comes to using a novel with the senior classes, it's really important that you maintain a variety in the activities that you use to support and reinforce learning. Also, specific activities and strategies should be applied before reading, during reading and after reading.

Ditch the reliance on written summaries. Avoid death by boring book reports. Liven up your approach to novels with a few engaging, effective and purposeful activities that rely on the development oral language skills.

Striking a balance between written activities and verbal is important. If the children can talk about something confidently first, they're likely to have much more success at the written work afterwards!

Believe it or not, each of the PLC Learning Outcomes for Oral language for 3rd - 6th class, could be achieved and fostered through the use of a novel and activities stemming from a novel. 

Here are some really useful & fun oral language activities to use with your senior class that the children are sure to enjoy.

Pre-reading

Pre-reading activities are essential for helping the children to focus on the task at hand, to trigger critical thought and to initiate discussion about the text at hand.
 C.Fiorentini, 2019 - www.littlemissteacher.com 


During Reading 

It is often important to break up reading passages with time for talk, discussion and reflection. It gives the readers a break, time to think and time to express how they might be feeling about a passage. It's also useful for re-focusing the attention of anyone who may have become distracted.

C.Fiorentini, 2019 - www.littlemissteacher.com



After Reading - while the novel is ongoing!

Don't miss out on opportunities for valuable talk & discussion after passages or chapters. Having a variety of discussion starters is useful for 'after reading' activities; here are five of my favourites:


                                 C.Fiorentini, 2019 - www.littlemissteacher.com


After Reading - on completion of the novel!

Don't miss out on valuable oral language opportunities once the novel is complete. Reinforce learning and evoke memory work with some of the following activities: 
C.Fiorentini, 2019 - www.littlemissteacher.com


Would you find a copy of these activities useful? Email littlemissteacherblog@gmail.com with 'Novel Activities' in the subject bar and I'll send a PDF to the first 100 requests.

Plenty to get you started!



*Did you find this post useful? Be sure to give it a share!*







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Thursday, 22 August 2019

Picture prompts: getting your class talking

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Making time for discrete Oral Language opportunities is essential. Depsite being what we are naturally programmed to do, sometimes planning for talk is what can get the least thought in our planning, with reading and writing taking precedence. What gets overlooked quite often is that oral language is a prerequisite skill for reading and writing!

Answering questions and sharing news during the school day is only a tiny amount of oral language. Building up on time, opportunities and routines to use and develop oral language fruitfully is is essential. The more strategies the better!


One of my favourite strategies is using 'Picture Prompts'. When I taught 6th class, one class in particular really struggled with descriptive detail, so I began collecting interesting and entertaining photos and pictures that I saw in magazines, newspapers (remember the MetroHerald?) and online. I had a folder full of them. It got to the point where the children were gradually bringing in images that they had come across themselves outside of school to add to the collection.

How can Picture Prompts be adapted for oral language activities:

Usually, I would have stored the pictures in separate envelopes. So more often than not, the children didn't know which picture they would get. I used picture prompts with 4th, 5th, 6th and Infants - just adapted in a variety of ways!

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  • 30 Second Shout Out - pupils choose an envelope and either in pairs of small groups; have to speak for 30 seconds non stop about their picture. Good fun and the time limit can be upped depending on the abilities in question.
  • Pair, Share, Review - Pupils are paired, each have a picture. The pupils take turns discussing their photo / picture. They return to the group and explain what each other talked about.
  • Before, During & After - Pupils are paired and examine the picture. They must imagine and explain what they think happened before the picture, what is happening during the picture and what happened next. Great for getting a bit of practice on sequencing language too.
  • Pupil in Role - Pupils take on the role of the character in the picture.
  • Picture of the Day - finding a small wall-space in the classroom for a picture of the day allows for natural talk and discussion around the picture between the pupils. Even a space in the corridor so attention is drawn to it whilst on the way to yard.
  • Morning Welcome - Sometimes having a few picture prompts on the table for when the children arrive to school can be a nice way to start the day with some talk & discussion and a laugh about what they've being welcomed by.
  • Nosey noticers - Challenge the pupils to use their nosiness to see what they can notice about the picture. Is there anything unusual going on? What's in the background? What's in the foreground? What's in the centre? Could this really happen in real life? A few magnifying glasses always heightened excitement for the younger children here. Depending on the age group of your class, you can allocate them a target number of things to 'notice'.
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If you would like a copy of a PDF with some useful Picture Prompts, send me an email to littlemissteacherblog@gmail.com with 'Picture Prompts' in the subject bar and you can get started on your own collection!





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