Don’t Bloody Bore Them: A guide to picking books for your class

In a bog standard town there was a bog standard street

and in the bog standard street there was a bog standard house.

Inside the house lived a bog standard teacher who needed some bog standard bread.

Off he went to the bog standard shops and met another teacher.

As is the standard life for a teacher in the holidays (yes, it is the best part of teaching and those who say otherwise are fibbing), I bumped into a fellow teacher.  My heart swelled when I cast my eyes over his trolley which was basically alcoholic beverages and  some crisps.  Then of course we engaged in teacher ‘craic’.

BGT (Bog Standard Teacher): Spending the holidays wisely eh.

OF (Other Fella): Aye, BBQ today…well everyday.  Holidays – love em.

BGT: Looking forward to next year?

OF: Oh yeah…BLAH BLAH BLAH.*

BGT: Nice one.

OF: Oh before you go do you have any suggestions on books about Ancient Egypt.  It’s our topic and last year I tried to use Book X but the kids got bored as it took ages.  Oh, and I tried Book Z and they loved it but…ya know time constraints and that meant we didn’t get to finish it.**

*I was in the beer aisle – listening skills were dulled.

**Please note, this teacher wasn’t using books with such boring names.  To prevent book shame the titles have been removed to protect the names of these titles.  Thus ensuring no books were harmed in writing this blog.

I was taken by the last part of the conversation as his honesty highlighted a problem for teachers.  Just how do you pick a book to share with your class.  And I get those fine folk who stop everything to lash off 6 chapters at a total of 89 pages before hometime, but…well I have to teach other stuff.

EYFS/Year 1/Year 2

These lucky teachers have the world of books at their fingers tips and can luckily impact on making kids love books more than most.  Why I hear you ask?  Well, they can be armed with a mountain of picture books.  I taught Y2 for an age and quite liked it.  It was a time – on reflection – that I was able to be a massive book advocate before I even knew what one was. (Yes, we had these things before Twitter/Facebook).  The fact that picture books take next to no time to read are ideal.  Little secret: they are designed this way so kids don’t get bored.

Often I would get the children to pick and would always let the choice stand.  Read it before – no worries. Not linked to our topic – jackpot.  There is nothing better than reading Emily Gravett’s The Odd Egg and getting to the SNAP and making a class full of kids jump.

Tip 1: There are no wrong picture books to share…share as many as you can.

Tip 2: Routines help – before & after lunch and hometimes are ideal.  3 books in a day – what a time to be alive!

Tip 3: Let the kids pick.

Y3 & 4

This is probably the trickiest year groups for finding stories.  If you read the previous section and raged at the lack of chapter books that’s cool. Here is the tips for that.  When teaching these year groups I found that you feel the need to move away from picture books…DON’T.  However, now is the time to take a step back from much loved favs that kids pick to a more selective range. What are you teaching?  Is there a link? Mix of non-fiction and fiction. Books like Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World are amazing as the text is ‘grown-up’ enough for the kids and the double page spreads mean that you can dip in and out to please yourself.

There are lots of great books made directly for these children so go with that first.  Not a book you loved that have a zillion pages.  Time is a killer in schools so if you are going to get through a book briskly enough to keep the kids engaged while doing a million other things to keep all the plates spinning.  Books like Dirty Bertie and Wigglesbottom Primary are great as they contain multiple short stories.

Tip 1: Page count – anything over 200 is way too much.

Tip 2: Picture books still rock.

Y5 & 6

First off beware of books – ever seen a teacher have to speak to a angry parent due to a swear word in a book.  It is a fumbling sight of embarrassed pauses about ‘not knowing’ and ‘removing all the books’ that isn’t pretty before the register. So with that firmly in place know your class, know your book.  This extends to sharing books with mature content.  For that reason alone I’d stay away from great books such as A Monster Calls, Skellig and a host of others which are amazing: just not to be shared with a class.

Short chapters are key at this age.  Children should be able to sustain reading so you can be more able to opt to read chapters for homework or as individuals, but chapter length is a factor.  For me, page count still matters and this extends to the chapters.  If a chapter rambles and takes forever then interest can be lost. Remember this is for thirty people to enjoy, not one.  Authors such as Gareth P. Jones is amazing for his entertaining books that have short chapters. The likes of The Thornthwaite Betrayal and Death or Ice-Cream! are fantastic examples.  Even short books like The Firework-Maker’s Daughter works well as challenging language and character arcs are there to explore themes.

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Picture books are again ideal. With time for reading stretched even more (Yes, I mean SATs) then sharing great books that can be explored in depth or enjoyed instantly is vital.  Examples such as those below are great as the tone is mature enough for older children to buy in while not containing images or language that would cause issues.

Tip 1: If you’d not use the word with the parent, don’t let the child read it.

Tip 2: Picture books ALWAYS rock .

Lessons learnt:

  1. Always read the books – know them inside out before thinking of using them with a class.
  2. Picture books are for big and little people alike.
  3. . Page count matters – too long, too much.
  4. 4.  Content, including language must be considered.

 

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