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 Beginning to study literature, ages 7-9

The study of literature begins very early on, when you read to your children and talk about what has been read. This isn’t anything formal: it’s a very natural process and is simply a development of what you did with your toddler when you looked at a picture book together and asked him about the story. Reading aloud to your children even after they can read for themselves has countless advantages: not only can you expose your child to books which may be technically difficult for him to read for himself (thus expanding his horizons and vocabulary), enjoying a great story together is simply a wonderful shared experience. Your child also sees that you love to read and derive great pleasure from it, and this make it much more likely that he will want to be an avid reader too. You can introduce the idea of ‘literature study’ quite gently with simple oral narrations for a young child. Ask the child about the story: Can he tell you briefly what happens? Which characters did he particularly like or dislike? Which passages really jumped out at him? Why? Did the author paint any very striking word-pictures (images) which stuck in his memory? Would he like to write a story about a similar theme? Does he know when this book was written – is it very old or very recent? How can he tell? Does he know anything about the author? Would he like to find out more and perhaps read some other books b y the same person? Really, the list is endless. As long as the child remains interested – and doesn’t feel as if he’s being interrogated! – this can be a very enjoyable and fruitful exercise. Obviously, if you have read the book aloud to him, then this will be very much a two way process and the questions you ask will be more pertinent. As I said, this isn’t a formal exercise at this point, it’s more a conversation and should be treated as such.

Recommended books

Fairy stories, myths and epic tales 8-9

30 More Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. Written to satisfy the demand for more stories after the popularity of his first volume, this one is aimed at slightly older children – less folk tales and more adventure stories. Here’s the sales blurb:  “We hear of the explorers …in the New World. We see Newton pondering the fall of an apple, Galileo observing the swinging lamps, and Archimedes yelling “Eureka!”  We thrill to the exploits of the heroes at the fall of Troy and rejoice with Penelope at Odysseus’s homecoming. We follow the fortunes of Rome from its founding through its wars with Carthage. We travel eastward with King Richard and Frederick Barbarossa during the Crusades. We applaud when King John signs the Magna Charta at Runnymede…”. The Names Upon the Harp (Irish Myths) by Marie Heaney . Read about Cuchulainn, Finn and the Salmon of Knowledge. Stunning illustrations, not for the fainthearted. Norse Myths by Mary Pope Osborne. As with her ‘Medieval tales’, well written and beautifully illustrated version. My children have all been fascinated with the ‘otherness’ of the Norse Myths and some have gone on to study them in much more detail. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green  The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkein, whichever edition you have – a must read and much easier for this age group than the epic Lord of the Rings


The Golden Treasury of Poetry, ed. Louis Untermeyer is a gem of a book and available for pennies. It will last for several years and /or several children! Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves is a lovely book, especially if you can get the edition illustrated by the incomparable Edward Ardizzone A Puffin Quartet of Poets (Farjeon, Reeves, Rieu, Serraillier) is also worth picking up. Very ‘traditionally English’. Also worth looking for are books by or including:  Jack Prelutsky for intelligent humour, Charles Causley for something more serious, and Pie Corbett for something more modern. We also love various poems by Walter de la Mere.


 Move onto cursive if you want to from 7/8 onwards. We use Christopher Jarman’s ‘The Development of Handwriting Skills’ text . A cheap, consumable workbook such as Lett’s Hilarious Handwriting is much less thorough but might provide some light relief.


 When the children are pretty secure in these letter combinations I just move onto a regular spelling book such as Schonell’s Essential Spelling List. After all the grapheme practice, you’ll find your child whizzes through the first few levels (in fact I tend to find mine are about a year ahead of their age-appropriate list).  With older children, when you’ve finished working through a standard text like Schonell’s, it’s a good idea to keep a list (or rather encourage them to keep a list) of words which are misspelled in any subject, and practice them until they are learned correctly

Grammar and punctuation

Ages 7- 11 Many workbooks/textbooks/courses aimed at teaching grammar etc. to ages 6+ require a considerable amount of writing on a daily basis. If you have a reluctant writer, this obviously causes problems. My own answer to this problem has been to use, at about age 7, a series of exercises aimed at teaching sentences, use of capitals, punctuation and so on via simple games which provide pre-made written cards. In this way, the child can focus on the grammar facts rather than have to spend his mental energy focusing on writing correctly (see Composition below for more on this). Once the basics have been covered with the games, you can consolidate the teaching with further exercises in each subject area. Again, I try to get the teaching across without a very heavy demand for writing, though obviously more here than at the basic level:


Primary Level I remember doing a great number of comprehensions at school, in a variety of subjects, and finding them almost always boring and largely meaningless. Obviously, they do serve a purpose in that they can help test whether or not the pupil has reached the next level of reading proficiency: to read closely and understand clearly what is written on the page in front of him. But if you have been in the habit of discussing reading material with your child from an early age, you’ve already been doing ‘comprehensions’ of a sort: you have asked him questions to check his understanding of the text – you have simply done this orally rather than in written form.  Comprehension questions are widely used in schools in a variety of subjects from quite an early age. I suppose this is because they are an easy vehicle for writing practice, and because it is impossible for a teacher to know that 30 children have understood a text: she cannot go around and ask each one individually! You, as a parent, can do this and so written comprehensions need not play such a large part in your curriculum, at least at primary level. This saves you having to invest in workbooks which test the most basic comprehension skills (who said this? what colour was the book? How many cars were there in the street? and so on), and helps you avoid giving your children work which is not only often boring but is unlikely to advance their English skills much at all.  Middle and Secondary level For older children, comprehensions can serve more of a purpose inasmuch as they can introduce a child to the more subtle aspects of writing.  Good comprehensions will stretch a child to look beyond the obvious to find implicit themes, hidden meanings and oblique references. Likewise, they will have a strong emphasis on language analysis (why does the writer use this word? What other words might he have used? Why is this phrase so striking and memorable?), and this is an area which does need a good deal of practice as it possesses a vocabulary and type of questioning all of its own (see the language analysis below for more ideas).  Understanding what a writer is saying is only the first level of reading comprehension: trying to explain how the writer uses language and structure to achieve his effects is far more challenging. These are the kinds of skills you’ll need to focus more on as you approach GCSE level (they are also essential if your child intends to sit an English Literature exam).  Most secondary English texts will have some work on comprehension, but if you want a book specifically on this subject, this one is not too bad: Comprehension to 14 by Geoff Barton. The older edition is much cheaper and, as one Amazon reviewer writes, has some advantages over the newest offering: “This older edition provides an excellent selection of texts, in my opinion. They are very classical, and may not appeal to everyone, but provide food for thought for gifted or interested children. Unfortunately the new edition of the book panders to mediocrity.” I can’t quite agree on describing the chosen texts as ‘classical’: the section on drama, for example, includes a TV sketch from French and Saunders and a rather boring excerpt from an Inspector Morse episode, and many of the offerings in the drama and non-fiction sections are contemporary. Still, if you are selective there are some very useful exercises here, included some quite thought provoking extension exercises, mainly in the prose and poetry sections.  Another suggestion for ages 11+ is Developing Comprehension Skills by David Kitchen. I haven’t used this yet but hope to review it soon. The book which precedes this – Developing Basic Comprehension Skills – might be more suited to either a younger child or a child who had no experience of written comprehension.


 Age 7-9 As you can see from the Preparatory Level page, the only work I tend to do in terms of composition at this age is to help a child distinguish between sentences and non-sentences, and try to construct very simple sentences of his own. But this is a work in progress. Even after you have explained the four essential elements of simple sentence, you will find that for a long while your child, if asked to write an original composition, will still produce groups of words which are not sentences. In some ways, it’s quite an abstract and even arbitrary set of rules you are imposing, and it’s going to take him a while to assimilate them (many adults still struggle in this area). You may also encounter, especially with boys, a reluctance to write which may have more to it than a simple disinclination: some perfectly bright and articulate children do actually find writing difficult and if this happens, you’ll need to find ways to work with that. Below I’ve outlined some of my own experiences with this problem and a suggested solution. These can be applied also to children who are perfectly happy to write original compositions but who get frustrated because they cannot yet express adequately in writing what it is they wish to say.

 Language analysis This is a topic which comes much more to the fore in English Literature than in English Language, but there is an important place for it here too, since to read a text appreciatively it helps to have some understanding of how the writer is achieving his effects – in other words, of why the writing ‘works’. Obviously, the more aware a child is made of these literary devices and how they are employed, the more likely he is to begin to use them more effectively in his own writing. Again, though, as with comprehension, I would tend to say that formal language analysis is best kept for the middle and secondary levels. It’s true that you could teach a seven or nine year old what alliteration or personification are: he might understand, and perhaps be able to identify examples or even create examples of his own when required to, but, as with the formal terms of grammar one has to ask, “Is it really going to help him write well and appreciate stories more if he knows the names for these literary devices?” It is a constant complaint of GSCE examiners that pupils frequently identify/ name literary devices but show absolutely no understanding of the effects those devices are intended to produce. Rather, the examiners advise, offer a decent piece of analysis that perhaps doesn’t even use the correct technical term – you’ll get more credit for it! If you read with your child and discuss writing in any detail you can draw out his appreciation of language long before you need to give him the technical names with which to articulate his understanding. If we ‘get technical’ too soon, there’s a danger that we produce a ten year old who bandies around words like alliteration but is hard pressed to explain to anyone exactly what purpose the alliteration he has identified serves. There is a certain level of maturity needed for proper, technical literary analysis. So, where do you start? Secondary level comprehension exercises are one area in which basic literary analysis will begin to be studied (see the Comprehension page for more on that). Standard English textbooks for the 11-14 age range should contain at least some exercises in analysis. Letts/Lonsdale offer three separate books for the three years covering this age group in their ‘Essentials’ range. You can see the book aimed at 11-12 year olds here: Year 7 English Coursebook.  Having said that, a good amount of the technical language of literary analysis will be easy to introduce if you have been studying poems with your child. By the end of primary you might already have encountered alliteration, personification, metaphor, simile, imagery, perhaps even oxymorons, juxtaposition and onomatopoeia. Teaching the names for these devices and how they are used to create effects will be much easier if your child is already familiar with seeing them used in poems and understanding what they do. For the study of poetry in particular, the book Developing Poetry Skills by Geoff Barton is aimed at the 11-14 age range (though once your child has been taught these poetry analysis skills, there isn’t much to add to take him up to 14+/ GCSE level so this might be the only book you need).

ENGLISH LANGUAGE English Grammar practice; Spelling List 2 (mixed graphemes); handwriting, cursive (e.g .Jarman); copy-work Poetry word games 2

ENGLISH LITERATURE Selective narration and poetry study Norse myths; Irish/Celtic Tales ; Robin Hood; King Arthur (medieval tales); more Famous Stories retold

Age 8-9 Handwriting (cursive, using text such as Jarman) Spelling 2  Level 2 (mixed graphemes) Grammar and punctuation: English Grammar exercises 1 Composition: copy-work and dictation, sentence and possibly paragraph level Language use: poetry techniques




Continue Wide Range Readers (publisher Oliver and Boyd) and skills workbooks.

Continue grammar and comprehension work with Junior English book 2

Spelling test every week, Schonell.

Composition every week, news or creative writing. Use dictionary made in year one to add vocabulary if necessary.

Practise handwriting in exercise book. Use New Nelson book 1 to introduce joined up writing.

Introduce dictionary work, Concise Junior Dictionary and associated exercise book (publisher Schofield and Sims).

Thesaurus work, Better Words and exercises (publisher Schofield and Sims).

Effective Comprehension book 2. (publisher Schofield and Sims).

Springboard English workbook 2. (publisher Schofield and Sims).

Topic work.





– handwriting book (Getty and Dubay Handwriting from Ichthus resources), Italic Handwriting from same series

– Copy work and dictation from child’s prayers, poems and reading books

– Narration

– grammar from book, First Language Lessons, by Jessie Wise.

To ensure the children are reading well and are developing their reading skills by listening to them read aloud to me each day and to provide books for them to read that will challenge them.

Regular library visits.




Handwriting Getty and Dubay Handwriting from Ichthus resources), Italic Handwriting

Grammar Scofield & Simms

Spelling Scofield & Simms


-speaking and listening



Classical literature


Poetry- read aloud once a week, memorise and copy work

Read aloud from book lists, use narration techniques.

How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare Ken Ludwig


Unit studies.

Use unit studies to incorporate and integrate subjects regularly. It is ok to take a break from the set courses to enjoy immersion in a topic that we find interesting. Unit studies should incorporate independent research, outings to relevant museums or activities, discussion, sharing of ideas, critical thinking and logic, passing on new found knowledge to others in varying formats (retelling, plays, art work, project books, lap books, computer designed newsletters)

Ideas for unit studies:




British wildlife

Jesuit saints

A local famous person

Space exploration


Country study

Tudor Life


Organisation of subjects to be studied

Morning Basket

A selection of the following subjects is enjoyed for around 1 hour each morning to provide an eniching start to each day

Saints stories – illustrated lives of the saints with prayer and discussion

Reading aloud together

Art appreciation

Music – singing

Exercise -stretching, martial arts practice

Nature Study extras, taken from our nature study book

Topics the children may cover in English over 2 years include:

  • Myths and legends
  • Adventure and mystery stories
  • Poetry
  • Stories with an historical setting
  • Stories in imaginary worlds
  • Stories from other cultures
  • Significant authors
  • Classical novels
  • Drama
  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Information texts
  • Persuasive writing
  • Biography and autobiography
  • Read new words independently
  • Understand themes, plots and ideas
  • Recognise the use of language and figurative language
  • Use structure
  • Compare different writing styles
  • Find information in a piece of non fiction
  • Paragraphs
  • Punctuation
  • Connectives
  • Clauses with commas
  • Adverbs
  • Possessive apostrophes
  • Direct and reported speech
  • Active and passive voice
  • Performance skills
  • Improvisation
  • Speaking to an audience


Ideas and notes

Read aloud myths and legends, change endings, write newspaper reports about them, retell them, make up own stories and listen to each other. Start a story and another person finish it. Draw pictures from stories, create illustrations and book covers, learn fairy tales. Make up stories about nature study. Use paragraphs. Speak to audiences, recite from memory, make plays from stories. Lots of oral narrations.

Draw or describe a mythical creature and a mythical hero.

Think up and tell about a magical village for them to live, work together and to do one place/sentence at a time. Review

How will the hero get to the village without being caught by the creature. Talk about ideas and write them down.

How does the story end?

Finding Information

Borrow several factual books from the library. Before the lesson make a sheet with questions for them to find the answer to. Compare writing styles to non fiction news stories.

Get them to use the index, glossary and contents.

Ask the m to write down any words they don’t understand and then look them up.

Look at how the information is laid out – could this be used in our own work? e.g. Geography?

Tables, graphs, photos, sidebars

Ask them to write a paragraph about a subject using information from a book.


Loop Scheduling

What is loop scheduling?

The concept is simply this: Instead of assigning tasks to certain days of the week, list tasks and then tackle them in order, regardless of what day it is.

Looping can be used wherever there is work that needs to be done regularly. Loop scheduling can also be used to loop various activities within a subject. For example, I loop English subjects to offer a little variety while still making headway with the subject and to ensure all topics are addressed.

Basically, take anything you would otherwise be inclined to schedule into certain days of the week (Monday: History, Tuesday: Science, Wednesday: Literature…etc.) and put them on a loop instead. THEN Then instead of feeling behind when the baby is sick or you are running around putting out life’s fires, you still make progress across the curriculum.

Loop schedule example:

Tuesday – geography, art, Shakespear, nature study and walk.

All other days start with morning basket and Maths and then loop:



English 1



English 2

Set reading and narration


English: 1. Spelling, composition, dictation

  1. handwriting, comprehension, grammar