On Wednesday I was greeted by a classroom full of children who had a range of emotions about being sent back to school and being made to put up with me for the next academic year. It was only as I watched them rush to their friends to help settle their nerves that I realised my class was made up of children from four different classes. Moving to a 5/6 mix has meant not that many of my pupils actually know each other and this has led to apprehension from some of them, while others are relishing the chance to get a fresh start. Immediately I started thinking how I could help them to feel at ease, relax some fears and hopefully inspire a few of them to feel a greater sense of confidence in the room. A book which sprung immediately to my mind to help with this was Click by Kayla Miller, a story centered around a girl who has friends but doesn’t seem to quite fit into a specific group or have a best friend to lean on. Looking around my class I could already pick out three or four children who were clearly feeling the same and I’m sure there were several others I hadn’t spotted.
Thursday’s English lesson was treated like a normal lesson, wasting time on introductory exercises seemed daft. Each child was given a sheet which had three panels from Click cut out and stuck in the middle which showed the main character (Olive) in clear emotional distress and suffering from a friendship crisis. Working in pairs the children were asked to write down as many words as they could that described how Olive would be feeling about being left out at school. Following this I heard answers from all pairs and created a list on the board. Each pair was then given a thesaurus and asked to find more powerful ways to describe Olive’s feelings, particular focus was drawn to the words sad, lonely and different which we felt were weak compared to their other choices. While the pairs were rifling through their thesaurus I worked my way round the class to help them with word selection or to establish whether they had found an alternative that would make sense. The natural discussions occurring in the pairs was fantastic to hear, lots of them had started to work out that you can’t just take any option given in a thesaurus and apply it.
Example of a sheet completed by a pupil, their initial ideas are at the top and then their findings from the thesaurus are at the bottom.
After about fifteen minutes we compiled a second list of words on the board and compared them to our original ideas. There was a noticeable improvement in the power and emotion of the language they had discovered in the thesaurus which we discussed together. Lonely, sad and different were now being replaced with words like isolated, perplexed, bewildered, disconnected, and neglected.
Due to the important discussions about word choice, meaning and suitability this task ended up taking the whole lesson which wasn’t my original plan but rushing it would have lessened the impact of it significantly. On Friday after a quick recap the children begun to write a postcard from the perspective of Olive. We made up a scenario in which Olive had a good friend who lived far away and she was writing to her to explain her friendship struggles at school. I decided to ask them for a postcard so no children would feel pressured or daunted about how much they had to write and could focus on writing five or six high quality sentences. The first draft was written in their book and before writing it up in neat on a postcard template they were asked to go through and polish their work either with me or their partner.
For the second part of the task they were asked to write a reply from Olive’s friend. This allowed us to talk about offering positive advice and encouraging people to potentially step out of their comfort zone. At this point a lot of answers were forthcoming because many of the children are in this exact position in my class, a lot of them have been separated from their friends and they aren’t quite sure where they fit in yet. Again the draft was written in their book before being edited and then finally transferred onto a postcard template in neat. This ended up being finished in the afternoon because many of the class were trying to produce the very best work they could but I couldn’t complain about this in the slightest as their desire to create quality writing that represented their best work on only our third day was fantastic to watch.
An added bonus of the task was several children asked if they could borrow the book, one child read it all on Thursday and it barely had time to hit the shelf before someone else had already borrowed it. Click is a brilliant story that accurately resembles situations that lots of children go through during school, I highly recommend it for any class from year 4 upwards. Using it in class allowed us to have lots of fantastic discussions about empathy, friendships, language and the power of reading.