Using an author visit to inspire cross-curricular fun

In February 2017, Harleeshill Primary School welcomed author Cathy MacPhail in to work alongside pupils and parents. In this blog post, find out how Cathy’s visit formed part of an inspiring cross-curricular project aimed at engaging pupils and parents with reading.

At Scottish Book Trust, we’re huge believers in the impact of bringing writers in to work with staff, pupils and parents. You can apply for our Live Literature funding to do just this!

In February 2017, Harleeshill Primary School used Live Literature funding to bring author Cathy MacPhail in to work alongside pupils and parents. Cathy’s visit formed part of an inspiring cross-curricular project for P7 aimed at engaging pupils and parents with reading.

About Cathy MacPhail

Cathy is an acclaimed author whom Scottish pupils have twice voted as the winner of the Scottish Children’s Book Awards.* In 2011 Cathy received the award for her novel Grass, a gritty and hard hitting thriller about teenage gangs in Glasgow.

The P7 pupils at Harleeshill loved the novel, and found they could relate strongly to the relationship between the main character Leo and his friend Sean.

Harleeshill’s cross-curricular work

Literacy and English

The P7 classroom walls were covered with newspaper reports based on the murder in Grass, as well as imaginary text messages in Scots between the characters! Pupils also created character maps where key characters were described and linked.

A wall display of text messages in Scots inspired by the novel Grass
A display of a character map based on the novel Grass

Newspaper reports and character maps

Health and Wellbeing

Grass is a typically gritty and honest novel from Cathy MacPhail, and it has provided a great opportunity for pupils to discuss some tough issues like bullying, relationships and drugs.

Expressive Arts

The prevalence of graffiti in the novel has led to the pupils creating their own graffiti art. The pupils also created a song based on the novel, where 3 pupils played guitars and the rest composed lyrics.

A display of graffiti art in the classroom

Some of the pupils' graffiti art


The pupils have solved fractions word problems related to the novel. For example:

Leo ate three quarters of a bag of mint imperials. The bag contained 3000g. How many mint imperials did Leo eat?

The wall was made up of 7500 bricks. Four fifths of the wall was covered in graffiti. How many of the bricks were covered in Graffiti? 

A display of numeracy problems inspired by the novel Grass

Some of the numeracy problems

Cathy’s event with pupils and parents

The pupils’ enthusiastic response to Grass inspired the school to invite Cathy MacPhail in for a special event with children and parents. Cathy led everyone in a character creation workshop, giving families the chance to create, draw and describe their own characters. The event also gave pupils a chance to talk to Cathy and their parents about all the fabulous work they’d been doing over the previous weeks!

The impact

Teachers at the school are confident that it has increased pupils’ motivation to read, and indeed Cathy’s other books were requested by the Primary 7 pupils. As a follow up project, 3 different groups of pupils each read a different Cathy McPhail novel, and then came together to tell each other more about the novels they’d been reading, creating presentations to paint a fuller picture.

P7 teacher Leanne Barclay said, “The children have been extremely motivated in their learning and have developed skills in all areas of the curriculum…the project has given the children the opportunity to be proud of their achievements and experience the joy of working together to create something excellent.”

Live Literature

If you’re feeling inspired by Harleeshill’s project and want to invite a writer into your school, then our Live Literature programme could help to find a visit. The programme is open for applications twice a year - check out the Live Literature home page for more information, and subscribe to our Primary and/or Secondary School newsletters to be informed when the programme is open for applications.

*The Scottish Children's Book Awards has been rebranded as two separate prizes: the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, and the Bookbug Picture Book Prize.

Using a novel to inspire a range of exciting cross-curricular activities is a great way to encourage pupils to read, as it creates a buzz and gets everyone talking about the book. Check out this similar project at secondary level from librarian Louise Edwards.

If you're looking for more ideas, why not hunt through our blog for previous posts about inspiring pupils to read, or have a look through our resources section for activities and case studies.

Leanne Barclay

Leanne Barclay is a teacher at Harleeshill Primary School.