St. Madoes Primary School: Preparing for an author

 I applied for a visit from Peter Bently to inspire the children in my class to believe in themselves as writers.  I thought if they could meet a real author, live, they would have a better understanding of what authors actually do when they write a book, and so be motivated to try to write more themselves. I think it’s crucial to develop children’s interest in books of all kinds as early as possible, as this is the foundation of life-long learning.  Books with accessible story lines, written in interesting language which is not dumbed down for children and yet is still manageable are a godsend to developing this interest.

Fantastic crab impersonation at St. Madoes

The first book we read was Shark in the Dark.  The children loved the story and were thrilled to learn that they would meet the author in person.

In drama we acted out the story, pretending to be moaning mackerel, terrified turtles, crabs, or squid as the story progressed.  Finally, when the fish in the story worked together to make the shape of a whale, the children also worked together to make themselves into the shape of a whale.  I was really impressed that they managed to do this without much input from me.

This naturally led on to discussions about how working together as a team means we can achieve more than if we work by ourselves.  We also discussed how to stand up to bullies.

The children wanted to put photos of the drama lesson up in a display.  We drew lots of fish that you might see under the sea and used blended colours from oil pastels to make them colourful like in the book.  These made the outline of a big whale on the wall, and we put the photos inside to show that we all worked together to make the shape of a whale.

Beautiful whale display of the drama session at St. Madoes
After reading ‘Shark in the Dark’ again, we discussed what made us enjoy the story so much.  The class loved the story line, and also recognised that the rhymes and the rhythms made it fun, helping them guess the next words and remember the story.  They each wrote a letter to Peter Bently to tell him all this.  Because they knew they would actually meet him in person, the letters were very real to them and they took their writing very seriously.

We also shared ‘Sheep Shenanigans’ and ‘Cats Ahoy’.  The class was pleased to notice similarities between the books – rhymes and rhythms making the stories fun.  They also noticed that in all 3 books characters work together to get what they want.  They particularly enjoyed the play with words at the end of ‘Cats Ahoy’ when the cats are asked by their owners ‘Was it you?’ and the cats answered ‘Me? How?’

I’ve tried to encourage the children’s story telling skills through their love of Peter Bently’s stories.  In order to demonstrate how stories are put together, the children retold the stories in 3 pictures showing the beginning, middle and end.  Under each

Pupils asking questions at the Peter Bently event
picture they wrote what was happening.  I found even reluctant writers were keen to retell the stories they enjoyed, and to write about what was happening in each picture.  They worked in pairs to do this so that they could talk their story before writing it.  This supported children who find it harder to put their thoughts into words, and their words into sentences. 

Finally, to prepare for Peter Bently’s arrival, the children discussed questions they would like to ask him.  Once again they worked in pairs to do this, which again supported more reluctant linguists and helped children to think their question, talk it and then write it.  They had to think carefully about using different ‘question words’ to start their questions so that their questions were carefully thought out and interesting. 

If you would like to find out more about what teachers have been doing around the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour with Peter Bently including a video of the excellent dramatic representation of Shark in the Dark please follow this link: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/peter-bently-case-study

Nicola Kingslake

Nicola Kingslake is the Principal Teacher at St Madoes Primary School, Perth, teaching Primary 1.  Before coming to teaching she was a professional musician and has always loved links across the arts, particularly using books. She produced this work in preparation for the Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour with Peter Bently.