Literacy Big Books

Introduction

Big Books are an ‘encouraged’, ‘recommended’ but an undocumented resource of the Literacy Strategy. This article takes the form of a discussion outlining how Big Books can be used and the advantages and gains of using such resources, above those resources already widely available, illustrating with examples of resources currently produced.

Teacher Reservations

-Initially teachers had many reservations about the use of Big Books during the shared reading element of the Literacy Strategy. These were most strongly held by KS2 teachers (7-11) as ‘Big Books’ were already being used in KS1 classrooms (3-7) and indeed there was and still is a fair range of texts, particularly fiction, available for this age group.

-KS2 teachers worried about several things; these were also reservations of KS1 teachers to varying degrees:

-Big Books were already seen as an Infant format and to this extent would be seen as patronising in KS2, particularly by Upper Junior children.

-There was a lack of Big Books for Juniors available, particularly fiction and stories of length.

-Much time and resources would be used on producing big texts – writing out text excerpts, enlarging pages from books using the photocopier, and -physically ‘making’ Big Books.

-It would be too expensive to kit out a school with enough texts, considering ‘a book a week’ is often suggested.

Whilst these reservations still exist in many teachers, most have been lessened, not least by the speed in which publishers have sought to produce texts that fulfil the requirements of the Literacy Strategy.

In order to read the response to a point, click on the relevant section above. Alternatively read the article as a whole which covers each point in turn.

Big Books would not be well received by Junior children

The idea that Big Books would be patronising to Junior children was quickly dispelled as a myth.  I have not spoken to a teacher who has witnessed anything other than children of a range of ages and abilities thoroughly enjoying shared reading of a Big Book. This ‘togetherness’ is surprisingly different from reading of a class set of texts – ‘one text, one voice’; children read more smoothly and accurately, being able to follow the lead of more able readers where necessary. girl with booksThey are able to pick-up on teaching points because they are physically and visually pointed out, and the children themselves are able to highlight observations to the rest of the class. This visual approach keeps children focussed and helps those who are usually easily distracted or who may struggle to keep up. It can also be utilised by introducing a game element, ‘Find all the verbs on this page’ etc, giving children a level of competition that many like and respond well to, while always reserving the safe dimension that it is a collective task (‘Look how many verbs we have found’) and thus is always successful and achieves.

There was a lack of Big Books available

In response to demand publishers have really begun to publish material which addresses the needs of the Literacy Strategy, not just ‘Big Books’ but also resources that support the teacher in ideas for text, sentence and word level work relevant to the ‘Big Book’. Many publishers have recognised that lots of texts were already being successfully and comfortably used by teachers and have responded to this by reprinting books in ‘Big Book’ format to enable teachers to continue to use the texts they like. Some publishers have also acknowledged that the ‘large books’ they produced for small group work did not contain text of suitable size for whole class teaching and thus have reprinted it, even bigger, in Big Book format.

So what are the publishers providing?

This section will examine the quality and variety of texts the main publishers are producing.

Longman have released an extensive range of big books that truly fill many of the gaps teachers have discovered. Books of length which are generally sadly lacking are produced here providing teachers with an ability to share features of build-up, plot and action as children would experience them in their daily reading. Worry Guts is an excellent realistic fiction story that over 50 pages manages to provide plenty of chance to discuss events and plot as the story unfolds.

For those schools struggling to resource the Literacy Strategy, Planet of the Robots is a must. It takes the form of an anthology of text types all set in the future and includes a story written in chapters with an open ending shouting out for pupil completion, a diary entry, poetry and a letter from an alien. A whole range of activities can be linked to these texts.

Longman also include Text, Sentence and Word Level suggestions on the inside back cover of many of their Big Books, allowing for teacher reference and inspiration. One such text is Buy a Penny Ginger which contains a variety of multicultural rhymes and action songs. The book includes an introduction by Grace Hallworth about where the rhymes come from, and detail throughout as to how the games are played. A cassette tape depicting the dialect of the rhymes can also accompany the text. Individual pupil copies of all Longman texts can be purchased, allowing follow-up guided reading to be carried out.

Oxford University Press represent superb value-for-money in the small but comprehensive Big Books they produce. Through Anthologies they manage to cover all KS2 poetry objectives and Upper Junior text types, previously non-existent in the Big Book market.

Poetry for Sharing provides modern and classic poetry of all forms, allowing children a broad experience of poetry and inspiring them to experiment with a number of styles – acrostic, performance, cinquain, rhyming and non-rhyming are all included and a number of classic poets are represented. Containing at least 25 poems each these books enable teachers to incorporate a range of styles and formats of poetry appropriate to age and ability, without time-consuming research.

 

Texts for Sharing has much the same concept in mind, ensuring Upper Junior children have a knowledge of a range of text types required by the Literacy Strategy, produced in a non-patronising way that disallows many Big Books produced for younger children. This gap in the market is adequately and comprehensively filled in a fulfilling and teacher inspiring way. These texts are directly linked to termly objectives for Year 5 and 6 but provide useful material for the whole KS2 age group.

A notable resource to be included in this section is Oxford’s Launch into Literacy large text posters and teacher resource books.

Scholastic provide a small but quality range of fiction texts for Infant and younger Juniors. Beautifully illustrated, these texts, like the best of childrens books, add additional elements to the reading experience. The Snow Lambs is an example of this. It interweaves a boy’s expressed thoughts as he waits for his sheepdog who is out in a snowstorm, with the dog’s story told through pictures. Many opportunities are provided for discussion of character portrayal and presentation of emotions, as well as structure and language hints for writing the dogs story.

Scholastic have acknowledged the format of the Literacy strategy and have provided teacher resources linked to the Big Books they produce which provide Text, Sentence and Word Level activities, both teacher-led and independent. Literacy Strategy Units are produced for most Big Books that provide planning and activities for all elements of the Literacy Strategy. The activities are detailed, progressive and differentiated, leading the children through the book from start to finish. Included as part of the resource are photocopiable worksheets and a double-sided A1 poster with further grammar, word work and poetry/non-fiction writing inspiration that is linked to the book but extends work from it. What is great about these resource books is firstly the depth in which the text is examined with the children, including format and illustration, thus making it suitable throughout KS1 and lower KS2 and secondly the equal importance of shared reading and writing, providing teachers with a wealth of writing activities they so often want to develop.

Usborne produce a small but excellent value-for-money range of Big Books that, costing less than £10, are amongst the cheapest available.Pig Gets Stuck is a delightful story that cleverly consists of differentiated text providing two distinct ability levels. This aids the teacher in many ways by ensuring children of all abilities are involved and in extending their reading skills.

They also print a growing number of non-fiction texts in large format. Particularly notable is Flip Flaps What happens to your food? which although contains text of a size that larger groups will struggle to read, provides perfect examples of the way information text is formatted. The fold-over flaps enable children to develop awareness of the question-answer layout often adopted in non-fiction texts.

Walker Books is another publisher utilising the already wide range of beautiful picture books they publish for the Infant age range. Teacher and child favourites such as Handa’s Surprise and Where’s my Teddy?are now available in big book format with the exact illustrations and text placing as the smaller versions. Great for use in the Literacy Strategy and story time.

Notable amongst the collection is Once upon a time which has unlimited use throughout the Infant and Junior age range. It charts the ‘uneventful’ day of a little boy, whilst around his house illustrations tell the stories of traditional tales such as The Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and Humpty Dumpty. Superb for discussion of sequence of events and to inspire retellings.

In addition to this wide and already acclaimed range of well-loved picture story books, Walker are beginning to widen their resources to provide for Junior children. Their Sprinters range are amongst the best big books available and are produced directly for the Literacy Strategy. Written by known authors they have a chapter format and enable children to study character and plot over a lengthy text

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