This week, Year 8 have been busy preparing for and completing mock exams for Common Entrance and Scholarships. As part of the preparation for this in English, Year 8 have been dabbling in different genres and taking a look at Gothic literature with The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (beautifully transcribed into charcoal here by Ottoline G):

Meanwhile, Years 4 to 7 have been getting their noses into their brand new books (from the Book Fair) which have just arrived. It feels like Christmas has come early!  It is fantastic to see the children so enthused about reading – it is the key to improving literacy levels, both inside and outside the classroom.

I have been delighted to see pupils embracing the various English-Art challenges set for them this term, ranging from their fabulous work for Roald Dahl Day (in September) to their superb posters to promote the Poetry by Heart competition and the Book Fair.

In terms of class novel work, Year 7 have been studying John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a novel which always provokes incredible discussion around childhood innocence and moral principles, as well as research into one of history’s darkest moments.

Year 6 have been reading The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, a strange sci-fi fable which always strikes a chord with its readers. Pupils most recently produced ‘Iron Man Café’ menus with a metallic theme (Good Copies to be awarded for the most imaginative and ingenious ideas)!

This week, it was marvellous to hear that some pupils in Year 6 remembered The Minpins (Roald Dahl’s strange yet wonderful book) from their Year 4 days as we embark upon our new book, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, a story about little people who live secretly under the floorboards in an old house. As we imagined what a Borrower could use a hat pin for (a weapon or a decoration?) or a lump of sealing wax (Zain J suggested glue – great idea!), how lovely to hear Albie G exclaim: “I’d like to be a Borrower!

Year 5 have been captivated by the inspiring descriptive writing of Michael Morpurgo.  Partway through Kensuke’s Kingdom, the pupils are eager to return to this adventure novel. ‘Yes! We get to find out what happens next!’ and ‘I’ve finished the chapter – can I read ahead?‘ are some of the excited comments.  Children focused with dedication on the powerful vocabulary used, analysed characters and their emotions, and studied the author’s style and the perspective of another’s viewpoint. The pupils cannot wait to return to the text and see how this literary journey will end.  Their studies are enhanced by the practical sessions they enjoy in weekly drama lessons with Mary Alderson; with drama exercises, improvisation, characterisation, mime and voice work focused on each chapter, they are able to bring the boy Michael’s island adventures to life.

Year 4 have been exploring the world of Horrid Henry and developing their descriptive writing skills. While focusing on alliteration, adverbs, and adverbials, the children have been developing their own story ideas with characters who were cheeky, naughty, brave, pleasant, and more.  Pupils learnt to use a new technique for editing their writing.  By choosing a colour for each element of their success criteria, they used the colours to highlight evidence of how they achieved their goals or to edit their own work. ‘Wow! It looks like a rainbow!’ one pupil remarked when a friend showed them how they had made a start with their editing. The Year 4 learners have made a great start with their independent writing and editing skills this term.

One Year 4 pupil was thrilled to be able to go home and announce that she was reading a Horrid Henry book (her mother apparently doesn’t usually let her as she doesn’t want her to be influenced by Horrid Henry’s naughty antics. HH is definitely worse than Peppa Pig, whose most heinous crime was probably splashing in a puddle – and we’ve had a few of those recently!)

Year 3 have also been writing stories and have been learning about calligrams (also known as ‘shape poems’). With Mrs Parkin, while working remotely, they enjoyed creating their own Hallowe’en calligram poems based on real objects, ranging from Harvey P’s pumpkin to Seren K’s cat (which she informed Mrs Parkin was most definitely- ‘not evil’). They also enjoyed reading their poems out to their friends online.

This half term, the Year 3s will be exploring the power of onomatopoeia, alliteration and repetition and all the children continue to improve their reading. Fortunately, the short period of remote learning at the end of last half term did not dampen Year 3’s enthusiasm for the Book Fair, with children choosing their books after watching a virtual tour video.

In the English department, we are very excited about the launch of the Vinehall Reading Stars Challenge and look forward to quizzing the children about their reading and awarding them bronze, silver and gold reading stars. Thank you all for encouraging your children to read regularly at home. In the words of Nella Last (a British writer who kept a diary throughout World War 2), which seem particularly apposite in these peculiar times, it is “a great blessing if one can lose all sense of time, all worries, if only for a short time, in a book.

– Emily Platt