The power of a good book

Sharing a quality published text with a class – be it fiction or non-fiction – not only supports reading comprehension but can also help to provide pupils with inspiration and motivation for their own writing.

As there are so many exciting and beautifully written children’s books available, this may be a good time to refresh your pupils’ reading diet or consider new approaches to the texts already in your stock cupboard.

Why teach a whole-class text?

Teaching a published text to the whole class is a big investment in terms of teaching time. To really do a book justice – for example, by exploring its themes and any spin-off wider reading – you’ll probably need to devote at least half a term to it and perhaps even longer. That’s a big consideration when there’s so much else in the curriculum to cover.

Of course, the benefits are obvious. A good book can transport the reader to other worlds, capturing the imagination and sparking ideas. It can foster empathy and understanding, by enabling the reader to enter other lives – to step into a character’s shoes and experience the world from their perspective. It can also build linguistic repertoire – good readers are so often good writers. By paying close attention to the writer’s craft – by reading with a ‘writerly eye’ – we can help pupils understand how to write with a reader in mind, with a clear sense of purpose and audience.

It’s true that many of these benefits can also result from a pupil’s wider independent reading – supported and encouraged by teachers and librarians who read themselves and recommend books to their pupils. Many teachers have a mini-classroom library on their bookshelf where pupils can borrow books that take their fancy.

But there’s something very powerful about sharing a single text with the whole class. The collective reading experience provides the opportunity for you to model what good readers do – including that sense of delighting in and relishing a text. You can pause together to speculate about what might happen next, question why a particular character might have behaved in such a way or re-evaluate your response in the light of a new plot development. As a teacher, you can support pupils’ understanding of the way a plot is shaped, the way characters are introduced and developed, and the way setting and atmosphere are conveyed.

However, this all depends on finding just the right text in the first place.

What makes a good whole-class text?

With so many high-quality texts by amazing new and established writers on the market, it can feel daunting to choose one to share with your whole class. Of course, it’s tempting to stick with the book you’ve already got lots of ready-made resources for, but it can be rewarding to explore something new with your pupils. So if you’re looking to refresh your classroom offer, it’s important to make the right choice.

This was the question we had to consider when choosing the quality published texts that sit at the heart of Bite into Writing – NFER’s exciting new classroom resource.

Faced with so many possibilities, we read, and read, and then we read some more. In some cases, we felt that a book would be a great independent read, and ideal for the classroom library, but wouldn’t quite meet our needs for use as a whole-class text with potential to inspire up to a term’s work.

So we developed a set of criteria to guide our choices. It went something like this:

  • Is it appropriate for year 6 pupils?
  • Is it suitable for readers of different abilities, genders and backgrounds, and does it reflect positive messages of diversity and inclusion?
  • Does it have the potential to promote high-quality discussion and exploration in the classroom, and would it support a range of reading comprehension skills?
  • Would it inspire and support a range of year 6 pupils’ writing?
  • Is there scope to make connections with other published texts to support wider reading and enable pupils to make connections between the books they read?
  • Is there scope to link to other areas of the curriculum?
  • Is it a book that could be used in future years with other classes (for example, a recently published book by a well-regarded author, or a well-known ‘classic’)?

Naturally, teachers will always need to make their own judgement about a book’s suitability for use with their pupils. You’ll want to consider whether it will meet their social, emotional and cultural needs; whether it’s likely to interest and engage them; and whether it will broaden their range of experience, both linguistic and vicarious, building on past learning and preparing them for what’s to come. There’s a lot to consider.

Drawing on quality published texts to support reading and writing in the classroom

A whole-class text can offer so much in terms of supporting reading and writing.

Drama and role play activities can enable pupils to engage with the world of the text. Discussion and exploration can develop reading comprehension skills such as understanding, interpretation and inference. There’s ample opportunity to explicitly teach and practise reading strategies – such as speculation, prediction and questioning – explicitly. There’s no better way to explore the writer’s craft – for example, the effect of figurative language, grammatical choices and use of cohesive devices.

Rich texts can inspire, motivate and support pupils to write for a wide range of audiences and purposes, from fiction to non-fiction, from the highly formal to the very informal, and from short-burst incidental pieces to more extended writing. 

Quality published texts in Bite into Writing

As the Bite into Writing offer consists of three teacher resource books for year 6, each based on a quality published text, we knew it was important to ensure sufficient range and diversity – including fiction and non-fiction – across the year. So, after a careful selection process, we eventually settled on the following:

Olive’s Army, a short story from When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll – a gripping adventure story set during World War Two.

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay – a wonderful non-fiction text, beautifully illustrated, and containing a diverse range of text types and presentational features.

Otters’ Moon – a stunning novel by Susanna Bailey about two children and a wild otter. Set on a remote Scottish island, the sense of place is evocative and difficult issues are sensitively handled.

Read our interview with children's author, Susanna Bailey, about the process of writing and her top tips for aspiring pupil writers. 

Written by Jo Shackleton and Margaret Fennell – highly experienced writing moderators and authors of NFER's Bite into Writing.