Spotlight on... Choosing and Using Quality texts in an Early Years classroom
The latest guidance from Ofsted recognises the importance of young children being introduced to good quality literature as an essential way of enabling them to build a wide and rich vocabulary.
At the CLPE, we strive to share the best quality texts with schools that support teachers in developing their knowledge of how to use quality children’s literature to encourage a love of reading and build children’s language and vocabulary as a foundation for independent reading and writing. But how do we recognise a quality text and what should we look for when selecting texts to use in an Early Years classroom?
Protagonists that children can easily identify with
In the Early Years, where children are developing a wider sense of self, it is important for them to be able to see themselves in stories and be able to respond to stories using their personal experience to develop comprehension. Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max (Otter Barry Books) is a perfect example of a story that revolves around a protagonist children can relate to and empathise with. As we meet the central character, Astrid, we learn that she is fascinated by space and has aspirations to be an astronaut. Through talking about Astrid’s life, interests, family and friends, children are encouraged to share and discuss information about their own lives; an excellent way of teachers finding out more about the children so they can plan around their needs and interests.
The best quality picturebooks will be those where the illustrations add more to the storytelling than the words on the page, inviting children to infer more deeply. The illustrations in Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) add significant depth to this emotionally engaging story about a little girl, who one day discovers she has a worry. Children will be able to look at and draw on the use of colour, scale, facial expression and body position to talk more about the story and gain a greater depth of understanding of the impact of Ruby’s worry on herself and her everyday life.
Links to human themes and other curriculum experiences
A good quality text should inspire a focus on children learning more about themselves and the world around them. Chris Haughton’s Oh No George (Walker Books) whose central protagonist, George the dog, is tasked with behaving while his owner leaves him alone is the house, is one such text. As children are learning to self-regulate in the school or setting, they will be able to empathise and discuss the answer to the repeated refrain ‘What will George do?’, drawing on their developing knowledge and experience of a sense of right and wrong and actions and consequences. Children can go on to investigate more about different kinds of pets and animals, learning about how to look after others, recognise and respond to emotions and more about their immediate environment.
Texts that develop children’s knowledge about reading
Poetry is many children’s route into reading. Its rhythms and patterns introduce children to a range of reading skills. For Early Years, one of the best collections is A Great Big Cuddle by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell. Poems like 'Tippy-Tappy' and 'The Button Bop' allow children to explore and experiment with the sounds of language and recognise alliteration - essential precursors to forming, articulating and recognising speech sounds - and shows children that language can be fun, playful and experimental. Poems such as 'Once' contain nonsense words, a key feature of the current Phonic Screening Check. Exploring such words in the context of a familiar poem allows children to investigate how these are used and how we read their meaning in the context of the poem. 'Music' and 'Bendy Man' introduce a focus on the rhythm and lyricism of poetry, encouraging children to chime in with repeated phrases and patterns, engaging with the language they hear and say and moving physically to poetry, feeling the rhythm in their bodies and building the foundations for writing, drawing and counting.
Texts that develop children’s language competency
It’s important that children learn how language works and is used for different purposes and audiences. A text such as Beware of the Crocodile by Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura (Walker Books) enables children to hear the differences in the voice and tunes of narrative and informational language. There are lots of fantastic examples of descriptive, comparative and technical language, enabling children to enlarge and enrich their stock of words in the engaging context of learning more about an animal. There are also lots of examples of precise use of language, particularly in regard to that used to describe the behaviour of the crocodiles.
*This article was written for Teach Primary's September 2019 edition