Literacy: Cold calling

Claire Hewson, teacher and author
Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Where Snowflakes Fall by Claire Freedman is a picture book that explores the beauty of the polar regions and is perfect for inspiring children to create role-play scenarios that will lay the foundation for early writing.

Claire Hewson


As soon as a child makes a mark to represent something, that's early writing. By noticing the printed word in the world all around them they begin to connect letters and words with meanings.

Children can only communicate effectively through their own writing if they have plenty of opportunities to develop solid language skills through conversing with others and sharing stories. The writing activities here link with Where Snowflakes Fall by Claire Freedman, which is a picture book that explores the beauty of the polar regions. The language-rich text will transport children into the polar world providing inspiration for writing.

When you set up an activity allow children to take ownership by changing the purpose if they want to do so. For example, if a child wants to play with small world animals in the flour instead of writing words with a feather then take the opportunity to develop their communication and language skills by joining in with their play, commenting on what they are doing and asking questions to extend their vocabulary.

Playing and exploring

  • Children engage with writing through multi-sensory activities
  • They ‘have a go’ at mark making
  • They show an interest in playing with resources and props

Feather writing

Set out real or craft feathers (preferably white like the snowy owl in the story), along with a tuff tray thinly layered with flour. Place small world polar animals from the story around the tuff tray along with animal name labels.

Role-play area

Create a polar themed role-play area. Type ‘role-play area arctic world’ into Google Images for ideas. Display labelled photographs of polar landscapes and animals as well as polar-themed words. You could make a cosy polar bear's den with the children and fill it with relevant fiction and non-fiction books and soft toys.

Include resources for writing and mark making such as an explorer's ‘sketchpad’ on which children might choose to draw and perhaps label polar animals. You could also include laminated pictures of animals which children could label with dry wipe pens – ‘eyes’, ‘paws’, ‘tail’ etc.

Playdough backgrounds

Leave out a ball of white, pale blue, dark blue, grey, green and white playdough along with rolling pins and pencils. Arrange labelled photographs of different backgrounds from the story (which you can print from the internet) around the table – cliffs, sea, mountains, stream, clouds, Moon, Northern lights.

To show children what they could do if they choose, roll out a piece of playdough and use a pencil to scratch out a word and a picture. For example, you might roll out a piece of grey playdough and scratch out a picture of a cliff and write ‘cliff ’.

Squishy words

Make paint bags – instructions can be found on the internet. Basically, you fill zip-top freezer bags with ready mixed paint and squish the paint around the bags. For a snowy theme use white paint and a little eco-friendly glitter. Children can use their fingers to make marks or letter shapes on the bags. Provide labelled pictures of polar-themed words for inspiration (ice, snow, frost, icicle etc).

Water words

Outside, fill a water tray with ice-cubes, water and small world polar animals such as seals, penguins and whales and a selection of magnetic letters. Provide paint brushes and model dipping the paint brush into the water and writing words or letters on a nearby wall or on the ground.

Active learning

  • Children enjoy building a polar-themed role-play area
  • They have the time and freedom to experiment with resources
  • They pay attention to details in the story

A child's particular interest in a resource or subject can be utilised to extend their learning. For example, if a child enjoys the sensory experience of writing in flour then flour could be used to extend writing skills or be set out for other cross-curricular activities such as writing numbers.

For children who have shown fascination in polar worlds or animals you could share a range of fiction and non-fiction books such as First Animal Encyclopedia: Polar Animals by Simon Holland and work together to build a polar themed role-play or small world area with opportunities to extend communication, language and literacy skills. Ensure that children have the time and freedom to become deeply involved in activities and to use resources in ways that they choose in order to extend their imaginations and experiment with early writing.

When sharing Where Snowflakes Fall by Claire Freedman encourage children to pay attention to details in the story, extending their vocabulary at the same time. Ask questions that encourage children to use adjectives and, when appropriate, go back and find out which words the author has used to describe something, discussing what these words mean. You might ask, ‘Where are the puffins?’ ‘What are the cliffs like?’ ‘What sounds do the waves make as they crash into the shore?’

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children think of their own ideas based on the story
  • They make predictions
  • They relate story characters' experiences to their own

Ask children to collectively choose their favourite animal from the story (they could vote). Ask them to share with you what they already know about the animal. Pool their ideas and then ask them what they would like to find out. Together research answers using books and websites.

When children listen to Claire Freedman's story ask them questions to encourage them to make predictions and relate the story to their own experiences. When the puffin chicks make a cheeping sound, ask children why they think the chicks are cheeping. What do the children think will happen next? Elicit that the mother puffin will feed the chicks some fish. Ask children to describe how they feel when they are hungry and who looks after them.

The baby polar bear in the story is full of excitement as he leaves his den on ‘wobbly paws’. Can children think why the bear might be feeling excited? Can they predict how he might show his excitement? Can children share a time when they have felt excited?

The ‘Water words’ activity can be extended into a science activity to provide a further opportunity for children to make predictions and to explore the link between cause and effect. Take three ice cubes of roughly the same size; place one in the freezer, one on a shelf at room temperature, and another in a glass of water.



Can children predict which will be the fastest/slowest to melt? Do they think it matters whether or not the ice-cubes are of similar size?

Observation – gauging progress

When discussing the story observe children who can answer simple ‘why’ questions (Communication and language). When they are engaged in activities linked to the story look for the Personal, social and emotional development checkpoint, ‘Can the child settle to some activities for a while?’

The activities here are all multi-sensory giving children the opportunity to ‘Use all their senses in hands-on exploration…’ (Understanding the world). An adult can encourage children to: Talk about what they see, using a wide vocabulary by playing alongside them as they engage in activities (Understanding the world).

Children might use the small world polar animals provided in the activities: to Begin to develop complex stories (Expressive arts and design)

Resources

  • Where Snowflakes Fall by Claire Freedman (Little Tiger Press)
  • Feathers, flour, small world polar animals, coloured playdough, ready mixed paint, freezer bags

Key learning points

  • Children give meanings to the marks they make
  • They use some clearly identifiable letters to communicate meaning
  • They attempt to write words
  • They engage in extended conversations about stories, learning new vocabulary
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