Literacy: Trains of thought

John Burningham’s books are immediately captivating, taking children on magical journeys which carry powerful messages. Support them to use their phonic knowledge to decode words.

A collection of books by John Burningham n mar/21/john-burningham- illustrator-pictures
Learn about the author’s life through a series of pictures from his books.
Inflatable boat; large cardboard box; cardboard; glitter pens; chairs; animal masks; shopping basket; play food; white board; magic word cards; letter writing equipment; writing frames; child-sized bed; pillows; duvet; treasure chest; soft toy animals; dressing up clothes.

The writer of some of my own all time favourite children’s books, John Burningham, sadly died in January 2019. He was the author and illustrator of more than 30 picture books including Mr Gumpy’s Outing, The Shopping Basket, Grandpa and Oi, Get off our Train!

Key vocabulary
phonics, act, story, read, write, words, magic, pattern, refrain, message, letter, question, answer

Key learning points
Children are encouraged to use phonic knowledge to decode words.
Oral sounding and blending of consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words is modelled.
Children practise reading and writing simple sentences

In all his stories he manages to capture a child’s imagination and mischievousness brilliantly. No bedtime scene, or journey on a train, a magic bed, or just a walk to the local shops, is normal, as his characters meet a surprising range of animals, go on magical journeys, and visit exciting places. This article focuses on developing literacy skills including reading refrains, reading and writing regular words, and writing stories and letters.

  • Playing and exploring
    Children have fun acting out the stories from the books
    They invent and write new magic words
    They have a go at writing a group letter to the mice to warn them about the mouse catcher

Mr Gumpy’s Outing
The classic story of Mr Gumpy’s Outing, when the children and all the animals get into the boat, one by one, is a good tale to act out with young children. They can each take on the role of a different animal and learn the single questions the animals pose to Mr Gumpy. Use an in atable boat or a large cardboard box. They will enjoy acting out the climax when the boat tips over and they all fall into the water.

Magic words
Read The Magic Bed. Talk about George’s adventures. Work with children to set up a magic bed in the role-play corner (see below). There is a magic word written on the bed that George has to discover for the magic to work. It starts with M and follows this pattern ‘M _ _ _ Y’. Can the children think of some words that might t this pattern? Let them write some of their magic words on special cards with glitter pens.

Oi, Get off our train
Read Oi! Get off our train and talk about all the animals who try and board the train. Encourage the children to join in reading repeated phrases and refrains. Act out the story using the different animals who try to board the train. Use rows of chairs for a simple role play train and animal masks.

The Shopping Basket
This classic story involves Steven who is sent to the shops by his mum with a shopping list of things to buy. The shady characters he meets on the way home try to steal his shopping and he has to outwit them. Bring in a shopping basket with play food and have fun acting out the story with the children, pointing out repeated phrases and patterns in the text.

Mouse House
Read Mouse House, one of John Burningham’s nal books, in which two children discover a family of mice are living under the oorboards in their house. Dad calls the mouse catcher but before he can come, the children decide to write a letter to the mice to warn them! Help children to write a group letter to the mice. Write it out on the white board using words and pictures for the children to read and recite.

Would you rather...
Read Would you rather... and/or More would you rather...? With the children. Point out repeated phrases. Try the ‘would you rather’ game and encourage children to choose which options they prefer. Would they rather ‘drink snail squash or eat mashed worms?’ Would they rather have ‘breakfast with bears, lunch with a lion or dinner with ducks?’ And can they say why?

Active learning
Children persevere with recognising and writing missing letters in cvc and ccvc words
They have a go at writing their own shopping lists
Children enjoy writing letters for different purposes

Make some magic word cards for children to complete using cvc and ccvc words with missing letters for them to ll in, for instance d_g, b_d, f_x, or sp_t, dr_p, and so on.Watch the animated film of Oi! Get off our Train retitled as The Animal Train. How does it compare with the book? Challenge children to write their own shopping list for The Shopping Basket. They can use words and pictures. Can they create a pattern like the one in the original book?

Encourage children to think of other letters or messages that they could write to friends, family members or others. Open a letter writing corner for children to visit to write their letters and cards. Work together to design a special letter head for your class to use.

Provide a simple writing frame using the words ‘Would you rather...’ for the children to write down some of their own ‘would you rather’ questions and answers.

  • Creating and thinking critically
    Children think of a new adventure for Mr Gumpy and the animals
    They find out about endangered animals and talk about solutions
    They invent their own ‘would you rather’ questions and answers

Start to read Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car and invite the children to compare it with Mr Gumpy’s Outing. What do they predict is going to happen in this story? Challenge them to choose a different mode of transport and write a new adventure for Mr Gumpy. What might happen in a big red bus, fast train or hot air balloon.

Oi! Get off our Train is a great story for introducing ecology and endangered animals to young children. Many of the animals who try and board the train have a serious story related to human trading in ivory or fur, damage to animal’s natural habitats and climate change. Discuss these issues sensitively with the children. Write a letter to an animal charity such as WWF, FourPaws or RSPCA to nd out other ways to help animals.

Role-play area
Set up a bed in the role-play corner with lots of pillows and a duvet for children to be cosy. Read the story The Magic Bed and encourage children to role- play
the different adventures that George enjoys. Provide some props such as a treasure chest, soft toy geese or dolphins, and lots of dressing up clothes – tiger suit, pirates, and witches. Encourage the children to make up their own adventures on the magic bed. Provide a special worksheet with an empty bed printed on it for them to write down their stories.

EYFS Early Learning Goals
Composing a new shopping list for The Shopping Basket will develop children’s mathematical skills as they can write numbers in the list (M) at the same time as writing regular words. Many of the activities involve drama as the children act out the stories and they are also encouraged to create new versions of stories and develop narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.(CL). All the writing activities will help to develop good pencil control (PD).


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