There are two wonderful new resources for primary teachers now available on the TeachingEnglish site which I’m delighted to be able to draw your attention to as part of my blog.

The first is a collection of 17 issues of RealBook News, a newsletter lovingly and skilfully compiled by Opal Dunn, well known writer and expert in children’s literacy, between the years 1997 - 2004 The second is the start of a collection of fabulous story-based materials, ready to use in class, which have been developed by teachers at the British Council Young Learner Centre in Paris for use on their holiday programme, and as part of an initiative to promote diversity through children’s literature.’s-literature

Opal Dunn is someone whose work I have admired and respected for many years (going back to when I very first started teaching children almost 30 years ago!). Opal has had a hugely formative influence on my thinking about using authentic story books in class. RealBook News was originally designed ‘for adults helping children learn English as a foreign language or as an additional language’. The aim was to help parents and teachers select appropriate picture books to use with their children and to give advice and discuss relevant issues, such as whether or not to ask questions when reading books to children and how to develop visual literacy. 

When Opal first started producing RealBook News, I immediately signed up. I used to love receiving my copies (paper at first, and then online) and poring over Opal’s selection and descriptions of story books, often based around a particular topic or theme, which gave me so many ideas to try in my own classes. I also loved the RealBook News feature articles which discussed a range of issues from emotional literacy, to parent participation, to choosing books for the different learning needs of boys, to name but a few. These articles presented much food for thought, and many nuggets of Opal’s wisdom, in a highly accessible form. They are also still hugely relevant today. For those of you who may not know RealBook News, I recommend a long and lingering visit as a way to enrich and enhance the way you choose and use picture books in class. For those of you who remember RealBook News, it’s well worth re-exploring, and I can’t help feeling how lucky we all are to now have instant access to this rich and wonderful collection.

The materials from Paris are based on two story books: Is it because? and Susan laughs. Each of these books addresses a different aspect of equal opportunity and diversity. The materials are beautifully designed and sequenced with attractive, ready-to-use worksheets and clear teaching notes. The materials are introduced by Gail Ellis, Teaching Centre manager at the British Council in Paris who explains the reasons for using story books as the basis for short (15 hour) holiday courses with children, and the wonderfully rewarding and motivating results they produce. Gail also tells us that we can expect more story book materials produced by teachers at the Centre to follow later this month. Again how lucky we are!

Finally, as a way to link these two new resources on the site and as a taster for both, here is a description of Susan laughs from Issue 9 of RealBook News, the issue in which Opal wrote about emotional literacy and described books about feelings:

"Susan is a sweet little girl. She can do all the things most little girls and boys can do.

Susan laughs, Susan sings, Susan dances, Susan hides

A natural way of listing all that Susan can do in the simple present tense, which can lead on to children comparing themselves with Susan and listing all they and others can do. For example I laugh, I swim or Hilda laughs, Hilda runs ........and so on. But what a surprise to see on the last page that Susan, who can do all these things, is sitting in a wheel chair.

That is Susan - through and through - just like me, just like you.

Tony Ross's crayon illustrations are easy for children to decode and copy. The double spread showing Susan doing an addition sum and getting it wrong, and then solving it another way, will make many children and adults smile. Susan's right, Susan's wrong, Susan's weak, Susan's strong. This book has a strong, relevant message conveyed without sentimentality. It is easy to use, even with beginners, though some teachers might like to save the surprise ending for the second presentation. Through sharing this simple book you will probably find out a lot about how the children in your class think and feel."

It would be great to hear your views about these new resources, or any thoughts or ideas that they inspire!


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