Tag Archives: Language

Interview with prolific author Jennifer Poulter about her pictrue book Hip Hop Hurrah Zoo Dance

readilearn: Introducing Jennifer Poulter, author of Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance

Meet Australian author J.R. Poulter as she discusses her beautiful picture book Hip Hop Hurrah Zoo Dance which is great for reading and getting kids moving.

This week I am delighted to introduce you to prolific Australian author Jennifer Poulter. Jennifer writes fiction and poetry for children, education and the literary market. She has had over 50 traditional books and thirteen digital picture books published. She writes under the names J.R. Poulter and J.R. McRae and has received numerous awards for both fiction and poetry writing.

Throughout her career, Jennifer has been employed in numerous roles including Senior Education Officer with the Queensland Studies Authority and Senior Librarian with the State Library of Queensland. She even once worked in a circus. In addition to writing, Jennifer is also an editor and artist. Now, under the banner of Word Wings, Jennifer collaborates with other creatives from over 20 countries.

Today I am talking with Jennifer about her picture book Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance.

What initially attracted me to this book is its ability to get children moving. What a great way to incorporate fun with movement and reading into any day.

The book also fits perfectly with a dance curriculum that encourages children to become aware of their bodies and how they move in space, to explore and improvise dance movements. Children can be encouraged to move like the zoo animals in the book or improvise movements for other animals and objects that move.

But Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance can also find its place in the literacy curriculum. Written in rhythmic verse, it encourages children to join in with the reading. It has a treasure of words to delight and extend vocabularies and add sparkle to writing; words like ‘limber, fandangle, prance and shimmies’. Children will laugh at the hippos with the backside wobbles and be intrigued by the combination of illustrations by Jade Potts and the variety of media used by designer Takara Beech in creating the double page spreads.

If you throw in some counting of animals and legs, needs and features of living things, and places they live, you can cover almost the entire curriculum with this one little book. But enough from me, let’s find out what Jennifer has to say.

Continue reading: Introducing Jennifer Poulter, author of Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance – Readilearn

teaching literacy skills with Bullfrog's Billabong, a week of literacy lessons and group activities

readilearn: A week’s reading instruction with Bullfrog’s Billabong

The readilearn Bullfrog’s Billabong suite of cross-curricular resources can be used as the foundation for planning a week’s reading instruction including lessons with the whole class and small groups and independent work. The activities cater for different ability levels in your early childhood classroom and can culminate in a performance to be presented to other members of the class, other classes in the school, or parents.

Bullfrog's Billabong, teaching effective reading strategies with covered cloze on the interactive whiteboard

Begin by introducing the story as a covered cloze activity (a lesson ready for you to teach) presented to the whole class on the interactive whiteboard. Although all children are engaged in reading the same story, the activity allows them to participate at their own level. The teacher-led discussion can be tailored to student needs, allowing each to contribute according to what they already know and extending their understanding by discussing cues for reading and irregular as well as regular spelling patterns. Children learn from each other as they actively participate in the cooperative reading activity. Refer to Covered cloze — teaching effective reading strategies and Bullfrog’s Billabong — Cloze — How to use this resource for suggestions.

As with introducing all new reading material, it is important to engage children’s interest by making connections with what they already know about the topic and explaining what may be unfamiliar; for example, a billabong, and encouraging them to make predictions about what might happen in the story. As the story unfolds, children may adjust their predictions and thoughts about the story.

Continue reading: readilearn: A week’s reading instruction with Bullfrog’s Billabong – Readilearn

Dimity Powell, author, discusses the importance of libraries

readilearn: Libraries: A wondrous universe to explore — A guest post by Dimity Powell

This week I am delighted to introduce you to award-winning children’s author Dimity Powell.

Dimity likes to fill every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews stories exclusively for kids and is the Managing Editor for Kids’ Book Review. Her word webs appear in anthologies, school magazines, junior novels, as creative digital content, and picture books including The Fix-It Man (2017) and At The End of Holyrood Lane (2018).

She is a seasoned presenter both in Australia and overseas, an accredited Write Like An Author facilitator and a Books in Homes Role Model Volunteer in Australia.

Dimity believes picture books are soul food, to be consumed at least 10 times a week. If these aren’t available, she’ll settle for ice-cream. She lives just around the corner from Bat Man on the Gold Coast although she still prefers hanging out in libraries than with superheroes.

In this post, Dimity shares her love of libraries and explains why it is important to ensure every child has access to a library at school and every reader a local library.

Welcome to readilearn, Dimity. Over to you.

Continue reading: readilearn: Libraries: A wondrous universe to explore — A guest post by Dimity Powell

an exercise to show what we do when we read

readilearn: What do we do when we read?

Have you ever considered what we do when we read?

For many of us, reading has become such a natural and intuitive process that we rarely stop to marvel at the way we are able to make meaning from print or to question how one learns to read.

Although we know that we once weren’t readers, few can remember how we actually made the transition from being a non-reader to being able to read and have been doing it for so long now that it seems we always could.

Some adult readers have recollections of various instructional methods that were used in school and attempt to engage their own learner readers in similar tasks.

The recognition that some of the instructional methods did, and still do, equip readers with some tools for reading, does not imply that the use of these methods was the catalyst for learning to read. While they may have contributed to the development of reading, there are other influencing factors.

Many children learn to read despite the instructional methods, and many others don’t read using them and, in fact, remain non-readers because of them.

What is reading?

Reading is more than simply translating letters and words to sound. Reading involves thinking. It is a process of getting meaning from print.

Continue reading: readilearn: What do we do when we read?

Grandma's books - the magic of storytelling

The magic of storytelling

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Telling stories to and with young children has many benefits. Including other things, it helps to develop:

  • relationships with the storyteller and other listeners
  • language – vocabulary, language structure, imagery
  • understanding of narrative structure as it applies to fiction and non-fiction accounts
  • curiosity about one’s family, the immediate environment, and other places
  • empathy for others
  • interest in books and reading
  • imagination

There is something very special about telling, as opposed to reading, stories. The telling can be more fluid, more interactive, and change with the mood and with input from teller and listener. The distinction between teller and listener can blur and roles can change as the story flows.

Sometimes it is the routine and the relationships that are more important and more memorable than any one story. For example, a parent telling stories as part of the bedtime ritual, stories told by a visiting grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even stories told in the classroom. Jennie Fitzkee often tells us about the magic effect of her storytelling sessions in her preschool classroom on her blog A Teacher’s Reflections.

What were the dinosaurs like?

Story telling doesn’t require any special talents, or even an especially exciting story. When my daughter was young she would often ask for a story about my childhood. (She loved hearing about the dinosaurs!) Stories such as these can occur at any time during the day, though storytelling times may need to be scheduled in a school day. A special treat for me as a young child was when, after dinner, Dad would sing us the story song asking, “Who made Little Boy Blue?”

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes boots. Whose boots are they, where do they go and what is their significance? Go where the prompt leads.

I immediately thought of a Grandmother, a storytelling expert, whose boots signified when a magical storytelling session was about to begin. I hope you like where the story leads. In fact, it can lead wherever you wish–

Grandma’s boots

Jess peered out, waiting, hoping, to glimpse Grandma arrive. Rainbow stars exploded outside her window just as the doorbell chimed–missed it again. Disappointment faded as she flung herself into Grandma’s enveloping arms. Grandma’s soft kisses promised secrets through scents of far-off places and unfamiliar things. Grandma’s boots sparkled, announcing story time. Jess and Grandma snuggled into their special chair. Clasping hands, they whispered their story-time chant. The chair shuddered and lifted off the floor. The roof opened and, quick as a wink, Jess and Grandma were whooshing across the sky to somewhere, “Once upon a time and faraway…”

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.


Logical thinking and problem solving – Readilearn

logical thinking and problem solving

Logical thinking and problem solving are important skills for children of all ages to develop, including those in early childhood classrooms. We employ thinking skills each day, in many situations, from deciding the order in which to dress ourselves, complete simple tasks, collect items for dinner or set the table; through to more complex problems such as assembling furniture, writing work programs, juggling timetables, and organising class groupings for activities.

This week I am excited to upload a new interactive digital story that encourages children to use logical thinking to solve a problem.

Dragona's Lost Egg

Dragona has lost her egg and turns to her friend Artie, owner of a Lost and Found store, for help. Artie is confident of helping her as he has many eggs on his shelves. He asks Dragona to describe features of her egg, including size, shape, pattern and colour. He uses a process of elimination to identify which egg might be Dragona’s. Children join in the process by choosing eggs with the characteristic described.

What is Dragona’s egg really like, and will Artie be able to help her find it?

You’ll have to read the story to find out.

The process of writing this story also required a problem to be solved; and I love nothing better than a good problem to solve.

What’s an ovoid? Do you know?

what's an ovoid


To find out, continue reading at: Logical thinking and problem solving – Readilearn

The power of words


The ability to learn language always amazes me. Given a supportive environment most young children will learn the language of the home effortlessly; forming their own hypotheses about its use and very quickly understanding the complexities of language structures and nuances of meaning.

I am also impressed by the fluency and comprehension of many for whom English is not their first language. I briefly touched on some of the difficulties experienced even by users of English as a first language in a previous post about spelling.  Sometimes I wonder that communication is possible at all, especially when considering local idioms and sayings that make little sense out of context, but largely go unnoticed. What must a new speaker of English  think when encountering “Bite the bullet, break the ice, butter someone up, or even bring a plate”.

How difficult it must be too, when words, like vice for example, have multiple meanings.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has been talking about vice. Her article is about the not-so-pleasant type of vices. As usual, I like to be the contrarian and consider alternative viewpoints. That might be considered one of my vices. Sometimes I laugh when a thought takes me to a context far away from a speaker’s intended message. Other times I fail to see the intended humour, reading beneath the surface intent to hidden messages.

To illustrate this I will use two recent examples:


The cyclist and the flight attendant

He: a cyclist, just entering the last third of his life (about 60, give or take 5 years)

As his bike was being loaded onto the plane he explained that he had ridden from Alice Springs to Uluru, the long way. (I’m not sure of the distance of the long way, but the direct way would be more than long enough for me!)

Alice Springs to Uluru

She: a flight attendant still in the first third of her life (about 25, give or take 5 years)

“That’s so awesome! I hope I continue to exercise all my life.”

I didn’t hear his response; I was laughing too hard: the innocence and blindness of youth. How well I remember thinking anyone over about thirty was at death’s door. What amuses me now is the number of people my age who think we are much younger than those of the previous generation at the same age. I think the blindness and selective sight continues throughout life.

Of course I interpreted her words to mean: “You’re so old. I can’t believe you could do that. I hope I can still exercise when I am as old as you!”


The joy of fatherhood?

Waiting for the same flight was a father and his daughter, approximately two and a half years of age. The daughter was doing what any child of that age would do: looking around, exploring a short distance away from dad before returning to his side. From what I could see she was doing no harm and was perfectly safe. It was a small airport, she could not wander far.

Each time she moved away he barked a short command at her. Although his words were not familiar to me, I had no difficulty interpreting them. As with most children, sometimes she heeded them, sometimes she didn’t. Sometimes he repeated the command, or retrieved the child. Sometimes he didn’t.

Then I saw his t-shirt and read the word emblazoned on the front. I am a reader. Sometimes I wish I were not. The words read, “Guns don’t kill people, Dads of daughters do”.

I have never “got” the need for messages on apparel, and definitely not a message as negative as this. I assume it was meant to be amusing, but I could see no humour in it. Maybe he didn’t understand the message underlying the words (he was speaking in a language other than English). Maybe I read too much into it. Apparently though, according to this Google search, there is a sizable market for shirts and products extolling these sentiments, some even with the inclusion of the word “pretty”.

My interpretation of the subliminal message is one of acceptance of a number of vices, and my belief is that until we can obliterate the insidiousness of messages such as these from the common psyche, our society won’t much improve. To me the message commends: disrespect for others, sexism, murder, violence, antagonistic relationships between parent and child/father and daughter, an absence of nurturing, an acceptance that children are difficult and a burden . . .

Perhaps I should stop there. I think this father and daughter team would be prime candidates for the early learning caravan project I wrote about recently. I would love to help this father see, not only the power in his words, but the treasure his daughter is and the importance of their relationship.

As I’ve explained, I sometimes see humour in words where it’s not intended, and fail to see it where it is. I’ve attempted to include humour in my flash response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vice, by using three different meanings of the word. I’ll be interested to know if my “humour” matches yours, but won’t be surprised if it doesn’t!

This one is definitely not about Marnie!



She almost danced along the verandah. What would it be: medal, certificate, special recommendation?

The door was open but she knocked anyway.

“Come in.” The command was cold. A finger jabbed towards a spot centre-floor.

Confused, her eyes sought the kindness of the steel blue pair, but found a vice-like stare.

She obeyed.

“In one week you have led the team on a rampage:

Smashing windows

Uprooting vegetables

Leaving taps running

Graffiting  the lunch area . . .

We thought you were responsible. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“But sir,” she stammered, “You made me vice-captain!”


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Clearing confusion – reading and writing for the masses

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about disorientation and has challenged writers to In 99 words no more, no less) write a story about disorientation. She suggested exploring different ways confusion could be expressed, and the tension that could be created by that confusion.

I decided to give myself a break from writing about the confusion that students may feel as they attempt to navigate the murky waters of expectations and inappropriate curricula that have little connection with their lives; or about how disoriented they may feel in an environment that bears little resemblance to any other they will experience.

Instead I decided to share an interesting story I heard this week and a flash fiction which is more memoir than fiction, a reminder to self of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.

First for the story.

My current audiobook is Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen. In the book Rosen talks about the English alphabet, dealing with each of the 26 letters in turn. He has organised the book so that

“Each letter in the book is linked to a topic. Each chapter takes on different aspects of how the alphabet has been used. Each chapter is preceded by the short story of how that particular letter evolved, how its name came to be pronounced that way and something on how the letter itself is spoken and played with.”


When listening to Rosen read his chapter about the letter ‘K’, “K is for Korean”, I was fascinated to find out that the alphabet of South Korea, Hangul, is “the earliest known successful example of a sudden, conscious, total transformation of a country’s writing.”

The alphabet, described by Rosen as more of “syllabic monograms” than letters and is easy to learn, was devised in the mid-fifteenth century by the ruler of the time, King Sejong, as a way of enabling everyone to be literate.

Prior to the introduction of this alphabet, Chinese characters were used. According to an article on Wikipediausing Chinese characters to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats usually male, could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.

Rosen says that what is “remarkable . . . is that there was an already existing system of writing which was, to all intents and purposes, overthrown in its entirety – not adapted. (It happened) because one part of the ruling elite decided that a total change was the only way in which everyone could read and write easily.

Hear! Hear! I say, and express a wish that all our students of English would find learning to read and write far more easy and enjoyable than many do, that more emphasis would be placed upon helping students learn than in “teaching” particular content at particular times.

Also included in Rosen’s chapter about ‘K’ was mention of the Voynich Manuscript which appears to be scientific in origin, but which contains fictitious plants and is written in a “language” which no one, including codebreaking experts, has been able to decipher and read. Rosen says that “With one beautifully executed volume, (the author) causes instability and doubt at the heart of the production, ownership and use of knowledge. It is a carefully constructed absurdist joke.

Unfortunately for a small (but too large) number of our students, reading and writing for them is often as confusing as the Voynich Manuscript.



For a little bit of reminiscing, here is a video of Michael Rosen talking about the dreaded Friday spelling test. I wonder how his experience matches yours.

And so to my flash fiction of disorientation and confusion . . .


The pulsing train wheels pounded in my head.

Way off in the distance voices called instructions to each other.

“What day is it?” I said.

The voices were closer now. “She’s in here.”

“Can you walk? Come with us,” they said.

They led me to a vehicle and bade me lie down inside.

Then came the questions:

What’s your name? When were you born? What day is it? Why are you here? Who are you with?

Slowly, as if from the deepest recesses, I drew each recalcitrant answer, recreating identity.

“You’re okay. You bumped your head,” they said.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

It’s no surprise! Talking education

We all like a surprise, right?

Well, you might say, that all depends on whether the surprise is a good surprise or a bad surprise.

A surprise is simply something unexpected, and everyday life is full of surprises; some so little they go almost unnoticed, others of larger more life-changing proportions. Some are pleasant and others far less so.

What got me thinking about surprises this week is the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications.

Charli’s challenge this week is to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows surprise without using the word. 

I have been thinking of all sorts of surprises I could write about but decided to maintain my focus on education.

There are many opportunities for surprises to occur throughout one’s education, which is not limited to (but probably, dare I say, by) one’s schooling experiences.

For example:

  • Discovering you can read a book, all by yourself
  • Discovering an author whose work you just can’t put down
  • Finding a solution to a problem that had seemed insurmountable
  • Achieving a favourable result in a dreaded test
  • Being offered a place in the course you were wanting
  • Having work accepted, valued and receiving payment


There are many situations in which the surprise could go either way.

For example:

  • Being called to the principal’s office
  • Having a parent-teacher interview about your own child, or student
  • Receiving exam results or course placement offer
  • Meeting a new teacher
  • Working in a group to solve a problem


Being a lover of stories, especially picture books, it is rare that a situation doesn’t trigger a thought connection to a story or book I have read.

Thinking about the good surprises and bad surprises that could happen in some of these situations made me think of a book I had read to my own, and classes of, children years ago. Maybe you will remember it also.

what good luck what bad luckThe book is What Good Luck! What Bad Luck! by Remy Charlip and relates a sequence of events alternating between good and bad.

It appears, from what I can find out, that it was first published by Ashton Scholastic in 1964 and sold for 60 cents.

Today Amazon has used copies on offer for $34.99 or $122 and a collectible as high as $157.70.

What good luck, I used to have a copy.

What bad luck, it is no longer in my possession.

I was at the stage of mentally composing my story with my fingers itching to get to the keyboard to translate it into print when I glanced at the morning paper1 and came across this headline:

Lesson 1: Bad teachers = bad results

As a teacher who is passionate about education but also critical of top-down force-fed schooling institutions, headlines/comments like these have me vacillating between defiant self- (and professional-) protection and agreement with the criticisms.

Teachers come in for a lot of criticism, some of it deservedly so, other of it not so much.

One quote I love is “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions”.

On the flip-side of this is “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

While I take offense at this one, sometimes I am inclined to think it alludes to an important quality in a teacher. Frequently those who are expert at something, find it difficult to break a process into a series of steps that would enable an explanation to be easily understood by others. If one has struggled to master a task, the process can seem clearer and easier to explain. However there does come a point below which knowledge and experience must not fall or effective teaching cannot exist.

In her article Bad teachers = bad results, Kylie Lang says that

“C-grade teachers will not produce A-grade results”.

She says,

“Too many mediocre minds are becoming teachers. Universities usher them in, these academic underperformers who fail to qualify for courses with higher entry requirements.”

She says that

“A federal education department report shows a rise in the number of school leavers with poor grades being offered places on teaching courses. This year, 55 percent of Year 12 students that were allowed to undertake teaching degrees had an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank below the average . . .”

It is a bit scary, isn’t it?

She also says that,

“If we are a nation that values education . . . we must attract brighter, more creative thinkers to classrooms.”

I couldn’t agree more. However I wonder where they will get those creative thinkers if higher order thinking skills, creativity and innovation are sacrificed in the relentless quest for scores on academic tests which require students to spit back information forced upon them in hours of didactic instruction and rote learning.

It’s no surprise that anyone who maintains the ability to think outside the square would rather not return to it!

And so to my flash piece for this week, which comes with a warning – there’s no rhyme because there is no reason:


What luck!

No books, no talk were in the home.

What luck!

He was happy to play on his own.


School began when he was five.

What luck!

Learning from flash cards, how hard he tried.


“My boy can’t do it!” his Mum once wailed.

What luck!

With ‘forged’ test scores no child would fail.


Leaving school, the options were few.

What luck!

Teaching was the one he could do.


Uni years flashed by so fast.

What luck!

Number requirements meant he passed.


Then into the classroom he unprepared went.

No future joy for any student.

What bad luck!


I always enjoy reading your comments. I invite you to share your thoughts.



1 Courier-Mail, Sunday May 25 2014


If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy others. Please click the button at the top on the right to receive future posts by email.

Taking a risk with flash fiction!

For the past couple of months I have been participating in a weekly flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills of Carrot Ranch Communications.


This week’s prompt:


In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the experience of letting go of something that feels safe like training wheels.


appeals to me because it is about stepping out to something new, moving out of the comfort zone, letting go of the past, and releasing previously held beliefs and feelings.


These are not always easy things to do, but they are a necessary part of life. Indeed, it could be said that the very act of being born is the first of such occasions.


The ability to try new things, the willingness to take risks, the determination to get up and try again after failure and the persistence to keep going are important attributes of successful people.


In my role as teacher it was important for me to encourage the development of these traits in myself, as much as in my students. Without these abilities no learning occurs, no growth takes place.


Sometimes a gentle push (read encouragement/incentive) may need to be applied to help overcome an initial reluctance for a particular activity. This reluctance may soon be replaced by an enormous excitement, energy and future love for the activity. Other times no amount of coaxing can get an unwilling participant to budge.


It is equally possible that an activity towards which one rushes (headfirst, arms flailing, bells ringing) in due course loses its lustre to disappointment.


Below is the piece I wrote in response to Charli’s challenge. I have not revealed the activity I had in mind. I’m sure that you have experienced or witnessed several similar responses throughout your life. I’d love to know which one springs to your mind!


Please share your thoughts. I hope you enjoy this piece of flash fiction!


About ___________?


I don’t want to.

I don’t feel like it.

You can’t make me.

It’s not fair.


Leave me alone.


Sob, sob.



I don’t want to.

Alright. I’ll sit over there,

But I won’t do it.

You can’t make me.

I won’t even look.


Stomp, stomp.



Humph! Stupid.

It’s not even fun.

They can do it.

I don’t care;

Don’t know why they dragged me here anyway.

Told them I wasn’t going to do it.


Haha. What happened?

That looks like fun.


Hey! Let me do it.

It’s my turn.


Boy, this is fun!