Primary – helping struggling readers

These activities use the Collins Big Cat Progress struggling readers scheme books Animals in War, Tigers in Trouble and Africa’s Big Three.

Activity One – Where in the World?

Children like a context to their work and many will question why they’re doing it if they can’t see a point. Sometimes they’ll ask questions about their work, leading it off in a new direction and sometimes, to help them understand, it’s useful to plan a little sub topic which can motivate them to continue with the key concept.

Looking at the books from the Struggling Readers range I’ve chosen three which can be linked together along the theme of animals. This year has seen the release of the film War Horse based on the book by Michael Morpurgo and many children will have been to the cinema to see it.

Tigers are beautiful creatures but even their power and strength can’t save them from the hunters and loss of their habitat.

Africa’s Big Three tell children all about the three biggest animals in Africa, the elephant, the rhino and the hippo.

Linking the books together and thinking of the questions children will ask, a good idea is to start with geography and where in the world these animals can be found. Start with Africa’s Big Three and Tigers in Trouble.

For younger readers there’s no need to go into precise details of countries, especially as they have difficulty with reading. Instead work with a large scale map of the world with the continents written on it and talk about which continents the book say that these creatures come from. Find them on the maps by writing the words on the board and looking letter by letter at how they’re spelt. Once the continents are found, talk about what the environment is like for the animals as shown in the books.

They’ll notice savannah for Africa’s Big Three and jungle for India’s tigers. Ask the children if they know what the environment is like in North Africa and use Egypt as an example. Most should know that it is hot, dry and sandy. Then show them pictures on the board or interactive white board of the jungles of central Africa and ask if the environment looks like where the ‘Big Three’ might live. Eventually you’ll be able to narrow it down by looking at photographs of South Africa and Kenya and the children can add the animals to their map. Likewise in India, which has a range of environments, show them pictures of the different regions and discuss where tigers might be found, marking them in on a map.

Activity Two: Animals in War

This activity links in with our use of Africa’s Big Three and Tigers in Trouble. Using the Animals in War book is a little different and I ask the children to tell me why the different animals were used; pigeons for messages, dogs to sniff out mines and horses to ride and to pull artillery. Then, referring to some of the animals we know, including those from the other books, ask whether any other animals might be useful in wartime. My class often say that elephants would be good for trampling or pulling heavy loads or for use as battering rams but other examples come up such as the geese who saved Rome, setting lions as attackers to frighten the enemy or dolphins to attach mines.

I’ll ask the children to draw a poster of the different animals they think of and how they can be used. After it’s complete, the children present their ideas to the class.

Activity Three: Is it Fair?

There’s a danger in the previous activity of trivialising or glorifying war which is why the book deals only with animals that don’t take on a combative role. With the ideas from the book and those from Activity Two, I ask the children to consider the moral issues of using animals in wartime. Often you’ll get the girls who think it’s cruel that animals are put in danger to help humans kill each other whilst the boys tend to disagree.
Using a session to talk about the rights and wrongs of the issue is very worthwhile and allows the children to refer to parts of the books to give credibility to their ideas.

With enough time, you can turn the ideas from Activity Two around to ask whether the animals they suggested could be used to help deal with the tragedies of war such as elephants helping to clear damaged buildings or dogs and cats helping to rehabilitate injured people.

Dave Lewis
Primary teacher

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