Free Literacy Warmup Ideas

Here are a few language/ literacy games; easily adapted to different year groups and most can be done over and over again before children get bored of them.

They can be used at the start of a lesson, as a quick energiser / change of pace to regain children's attention or become part of a short term plan for literacy - as a guided session, for example.

Keeping literacy fun and active is an obvious motivator.

Have fun.


Do as I say

A game to recognise and practise imperative verbs.  If you have space it can be a run around warm up activity.

Start off by issuing an instruction that everyone has to follow:  ‘’Pat your head” Then everyone pats their head to the count of five. By then you have pointed to another child to shout out the next instruction: “Pat your neighbour’s head”   1 2 3 4 5

And so on until lots of children have had a go.

To make it more difficult you can make a rule that the instructions have to be a synonym (e.g. of a movement like walking)

“Stride across the room” – “Tiptoe” “Gallop” – “Saunter’ ....


Guide me in

An alternative to Do as I say - used to consolidate positional language / prepositional phrases.

In an open space ask the children to imagine they are ground control staff at an airport and have to guide a Jumbo jet across the airfield – using radio signals only. (i.e. the pilot can’t see them, they can only hear instructions).

Put out a series of obstacles and ask pairs of children to guide each other across the space using short prepositional phrases:  ‘Straight on’, ‘A bit further’, ‘underneath the barrier’, ‘Stop there’ ‘go left around the cone’ etc.

See how many different phrases they can think of to use.


Put them in order

This activity can be used over and over again - using different things to put in order:

Words on cards that have to be assembled into alphabetic order.

Months of the year

Children’s names – according to second letter alphabetical – or last letter

A list of words associated with an emotion (anger) – put them in order according to their ‘strength’ – e.g. irritated, exasperated, apoplectic, indignant, resentful, enraged, annoyed, cross, furious, bitter.

Favourite foods

Labels for The Digestive System or The Planets.














What can you remember?

Print off some ‘busy’ pictures or put one on the whiteboard: street scenes work quite well. Ask children to look at the picture for only one minute. They then have to write a descriptive sentence about what they remember in the picture. (can be two or three sentences if you wish).

Compare with the picture to see how accurate they were.


To extend the activity see how each of the sentences can be improved in terms of descriptive language which improves the accuracy of the ‘memory’.

This also works well for picture of a character. Ask children to look at a random photograph of a person and list the three most important details about them they remember.

Then go on to extend their sentences – could be for a police witness statement or a character in a story.


What would you take?


Give children different scenarios/destinations and ask them for the five top things they would take with them: (you could start with more and then ask them to prioritize the top five)

  • Desert island
  • Arctic Circle
  • On a 5 person boat across the Atlantic
  • On a one person boat
  • To the top of a mountain
  • To an imaginary place – maybe one in a book you are reading at the moment.













Sound Poems

Give children a theme and ask them to construct a sound poem from it.

For example;  Food. Children first have to brainstorm any kind of noises they associate with food: (encourage nonsense words as well as ‘real ones’)

Slurp, crunch, schloop, nibble, bite, munch, gobble, burb, chomp, fizz, flick, slush, splosh …


It could then become an alphabetic poem or ask children to choose their top ten and assemble into a poem of their choice.

Other themes for Quick Sound poems include Machines, Animals, School life, Supermarket sounds.


Word Jigsaw

Ask children to write out words they/you are working on at the moment onto to separate cards: these might be from spelling lists, high frequency words, topic words, scientific terminology etc.

Start with between five or ten words for a quick warm up activity – it can be extended if needed.

The children then cut the cards in half and mix up all the pieces. At a given signal everyone has to piece their words back together in the quickest time.


To make it more difficult cut words into three pieces or have more pieces to sort through. It is a good way to reinforce words of different syllables too.


This can also be done with cut up sentences.


wea ther
temp era ture
sun shine
th und ery


Lets Think Homework

For more quick thinking/ literacy ideas -   Not just for homework - a digital pack of flexible and creative activities for all ages.

Giving Back Time: Over 800 Ideas wrapped up for Teaching Assistants


I been doing a great deal of work with teaching assistants this year and I have to say it is always a pleasure.  Where ever I go they are enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile for the children they work with.


One of the things that teaching assistants tell me they spend a lot of their time on is making resources. They give this extra time because they want ‘their’ children to have engaging activities for literacy and numeracy sessions.


I’d love to give them a bit of that time back if possible.  There are over 800 ideas across The Thinking Child Network - many that proven to be effective for small group intervention (as well as involving parents in children's learning) – perfect for TAs


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I really want as many teaching assistants as possible to have access to these banks of creative ideas so the cost of an individual annual membership is being held at just £29.99.

That's for over 800 ideas -  less than 3p each!!


Click on the logo above to find out more.




The Power of Reading Aloud: A Secret Weapon for Creating Successful Readers

READING ALOUD is a powerful secret weapon - Do you have what it takes?

Reading Aloud is not just a ‘nice’ thing to do, or something that you just 'fit in' when you can.
This is a truly powerful strategy that needs regular deployment across our schools, on a daily basis.


I’m here to offer you a mission; should you accept and use this amazing secret weapon you will unleash such power you will deliver:


  • increased levels of reading confidence in children
  • children who are inspired and enthused to read more independently.
  • a measureable difference in levels of vocabulary and reading competence.



So – Do you accept this stimulating challenge? Are you the headteacher / teacher/TA that likes to really make a difference?

If you’ve said ‘Yes’ then  here are the details of the mission - proven strategies to ensure you will successfully ‘hook’ children and make them start to see reading as an interesting thing to do : (there are no sports cars allocated in this mission unfortunately).



  • Read 5 times a day: Not as daunting as it first sounds. One of those 5 should be around 15 minutes whilst the others can be 3 minutes, dotted throughout the day.
  • Start the day with a quick reading aloud session,  when children have lined up for lunch, as they arrive back in the classroom after lunch and at the end of the day. Surprise them in between as well!!
  • Include poems, non-fiction, short stories, jokes, newspaper articles, magazines, online articles etc. as well as some stories that you use as ‘sequels’. Keep these stored where children can independently access them.
  • Keep this time as ‘pure’ reading aloud – don’t have children think it is going to lead to a writing task at the end.
  • As children become ‘hooked’ invite them to choose the reading material, saying why they would like to hear it read aloud, encourage them to bring reading material in to the class to be read and allocate some time for children to start reading to each other.




CLP Centre Spread (515x640)

Good Luck with your mission – you must remain enthusiastic as this is infectious and therefore a vital part of the mission


Keep in Touch when it is safe to do so.
Sue Dixon  (just call me 'M')







How will you score on our ‘Reading for Pleasure’ Quiz?

Just how much of a champion and supporter of reading are you?


Sure, you want your child(ren) to grow up with a love of reading and be successful learners at school and in life but how much effort do YOU put in to ensure that happens?


Life sometimes gets in the way and our actions don’t always live up to our aspirations but this is an opportunity to think what changes you might like to take to improve your 'score'.


This is a simple quiz with just a few of the key indicators that are known to be linked to positive outcomes for children as readers.


Be honest and see how you measure up at the moment (Click on the chart to enlarge it)


List of things that support reading and your child

So how did you do?


Mostly 1s – Brilliant! You obviously fully understand the link(s) between adults demonstrating an enthusiasm for books/reading and children growing up to love reading and being successful.  If you’re not already, you should think about becoming a ‘Reading Ambassador’ – keep up the good work and spread the word.


Mostly 2 and 3s – Could do a little better perhaps? Have a think which one on the list you could take into the 1 Category –  E.g. if you’re a parent - set aside some time on a convenient day and plan a trip to the library – then do it again and again and again. If you’re a teacher make sure there is time in the week to read aloud to your class. It only takes about three weeks to form a habit – so why not choose to form a good reading one?


Mostly 4s and 5s – You don’t need telling that this isn’t ideal do you? You wouldn’t hesitate to give children the vaccines and medicine they need to keep them healthy – well the ability to see reading as a pleasurable and important thing to do is known to be linked to children being successful – at school and in later life. Come on – start to ‘Infect’ your child(ren) with books and reading immediately – before it’s too late.


For over 800 fresh and creative lesson ideas  - why not sign up to The Thinking Child Network?-  It's Free to join and gives immediate access to 30+ sample activities

A Rucksack of Reading: Why Reading is Cool (honest)

I wonder how much time we spend talking to children about WHY reading is a great thing to do?  In a world that is often filled with phonics, reading schemes and targets to meet, maybe the deeper purposes and reasons for reading don't become so obvious to children.


So I set about writing a list of positives about reading and then linked them to 'real' things to put in my 'Reading Rucksack'.


I also thought this might make a nice homework activity - children could find things to put in their own Reading Rucksack.  If you have any other suggestions for what might go into a Reading Rucksack let me know.



A rucksack?  Because reading is a life long journey; you will need a sturdy bag to carry all your provisions and collect all your 'souvenirs' along the way.




pound coin

The act of reading is FREE -  so you will have money left over if you spend more time reading.

(Just make sure you use your local library whenever possible and the books are free too)











A Compass - this symbolizes the fact that you can do an extraordinary amount of travelling when you read - without moving!

How cool is that?







A Packet of Seeds -  Reading will 'grow' your mind in all sorts of ways.











Reading shines a light on the world - into places you hadn't noticed before.  With your torch (and spare batteries) in your rucksack you will continue to learn about people, places and ideas that were 'in the dark' before you read about them.






In a similar way to the torch a slinky reminds you that your imagination will be stretched in all directions and in powerful ways you sometimes won't understand.







You can read Anytime and Anywhere -  I mean can you think of anywhere you can't read?







pair glasses


You will grow to look at the world in a variety of different ways - see places and situations through the eyes of other people - and not be blind to the life or plight of others.



pencil sharpener


Reading makes your mind sharp - who wants to be dull and boring?




foot print


Reading will leave a mark on you.  It will give new knowledge, skills you didn't have before and experiences you will never forget.




smarty pants

And of course you will become an ALL ROUND







For over 800 fresh and creative lesson ideas sign up to The Thinking Child Network -  It's FREE to join and gives immediate access to 30+ sample activities

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Sentences – just how many different ways are there to teach them?

We often work with children who need to experience things in many different ways before they ‘get’ it.  Understanding what a sentence is – (what goes into them, how to write them etc). is one of those concepts that needs constant revisiting, in a variety of ways.


When children really understand the concept of a sentence – internalise its structure as it were – then they start to become more confident readers and writers.


Repetition is the key – but children, TAs and teachers know, the boredom factor can make doing the same things over and over counter-productive.


First of all make sure you have a working definition of what a sentence is – there should be some agreement in the school or your classroom.


Here are the three points I would always stress to ‘test’ whether a sentence is indeed a sentence:

  • A sentence is a complete idea.

  • In written Standard English you’d expect to see a capital letter to begin the sentence and a full stop (or equivalent) at the end.

  • A sentence has a subject and verb in it – these should ‘agree’ with each other.

Here are a few suggestions for working on sentences in different ways:

Silly Sentences

Write out 3 (or more) separate sentences on strips of card. Then chop them up – (you decide whether this is individual words or 'chunks' of sentences).

Then ask children to put them back into sentences – mixing and matching to make as many as possible. Silly ones count too – so long as they are a sentence. It will also provide opportunities to talk about how some words might need to be changed (tenses /plurals) to make sure the sentence 'makes sense' - as well as a discussion about how to best punctuate.



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Find Me Out

Prepare a few sentences and ‘non sentences’ beforehand.  Write them on a whiteboard or large paper so the children can see them and read them out loud with you. They then have to decide if it is, or isn’t, a real sentence. This could be done in teams of 2 or 3 as a quiz.

Examples might include:

  • A strange and wonderful light (this is a phrase – no verb)
  • throw another ball to your friend (will be a sentence when it is punctuated – there’s no subject written down but the subject (you) is implied so it is still a sentence)
  • John and I thought the concert was really good and my mum agreed. (that’s a sentence!)

Children can then go on to make up examples for each other.



Punctuation Bank

Give children an unpunctuated set of words and a ‘bank’ of punctuation to work with. For example – You have one full stop, 3 capital letters and 2 commas in your ‘bank’. Put these words in any order you like – and punctuate into a sentence. (they don’t have to use all of the punctuation in their bank if they don’t think they need to)

peter and jane whilst sitting on the bench played their guitars and sang loudly



Deliciously Descriptive Sentences

Collect words from food packaging (involve your friends and family too so your collection grows more quickly) Chocolate and cake packaging is often good for this. Cut out words like Delicious, gorgeous, crackers, fabulous, original, premium and so on.

Have a bag with these cut outs. Children choose one – they then talk to each other to make the best sentence they can, using the word.

To make it harder they have to take two of the words and use both.

They can they write the sentence out – or someone can scribe it for them – whichever is most appropriate.













Noisy Sentences

Use a verb as a starting point for this one – try and choose some that have noises associated with them:

  • stamping feet
  • snoring/sleeping
  • singing
  • dancing
  • closing a door


Everyone closes their eyes except the one child you have chosen to act out the verb. Show them (or whisper) what you want them to do. They act out the verb (dancing) whilst everyone else listens carefully.


Then ask children to guess using a kind of ‘chant’. This provides the opportunity for you to make different ‘rules’ – for example all answers have to be given in the present continuous or the past tense)


You:  “What is Chloe doing?”

1st Child: “I think Chloe is dancing

2nd Child: “I believe that Chloe is skipping” (this is the present continuous of the verb)

You:  " What did Chloe do?"

3rd Child:  “I think that Chloe was shuffling her feet.” (past tense)


It doesn’t matter about how long the answer is so long as it is a sentence.  You could write them down as each child says one and compare them.



If you have any other ideas for teaching sentences in fun ways let me know and I’ll share them .


Sue Dixon


For a host of other ideas like these why not visit our Thinking Child Network page?


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Responding to Reading: Fun activities to support reading skills.

I'm often asked for activities that help children respond to their reading - without it necessarily having to have a formal written outcome.

Here are four simple yet effective ideas. They are designed to be adapted for different age groups and can be structured as an independent task or a planned guided session with an adult.

What they do provide are opportunities for talk – building confidence about stories, developing recognition, recall and comprehension skills.

They are all simple to prepare and children enjoy doing them more than once – which is always a bonus!


Zigzag Books


Easy to construct – good for planning into a 20 minute slot.

Children love to retell the key parts of a story in zigzag format.  This can be done with children drawing pictures, writing single words or sentences.
book image 1image 2













Decorate a Character’s House

Give chidlren large sheets of paper and a corner of the classroom or a corridor space. Using the paper they have to ‘decorate’ the inside of a character’s house.  E.g. The inside of the Three Little Pigs house, Grandma’s house in Red Riding Hood or for older chldren a room from ‘Wolves in the Walls’

They have to understand the key elements of the story, plot and/or characters to discuss what to draw. They could give ‘guided tours’ around their space to other children and adults later.



Paper Bag Theatres

White paper bags of the ‘takeaway’ variety can be bought quite cheaply (Ebay for example) and used for children to make a theatre backdrop.  Along with some lolly sticks to draw characters it is a quick and easy way to retell a story, make up a sequel, add another character or make a brand new story.


image 3


A Wonder Box

Again – cheap and simple – make a ‘Wonder Box’ and give children slips of paper to write on.

They have to ask as many questions as they can about the story.  This can be done just before they read it - perhaps responding to the blurb as they try to predict what the story is about ‘I wonder if…. ‘   I predict…. (Not every question has to start with I wonder – just be a question not a statement)

Or to pose questions to a character they have just read about  ‘I wonder if she will…’   If he was to do this….

They post their slips of paper into the box and at a later time they go through their questions with an adult – who can help them strengthen their questioning skills and ultimately, the comprehension of the story.   The Wonder Box can also be an outdoor version – even more motivational for some children.



image 4

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All About Me: Speaking & Listening Activity


The challenge is to come up with the 10 best questions (or fewer if it is more appropriate) that you would like to be asked if you were going to be interviewed on TV. Children could start with more than 10 – then sift and sort. Encourage them to think beyond the obvious – show them some of your potential questions too.




  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • What do you want to be your greatest achievement in the future?
  • What has been the best day of your life so far?
  • If you could eat only three foods for the rest of your life what would they be?


The Thinking Child Network gives you digital access to ALL of Thinking Child's digital resources  - for a one off annual fee of just £29.99


For more information please click here.



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Picture Books for Remembrance: How to explore the themes of war with children


With Remembrance Day always remembered in most primary schools I wanted to share a few picture books that I've used with children - with themes linked to conflict and war.


For regular readers of this blog you will know that I have a passion for the power of picture books; to engage, entertain but also as an effective way to explore deep themes, with even the youngest children.


Children will already have some strong views on hurtful behaviour and conflict from their own experiences and this is a good starting point but using books like these offers the opportunity to stretch and challenge their current thinking.  I’ve also added some Starter Questions you might want to use when you are reading / after reading.





two monsters


A modern classic that demonstrates what can happen when insults are quickly exchanged between the monsters living on either side of the mountain.









Possible Starter Questions:

  •  How do words start a fight?
  • Which words should we never use?
  • Are words or fists more hurtful?
  • What does it mean to think before you speak?  How easy is it to do that?
  • Are there some things that we should argue about?
  •  Is it always wrong to argue?




The Quarreling Book by Charlotte Zolotow




A rainy day starts with Mr James forgetting to kiss his wife goodbye - which leads to a ‘domino effect’ of bad behaviour in the family. It takes the family dog to become the catalyst for change and thankfully the day ends on a happier note.

This short story easily lends itself to exploring the themes of how we should ‘own’ our own behaviour, the cause and consequences of what we say and do and how things can get out of control.


Starters for Thinking might include:

  • What should we do if someone is mean to us?
  • Who is responsible for bad behaviour?
  • Where does bad (and good) behaviour come from?
  • What is a ‘bad mood’? What causes them?  Can we ‘fight’ them off?




Grumpy Little King by Michel Streich

The themes of war and power are dealt with in this comical picture book about a greedy king who starts a war to become famous – but things don’t quite work out as he and his advisors had planned



Possible Starter Questions

  • Are there good reasons for ‘taking sides’?
  • If you are a king are you different and special?
  • Can kings behave differently to other people?
  • Should you always fight for what you want?
  • What is wrong with a king wanting more land?












If you have any other picture books you have used with children on this theme please get in touch: and I'll share them.

Thanks Sue Dixon

Here are a few more you might want to look at:

tusk tusk


Developing Self-Confidence in Young Writers – Steve Bowkett has some helpful strategies

I’m delighted to introduce Steve Bowkett to the Thinking Child blog page this month.


Steve Bowkett

Steve Bowkett

Steve is a successful author and trainer, as well as being a fully qualified hypnotherapist; a powerful combination I think you’ll agree.


He is currently delivering a really successful course which deals with the issues of how to motivate reluctant writers. How many of you reading this have children you would describe as ‘reluctant writers’?


Yes? Thought so.  Both Steve and I find that low levels of literacy and the fact that the technicalities of writing often don’t ‘stick’ with children are ongoing problems in many, if not most, primary classrooms. (and many secondary ones too actually)


Low self-confidence and low self-esteem among children (not just in their writing) inhibit learning greatly and become especially acute in an educational system that increasingly builds competition and comparison into the learning process.

Children with little confidence and the inability to assess their own achievements are less likely to enjoy their school experience or fulfil their potential as learners.


When you book Steve to deliver this course you will learn a range of practical techniques and versatile activities for helping children to become more confident writers, which in turn will make writing more enjoyable for them.


As young writers become more confident in using the how-to strategies and start to make improvements to their work, their self-esteem as well as the quality of their writing are likely to rise.


Steve’s day covers:

  • Creating the Writing Environment. Building the classroom ethos where more confident writing can take place.
  • Dealing with Feelings. Showing how children can work directly on negative thoughts, feelings and limiting beliefs within the context of writing quickly, safely and effectively.
  • Writing Games. Enjoyable activities designed to motivate even highly reluctant writers to ‘have a go’. These games can be used across a wide age and ability range and are underpinned by a number of core thinking skills.
  • Practice Pieces. Showing how presenting children with pieces of text containing deliberate errors and anomalies will sharpen up their editing skills while avoiding the problem of them feeling negatively judged. Bespoke pieces of writing for editing purposes can be focussed on any areas of writing to support your ongoing programmes of work in literacy.
  • A Love of Language. Exploring the aesthetic qualities of writing spoken aloud. This section touches upon euphony (‘pleasing sounds’), rhythm and flow in language, ‘phonemes and physiology’ (supporting the teaching of synthetic phonics), and wordplay, including how to use nonsense words creatively!
  • Storytelling Skills. Touching upon the importance of teaching children how to tell stories as a way of developing their communication and interpersonal skills.


Schools are also given a follow up CD of extensive guidance notes, templates and activity sheets


To book this unique and valuable opportunity contact Steve directly:

Tel: 01858 565657