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The World in Multicolour

Teaching Diverse Texts

in: Education

Teachers are understandably anxious about taking on fresh texts in the classroom because a new book means a whole new scheme of work and set of resources – a time consuming job for professionals whose enthusiasm is often stretched rather thin by the amount of tasks they have to cram into each working day. The problem is often compounded when teachers contemplate teaching diverse texts, which may not only be new, but also unfamiliar. In this blog entry, we explore creative ways to approach and reflect on diverse texts in the classroom, hopefully providing teachers with the inspiration they need to take the plunge and try out some genuinely multicultural material.

Chicken in the Kitchen guided reading primary Charles Kingsleys

Primary pupils complete a guided reading activity on Chicken in the Kitchen.

  • Wonder Box

There is something rather magical about opening a box and discovering what’s inside… Teachers can raise intrigue and create curiosity around a new text by creating a wonder box, full of objects and images that link to their class reader in some way. Allow pupils to open and explore this box group by group, or choose a series of volunteers to come to the front of the classroom and draw something out of the box to show to the captivated audience.

Stuck for ideas? A teacher using Chicken in the Kitchen in the classroom might include the following objects in their box: a feather, a yam (or sweet potato), a pepper, a bag of flour, a piece of wood, a mask (an African mask or picture of one if possible), a colourful scrap of material and a speech bubble saying, “Hello”. Any objects difficult to source can be replaced by pictures printed from Google Images (copyright restrictions allowing).

Wonder Box teaching resource

So, open the box, let the objects out and the fun begin! The variety of items in the ‘Wonder Box’ should provide pupils with a hands-on experience that will get them guessing about some of the key ideas in the book they are about to read.

Teachers could even challenge the gifted and talented amongst their class by asking them to draw out a concept map, suggesting possible connections between the different objects in the box and how they might link together to form a story.

 

  • Wall of Questions

To start, designate a wall or an area of the classroom as the ‘Wall of Questions’, making sure there is plenty of room available. Ask pupils to look at the cover of the book they are about to read together and, after some preliminary guided reading discussion, ask everyone in the class to write down any questions they might have about the characters and events depicted in the cover illustration. Questions could be addressed to one of the main characters shown, or to the author or illustrator, or they could even be more abstract.

All questions should be written on individual post-its and stuck to the ‘Wall of Questions’. Allow pupils to browse the questions on the wall and see if there are any that they can answer at this stage. Questions should be answered by the pupils writing directly onto the same post-it or choosing a different colour post-it for their response. This activity could be repeated at different points in the book and questions could be answered by the pupils after each round has been stuck to the wall. Alternatively, the teacher could wait until the book has been finished before the pupils start answering the questions.

Higher ability students should be encouraged to think of ‘big’ questions, particularly when they have reached the end of the text. For example, a pupil having read Dragon Dancer might ask: does good always win over bad?

 

  • Before and After

This activity works well if you would like your pupils to reflect on their preconceptions about cultures and traditions that seem very foreign to them. Every child in the class will need an A4 piece of paper divided in half: one side should be entitled ‘Before’ and one should be labelled ‘After’.

Before reading the new text, or even looking at the front cover, tell pupils where the story is set. Based on this information, ask them to draw pictures in the ‘Before’ box to illustrate their expectations for the story: what characters and events would they expect to feature in a story about Malaysia, for example.

Once the pupils have finished reading the story, ask them to draw pictures to represent their key impressions of the text in the ‘After’ box. Pupils can then consider the difference between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures in their boxes: where did their initial ideas about the culture in question come from? What sources, such as TV programmes, films, books or advertising, influenced their ideas? Why was the reality so different from their first impressions? More able pupils should be encouraged to reflect on the dangers of stereotypes and prejudices and how we can prevent these being generated in the first place.

 

  • Character Map

This is an activity that should be completed once pupils have read and enjoyed a diverse text in the classroom. To create a character map, pupils will need to draw out a wiggly path, to represent a journey, on a clean sheet of A4 paper.

character map wiggly path teacher resource

The first task pupils need to do is to draw a picture at the start of the path to represent the main character and his or her feelings at the beginning of the story, and then another picture at the end of the path to represent the character at the conclusion of the story. For example, a pupil having read Phoenix Song might show Arohan at the beginning of his journey sighing and looking fed up whereas by the end, he could be drawn as proud and jubilant, demonstrating that he has achieved something he hadn’t believed possible. Secondly, pupils should draw pictures along their ‘path’ to represent the key milestones that occur in the text – those that help shape the character into the kind of person they are at the plot’s resolution. Pupils could even name the milestones using mini signposts that would appear at various points along the character’s path.

This activity could be differentiated to suit a range of different abilities. Some pupils would benefit from an outline sheet, showing where each of the key milestones in the story appear, while other pupils could be asked to consider the pacing of the story and the relative positions of key events in the text. The latter activity could lead to a productive high-level discussion about the structure and ‘shape’ of stories.

 

  • Quilt of Key Events

This activity creates fantastic display work as well as bringing out pupils’ creative talents. In order to create a class quilt, each pupil should be given a small square of paper on which they can draw and decorate what they see as the most memorable moment from the story that they have just read. Teachers can be as creative as they like with this activity and could offer pupils a range of different materials (felt, tissue paper or dare we say it…glitter) with which to create their memorable moment. However, for those teachers short of time, this works just as well with good old fashioned colouring pencils.

Once all pupils have finished their square of the quilt, allow them some time to arrange the finished product for display. For example, pupils could consider whether similar squares should be grouped together or whether the key moments chosen by pupils should be arranged chronologically.

Sorting the quilt squares may provoke some pupils to consider the range of different interpretations of the text. Very able students could be asked to reflect on why readers interpret texts in such different ways.

Quilt of Key Events Chicken in the Kitchen

One of the directors records their memorable moment from Chicken in the Kitchen on a quilt square.

  • Morfo Moments
Morfo teaching resource iPad app

The opening screen of the Morfo app.

This is a high tech activity to finish, which utilises the iPad app, Morfo. This tool enables users to create an animated head shot, using a photo or picture that they have uploaded to the app. Pupils will need to take a photograph of the main character from the cover of the text to complete this activity (or more artistic students could draw their own version of the main character). Then, focusing on a key moment in the text, ask pupils to consider how the main character is feeling at this point. Morfo provides a modern twist on the traditional hot-seating activity, as pupils can then animate the picture of the main character they have uploaded to the app, by recording themselves talking about their feelings in the role of that main character. Pupils should be encouraged not to use accents to represent their character at this point in the activity, as there is the danger that they will quickly veer into the use of stereotypes.

If pupils don’t have individual iPads to use, this activity can work just as well with the teacher animating the Morfo at the front of the classroom, based on suggestions from the class.

Overall, this is a rather gimmicky but genuinely fun way for pupils to empathise with the main characters in the story they have read, consider their feelings, and understand the way that they have been shaped by the culture in which they live. For more information about the app, see: http://www.morfoapp.com/.

 

These activities should hopefully provide teachers with fresh ideas about how to approach diverse texts in the classroom. The first activity can be instrumental in generating wonder in young pupils and a thirst for new and interesting stories. The ‘Wall of Questions’ should reassure pupils that they shouldn’t be afraid to interrogate new ideas and experiences, while ‘Before and After’ may lead them to consider their own preconceptions about other cultures and traditions. Both the character map and the use of the Morfo app should provide students with an opportunity to empathise with people living very differently from themselves and finally, the ‘Quilt of Key Events’ allows pupils to share and appreciate the variety of interpretations that a diverse text can generate.

For more ideas about ways to approach our texts in the classroom, please check the Education page of our website (www.lantanapublishing.com/education). All resources available here are free for teachers to download.

RE religious education KS1 key stage 1 comparing festivals Harvest New Yam

Caroline

Three Months and Counting!

in: Publishing

Now that there are only three months to go before our first three picturebooks are published, we thought we’d share some of the highs and lows of our first months as a multicultural children’s publisher. And for those of you who feel inspired by our musings to pre-order our first three titles, we’re offering you the chance to buy three books for the special price of £20 throughout the month of June, using coupon code ju34200615.

Caroline Godfrey, Alice Curry, Mehrdokht AminiLantana directors with Mehrdokht Amini, illustrator of Chicken in the Kitchen

The people who make it all happen

Publishing as an industry would not exist without the creative talents of authors and illustrators and since our conception, we have been privileged to work with some of the very best. In the past, publishers have been criticised for perpetuating the view that authors and illustrators are strange eccentric beings who should be kept at arm’s length, away from the ‘real’ day-to-day business of making and selling books. Fortunately, this is not the way things work at Lantana.

One of the most interesting aspects of working with creative people from all around the world has been witnessing the cross-cultural dialogue between artists of different nationalities and from different backgrounds. Not only that, but the genuine enthusiasm that these conversations have generated has been really exciting to follow. It takes a generous and open-minded author to hand over a precious manuscript to an illustrator, who may have no obvious connection to their own cultural heritage. Likewise, illustrators taking on manuscripts originating from cultures vastly different from their own really have to be up for the challenge this poses. Luckily for us, both our authors and illustrators have embraced the challenges of cross-cultural conversation wholeheartedly: imagining the West African masquerade figure as an explosion of festive colour that appeals to children – no problem for Mehrdokht Amini; creating unique and ethereal but distinctly Asian illustrations for Dragon Dancer – all in a day’s work for Jérémy Pailler! All our picturebooks are the result of passionate conversations between people who love storytelling and are bound by a desire to ensure that all children are represented in the books they read, not just the privileged few.

Printing: requisite not racy

Many a reader’s idea of a publisher is someone who sits at a cosy desk, surrounded by piles of books, and uses their illustrious talents to spot the next J. K. Rowling before anybody else can beat them to it. By contrast, arranging for the printing of your books falls about as low in the romantic scales as you can get, yet is one of the most crucial elements in that long process that results in a satisfied reader holding an actual physical book in their hands.

What gives printing its less than glamorous image is probably the amount of technical jargon that it involves. Bleeds? Trim? Binding? You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon the set of a rather sadistic horror film rather than the specifications for your next publication.

In the end, the time spent by our team agonising over the exact gsm of the paper we wanted was thoroughly worthwhile. It’s these kinds of decisions that enable us to fulfil our mission to produce illustrated books for children that are both of high quality and culturally diverse. We’ll just need to say a big thank you to our printers for waiting so patiently while we sorted our CMYK from our RGB.

The face of the brand

The internet will have you believe that website design is easy and “simpler than you think.” Droves of people are logging on to WIX, Weebly and Moonfruit, including school children, and dashing off sites that take them a couple of hours to complete. These services are easy to use (we know – because we tried) but at Lantana we’ve found it invaluable to work with an actual expert who knows more than any of us about building a website from scratch. After all, as a publisher, your website is the face that you show to the world; it’s where first impressions are created and it’s where lasting relationships between publisher and the book-buying public are formed.

We went through a few disheartening moments as we readied our website for launch and trialled it online. Look, we’re right at the top of the Google search already! Oh sorry, that’s just our company details on Endole… Look, all these people have instantly signed up for an account! Oh no, that’s just spam in our inbox… However, having weathered the inevitably difficult period of launching online, we are really proud of what our website designer produced for us and hope that our public face is one that welcomes you in with a smile (albeit a smile featuring a slightly menacing Chinese dragon).

A small fish in a big pond

A book fair is an intricately formed ecoystem. From the outside it looks like every component has its own particular place and anyone newly arrived in this world is a stray organism who can only stand back and observe the bustling harmony in front of them. Luckily, any qualms one may have about negotiating book fairs can be dispelled pretty quickly. Children’s publishing has to be one of the friendliest industries in which one could choose to work. There’s something about that shared loved of books that inspires people to give up their time, answer questions and share their own experiences on a regular basis. From the moment Lantana was formed, we have been overwhelmed by the way that customers and industry insiders at fairs and other events have rallied behind our mission and supported what we are trying to achieve.

Strolling (or maybe squeezing? weaving?) down the pathways between stands at the London Book Fair is like treading over a global map. Where else can you meet publishing representatives from dozens of different countries around the world with whom you can share your passion for books? Obviously, as a new publisher, you can never be completely sure what kind of audience your product will reach abroad. Thankfully, the message that ‘we need diverse books’ resonates with people on an international level and during the first book fairs and other events that we have attended on behalf of Lantana Publishing, we have engaged in many productive conversations with people from all over that global map.

A good gossip

Slide1Social media is really starting to affect the way in which consumers engage with the books they read, the authors and illustrators that create them and the companies that publish them. Not being visible on social media as a publisher is equivalent to being left out of conversation in which industry decisions and market developments are being decided without you.

On the other hand, the process of engaging with the public on a social platform can be strewn with anxiety. It’s very encouraging when somebody from your company posts content that is liked, retweeted and shared far and wide but making a ‘witty’ and fascinating comment that is simply ignored is the professional equivalent of being that child in the playground who silences all the cool kids with a poorly timed clanger. On the whole, however, the benefits of engaging with your industry and your customers on a social platform far outweigh its risks, and while cheering each ‘like’ on your Facebook page may be a bit geeky, we’re talking about a network that really does give you a helpful indication of how far your message has spread.

Someone recently told us that social media is a good fit for the publishing industry because all publishers enjoy a bit of gossip. We’ve found it really heartening to have this opportunity to engage online with publishers, reviewers and book lovers, finding this to be yet another instance when the friendly nature of the industry doesn’t just shine but glows through.

Here’s to many more years of meeting inspirational authors and illustrators, sharing our vision with printers and designers and engaging in fruitful conversations, both online and in person. And don’t forget that you can pre-order all three of our first titles for the special price of £20 throughout the month of June by using the coupon code: ju34200615.

Alice and Caroline