Your local library

Your local library

While it is not news to me that books are a great resource to have in the classroom, until recently it didn’t really occur to me to go out of my way to source books that tied in with our learning themes. Once or twice I had had a poke through the classroom library and tried to showcase any books that did tie in with the current theme by placing them on the display face of the unit. But the limited number of books available in this collection meant that I was able to find only limited examples of books related to any one theme.

It wasn’t until we were contacted by a local librarian on our Twitter pagetweet, and I had a chance to exchange emails with her, that I realised the potential for expanding on a topic by sourcing a wide selection of books that tied in with that theme. Maria from Children’s Services in South Dublin County Libraries, pointed out to me that the staff at the library would be happy to help me source books in relation to a given topic.

Immediately, I began to consider the potential for this. We were about to move on to the topic of Space (also thanks to Twitter), so I decided to visit Tallaght library and see what kind of literature I could rustle up. I came home with a basket full of Space-related books; fictional stories that took place in Space or had alien characters, as well as factual books about rockets and space travel, stars and planets. I was able to supplement these with a couple of similarly themed books and children’s encyclopaedias that I had at home, and one or two from the classroom library.

I left the basket on a table in the classroom and began to direct early finishers to the basket to select a book. It wasn’t long until the children recognised that all of the books were related to what we were currently learning, and I found that this encouraged them to engage with the content, particularly of the non-fiction books. They would exclaim; ‘aw teacher, that looks like the space station Commander Hadfield is on’ or ‘that’s the bit that falls off the rocket when it takes off’.

In fact, the children were so aware of the thematic link between our reading and our learning that when Ms. Neville (Home School Liaison) came to the class with a selection of books for the children to choose from for the Bedtime Reading Club, the children noticed any space themed ones and asked could we add them to our basket! We soon had Ms. Neville and Ms. Dee dropping in to us with any space themed books they came across, to help contribute to the effort!

JuneWhen we moved off Space and onto the topic of water, I was able to restock the basket with similarly appropriate books. Our most recent theme is Summer Holidays. In the role play area, this means that we have set up a Travel Agent. My trip to the library this time entailed collecting non-fiction books about every country I had heard the children mention during our initial summer holidays brainstorm, as well as books about the nationalities of our multinational pupils. They are now laid out as brochures at the Travel Agent and the children really enjoy looking through the pictures in the books to help them select which country they will holiday in during their playtime.

I am delighted by the additional level of depth that the presence of a wide selection of books has been able to add to our thematic learning, and how it has extended the children’s awareness of what we are hoping to learn about in any given unit, and we owe it all to @MariaMernagh. While it does take a little more effort to try to get down to the library once every fortnight-ish, it is well worth the time.


Setting the Scene

Today in Room 2 we upped the ante in terms of our Role Play preparation. Following regular chats with Ms. Dee (blogging about her Aistear experiences here) who teaches Senior Infants across the hall from me, I decided to follow her example and let the children become much more involved in the set-up of the Role Play area.

Up until now, with the introduction of a new theme, I have had to get in to school extra early on the first morning in order to dismantle the previous Role Play area and set up the new one. Often, I have printed out relevant signage and other stimuli and need to spend time setting the scene. There also tends to be a fair amount of clearing out to be done, as I find bits of ‘shrapnel’ that have fallen behind benches etc., during previous play times. After setting a scene according to my vision of how it should look, it is also necessary to explain to the children what I thought each table/ box/ etc was for.

Ms. Dee always seems to be able to involve the children far more in the set-up. So after discussing in detail how she goes about it, today I was able to introduce the children to the New Day 1 of Any New Theme: Preparation Day.

Brainstorm Shop

First we discussed our new theme – Shopping – and brainstormed the kinds of things that you see, do and buy in a shop. Then we divided the responsibilities of arranging a shop in our Role Play area into four categories, and started adding suggested tasks to each topic.

Jobs: 1. Dismantle old Role Play set-up and move furniture to create shop 2. Make things for use/ for sale in shop 3. Find things already in the classroom for use/ for sale in shop 4. Make and stick on price tags for everything in shop

1. Dismantle old Role Play set-up and move furniture to create shop
2. Make things for use/ for sale in shop
3. Find things already in the classroom for use/ for sale in shop
4. Make and stick on price tags for everything in shop

Next we chose volunteers for each group. There was a clamour for the ‘set-up’ role but everybody was happy with their assigned jobs in the end and the children all worked well to achieve their goals.

Straight away the children in the set-up area started to come over and ask me whether they could use this or that as a prop. Soon the others started to add their own creative flair to proceedings!

Abdulmaliq suggested we use the wheelbarrow from our gardening theme as a trolley. Killian wanted to use a box of nails from our construction theme, and sell them like it was a hardware shop. Abbie found a hanger for a dress in the dress-up box and suggested the dress could be for sale. Chloe wanted to use an empty Ribena bottle from the junk art supplies, and pretend it was full. Several of the children wanted to sell their favourite toy in the shop. Ayse suggested that we could turn a table sidewards and use it as a conveyor belt.

The children’s suggestions started off tentatively and their confidence visibly grew as the shop began to take shape.

The pricing station

The pricing station

The children at the pricing table priced up a storm using sticky sheets, pencils and scissors. My concerns that they might not be sure what price to assign to particular items was unfounded – once they got started there was no stopping them! In fact there is now a price on my stool!

Lollipops - 6c each

Lollipops – 6c each

The junk art table generated a balloon, a variety of lollipops and a selection of canned goods among others. Finally we had the shop set up exactly how we wanted it. In our enthusiasm we went over our allotted time, meaning we had to eat lunch AFTER yard time, and THEN discuss what we had achieved – but take a look at what a great shop has been installed in our Role Play corner!

One of our shelving units was appropriated (and the toys that usually live on it carefully stacked out of the way) for use as a display for all of our wares. Tables and chairs were moved. Unnecessary props like the rocket from our Space theme (which had more recently been appropriated as a prison during our Garda Station theme) were unceremoniously disposed of and the area soon began to look and feel like a shop.


Now that we have put the Shop together as a group effort, I feel that the children are more likely to add to the scene as necessary. In our discussions after finishing setting the scene, the children remembered some things that they hadn’t yet found or made, including some more signage – and I am optimistic that they will use their time at the Junk Art station to make the Shop even more authentic.

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I hope that having spent time considering the form the shop would take, the children will be even more likely to immerse themselves in Make Believe as they play in the Shop. This will take me one step further towards feeling content that our Role Play is all that it can be!

Children Know Best

Yesterday I conducted brief interviews with the children, asking them about their favourite play areas. First I showed the children a slideshow compiled of several photos of older play areas, to try to offset the fact that they would likely remember more recent toys and themes best. There were several play areas that I had no photos of and no child remembered any play area that was not represented in the slideshow, but the results still gave me some valuable information.

Despite my ongoing concerns about the Role Play area, seven out of the fifteen children I interviewed chose the Role Play area as their favourite – some of them mentioning a specific theme, such as the Optician or the Doctor’s Office, and others just referring to the play area generally.

Click play on the file below to hear the interviews.

Chanel: The Garda Station… cos you get to be robbers… cos you get to have guns… cos they can shoot

Kyle: Builders, because you get to make stuff… a door… I put two sides at the edge and one at the top… 

Emeraude: Role Play…. the doctor…. cos we get to play the patient…. I love to be the patient. 

Katie: My favourite play time was the glasses….. because I was the girl who does the eye test… because em, you know when other people get glasses and em, you just get glasses….. 

Taylor: Role Play…. the doctors cos you get to fix babies….. with the nurse thing. 

Kenny:  favourite playtime was pirates. Cos we got to have swords. Cos I like am, getting swords and trying to slice up somebody. I sliced up the mermaid. 

Ayse: the doctors… because we got to do lots of things with the patients… I got to do lots of things… I got to fix the patients. 

I was also interested to get some critical feedback in relation to Junk Art as during the course of the school year, I have occasionally wondered whether I should rotate Junk Art off the ‘menu’, for fear it would become tired and boring for the children. I was surprised that three children chose it as their favourite, although five children did mention it as their least favourite. I was glad to hear strong opinions one way or the other.

Abbie: cos you get to make fun stuff out of it… (coolest thing I made in Junk Art was) the house… well I used things like the soft, like cardboard? – the  foam and I used a marker. 

Deepak: cos you get to bring your junk art home… you can play with it at home… (I brought home) the car…

(Tymek voted for Junk Art as his favourite too. Tymek does not speak much English but would happily choose Junk Art every day and loves bringing his creations home to show his parents.)

Kyle: – yes, cos you make things… (I made) a car…. 

John Paul: I like building stuff… with like scissors and all.. 

Some did comment that they don’t like Junk Art –

Teacher: Do you like doing Junk Art?

Darragh: nope… cos I just don’t like doing junk art.

Sofia: no…. cos I have nothing to make in it… 

Taylor: no… cos… (shrugs)

Abdulmaliq: Didn’t like Junk Art… stuff gets messy

Kenny: Em, I didn’t like doing junk art. I don’t like really making stuff

But the trauma of the alien slime lived on for many of them! –

Chanel: Alien slime, cos it was so gooey, and it makes your hands smelly. 

Kyle: Alien slime…. cos eh, it smelled

Katie: Slime… because it was smelly… I only like smell of blueberries and hairspray and flowers… 

John Paul: I liked the moon dust because any time you smelled the goo you feel sick but if  you do it to the sand you didn’t feel sick. It didn’t because it wasn’t as gooey as the other one. 

Abbie: The goo was stinky, it made me feel sick and horrible.

Darragh: Didn’t like alien slime… cos it wasn’t nice… the smell of it.

The interviews yielded some very interesting results and served to remind me that my perception of what is working well is not necessarily the case. And despite my constant concern about the Role Play area, it is clearly not going anywhere!

Teacher Role Play Planning – A Place to Start

Sometimes I find myself at a loss to think of a suitable premise on which to base the Role Play for a particular scheme of work. Other times I have a clear idea of what the Role Play should be based around, but am unsure how best to resource the area to facilitate productive play.

I have found the following Role Play booklet, which was prepared by the University of Cumbria, an invaluable resource in this task. If I already know what the Role Play area will contain, there is usually a cheat sheet available in the booklet for me to print off as a starting point for my resourcing. Better yet, if I haven’t yet figured out what to put in the Role Play corner, having a flick through the booklet usually yields a couple of suggestions.

I would recommend that any teacher who is tackling Aistear should save a copy of this to their desktop, or print out a copy to keep on a bookshelf nearby.

University of Cumbria Role Play Booklet

It’s Good to Talk

Throughout our experience thusfar with Aistear, the Role Play area has continued to be an area of concern for me, as mentioned in previous posts. The children are very happy to play there, and more often than not do engage in role play, but I have noticed them struggling sometimes to engage properly with the relevant theme. Earlier in the year we addressed this difficulty by engaging in extensive planning and review of play in that area, and more recently I have made an effort to ensure that there is an adult present in the area as much as possible, particularly in the earlier days of a new theme, in order to give the children any necessary nudges to remain on topic. In many cases, the children are happy to stay in role but can run out of ideas as regards what they should be doing while playing in a particular role. Having an adult there, playing in role, is often all the support the children need to maintain the drama.

But one of the issues I have recognised is that at the beginning of a new scheme of work, the topic is still new to the children and as such, they haven’t been exposed to the necessary learning to give them a jumping off point from which to base their pretend play. I have wondered whether it would be better to introduce a topic for several days or a week before then changing the play areas to match, but this seems clunky and disjointed.

At the beginning of March I introduced an Oral Language slot early on a Monday morning, during which I can introduce the new topic of the week (or build upon the topic established last week) and provide any vocabulary the children may be lacking. I write the topic up on the board under the heading “This Week We are Learning About”, and I have found that drawing their attention explicitly to the desired learning has been useful in terms of the children’s recognition of an overarching theme to our learning throughout the week. We have an opportunity to brainstorm the types of things we may like to do in the Role Play area (and others) – listing the types of questions we might ask, and the sequence of interactions that will need to take place (e.g. buying something, making something, discussing something). This is valuable because it is killing two birds with one stone – there is productive play planning taking place, as well as being a valuable oral language slot. I have found that this gave the children more confidence when planning their own play in the Role Play area. I have then been able to supplement the children’s grasp of the topic at the Conversation Station.


IMG_2310In a recent Professional Development seminar at school, I was introduced to the idea of a Conversation Station, something I had never heard of before. It’s a pretty simple concept – an area is set up in the class, where the teacher has an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with four or five children each day, with a particular topic in mind. The area may have posters, flashcards, other resources to stimulate conversation, as well as prompts such as rules about good conversation, listening skills, etc. The Aistear hour of play provides a window during which I can have these short chats and the Station provides me with a perfect opportunity to get each child talking about the topic of the week.

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I think the Role Play area will always be one I would like to improve upon – and naturally certain themes will come more easily to the children than others – but the interventions we have made as the year has gone on have made significant progress.

The Review Process

Like our approach to Play Planning, our Play Review was something that grew and developed over time. At the beginning of September, our oral review after play time was general and undirected. The children were inclined to comment positively about every play experience, saying that they had had fun, regardless of any organisational or interpersonal problems they may have had. They were also unlikely to recognise any discrepancies between the play they had planned and what they actually ended up doing.

Plan tick reviewOur first pointed attempts at Reviewing our play were  gentle and designed in such a way that all of the children could easily participate. Having planned our play as a whole class and noted our plans on the board, we returned to the board after play time, to ‘check in’ and see how our actual play compared to our initial plans. A simple tick beside each achieved plan allowed us to see how many people’s plans usefully informed their play, and gave us the opportunity to analyse why some people’s plans were insufficient to inform their hour of play.

It was around this time that the children were given an opportunity to draw a picture of their play, again in an attempt to have them reflect on what they had played and with who. They were encouraged to comment on any challenges or difficulties that they faced in their play, but the children seemed to draw a blank when asked about this.

Please click on images of children’s work to see more detail.
Scan 6

Junk Art
“I cut a plate to make a vampire mask” -Killian

Scan 5

Traditional Games
Tymek and Emeraude playing Snap Apple.
Tymek and teacher playing Conkers.

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Role Play
“I was walking into the bakery and the person is holding cakes in their hand”

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Role Play
“Me going to the bakery” -Chanel

During the week in which our planning focused specifically on the Role Play, we used Review time to  focus on the Role Play area as well. Perhaps the freedom to discuss only one of the play areas at length was what gave us the time to reflect specifically on the positives and negatives of a particular play experience.

The children still contributed what was 'fun' for 'What Worked Well', but began to see the value of commenting on aspects of play that frustrated them.

The children still contributed what was ‘fun’ for ‘What Worked Well’, but began to see the value of commenting on aspects of play that frustrated them.

RP Plan WWWEBI Template

Over the course of that week we developed a ‘What Worked Well/ Even Better If’ template for review, which the children now immediately recognise and respond to.

The following week, our Review template was broadened to apply to all play  and we began to use it on a daily basis as a structure by which to reflect on our play. It wasn’t long before we began to notice  common problems with our play.

Issues with Playing Gently were highlighted in yellow

Issues with Playing Gently were highlighted in yellow

Issues relating to cooperative play are highlighted in green and planning issues are listed in red.

Issues relating to cooperative play are highlighted in green and planning issues are listed in red.

We regularly had issues with children knocking each other’s creations (when playing with blocks, or doll house, or even in the Role Play area) or accidentally hurting one another, and began to categorise these problems under the title ‘Playing Gently’. Children also began to comment positively if their creations weren’t knocked, so that Playing Gently could be highlighted as a positive result of our efforts to play more considerately.

IMG_1837Other common issues we identified were those of inadequate planning, leading to insufficient time to complete the planned play (which we try to list in a red font) and failing to play cooperatively, which can cause conflict in relation to sharing of toys/ resources, and can limit the enjoyability of play in more interpersonal areas like Role Play and Doll House/ Small World (these issues are highlighted in green).

Developing the habit of referring to the WWW/EBI template at the end of play allowed the children to develop the skill of casting a critical eye on their play. This has led to us now being capable of critically reflecting on Play time, without the framework. This progression has been satisfying and fulfilling for me as a teacher.

Please click on images of children’s work to see more detail.
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Planning Our Play

During our early timetabled Aistear play sessions, the differences between ‘old-fashioned’ play and our new Structured Play were subtle – our efforts at Planning our play were vague and very much teacher-led, and our idea of Reviewing play amounted to wholesale nods of approval that yes, we had had fun. Over time we managed to hone our skills in these departments and others. As a teacher, this was as much a learning experience for me as it was for the children. My initial enthusiasm for the framework was challenged in the first few weeks of our Structured Playtimes, as the children had not yet learned the skills of plan and review, and I found it difficult to teach these skills without being didactic and prescriptive.

I soon learned that Oral Play Planning was not enough for the children – they did not yet have a clear enough idea of what was expected of them and this meant that our plans were vague and uncertain. The introduction of a planning chart on the Interactive White Board gave us a more tangible way to express and record our plans, and the children a clear sense of what was expected of them. I tried to incorporate as much imagery as possible into these plans in order that they would be understandable and accessible to all.

Planning 7 December

The on-board planning also gave us an opportunity at a Whole Class level to discuss any challenges we thought might be faced by a particular group, at a particular play station. The children began to foresee problems and talk through some possible solutions, and through this, I believe they began to appreciate the value of planning.

In time, I was able to use the Planning period to address issues of particular concern to me – I noticed that while all of the children were enjoying play at the Junk Art table, some of them were having difficulties in visualising how they could use the junk available to them to make the piece of art they wanted to make. There was a tendency to draw an object in their plan without any forethought as to how this would be created. By breaking down some individual projects; on the board and using Think Aloud; I was able to demonstrate to the children the types of thought processes required in order to effectively plan the assembly of a Junk Art piece.

Junk Art planning

Initially the children drew what they would make but not the component parts, though sometimes their drawings made it apparent what they planned to use

Initially the children drew what they would make but not the component parts, though sometimes their drawings made it apparent what they planned to use

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Tymek does not speak much English but really enjoys Junk Art

Tymek does not speak much English but can talk me through what he is making in Junk Art

Later, we used the Planning period to hone in on our practices at the Role Play area, highlighting the importance of staying in role, and of investing in the characters and actions portrayed by others. We planned extensively, for one whole week, the exact character that each child would portray and how that character would interact with the others. Each day we built on the experience of the day before, using the previous groups’ notes to inform that day’s planning.

Brainstorming possible Role Play scenarios that would be linked with topic of Water

Brainstorming possible Role Play scenarios that would be linked with topic of Water

The following day our Role Play scenarios were more specific as the children warmed to the topics of pirates, mermaids, and an attacking shark

The following day our Role Play scenarios were more specific as the children warmed to the topics of pirates, mermaids, and an attacking shark

It was during this week, and specifically in relation to our Role Play, that we began to take a more critical approach to our Play Review, which had been slowly evolving over a the course of several weeks. We will look at this progression in the next blog post.