Tall Story in the Classroom ... get ready for some inspiration!

If you can't see the slideshow, you can click here to view 
Thinking Outside the Book: Great Ideas for Books in the Classroom (you can download it too!)

Last week, I spent three days at Ellis Guilford School - a huge comprehensive secondary in Nottingham.

Three days!

I walked in with the children in the morning, witnessed surreptitious giggling activity at the photocopying machine, chatted with children in the library (okay, Learning Resource Centre), ate school meals and bread and butter pudding in the beautiful high-ceilinged cafeteria, sat in on a faculty brainstorming session, and met parents in an evening cake-fest.

Tall Story books on the window sill of one classroom

With the candy cake
I was there to meet Year Sevens who'd been reading Tall Story since the semester began as part of the Learn to Learn programme.

It was a special experience for me - normally when I go into a school, the children and teachers have never heard of me or my book and my presentation is a lot more general. But this time, everyone had read the book, they were curious and bursting with questions, and they were eager to tell me about all the fun they'd been having.

For once, not a single child asked me if I was famous!

The clickable menu from my new presentation. Each icon led to a different story behind the story. From left to right - the character Andi, Bernardo and Gigantism, Witches, the Philippines

I designed a brand new presentation which opened with a menu - the children controlled what we talked about and there was plenty of time to find out about the stories behind the stories in the book. It worked a treat!

The idea of the Learn to Learn is not just to develop literacy but a love of reading. The teachers were free to explore the book in any number of creative ways - LRC manager Katherine Davison and I snuck around at lunch time photographing the children's work.

With inspirational LRC staff Claire Greasby and Katherine Davison and one of the enthusiastic Year Sevens

It was the first time the school was attempting this approach - later I attended a meeting in which the faculty discussed how the programme was going.

The consensus appeared to be that doing the creative work alongside reading the book had enthused the children, they had loved building the models (even the parents got involved) and - the librarians reported - the children had become more engaged with the library, more willing to talk about books and ask questions. I'm not surprised - seeing the explosion of creativity made me wish I was in Year Seven at Ellis Guilford.

To make good use of their temporary author-in-residence the librarians organised me to do a couple of talks for the parents as well - enthusiastic Year Sevens attended too. And because the Year Eights were beginning some Geography work on Asia, they also got me to do a presentation about the Philippines. I started with this cool tourism video ...

And then showed them what the video didn't talk about.

Their next book is going to be Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko set in Alcatraz - I was so excited that I actually spent some downtime reading the book again. At the meeting, the teachers were bristling with ideas ... Top Trumps for the characters! Baseball games! Scale models of Alcatraz!

It's the sort of stuff that a kid will never forget from his or her childhood. Do teachers realize that they are creating the memories that their pupils will be going back to time and again?

And these are GREAT memories - what a nice way to fall in love with reading!

Deputy Head Richard Pierpoint takes some snappies for the school website

Many thanks to Ellis Guilford School for all the delicious cake, the hospitality and the unlimited custard creams!