I’m a big fan of the knowledge organiser generally. We’ve been using science ones to help identify ‘core knowledge’ to incorporate in lessons, investigations and discussions, and we’ve assessed basic understanding using multiple-choice questionnaires. We’ve done the same with history but have used a lot of non-fiction to help support this knowledge and extend the learning
further. Some schools are creating entirely new schemes of work or their own text books with activities and questions. Make sure you read the brilliant work done by John Brunskill here. We chose to use a good quality, suitable non-fiction text and base our work on the entire book. Fluency, vocabulary, discussion and other reading skills/activities all played their part, along with frequently being quizzed on the knowledge organiser which linked directly to that non-fiction text. This is all good and well but as children progress through their year and their key stage, the most important thing is for children to build on previous learning and make links as often as possible. Once they’ve understood why the Ancient Egyptians developed their civilisation by The Nile, then understanding why the Mesopotamians, Chinese or Indus Valley civilisations developed along rivers becomes much easier. The knowledge, such as having a staple crop, different gods or explaining how societies and civilisations operate, should be discussed with comparisons to other civilisations to reinforce knowledge and transfer it from one context to another. Having that knowledge organised, and readily available no matter what year the children are in, is proving ever more useful. I see book knowledge organisers in much the same way. The ‘Context’ section explains why the book exists and gives any necessary background knowledge. ‘Key Vocabulary’ is identified to help support important concepts within a book and also to create a core set of words that a teacher can say each child has learned from this book and previous books. Character lists, plot summaries and settings all support children to keep up with the story. You’ll be surprised when, half-way through a book, a child can’t name the characters they’ve met, or even the protagonist. Also, on a side note, get the children using words like protagonist, antagonist, themes, and story types from the get-go! This is the language of books, so why not? The idea of the book knowledge organiser goes beyond supporting children to access the text. I think its greatest use is during ‘book talk’ to stimulate discussions or at the end of the novel. How often do you reach the end of a book, the children clap and everyone writes a book review? Is that enough? I’m suggesting that children should then spend lots of time discussing (even written essays or responses in UKS2) the similarities and differences within the book and between books they have read in the past. For example, can they compare the protagonists they’ve read about in the past, using evidence? What character traits of Anne of Green Gables are the same as Lucy in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe? How are they different? Which would you sooner have round for tea and why? What would happen if they swapped stories? How is the antagonist from a story they studied last year different to this one? The opportunities for creative questioning here is endless.
Using our free ‘7 Story Type Posters’, children are able to compare what ‘Overcoming the Monster’ means in one book compared to another, or even within a book. For example, in Wonder, Auggie overcomes Julian’s bullying, but is that the real monster or is the real monster the shame he feels with his disfigurement? Are others in the book seeing Auggie as the monster?
How does this differ to the the 'monster' in a different novel they've read? There are 7 types of story in total, so imagine in what level of detail children could discuss the novels they’ve read if they were aware of these and if current teachers all knew the books they had studied in the past. Beyond this, we can also compare themes. How does the theme of bullying differ from one book to another? What about death? Kindness? Looking after the environment? Someone on Twitter recently claimed they were upset to see knowledge organisers making their way from secondary to primary. They viewed them as a revision tool to pass a test. The Book Knowledge Organiser is not about testing but a prompt for teachers and children to explore a novel in greater depth and to start making links with every book they have ever studied in school.
We will be making lots more of them over the coming weeks but we have included an editable version for you to get started. You could even get the children to create one during or after reading the book. Our aim is that children start collecting their KOs in a folder which continues through their primary school career and is then utilised and drawn upon by teachers each year, both as knowledge recall but also, more importantly, to make connections with previous knowledge and therefore create a better understanding of the world. Sign up and download all our editable history, science and book knowledge organisers HERE.