Choosing texts for more able children

Guest blogger Vicky Burrill, teacher and author, looks at the challenges of working with more able children in English.

Teaching more able students is a great privilege, but it is a task that needs to be carried out mindfully. It is rewarding, challenging and thought-provoking among other things, but it also has its pitfalls and dangers.

For example, choosing texts for able children to read can be a minefield.  Balancing trickier and more complex language with a suitable subject matter can be very hard. Jumping a year or two ahead in vocabulary often means that the topic of the book is too advanced. In this instance, classics are a great option as they offer solid stories, detailed settings and characters but lack the shocking issues or grown up topics of many modern books for older children. 

There is also a risk of ruining great books for children.  What is the point in reading something which is far beyond a child’s comprehension?  They will either not enjoy it or not 'get' it and then be unlikely to pick it up again in the future.  Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a case in point. Many Year 6 students can access the language (swear words notwithstanding) but are not ready to understand or empathise with the viewpoint of a boy with Asperger's syndrome and as such miss out on the crux of the novel.

So, instead of moving ahead to the following year group’s booklist, instead adjust the way you look at things. Explore perspectives and points of view. This could be rewriting sections of a story or discussing the differences between character’s motivations. It could be examining the language and how it develops characterisation.

You could also look at alternative endings - ask children to change or improve the ending of a book or short story enabling them to create and analyse simultaneously. They might even add characters into the story to alter the ending. Suppose that a character dealt with a dilemma in a different way, made a different decision. How would that change the story? Rather than just reading a text, play with it, change it, improve it. 

A final way to challenge students without just up-levelling the text they read is to look at themes. 

Draw out overarching concepts underlying the stories and discuss them, develop them into other stories, poems, research, debate. The possibilities are endless but encourage independent thought, creativity and remove the limitations of the text - it serves as a starting point, allowing you to add breadth to the curriculum, give ownership to the students and challenge them in new ways.

For more inspiring activities for working with the more able in English see our English for the More Able series, written by Vicky Burrill.


Assessment, Brain Academy, Computing and ICT, CPD, English and Literacy, English for the More Able, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, Mathematics, Maths for the More Able, More able, Reading and Ebooks, Science and Technology

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