The following article comes from Year 6 teacher Richard Simpson, who has shared his top picks for encouraging teamwork and collaboration in September. 

When they return to school in September, it may be that some children haven’t had extended time with their peers in groups for nearly six months.

For some, there will have been interaction with family – siblings or parents – and for some there will have been online learning, where there will have been some face-to-face time with teachers, albeit digitally enhanced! For the rest, this return may be the first time they’ve encountered (and had to talk to, sit with and work with) others of their age, and that may cause a few issues!

In my opinion, the best work in my class comes through shared discovery and discussion, collaboration and co-operation, whether that be in unpicking a tricky maths problem or debating the rights and wrongs of a character’s actions in whatever we’re reading. Building back up these skills of turn-taking, respect for others, listening to and sharing opinions could be one of the first issues we need to address with children who may have had a very solitary experience during lockdown and the summer (and, let’s be honest, who may have not been very good at these things in any case!).

Here are some ideas of books that I plan to use with my KS2 classes from September to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Many feature characters facing difficulties or danger, so will be an ideal prompt for discussion and debate, alongside the inspiration of the characters and their actions in the story itself. I hope they are useful. Quick ideas for tasks to do alongside the text are included below each suggestion.

Boy in the Tower – Polly Ho-Yen

A very poignant novel for our times, this is the story of a boy left behind with his mum in a tower-block when all around him escape to avoid the deadly ‘Bluchers’: plants that release poisonous spores into the air in his city. Cut off and alone before he discovers some other residents have stayed behind, Ade is a vulnerable but gentle and loveable character, and with issues of isolation, mental health (his mum’s agoraphobia), bravery and resilience all addressed or faced as the book proceeds, it makes this the perfect post-lockdown text to use if these are issues you want to address. A great read, the author was previously a teacher, and knows just the right length and way to end a chapter to keep readers/listeners coming back for more!

Task ideas:

  • Write diary entries in role
  • Record radio/TV warnings (we’ve plenty of daily briefings recently to use as models).
  • Write letters to or from Ade/Gaia.
  • Investigate plant biology (spores and parts of plants – I linked to the amazing ‘Botanicum’ by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis to draw and describe Bluchers in a similar style, using the descriptions in the novel).
  • Open a discussion around mental health issues and carers.
  • Possible text links: other dystopian novels (I used ‘War of the Worlds’).

Crater Lake – Jennifer Killick

Perfect for year 6, this tale of a group of year 6 pupils on a residential-gone-wrong is action-packed and just the right amount of scary to grab their attention, as the gang of very different characters are forced to face their fears and personal issues to escape and overcome the aliens that have taken over their outdoor pursuit centre. Lots of humour alongside the drama means this is an immensely enjoyable read-aloud, and, chosen as one of the Booktrust’s Bookbuzz books for year 7 next year, it would be a great starter book for year 7s at secondary/high school, with the idea of starting high school just one of the issues addressed in the plot.

Task ideas:

  • Investigate the real-life Crater Lake(volcanoes and mysterious missing hikers!).
  • Draw a comic-book-style page of the first chapter of the book (it has a very 80s sci-fi/Goonies/Scooby-Doo-type feel to it).
  • Investigate wasps and insects.
  • Make a 3D model (we used the brilliant Darrell Wakelam’s#jumpstartart ideas to make wasps).
  • Plan for a disaster survival kit (one of the characters is a ‘prepper’).
  • Possible text links: Demon Headmaster(alien invasion/takeover and horrid teacher themes).

Clifftoppers: The Thorn Island Adventure – Fleur Hitchcock

A great adventure in the classic tradition of Blyton and the Famous Five. I didn’t notice any mention of ‘lashings of ginger beer’, but that was more than made up for with mysterious goings-on, villains, seaside escapes, ice cream and scones aplenty in this relatively short but gripping and dramatic tale of a gang of cousins thwarting a kidnap plot on their summer stay at their grandparents. Lots of possible discussions around problem-solving, friendship, making choices and bravery, along with using individual strengths as part of a team to achieve success.

Task ideas:

  • Map Thorne Island and label locations from the story.
  • Keep a detective’s notebook, noting people and places seen to try and solve the mystery/find evidence as you read.
  • Compare to Blyton’s original Famous Five (we watched the black and white TV show and made notes about similar themes/plot points, etc.).
  • List typical genre features – characters and plot devices, locations, etc.
  • Write a missing chapter/extra chapter to give more clues/build suspense (use of ‘show not tell’ and red herrings could be discussed).
  • Create a glossary of sailing terminology.
  • Possible text links: MG Leonard’sbrilliant ‘The Highland Falcon Thief’ and the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series by Robin Stevens.

The Explorer – Katherine Rundell

With what I think is one of the best sets of opening lines I read to a class (‘Like a man-made magic wish, the..’), this is one of my all-time favourite classroom books to use each year. With more opportunities for cross-curricular links than you can shake a sharpened stick at, this story of four children struggling to escape the rainforest after a plane crash is not just a great adventure, it has stunningly beautiful description and language describing the Amazon too.

Children are bound to see themselves in one of the four quite different characters, who each battle personal issues in their struggle to firstly get along with each other, and secondly get out of the jungle! The eponymous ‘Explorer’ is a mysterious figure with his own historic demons – a reluctant helper in their journey for these reasons – and their hard-fought efforts to survive the horrors of catching tarantulas, maggot-infested wounds, bullet ants and caiman- and piranha-infested rivers will have readers crying out for one more chapter every time you stop.

This entire novel just ‘sings’ to me every time I read it. Danger, drama, dry humour, and description: the evocative language that Katherine Rundell uses – never talking down to her reader by using childlike or simplified vocabulary – evoke a real sense of wonder at the jungle, its creatures and environment, all combining to create what I wouldn’t hesitate to call my ‘desert island’ book.

Task ideas:

  • Write diaries in role as characters.
  • Create a news report about the missing plane.
  • Write a transcript of the conversation between the cockpit and air traffic control (I used transcripts of the ‘Sully’/Hudson river conversation).
  • Research and write geography topic texts around South America and the Amazon river.
  • Write a deforestation report and persuasive letters.
  • Create instructions for a survival task (raft-building or tarantula-hunting).
  • Research and write history topic texts around the Maya and early 20th century explorers of the Amazon.
  • Possible text links: ‘Survivors’by David Long, ‘Shackleton’s Journey’ by William Grill, ‘The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon’ by Greg Pizolli.


Richard Simpson

Richard Simpson is a Year 6 teacher and SLT member at a small, one-form entry Primary School on the Isle of Wight. He has more than 20 years of classroom and management experience in roles as subject leader for English, KS2 writing moderator, Head of KS2 and Deputy Headteacher at a number of schools.

He is currently studying for his NPQH qualification and writing book reviews and blogs for several educational websites. He has a passion for children’s literature and promoting a love of reading and has spoken at #BrewEd events and at Literacy festivals about children’s books.

Away from education, Richard is a WSET qualified wine enthusiast, and enjoys living by the seaside with his wife, two children and two naughty cats.

Follow Richard on Twitter – @richreadalot

Visit Richard’s blog here.

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